I had a chance to check out Monday afternoon’s Search Engine Strategies panel on, “Universal, Blended, and Vertical Search” to learn about how search engines are mixing up the types of results their serving up these days.
The theme of the panel is that search results containing simply 10 blue links is dead. Search engines have determined that searchers would like to use a single search box for all types of searches rather than first selecting a more specific search property like maps, news, blogs, images, video, etc. So that’s what they’re doing.
Search engines’ challenge is to figure out what mix of results are relevant based on the terms a person types into the search box. For example, a search containing a city/state combo or address will generally include a map or link to a map at the top of the results. Searches for terms like, “pictures of Hawaii” will include a few thumbnail photos with a link to additional image search results. Those are the simple cases.
Here’s a slightly more challenging example: a search for “New England Patriots” on Google:
In this case, Google determined that this is a newsworthy topic, so slipped in a few news results at the top of the page.
The search site credited with pushing blended search results the furthest today is Ask.com. For example, a search for “Buenos Aires, Argentina” includes results from webpages, sponsored links, images, news images, a Wikipedia excerpt, current time, and current weather. They also have links to help refine the search result.
From a web analytics standpoint, this move to providing more answers directly in the search result rather than forcing users to click through for answers has led to new challenges. For example, search engines are seeing lower click through rates from their search results, which makes one wonder if they’re abandoning the results because of a bad experience or a particularly good one.
Search Engine Optimizer Perspectives
Search engine optimizers in the audience see new challenges here. For one, they now see the need to create and optimize content for many more web based channels, which means they need to coordinate with more and more people within their client’s organizations. However, another way to look at this would be to say search engines are not providing additional opportunities for search visibility – especially for those who jump on this early.
Another frustration came from a search engine optimizer who helps company market relatively obscure plumbing parts. He didn’t think video could be created for his client’s products. My guess is that this is a false assumption since the people working at that company could probably talk all day about the products they sell. Additionally, unless they’re the ONLY company selling what they sell, videos describing their product’s features and benefits would be valuable. Other things like pushing inventory to Google Base, properly tagging images, and pushing out press releases when they have news to announce would also help capture additional search engine results real estate.
Multimedia Search Results More Compelling?
Mike Grehan made a great point about how the new multimedia mix of search results is creating more compelling options for searchers. As Mike explained it, your site may be #1 ranked, and may have an incredibly compelling title tag and call to action in the snippet, but what happens when that has to compete against images?
Mike shared a personal anecdote about some “research” he was conducting on Shakira where he never made it to the first blue linked web result. Somehow, his mouse ended up clicking on one of the images instead: