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March 18, 2008

Orion Panel: Universal Search

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Did you have a good lunch? I had a granola bar. No, I’m not bitter about it.

Time for another Orion Panel. This time the subject is Universal Search. Speakers John Battelle (Federated Media), James Lamberti (comScore), Lyndsay Menzies (bigmouthmedia), and Jack Menzel (Google) will debate the issue with Kevin Ryan and Mike Grehan moderating. I should also mention that we’re all sitting at round lunch tables. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Kevin asks for feedback on the lunch and gets none. Heh. I’d say something but I haven’t yet had an SES box lunch. I’m sure they are delicious. And don’t at all taste like cardboard.

Kevin says "universal search" is the generic term, but that’s a dirty lie. Blended search is the generic term. Universal Search is a Google term. I promise to stop ranting now. Until someone says something dumb.

Lyndsay introduces herself and says she’s the token female. I giggled. Kevin wants to clarify that at no point did he say the words "token female". SES is hilarious.

James gets us started. At comScore they’re tracking everything on the page and that’s the information they’re leveraging to report on Universal Search. He says you can divide Google Search queries into two buckets: Queries that contain a universal result and queries with no universal result. Universal results are queries that include video news, images, blogs, etc.

According to James, of 1.2 billion queries conducted on Google, 220 million contained a blended search result. Eighty-seven million people searched, and 58 percent saw some sort of blended search result. Universal search is dominated right now by video and news, and then secondary by Images. Fifteen percent of results had more than one type of Universal result presented.

Google is being very targeted with what they show. It’s not like Ask.com where it’s a fuller multimedia experience. Google is remaining fairly siloed with what they’re doing. James says a lot of people get emotional here, but we train the consumer to search in a specific way and adapt. The fact that the engines are wading in the blended search waters carefully shows that they’re protecting them.

Two takeaways from the comScore data:

  • Organic search will be increasing critical
    • Search result pages becoming the destination
    • Technology and content super cede marketing spend.
    • Internet "view thru" value will challenge measurement.
  • Paid search will become more competitive
    • Fewer paid click options on fewer pages
    • Consumer in control, not marketers
    • Conversion rates should increase

Consumers are the priority, not the marketers. Blended search prevents marketers with a new challenge and gives consumers what they want. As marketers, we need to take advantage of the content and make sure that the inventory of video, images, etc, is set up to be captured by the engines. His inclination is that if you as a content creator come up with a better result than what’s found on YouTube, Google will present it.

Mike: 212 million queries are blended search queries. Is that indicative of what we’re seeing elsewhere?

James says he doesn’t know yet. They’re still in the process of figuring that out. Jack says he doesn’t have any stats on that either.

Mike says it’s safe to say that it’s not necessarily people following the lead of Google. There are other engines where you see them working in these blended type results, as well. You’re putting your data together. At the end of the day, the end user is the Holy Grail. If you have great data, they’ll use it.

John starts some trouble asking if Universal Search isn’t killing Google’s core model. He says there was a beautiful alignment between the Google model and ten blue links. This is breaking it completely. Is that a factor?

Jack says it’s not breaking it. The idea behind blended search is to be as relevant as possible and Universal Search lets them do it. He would argue against that it’s breaking the ten blue links idea. Jack says they talk to consumers and 80 percent say they are aware of what’s paid and what’s not. They said they understand the idea of the top rail/left rail. [I don't buy that for a second - Lisa]

John says fine, but universal search is a different interface. You’re not making any money with maps and stock quotes. How do you make money with universal?

Jack says they’re seeing a segmentation of the query stream. A lot of universal-type queries wouldn’t bring up monetized results anyway. Google is trying to innovate with different ad formats. He says he doesn’t know all the details. It’s not accurate to say that Universal Search is not compatible with their ads model.

Kevin mentions some recent comScore data that was badly misinterpreted to claim that Google was getting less clicks. He says we have a situation where it looks like the click rates are going down because we have fewer ads, so there are fewer ads to click on. How are the engines going to make money?

Jack says that there was a follow up to that report that said it wasn’t nearly as bad as initially reported. He doesn’t have any evidence that Universal Search is less monetizable. They’re trying to keep an eye on the number of clicks but they don’t want to be terribly disruptive.

James says there was no reissue of the comScore data. What we’re seeing is half the equation. The other half of the equation is that things are more relevant and each of those links (ads) that a user does click on should be more valuable. We don’t know the conversion rates.

Mike says we can now do better than ten blue links, that we should have a richer end user experience. He watches people surf now. They’re on Facebook, social media, sites, etc. This is a really rich user experience. Then you go to Google and you get ten blue links? Who wants that? As for monetizing it, he’s looked and seen that many PPC results have some Universal-type features. He talks about that Google Bourne Supremacy link.

Lyndsay says the biggest problem brands have is that there’s a lack of control for them. For a big brand, to even have video or images released, it’s problematic. They’re being more concerned with how their brand is being portrayed online. This will give users better results but there are still teething problems.
James agrees that it’s an organization challenge. Lynsday says there’s a fear around it. She had a client release a viral video and it was received really badly. They spent so much time making that and trying to get it into the universal results and it flopped. There’s a fear of that happening.

Kevin asks if it’s easier now to optimize a piece of video and get traffic against it?

Lyndsay says it is. Brands know it’s not just about ROI anymore; it’s also about building the brand.

Kevin: Lets’ talk about the "view thru" as a success metric. To me, that’s a little like a soap opera. You can miss 5 years of episodes and jump back in and the same people are still sleeping together. [OMG. What?]

James: Just because we measure search as a direct response vehicle doesn’t mean that’s the only value it provides. We’re already past that. He spends 50-70 percent of his time talking to brands about the value of "view thru" impact on search. Consumer behavior elements are just way too valuable.

Lyndsay agrees with that but says there’s still a massive shift to get to that point.

John says there’s a lot more to be done with US. There are models we haven’t come up with yet.

John’s harping on his old question and says that Google has to have some hesitation of giving too many Universal Results that sacrifice advertising.

Jack says that yes, there is a certain segment of the queries where you can just answer the question. But at its core, the Google SERP is still about getting people to the information that they want. Most queries can’t be answered with a little image or a preview. To be realistic, they’re going to be diverting traffic and driving it.

Mike says conventional wisdom in SEO terms is all about writing a great Title tag. In the research that he did for his new book, he spent a lot of time looking at Shakira. (oh, here we go…) Every time he did a search, up came images of Shakira half naked. He doesn’t care about Title tags when there’s a naked woman on his screen. [Kevin says, great, now we all know you like to click on naked women. Hee.]

John says we lived in a text driven world. It’s easily processed by machines. When you have images and video, you’re changing the game in a really big way. Both in how you monetize and how the industry monetizes and how consumers behave.

Jack says they’re not surfacing YouTube all the time. The reason YouTube shows up the most is because most of the videos on the Internet are on YouTube. In everything we’ve done, we don’t believe we’re changing this ad model. If people search for Shakira, it’s likely people are looking for naked images. [Mike Grehan agrees. And we laugh. Kevin says Mike searches with the Safe Search off. And we all laugh again.]

Mike says way back in the day, millions of pages were being uploaded and they were static HTML pages and that was it. In web 2.0, now million of videos and images are being uploaded and they’re competing with those static pages.

Kevin says most of the YouTube video is crap. It’s men setting their own testicles on fire. It’s Mike searching for Shakira naked. What’s the shelf life? John says this morning he was at an Ad Age event and on the panel was Damon Waynes and he has a new partnership with YouTube. He was guaranteed by YouTube to get 6 million views from the home page for his videos. Does that mean he’s going to automatically end up on the Google home page?

Jack tries to say he has no knowledge but John basically cuts him off. He worries about how that’s going to get in the search stream.

John and Jack are getting heated. John wants to know why Google Finance comes up first when people search for stocks. He’s basically attacking Jack here. I feel bad. Someone needs to give John a puppy and level him out.

Jack says they try not to promote themselves any more than what they think is fair. They try to be true to the "we will present the top results for that query". They’re trying to rank only the most relevant stuff. There is nothing in the algorithm that is biased to Google properties.

John lets out a big sigh. Kevin fears he’s having a heart attack.

John says Google is becoming a media company and they should just own up to that. They have these media properties – Finance, Video, Local – and yet you have this vision of the brand that is indifferent on where to go next. He doesn’t think the brand can sustain that without conflict. He thinks Universal Search is in the heart of that conflict.

Kevin is happy we’re finally back on the topic of Universal Search. Yey!

Mike mentions that Google always said they wouldn’t be a portal site and that’s what they’re turning into. Google needs to admit that they’re a destination site.

Jack agrees but says that’s just them trying to get them the information as soon as possible. It’s not their fault they just happen to own said information and can therefore place it right on the results page.

Kevin ends things by making everyone give Jack a round of applause. Poor Jack. He deserves it.





One response to “Orion Panel: Universal Search”

  1. Mark Pilatowski writes:

    Yeah, I thought it was a pretty interesting panel. John was fairly persistent about putting pressure on Jack. He handled it well but you could tell he was getting a bit perturbed. All in all it there was some good information and dialog about the impact of Universal Search and its impact on consumers and marketers.



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