Google is the undisputed king of search in most Western countries but, in Russia, home-grown Yandex still claims a 60 percent market share.
In an attempt to maintain its advantage, Yandex has announced significant changes to its search engine results pages with the launch of interactive snippets, known as 'Islands', which aim to speed up the user's engagement with websites and services.
Islands build on the concept of 'rich snippets' – the extra information that appears under search results. Google and Yandex both use rich snippets to give users a sense for what is on the page and why it is relevant to their query, but Ilya Segalovich, CTO at Yandex, describes them as “mere decoration”.
“When people search on the rich web these days, they are often looking to carry out an action,” said Segalovich.
“What happens now is that even if you can see in search results a link to the website where you can potentially book your movie ticket or pay your bill, you still need to click through to this site and possibly even browse a few pages before you find the booking form.”
Interactive snippets allow users to directly action their query – such as booking cinema tickets, making restaurant reservations or paying a bill – directly from the search page rather than through an organisation’s website:
Yandex claims that this will speed up the link between searches and services, minimising the risk of organisations losing business through lengthy search processes or complicated web pages.
“We know users want faster, more direct engagement with services, and interactive snippets mean businesses can better serve the needs of their customers by offering a short cut to their ultimate search need,” said Segalovich.
Although it is already possible to buy some tickets directly in Google, Segalovich explained that this is a result of partnerships with individual companies. The launch of Islands allows webmasters to decide whether to include interactive snippets in search results and how they should look.
There are currently three interfaces for rich snippets, one for accessing real-time data, one for filling in personal details, and a third for completing a transaction. Segalovich said that the majority of use cases fall in these three categories.
Ultimately, Yandex wants to use Open Graph and Schema.org to introduce something similar to Twitter deep linking, which allows users to access mobile apps from inside a tweet.
“People are not able to remember all 50 apps that sit on their mobile. It's like bookmarks. We probably remember up to five most used apps, but we need much more than that, we need the long tail, and the central destination point for users will still be web search,” Segalovich told Techworld.
“Our next step in mobile for these islands will be to integrate this Open Graph interface and use it to help mobile users get into the right context in the right app.”
Islands are being rolled out to Yandex’s 8 million users in Turkey today and will then be introduced to Yandex’s broader customer base in Russian, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan in the coming months.
The feature will be available for all searchers on different types of devices, launching first on PCs, and then on mobile devices and tablets.