Last year at SES San Jose 2007, universal and blended search was the new thing going on in the background, and wasn’t really talked about in the sessions yet. Over the past 12 months, Google’s universal search and blended search has exploded across the internet. Everyone wants to know how to dominate the rankings on Page 1.”Let’s get pictures, video, local listings AND text results for my company all on one page!” Okay, no problem 🙂 Our expert panel in the first session of SES San Jose 2008 takes us through the basics and the future of blended search.
First of all, what is blended search anyways? Johanna Wright of Google and Cris Pierry of Yahoo! brought us through the basics of blended search and what it means for each major search engine. Within the last year, both Google and Yahoo! have moved from only showing text results of websites on their SERPs to showing a multitude of various media types to the user. Wright stated that, instead of relying on the users to remember each different vertical search engine within Google (news, images, blog), they wanted to bring all of these results to the users right away. Google’s focus, Wright stated, is to keep the user interface simple and to make sure the results are relevant.
Pierry’s focus was on how their blended search can help users get more done faster. Yahoo! shows their video and image results in rich media, which allows users to watch the video without navigating away from the search results. Yahoo! also has implemented a nifty info bar into some of their search results to incorporate information from multiple sites all related to the query at hand. An example that was given was looking up the title of the movie. From here, the user can see images of the movie poster, but the info bar gives a bit more information. The user can click on the info bar and find out who is starring in the film, and the video can also be added to their queue on Netflix. This helps users be more productive with their time and simplifies the movie selection process within Netflix itself.
Todd Schwartz of Microsoft was next, showing us a demo of what Live Search has been doing with blended search. Todd brought us through a couple examples of how blended search has made his tasks easier and more relevant. Within two minutes, Schwartz can look up which country has won the most medals in the Olympics to date, who won the events that were going on while he was sleeping the night before, and watch news casts of Michael Phelps after winning his 8th gold medal in a single Olympic Games. Schwartz can also plan his entire Fantasy Football draft and team from Live Search now, by searching for information, images and demos on flat-screen tvs and looking up stats and images of his favorite football players. Schwartz can also use Live’s new FareCast, which brings travel information to the search results. Now, instead of looking up many flight prices on multiple travel sites, FareCast brings all that information to the SERPs, and also shows historical pricing data, in case the prices drop, allowing users to get the best fare available.
Erik Collier of Ask.com was up next and focused his presentation of how they decide what results rank higher than others. Over at Ask, they think of how to bring the best content to the users. Every day they ask themselves the following questions to make sure they are doing the best they can for their users: When should breaking news rank higher than a navigational blue link? Should you show all news results for some queries? How do you determine when and where to show images or videos? Are there times when you don’t need to show blue links at all?
Ask was the first to showcase blended search in December of 2006 (you also may remember the “chicks with swords” commercials) and Collier feels they have the most rich data and more media types to show users than the other search engines. Like Google, Yahoo and Live Search, Ask shows news, blogs, images, video and text links. They also have their Simple Answers section, which shows the answers to an actual question typed into the search box. Ask also tests which content is best for which queries by studying what content is clicked on the most, showcasing new content to test how it does in terms of clicks, and initiating user surveys of what the users think of the interface of Ask search.
So what does the future have in store for universal and blended search? Wright, Pierry, Schwartz and Collier all stated that they would keep testing, keep moving forward and bringing in more blended results and make the user interface simple and clean. However, Shashi Seth brought us through his idea of what will change with search.
Seth brought us through a few examples of search results, showcasing that only getting 10 or 20 results on a SERP is not enough. We all know that the click-through rate to page 2 of SERPs is very low, but what if those results are the most relevant for us? Seth feels the future of search will have multiple pages that flow together very well and very quickly where users are not restricted to 10 or 20 results for one query. With this new interface, Seth sees users getting 50, 100 or even 1,000 results to navigate through quickly, and get to the most relevant results.
While blended search is continuing to evolve, companies can optimize their digital assets, promote them throughout multiple channels and rank for more than just their website. In the next 12 months, I see huge advancements in universal and blended search, and I look forward to hearing what the panel says about it at SES San Jose 2009.