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SES:SJ – Universal & Blended Search

Searcher Track, Monday 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Universal & Blended Search

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Co-Chair, Search Engine Strategies, San Jose
Greg Jarboe, President, SEO-PR
Sherwood Stranieri, Search Marketing Director, Catalyst Online
Bill Slawski, Director of Search Marketing, Commerce 360
Daniel Read,VP of Product and User Experience, Ask.com
David Bailey, Google

 Universal & Blended Search

Greg Jarboe started out by saying unequivocally that Universal search is the biggest thing to happen to the search industry since Google’s Florida update in November 2003. He says that Universal search has so dramatically changed the search industry that newbies are at no more of a disadvantage than those of us who have been in the industry for years. I’ve written before on my take on Universal search, which isn’t necessarily favorable (quick synopsis: Ask does it better!). I’m not sure I fully agree with Chris regarding the advantage/disadvantage, but I do believe that blended/universal search has changed the landscape significantly.

The big question is what makes blended search work. We don’t have an answer for that. Sherwood discussed video, specifically, and how they tend to get moved up in the results. He believes that Google looks at a combination of standard SEO signals with some other things (possibly the number of comments that the video has received.)

Bill Slawski points out the evolution of Blended/Universal search on Google (onebox results, anyone?). Its clear to me that blended search is here here to stay, but it’s likely continue to evolve in some form or another. After all, the web is nothing, if not evolving.

Daniel Reed of Google agrees that universal search is really just an evolution of the old One Box results. Their goal is to have a single search box produce all the results that a searcher wants. They run the results through an additional algorithm/filter that decides where different results go on the page instead of all the “other stuff” at the top. I still think this is the wrong way to go about this. Every hear of organization? Google’s focus on relevance in this case is counterintuitive to usability. At least that’s my take. But hey, I don’t need to rehash what I’ve already said on that topic (see links above for that.) Daniel does mention that Google will continue to play with how results are displayed (free hint to G: Buy Ask.com and use theirs!)

Tim Mayer from Yahoo (hey, he’s not on the list!) talked about how they are trying to provide a better user experience. He echoes something Bill pointed out is that search engines are no longer just a gateway to the websites that contain the information the searcher is looking for but they are now moving to provide the desired information right there in the search results. Bill noted how engines are doing that with definition searches and Tim gave an example of videos that can be played right there, without having to click through to the website.

Daniel showcased the results from ASK and wow. It’s beautiful, usable, and organized. Their goal is to get as many results above the fold as possible. Remember the days when Ask had 10 sponsored listings before getting to the natural results? They’ve come a long way, baby! Daniel says they’ve seen large jumps in user satisfaction, fewer people having to click through to the second page and fewer people having to search a second time before finding what they want. Kudos!

Ask is really giving away the store here. They say to expect fewer “web” results, reputation is a factor when it comes to blogs, image and video results and that user location will play a role in the results shown.

So what does universal search mean to us SEOs? Only that there are more ways to get on that first page and we need to go after those. It’s not just about optimized web pages any more… it’s about optimizing content and making it relevant for your audience and relevant FROM your audience. Do I need to explain that last one? In a nutshell, relevant is one thing, but your audience has a role in making it relevant as well, by spreading and linking the information.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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