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December 4, 2007

Universal and Personal Search – This Changes Everything

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Whew, okay, lunch over. And by lunch, I mean mad scramble to write up the morning sessions. Not that it mattered since I couldn’t post them. Also, what’s up with the press room not having wifi? How am I supposed to prove that I’m worth anything? (Quiet, Lisa.)

Next up is an awesome panel of speakers: Gordon Hotchkiss,Enquiro Search Solutions; Bill Slawski, KeyRelevance; and Greg Boser, WebGuerrilla LLC. Moderator Jake Baillie will be keeping them in line as they dig into the topic of blended search. (I know the title says Universal but that’s a Google product and I like to at least pretend the other engines matter to SEOs. You can stop laughing.)

Gord Hotchkiss is up first with a look at the user’s perspective. He begins with the Golden Triangle–the famous eye-tracking study that shows if you aren’t number one, you aren’t anywhere. The biggest variant is how relevant the top ads are.

When you add universal search, things change quite dramatically. “Chunking” took place instead. You notice something is different. You notice images before you recognize text so you start your scan at where the picture is, then the text next to it to see if it is relevant. Very seldom do you scan one result and then click. Instead, you look down, look up and then scan across. It’s an E shaped scan instead of an F shape scan.

Within half a second, there is a difference between the universal and regular. Images get more attention and then the result next to the image. Two seconds in, the attention is still on the result with the image.

Images create boundaries on the page. You don’t usually scan lower than wherever the image it. It created a mental “fence” and thus the hot spots appear above the image.

Switching over to personalization, does it work? They did a survey and tracked people researching the iPhone. Afterwards, they personalized the third, fourth and fifth results. Versus the non-personalized control search, they saw an increase in time spent, fixations and clickthroughs. Personalization gains attention and it will move scanning patterns.

When combined, the universal search with the image still gets first attention, then they move to the personalized result. What does it mean to the PPC side? The lowest listing became the hot spot. You’re changing the focus away from the top of the page. Eventually the improvements will have to catch up on the paid side but they aren’t there yet.

Personalized search scanning is much more diffuse than the non-personalized. Your search strategies have to change from query based to user based.

They have a webinar next week with a bunch of bright people. Register on their site.

Bill Slawski is up next for the webmaster’s side. He’s going to talk about the stuff behind the scenes. I’m ready to not understand anything.

3’s of Universal and Personal Search
Search processes: crawl, index, & serves
Data Types: structures, semi-structured and unstructured
Query Types: informational transactional, navigational
Data collection: Users queries results
Data selection: users queries repositories
Profile building: searchers, site and queries
Profile types: implicit, explicit and contextual

Crawling and Extraction: Not just about keyword number but also about facts and information. Not just about individual words but going to be more about the whole context, parts of pages instead of word to page to document

Indexing: User information, web history, browsing information, feeds, more information from a broader base.

Serving: Aggregated user information may influence what you see. Like spelling corrections

Data Types: Structured Data– it’s database built. You see this a lot in local search. Usually a rigidly defined format, like a phone book.

Semi-structured data — requires more work to figure out. Things like associating you with your phone number without explicitly saying so but you could be found in a directory.

Unstructured Data — your information is contextually based. It’s on your web site, perhaps but it isn’t in the same kind of structured form as the first two kinds.

Most query types are informational in nature. You have to think about how people are looking for you and formulate keywords that way. Personalization can help figure out what a user means when they search for an ambiguous word (Java = programming, coffee, an island.)

A search engine can figure out that people who search for a certain type of thing, might also appear in other things. They might compare that one query returns the same sort of things as another query and then determine that they’re related. Sites can build profiles too–category types, traffic volumes, good and services offered, keywords, locations. This information can come from ads shown, analytics, search tracking.

Profile creation methods–Explicit–filling out a form, specifically request alerts.

Implicit–serch engine derives information from search sessions, search and web browsing history, clicked ads

Contextual has more to do with the information other than what was entered–what time of day, what location, what your intention was.

Bill asks “Do any of you have ecommerce sites? Do you ever Google your customers after they buy something?” (Greg says “Stalker.” I agree. Leave me alone, I gave you my money now go away.)

Choose your keywords before you make your videos and choose your images. Think about each of the three types of queries and strive to hit them all. Write for a search engine like it’s a third grader. Make it really easy for a search engine to extract the data it needs.

Focus on the people who will you’re your products instead of the products themselves.

Greg Boser wraps it all up.

The biggest issue really has to do with the fact that there isn’t even a consensus of what blended search should look like. Ask is much more about giving you lots of options and where and when and how. Google is more father knows best, it’s still 10 things they’re just slightly different 10 things.

Greg says Google needs to commit to it full fledged and just go for it. Give up the tabs and just let my use personalize it over time. Trying to figure out what made something pop up is nearly impossible because it’s still so random.

He’s been spending a lot of time at Ask because he thinks their approach is going to win out. Their results are kinda crap and their market share is too low right now but the UI is right one.

Go do Marissa Mayer’s three favorite Universal searches on Google then go do them on Ask and see how much better it is.

Do searches in each vertical and learn how they work. The idea that you can just throw it up and will work isn’t going to work. You need to play with it. Get into how each thing works. Use Ask to learn. When you use Ask, you’ll get more non-typical results and you’ll see what your competitors are doing better.

You can ruin your whole life obsessing over this mess that is Google Universal and Personalization.

In reality personalization isn’t spying on me from afar. Greg points out that he does searches all the time that he doesn’t click on. That doesn’t make it a not successful search.

Gord: I 80% agree with you. Ask can afford to mess around with the interface because no one uses Ask. They built a type of search that works very for one type of search.

Greg goes off for a bit on Google lying about being a portal.

Q&A

Why is there an Ask ad on Google?

They bought it? No one seems to understand the question. Now we’re fighting about whether or not every query is discover. No Greg, it isn’t. I’m sorry.

Will we get used to personal/universal and then the Golden Triangle will return?

Gord: If its relevant to you, you’re going to look at it, whether it’s image or video or whatever, sponsored or not.

Follow up: Do you think users will look where the information is, not where the triangle is? Maybe the triangle is BS.

Greg: It’s trained behavior. The SERPs have been the same since 1996. Maybe it’ll revert back, maybe we’ll learn something new. Sometimes the best solution is hurry up and wait.

I’ve been seeing a lot more related search lately. Do you have any comments?

Greg: That’s back to the arrogance again. Going to page 2 is a failure for Google. You can’t do personalization and not get my input. Yahoo’s doing it too, they’re suggesting it as you type.

Gord: I think it goes back to the Ask philosophy of we’re going to give you options right away whereas Google is more incremental.





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