I was running around the convention center the whole day today, making sure the magazines where in the bins and that the booth was set up so, regrettably, I was only able to make it to one session.
The session was dedicated to universal and blended search, a topic of interested to many marketers these days. The big takeaway for me from this session was that universal search is still in flux and even the leading industry experts don’t have all the answers.
Universal Search and Public/Media Relations
The first speaker up was Greg Jarboe from SEO-PR. The focus of his presentation was on PR and investor relations. One of the important points made during his presentation was that with the introduction of the universal search investor relations are now part of search. Having news and blog posts relevant to the company appear on the first page of the search results ensures that more and more investors and journalists are relying on Google and other major search engines to get the latest updates on the company in question. In fact, according to the data Greg presented, search is the number one way journalists obtain additional story info.
So what should the companies do? For one, make sure your PR and investor relations staff realize that search is part of their job description, not just the savvy SEO people. Two, use services like Newsknife and Google News Report to figure out top performing Google News sources for your media relations. Some huge newspapers out there have virtually no presence on Google News (often times because their site architecture is horrible) and therefore will give you little chance of appearing in blended search results. Three, bloggers matter. Figure out who the important bloggers are in your field and make sure to establish contact with them.
Video Search and Google Universal Search
Sherwood Stranieri from Catalyst online was up next. His presentation was all about video search in blended results. At this time it is not entirely clear which factors influence the ranking of videos in Google Universal Search results. When looking at the video rankings in SERPs, PageRank and even incoming links are all over the place so there is no clear pattern there. What seems to be more important is the performance of the video page itself. That performance is measured in the number of comments (more relevant content) and possibly even the number of views.
Sherwood did admit that there were some loose ends to these theories. For example, it is not clear how the timing of content plays into the formula. Naturally, Google, Yahoo and others will have to keep the blended video search results fresh. Also, Google did admit that they fine tune their indexing process for each and every video portal (ex. YouTube, Metacafe).
The fact that the Google engineer, speaking later in the session, did not shoot down all of these theories is a good sign that Sherwood is thinking in the right direction.
Under the Hood of the Universal Search
The next speaker was Bill Slawski, and for those of you who are familiar with his blog it should come as no surprise that he talked a lot about patents and very technical aspects of blended search. Unfortunately, he lost me after the first mention of the word “patent” so I can’t really tell you in detail what he was talking about. Here is an interesting fact I got from his presentation. Based on one of the patents filed by Google a few years ago, it seems that their universal search results were supposed to be stacked instead of being blended. Meaning that they were supposed to look more like AskX interface than GUS (Google Universal Search) as we know it today.
From what I’ve read around the blogosphere, some people hate blended results and some people love them. Personally, my vote goes to stacked results, similar to what Ask.com is doing.
Search Engines on Universal Search
Most search engines had their reps on the panel, with a notable exception being Microsoft. David Bailey, Google engineer, explained that GUS is the next step in the company’s quest for faster, more relevant results. Universal Search is smarter and digs deeper into the database than onebox. He also noted that Google had to change a lot of infrastructure to implement Universal Search but stressed that it is not a major change in direction.
Yahoo was represented by Tim Mayer. Tim explained that Yahoo’s objective is to retain the user on the SERP for as long as possible. This is achieved by adding interaction to the blended search results (ex. Movie Shortcut, Consumer Electronics Shortcut, Hotel Shortcut, etc.) as well as packaging the blended results together (ex. in Movie Shortcuts users can read reviews, watch trailers and buy tickets online).
Erik Collier from Ask.com was the last one to speak. Erik had some interesting insights into the reasons for Ask’s major redesign and effects of the new look. It turns out that Ask had a lot of trouble getting their visitors to click on the links to their other verticals (the ones above the search box). After implementing AskX, the company saw a 30% drop in the number of users that go to the second page and 15% drop in addition user queries. Supposedly, that shows the improvement in relevancy of the first page results.
All in all, it was an interesting session. GUS brought about a new era in search engine marketing. Yet it is still evolving and not even Google knows how far, or even in which direction, they are prepared to take it. Our job as marketers is to try to keep up.