Earlier this year, the late Russell Shaw made his ten mobile predictions for 2008. One in particular struck me back then: “Mobile search will still suck.” He mentions that Google had it wrong, as many non-mobile sites would come up in a search. Seeing as we’re entering the waning days of 2008, it sounds like a good time to put Shaw’s prediction to the test. Does mobile search still suck? To find out, we’ll check out the four biggest search engines: Google, Yahoo!, Ask, and MSN. We’ll pit them against one another, no holds barred, to gauge how well they handle searches from a BlackBerry device. May the best engine win.
We’ll base our rankings on three criteria: Relevancy of results, Speed, and User interface. Of course, each of these criteria comprises a set of standards. Relevancy, for instance, will cover not only the relevancy of the results to the query, but also of the number of mobile-friendly links. Speed will mean quickness in loading the search page, and the speed of the search itself. User interface will cover the search box on the page, the listing of the results, and even a mobile application, if applicable.
To make things fair, we’re going to do the same search on all engines. For some reason, I just thought: “2008 baseball winter meetings.” They were held in Las Vegas last week, so there will be plenty of relevant content to find. Plus, many of the outlets covering the event have mobile sites, which should help us determine something about the results.
The grand poo-bah of the search engines. It seems like everything search revolves around Google. They’ve recently made some headway into the mobile space with their Android operating system. Even beyond that, though, they’ve introduced a ton of mobile applications this year. Most, if not all of these are available for your BlackBerry. Yet, but how does their search fare?
Google’s algorithm is supposed to deliver the most relevant results for your particular query. Whether that’s absolutely true or only true by reputation, they’re still the most popular out there.
The results you see initially are not necessarily for mobile. That’s not a great way to start off. However, there’s a link right up top that allows you to view the search in terms of mobile sites. Unfortunately, there appear to be no mobile sites found for this query. I had similar problems with other strings. However, it appears that the results do direct you to mobile sites if one exits. A query for “major league baseball” directed me to wap.mlb.com, and further down there was a link to m.espn.com.
So when there is a mobile site, it appears Google points you there. However, this has little affect, as evidenced by the winter meetings search, on the overall results. In other words, it won’t push up mobile content just because it’s mobile. That can be taken as both a positive and a negative, of course. On one hand you’re getting the most relevant results. On the other, you might be getting something you can’t view well on your Berry.
Just as a bump to Google, they do have a section of news results in the middle of the SERP, so that adds a bit of relevancy. As another lowlight, the results of my particular query did not find perfectly relevant links. I was looking for information about what happened at the winter meetings, just one week past, and I got a press release about it as the first link.
On the initial load, Google was almost instantaneous. This is a bit strange to me, since they sell their mobile search application by saying how it’s faster than loading Google.com on your mobile. That’s funny, since it takes about the same time to load the application as it does to load the Web page. Both were fast, though, so there aren’t any complaints on this end. The search results load quickly on both ends as well.
Yes, as stated above, Google has a mobile application, and it works great. It might not run quicker, but for some it’s easier to just launch an application than open the browser and navigate to Google (though you could always just set it as your home page).
The search box is prominent, as I would expect it to be on all mobile search sites. The results are listed in a fairly intuitive manner. Perhaps it’s just because I’m so used to searching Google that it seems perfectly natural. As mentioned above, they add news results when relevant, so that’s another plus in their column. A new-ish feature is adding links within a certain site, usually the first site on your results page.
Some might have qualms with the Google interface, but they have to be in the minority. Everything is as straight-forward as you can ask for.
Before Google, Yahoo! was the king of search. Even after Google started taking over, many stuck with their trusty Yahoo!, and with good reason. However, does Yahoo’s mobile search cut it?
First, though, a minor gripe. When you go to Yahoo.com from your mobile browser, it takes you to a landing page asking if you want to download Yahoo! Go. There’s an option to make it never appear again, but it’s still a bit annoying. As I said, minor gripe.
The results themselves seem similar to Google’s, though they’re certainly not the same. Yahoo! points me to a few press releases and minor league websites, but nothing about coverage. Perhaps it’s a failing of the search? There were megabytes, possibly gigabytes of information filed regarding last week’s meetings, and it’s a shame none of it comes up with a simple search.
Yahoo displays results as they would through a computer search, which is a bit disheartening. Ah, but there’s a plus here. Scroll down and you’ll see a separate section for mobile sites. Click on “All Mobile Website” and you’ll head to mobile friendly listings. As you can see by the date in the screenshot to the right, though, these aren’t the most relevant links. That one is from 2007, and there is even one further down the page from 2006.
So Yahoo! gets a plus for their separate, and working, mobile site listings. However, that’s almost completely negated by the lack of relevancy of the results themselves. It’s not like I neglected to preface the entire string with the year. A search for the 2008 winter meetings should not bring me results from years past.
The mobile application, Yahoo! Go, clearly takes a bit longer to load than the website because it contains many features. The website loads quickly enough, though the prompt to download Go is bothersome. As I said above, a minor gripe, though I clicked the “No, thanks” option and it took me back there a second time when accessing Yahoo.com. Not cool.
As for the results, it’s about the same speed as Google. If there’s a difference, it’s not one worth noting. I expect this will be true of the next two engines as well, since I’m using the same device in the same area for all searches, which as you can see are all the same.
The main page on Yahoo.com is a bit crowded, though there is no mistaking the search box. The text in the box says oneSearch, which might leave some unfamiliar users asking where the Yahoo search box is. Fret not; Yahoo just uses oneSearch now. In case you didn’t know already…
I do dig the Yahoo! Go interface. No, I didn’t try it out with their voice search. It certainly beats the ad-crammed Yahoo.com main page.
It’s tough to discuss a computing topic and not have Microsoft come up. Their MSN search feature is rather popular — we see a number of daily visitors at BBGeeks from them, so there has to be some level of popularity. However, I don’t know many people personally who use it. Maybe running this test will strip away some of my bias.
I had the same relevancy issue as with the other two: a couple minor league links, and that’s about it. It makes me feel bad for choosing this query, since it doesn’t seem to yield acceptable results from any engine. Still, it’s something that should give me something relevant, given the specific string and the timeliness of the query.
Microsoft cuts off their results, it seems, after two when you search through your mobile. It does give you a quick link up top to an options page where you can change up settings as you see fit on your phone. This includes filtering sexually explicit content and allowing you to filter content to fit on your mobile phone.
The change of settings yielded the same results. MSN does add image results to the SERP. In this instance it was Greg Maddux’s retirement speech, which is 100 percent relevant. So that’s a plus. Otherwise, all I got were the two minor league links. You can look for more results, and you can filter it for news results, which it appears you’ll have to do for a string like this.
MSN is just a bit slower than Yahoo! and Google. The first search I performed had my browser constantly switching between Loading and Requesting. I figured that was a one-off thing, but on the whole it seems to be Requesting for longer than the other two. This is after multiple queries of the same string. I don’t want to be unfair, but it appears that speed-wise, MSN just isn’t as quick.
The interface of mobile.msn.com is rather user-friendly, in that I didn’t have any trouble figuring out what to do. That should be a given for all search engines. The box is front and center, and there’s no question of it being an internal search or external search. The results page could use a spiffying, and I’d appreciate more than two results listed. Other than that, the UI works for me.
There is, alas, no mobile application for an MSN search. Their mobile site, mobile.MSN.com, though, works just fine. Yeah, it’s a small extra step to type that in, but all in all it’s just as good as any of the stand-alone applications as far as search goes.
I work on the Internet every day, for eight to 12 hours a day, and yet I never, ever use Ask.com for my searches. Am I missing out there? Or is it just another outdated search engine? I suppose I’ll find out while I go through the test here. So let’s fire it up on the ol’ BlackBerry browser and see how it fares.
I had hoped beyond hopes that the search engine I never use brought back the best results. However, that just wasn’t in the cards. Strangely enough, an announcement of the winter meetings in Las Vegas appears on top, as it has in the past searches, but this one is from findarticles.com, rather than the original source. Strange indeed.
I was happy to see a Winter Meetings Roundup post as an early result, but alas it was from 2007. This disappoints me because not only is the date included in the query, it is right up front. First thing. 2008. I would think that would help return results from this year’s affair. Apparently not.
Unfortunately, there is no place to filter for just mobile results. It does say up top, though: “Coming Soon: Mobile Optimized Index.” Sorry, Ask. You didn’t get that done in time for this review. Of course, that just means another test when they do roll out the feature.
Ask was a little slower than Yahoo! and Google. Probably on the same level as MSN. Once again, it’s not like this is a huge difference, like between dial-up and cable speeds. It’s a matter of seconds. So unless you need to know something right now, this will do just as well as the rest.
Search box front and center? Check. Options to search Web, images, news, and local material? Check. Settings, so you can filter adult content? Check. Formatting option between graphical and text? Check. So Ask.com certainly passes the user interface check. Not only that, but I personally find it nicer looking than Google, MSN, and especially Yahoo!.
No there is no Ask application for search. They do have a GPS application, however. Problem is, that costs you a bit of scratch on a monthly basis. While I’m sure the application is worth the dough, you can always get Google Maps for free.
This is Mobile Search Wars, so I can’t leave here without handing out a winner. All four are fine search engines, and will return you relevant results. Well, that is, as long as those results can be found. In the end, I’m glad I picked a string that didn’t sit well with most engines. Had I picked, say, BlackBerry applications, we would have gotten relevant results for sure. However, this search string brought into view other parts of the engine, like news results, which can help separate the pack.
That said, the winner is Google, and I don’t consider it particularly close. The other engines have their ups, but it seems that Google has everything they have and more. They direct you to mobile sites when applicable, and still return all the results that give them the reputation for being the best.
This isn’t the last time we’ll be comparing these searches, though. As the late Mr. Shaw predicted, mobile search still pretty much does suck. There’s plenty of room for improvement.