When talking about general search engines like Google or Yahoo!, the long learning curve of advanced search features might prove to be worthwhile. However, for topical search engines this learning curve might be unworthy, especially if this search engine is seldom used (e.g. travel search engines) or turn out to be of low quality in terms of irrelevant or poor search results. Even though, a fine topical search engine may yield high-quality and relevant results even without using its advanced features.
One hint to shorten the learning curve might be to look for faceted search sidebar. In addition, when we deal with search engine that was built on top of well known platform like Google Custom Search Engine (CSE), we may use the platform advanced features (e.g. Google advanced operators in the case of CSE).
In this post will introduce three valuable recipes search engines and elaborate some of their advanced features. These would give the readers some clues to find advanced features in other search UIs, or at least supply them with tools to utilize these search engines for best results.
Recipe Puppy: Ingredient Search
This ingredient based recipe search engine has a dynamic tag cloud of ingredients on the right sidebar. The cloud is updated whenever a term is added to the Search by Ingredients or Keyword Search boxes. The search engine displays the search results that match completely to the query terms on top and the results that match partially afterwards. In addition, when clicking on a term in the Your Ingredients box in the right sidebar once, the search engine will list only recipes that use this ingredient. When clicking on a term twice, it will list only recipes that not use this ingredient.
In addition to the to the traditional excerpts section , every search result snippet has on its bottom line a list of ingredients with the desired ingredients in boldface type. The additional ingredients are displayed as hyperlinks with + sign so clicking on one them will add it to the Your Ingredients box.
Recipe Puppy is an example for the utilization of the semantic web new standards to search engines. In particular, Recipe Puppy utilize the recipe markup to search recipes by their ingredients (as opposed to keyword search). In addition, this search engine has an "Advanced Search" page that enables filtering search results by rating or by number of ingredients.
Yummly: An Experts Search Engine
This recipes search engine is focused on some of the most authoritative websites like Allrecipes and Epicurious. It uses even more semantic annotation than Recipe Puppy (e.g. totalTime and nutrition). Although it can yield pretty good results for the the basic keyword search, its power lies in the facets (i.e filters) located in its left sidebar.
This bunch of facets may overwhelm the average user, however for cuisine and nutrition experts it may serve as a tool to filter search results for their specific demands. For example, a chef would like to tweak the time and the price sliders in order to find the most rated recipes that fit to her time or budget limitations. A dietitian would also like to tweak these sliders to find a nutritious recipes that fit to his clients budget and time. Moreover, he may combine two or more filters in order to fit the recipes for client with complex nutritional needs (i.e . Dairy-free and Nuts-free filters).
Yummly displays the rich snippets results which include image, rating data, and even flavors data. The recipes is displayed by default in the Yummly website in a convenient unified UI that includes Save, Email and Print buttons, nutrition facts and a Serves field that enables to re-calculate the quantity of every recipe ingredient.
Although currently limited to some of the top recipes websites, Yummly is running a program that promotes food bloggers. The featured bloggers get a Certified Yummly badge and promotion on Yummlys Facebook and Twitter accounts (In addition to a dofollow link from the Yummly website).
Yahoo! Recipes: The Most Flexible
Even though missing from the Yahoo! Services page, Yahoo! Recipes is probably the most convenient recipes search engine for the average user. In addition to the traditional search refinements, Yahoo! Recipes UI includes left pane to filter results by ingredients, total time, rating and so on. However, unlike the Yummly sidebar this pane changes dynamically based on the query terms and chosen filters.
This mechanism enables to reduce the number of facets on the left pane and relieve the burden on the users short-term memory. At the same time it may supply the user with abundance of filters. However, users that want to find recipes for specific diet may not find the appropriate filter for some of the queries.
Finally, here is a hack to search in specific websites with Yahoo! Recipes. The site About.com contains a lot of recipes that can be found through their own search engine. However, this search is limited to keyword search. In order to search recipes in the About.com more semantically, we can restrict the Yahoo! recipes search to this domain (e.g. [salad site:about.com]). Unfortunately, Yahoo! Recipes cant search simultaneously in more than one website (as opposed to Yahoo! Web search). One solution may be to use Google Recipes to search recipes in multiple websites simultaneously (e.g. [chicken salad (site:about.com OR site:allrecipes.com)]) . However this search engine is less rich in its semantic filters.
Yaniv is an independent writer that inquires search engines in general and topical search engines in particular. He also explores methods for optimizing custom-built search engines.