- January 22, 2008

The Universal Search Revolution

The topic du jour for Search in 2007 was clearly universal search: the inclusion of different types of search results such as news stories, maps, local information, images and video alongside the web search results you are used to seeing.

We recently discussed the implications of universal search – AKA “mash-up” or “blended” search – on a panel at SES Chicago. What we found is that search marketers are excited about the prospect of more creative options and better use of the entire page, but also have concerns about the changes that will take place in marketing practices and measurement.

Those of us in the search marketing industry are eagerly anticipating the arrival of creative tools like images and video as additions to the staid list of text links we have today. And as search ads get more visually arresting and persuasive, we’re hopeful that marketing efforts will also be more engaging and hence more successful. Even agency creatives – sadly missing in the first 10 years of search marketing – will want to play in this new interactive environment.

However, this new scenario will not come without growing pains. Today we have a huge repository of knowledge about the consumer interaction with our “old school” text-only page. Details like how and where they click, where they look on the page, and how we measure the impact will change in this new search experience. We have not seen changes like these in more than 10 years!

For example, common metrics like success rate, click rates and even our beloved PPC model will be unhinged when demonstration videos play on the result page, product images appear and a map to the closest “Best Buy” shows up. A more involved experience on the search engine result page (SERP) aims to keep consumers at the engine, not send them off as quickly as possible. Goodbye clicks, hello SERP engagement! Isn’t that the opposite of what we’ve been trying to accomplish during the last 10 years?

My bet is that the major engines will likely manage this transition slowly to protect the user experience. Ask is already embracing this movement and has seen a modest uptick in share. We’ll see if it continues and if it can be linked to the new Ask experience.

Make no mistake: universal search will eventually arrive in full force, even if it takes until 2010 or 2012. However, we’ve all seen evidence that the good old text link is a very effective way to deliver a message – text links are not going away anytime soon!

To date, there is limited data on universal search. Comscore plans to apply a concerted effort to understand its impact. We will be releasing our findings throughout 2008. We’ll keep you posted.

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