Yahoo! Search knows what you mean

I was looking through the referrer data for this blog and noticed an entry from Yahoo search for “redisgn my screen on yahoo”. I tried the search to see why the blog would come up – it looks like Yahoo! automatically runs spell correction on queries. (The searcher misspelled redesign.)

There’s a note on the bottom of the results page that vaguely explains this. It doesn’t tell you what it actually searched on.

Yahoo! Search spell correction

If you the same search on Google, AOL Search or MSN, you’ll get the results for the term you searched on with a “Did you mean: redesign my screen on yahoo”. Clicking again will take you to the results for the corrected term.

It’s debatable which is the better experience; I can think of good reasons for both.

But it doesn’t point out a problem in search: spellchecking is unidirectional. Search engines only correct the searcher’s spelling. If the author of the Web page misspells what you’re looking for, you will have a hard time finding it.

Misspellings aren’t uncommon. Take a look at the hit counts for variations on Arnold’s name:

arnold schwarzenagger – 3,210
arnold shwartzenager – 1,070
arnold shwartzenagger – 276

The correct spelling is “arnold schwarzenegger”. Thanks to “did you mean?”, I never have to learn that.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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