Universal Search at SES New York 2008

This session on universal search started well with the presentation of some interesting research data from James Laberti of comScore, Inc about the prevalence of universal search results in the SERPs. Then it rapidly turned into “bait the Google guy,” led by John Battelle, which would have been interesting if the Google guy was able to field answers with anything other than the equivalent of I don’t know, it’s nothing to do with me, I’m not at liberty to say, or the corporate line is…

So to start with the useful stuff, the research project was focused on finding out how many search engine results pages (SERPs) contain universal style results, and how this impacts on the users’ likelihood to click on those results.

A universal result in this project was classified as:

  • video
  • news
  • images
  • multiple
  • map, stock, weather

Key findings:
Of the 1.2 billion queries studied, 220 million contained a universal result, categorized as news, video, images etc.

The Google Universal search penetration by type was:
58% anything universal
38% video
34% news
19% images
15% multiple
10% map, stock, weather

Overall universal search trend
Results pages that contained universal search results received fewer clicks overall – both paid and organic clicks.

Possible reasons for this trend
The Google SERPs are acting like destination pages – maps or weather results are displayed within the SERP so users do not have to click through to another page. This was referred to as a “view thru,” where a user can view your content via Google without having to click through to your site.

Questions raised by the audience and some of the panellists:

  • Is the current Adwords model compatible with universal search?
  • Is there a value to having your site result displayed on a SERP if a user does not need to click through to your site?
  • Is there a future for the view-thru metric?
  • Just because we currently measure search as a direct value, will we have to become more flexible and consider other values such as branding?
  • Will it be difficult to get the budget to support view-thru media when there is no ROI?
  • Should Google be classified as a media owner?
  • Does Google artificially inflate the position of their content or the content of co-partners like YouTube?

The last question about Google artificially inflating the position of content they have a vested interest in generated a flustered response from the Google guy. He basically said no, but included a caveat that relevance is the key metric and YouTube represents most of the video content that is currently available.

There were no absolute answers to the other questions, but I think it’s something that we’ll need to think about more and more as universal search becomes the norm.

According to James, the two major implications of universal search include:

1. Organic search will become increasingly critical

  • search result pages becoming the destination
  • technology and content supercede marketing spend
  • inherent ‘view thru’ value will challenge measurement

2. Paid search will become more competitive

  • fewer paid click options on fewer pages
  • consumer in control, not marketers
  • conversion rates should increase

You can find some more detail about the question and answer section on Top Rank Blog’s Universal Search post.

Kevin Ryan, VP, Global Content Director SES & SEW
Mike Grehan, Global KDM Officer, Acronym Media & SES London Co-Chair

John Battelle, Founder/Chairman/CEO, Federated Media
James Laberti, Senior Vice President, Search and Media, comScore, Inc
Lyndsay Menzies, Managing Director, Big Mouth Media
Jack Menzel, PM for Universal Search, Google

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