Sensis group manager, Sam Plowman, today conceded that the launch was an attempt to repair the site's rapport with consumers, which has developed a reputation for being difficult to use.
"There's been a lot of users that have been to Yellow [pages online] and probably passed through it," said Plowman.
The company is making a concerted effort to make the site's results more meaningful for consumers by mining its offline Yellow Pages content for keywords.
Prior to the launch, the search system relied on around 50,000 keywords consumers commonly use to find businesses, spread across an estimated 2,600 classifications or "headings". The headings will now encompass an estimated 500,000 keywords.
"Yellow hasn't had the rich content that we've wanted in the past. It hasn't had all the content out of print -- imagine every word in every book being extracted...and being linked back to that classification," said Plowman.
The look and feel of the site's search interface has also been changed. Sensis claims that while Yellow's search process is still more complex than the conventional double-search box Google and Yahoo users are familiar with, the structured results provide a 100 percent match.
The revamped search system also includes a new business location system that shows consumers a number of possible retailers within a defined area.
However, with Yahoo nipping at Yellow Pages' market by adding a free commercial search directory listing to its Australian portal last month, Sensis has moved to protect its business by mirroring the move on its own site.
Plowman today said that users don't care whether the users are paying for the service and admitted that the new search environment presented new challenges to monetising the service.
"The users don't really care whether the ads [are] paid or not -- they want every florist to be on the map...what can we do with the map now to make the paid guys stand out a bit more? So my challenge now is 'how do we commercialise it?'," he said.
However says Plowman, Yellow Pages' traditional offline business won't be undermined as commercial Web directory operators move toward free listings.
Plowman said ads placed by paying customers would be given first priority in search results with other ideas for commercialising Yellow Pages online "in the pipeline".
Regardless, Sensis is still pushing the argument that customer data gathered in Yellow Pages gathers in the course of its traditional business gives its online service an edge over Yahoo's local search.
According to Sensis, Yahoo is hoping that small businesses will volunteer to populate their search listings with the deeper content needed for more accurate searches.
A spokesperson for Sensis yesterday said it was very difficult to get customers to supply details for their businesses accurately and without "spamming" the search engines to skew results.
However, it's not clear how long Sensis can maintain that edge.
Yahoo senior search producer Peter Crowe said last month that the company was using call centres to canvassing Australian businesses pro-actively in an attempt to improve the depth of content behind its local search product.