AOL and Google Renew Their Vows

AOL expanded its agreement with Google for search results last week, in a new multiyear deal.

Google’s last deal with AOL was signed in May 2002. It was termed “multiyear” at the time, with an apparent 17 month duration. AOL suggests this latest deal goes for much longer than that, but terms and the exact duration haven’t been disclosed.

“This one is really multiyear,” said AOL spokesperson David Theis.

With the agreement, AOL appears to be going against the grain of major search sites that recently have sought to own search technology. Yahoo acquired Inktomi and just closed its deal to buy Overture, with the aim of bringing all Web search capabilities in-house. MSN said earlier this year it would develop its own technology. The company just announced it would no longer use LookSmart’s listings as of mid-January.

AOL’s renewal with Google demonstrates continued faith that by partnering with a major search brand it will retain subscribers, rather than lose them to that brand.

“Having the most popular search company power our search — so popular that ‘googling’ has entered the lexicon — increases member loyalty,” Theis said.

Theis wouldn’t comment specifically as to whether AOL sought formal bids from other players for the search contract. He did acknowledge the company will always talk with various search companies.

Under the terms of the deal, Google will continue to power Web search results for AOL sites in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Australia and Canada. Google also provides paid listings to sites in the United States, Japan and Canada. Overture still provides paid listings to some European AOL sites, including in the U.K.

Google also provides search results to AOL-owned Netscape and CompuServe. In a new development, Google’s paid listings will be integrated into AOL Yellow Pages listings.

AOL Search Features

In conjunction with the renewal deal, AOL announced new enhancements to the AOL Search service. Some of these “new” features appear to have been available prior to their announcement.

AOL Search comes in two flavors: an external version anyone can use; and an internal version enhanced for subscribers accessing it via AOL’s software. Not all features are available on the external version. Here’s the rundown:

Smart Box Search Tool: For those using the newly-released AOL 9.0 software, the tool automatically offers query suggestions as searchers type a query into the address/search bar field.

Image Search: Launched in June, it provides the ability to search for images across the Web. It’s powered by Google Images. Use the “Images” tab at the top of the AOL Search home page.

News Search: Returns matches from major news wire services. Available via the “News” tab.

People Search: Allows AOL users to search within AOL chat rooms, message boards, member home pages and discussion groups. Available via the “People” tab.

Local Search: For members using the internal version of AOL Search in the U.S., this automatically shows local businesses, services and stores in the user’s area. AOL uses subscribers’ ZIP codes, which it knows from member data, to query AOL Yellow Pages listings. It’s an expansion of the former “Find It In Your Area” feature rolled out last year.

Hot Searches: An expansion version of an earlier feature that displays popular member queries. A box on the AOL Search home page shows top queries. Users can also choose to see more details of top queries in various categories from the apparently new Hot Searches page.

Open In New Window: Another feature added earlier this year. A small icon appears near a listing’s title that users can click to open the link in a new window.

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