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SES New York: Changes in the Search Landscape

March 24, 2008

Indisputably, the brightest event that took place during the past week was Search Engine Strategies conference held in New York. There were presented insights on topics encompassing organic optimization, PPC, usability, ROI tracking/analytics, link building and much more.

Tuesday's Orion Panel on universal search was amongst the most debatable discussions of the forum. For those of you who are not familiar, Google's Universal Search combines traditional text search results with videos, news, maps and other data.

James Lamberti, Senior Vice President of Search and Media at comScore presented statistical analysis illustrating the new way of searchers' interaction with search results and ads, and the impact of the new search interface.

The analysis showed that in only one week in January, of 1.2 billion search queries at Google, over 220 million search results included one or more videos, news, maps, weather, stock or image results. That means 17 percent of all searches on Google ended in some type of Universal search.

Of the 87 million people who searched during this week in January, 57 percent received universal search result. Of those, 38 percent saw a video result, 34 percent saw news, 19 percent saw images, and 9 percent saw multiple types of results.

The experts are convinced that the expectations of the searchers are changing because of their growing familiarity with the rich interfaces provided by web 2.0 sites. Most probably these searchers would demand more than the “ten blue links” format traditionally offered by Google, which might turn out to be quite insufficient.

ComScore's data also unveiled that the number of clicks on Google's AdWords reduced each time when the result page included an Universal Search element.

Kevin Ryan, who was the moderator of the Universal Search session, expressed his opinion and observations at Search Engine Watch stating that “the search result page is transforming from a directional guide to a destination. In other words, there are fewer ads appearing, which means fewer clicks. Fewer clicks mean fewer dollars for search sites and increased competitive activity in search results”. Thus the practice of SEO will become more and more valuable.

John Battele noted that Google became a destination and saw a conflict between Google's pure navigation service and its media-company aspirations. Through Universal results Google delivers more of its content to searchers. Google sent nearly 400 million search referrals to their own multi-media properties. That includes 148 million referrals to YouTube and 173 million to Google Images. Battelle also observed that for stock queries Yahoo Finance, which used to be at the top, now is left far behind Google Finance. It is logically to suppose that online properties that deliver content and compete with Google's niche might experience difficulties trying to be top exposed in universal search.

SEO companies and marketers are now facing the challenge of changing conditions in the web search environment. What is going to be the real impact of the universal search which is still in its "test" phases, I hope we will find out soon.


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