Co-moderated by Kevin Ryan and Kevin Heisler from SEW. Panelists include Mike Grehan from Searchvisible Ltd. (congrats Mike on the new company), Andrew Goodman from Page Zero Media, Brad Goldberg from Microsoft Search Business Group, James Lamberti from Comscore, and Jim Muller the tech lead for Google Universal Search.
Mike Grehan briefly introduces some searches at Google to demonstrate the new Google Universal Search layout. He uses the term “Dove beauty workshop,” and describes how some of the results are especially desirable, and that someone would wish they could pay Google for it. The next example is “Bourne Ultimatum” which has “Google Promotion” paid ad and some other results including a “Get Showtimes” “One Box.”
Then Kevin Ryan airs the video of one of the latest ask.com commercials, and pulls up a slide from Comscore, which James presents. He starts off by describing the integrated search and how it is often dominated by engine owned content. From a consumer perspective, the value proposition is changing, but you have to be retrained on how to view the search engine result page. In terms of the data, the most exciting stat is the growth of search: in 2006 20B more queries were conducted than 2005, has grown by 35B queries since 2006.
Integrated search also will have more creative options for Search Engine marketing. The downside is that there will be more competition. 2005: 40% search engine results pages (SERPs) had at least one Google paid ad presentment. 2006: 70%, down to 50% in 2007. On another chart, Yahoo! has remained somewhat flat but the other engines are showing less ads in total, which are still generating more total clicks. Comscore will measure this space by “success rate.” Lastly he pulled up a slide which was down too quick for me to catch but showed the number of times that people actually clicked on a result of the first page. Google led the way with 79% and I did not catch the rest.
Mike talks about how search is changing and this could be a good thing. he compares the experience his kids get at Facebook from the now often-bashed “10 blue links,” and suggests that the Facebook users want more than this. (see this month’s Search Marketing Standard magazine and you will see my opinion on this subject -which I asked about during the QA and was not surprisingly shot down by both Jim and James since I suggest that people may actually grow frustrated by the new formats and yearn for the old school style "10 blue links." Mike Grehan actually approahced me after the panel and jokingly said that he knows a nice search engine in Eastern Europe which would love to have me help them with that interface).
Jim talks about some of the testing they have done, including watching the video right on the SERP, for example. MSN has a hard line policy that says they will not favor the content that comes from MSN. They will never veer toward a paid inclusion type insertion of results, even if it includes their own divisions. Google has always been very careful to carefully differentiate between ad and organic content. With these new results, they have to rework and make decisions as to where they appear. For example, the local results may appear somewhere, but they are clearly identified as being local specific content so that people understand what they are and why they are there.
So far, users really do seem to enjoy Universal Search, according to Jim. James reminds that there is not a lot of data yet, and the lack of data is somewhat relevant to the discussion. He feels that there will be a slow glacier like movement is due to the engines taking their time. Sometimes what you do is ahead of what the consumers are ready for. We have “trained” users for years to look for results in a typical manner, and changing things around requires time for people to get used to it.
Brad (MSN) talks about analyzing the user behavior on their results pages in order to determine what works and why. They want to make the experience better for everyone. Ryan asks if ask.com is moving the needle? James says that ask.com is remarkable because they haven’t lost ground. They have hung in there and are now bigger than AOL and the clear number 4. Ask 3D indicates that they have jumped in with both feet from the blended results side.
Ryan asks what the shelf life of SEO is given these improvements. Mike says that every time he writes “SEO is dead,” people want to drag him to the square and hang him. However, he advises consistently that you have to consider the idea that the ten blue links will go away, as people become more desirous of richer content. Jim agrees but reminds that most people still are not looking for or using this type of content. Mike says don’t stop optimizing now, but understands that the signals are telling us there is more to do on behalf of the clients beyond simple content optimization. James feels that the view through value of search is going to become even more important - it always was, he says, even though not many people talk about it.
Kevin Ryan asks the panel to “tell him something he doesn’t know.” Brad says that when we sit here 5-10 years from now, what we think of search will essentially be the same thing. It is all query-centric. However if you think of the biggest sites on the internet today, those are mostly sites about search like Amazon – searching for books. A lot of what happens will be centered on how the user experience evolves. Jim feels that the vertical search engines will be merged into Google and other search engines. There is a certain way we should be thinking about searchers: they are very busy. As much as they might like Google maps, they may want to only go to one place to find it – he feels that Universal Search has begun the shift towards blending verticals into one interface.
James says if you take travel, for example, there is no way that a search engine could ever provide the same experience as an Expedia or the like. As things become richer and richer, can you actually have one thing that satisfies everyone and is revolving around their actual intelligence.
Barbara Coll in the audience points out that with working with large corporations, when you have to try to optimize different types of content, this makes the job exponentially difficult for the Search marketer who now has to work with 17 different divisions of the client company, and educate each one about the optimization process and need. Mike echoes her sentiment and says that certainly adds time to the entire education process.
Again, this Orion style panel was very interesting – but difficult to blog since the content jumps around so much. You have to come to SES to really gain from a panel like this, I feel. I strongly encourage the panelists to please comment in order to clarify any incomplete thoughts.
***Note this is “live” unedited blog coverage of SES Chicago 2007. Some typos, grammatical errors, or incomplete thoughts may exist.