Universal Search

Aug 18, 2008 - 2:01 pm 2 by

Universal & Blended Search
Search result multiplicity is not a new phenomenon, but recent advancements guarantee that the world of search and marketing will be changing forever. Before you attend this week's optimization and best practices sessions, learn from industry gurus how the steps that follow the search are developing. Our ongoing series on universal search will include research data available only at SES.


  • John Tawadros, Chief Operating Officer, iProspect


  • Shashi Seth, Chief Revenue Officer, Cooliris
  • Johanna Wright, Director of Product Management, Google
  • Cris Pierry, Senior Director of Product Management, Yahoo! Search
  • Erik Collier, VP, Product Management, Ask.com
  • Todd Schwartz, Group Product Manager, Live Search

With universal search, you can now own more of page, and you’re required to leverage and optimize any digital asset to obtain the first. What would it mean to own that first page of results? What would it do to your business?

Johanna Wright is the first speaker.

Universal Search at Google:

  • What’s it all about?
  • How does it work?
  • What’s next?
  • What happens to SEO?

What is it all about?
Universal search is still here’s what I said, now show me what I want. It used to be simple things like just correcting spelling, now it can be images, video, maps, etc.

  • Make google.com the search box of first resort.
    • It’s where most of the users, and most of the documents, already are.
    • Don’t ask users to remember a bunch of vertical search engines.
  • Display special features for special results.
    • Pictures, maps, ratings, publication dates, blog names, etc.
    • Missed rest

Main importance is relevance.

She showed screenshots of each of the following types of results.

  • Videos: They spent a lot of time getting videos into search results, especially from external sites.
  • Images: More images, focus on the long tail. 20-25% of queries they have never seen before.
  • Blogs: newly updated and internationalized.
  • Book blending in search results
  • Increasing diversity on the page
  • Support for queries in different languages.

How does it work?

Universal Search Architecture

  • Look for the needle in all haystacks.
  • Search against all indexes
  • Decide what to show only after we collect all the data
  • Use smart rankings to add coverage anywhere on the page
  • Challenges
    • Rank apples against oranges
    • Keep UI simple
    • Expand infrastructure

Ranking apples and organs
Many techniques for ranking can be applied to other verticals – page rank, phrase matches, anchors, etc. News, video, books etc. each add their own unique relevance signals. Freshness, user ratings, table of contents matches are signals for the news/videos/books. Missed the rest.

What’s next? Three themes

  • Keep improving relevance
    • Just like we do for core web search
    • Blend breaking news faster, extract more videos, expand map and local listings in many countries, etc.
  • Ramp up newer verticals
    • Images, blogs shopping
  • Help users explore
  • UI experimentation, etc.


What happens to SEO?

  • Business as usual
    • Web results are still our bread-and-butter and will remain dominant
    • The usual webmaster tguidelines still apply
  • Take advantage of prominent new verticals
    • Publish high-quality, well-captioned images
    • Make video sitemap
    • Create high quality blogs

Secret is looking at the content that’s in result. Plea to get more rich content into index.

Next speaker is Cris Pierry. The overall subject is how Yahoo! sees universal and blended search.

Search results have transitioned from a static experience with just title, abstract, URL to more complete information in one search. Includes rich media modules (videos, headlines), deep links, news federation. He gives examples of searching for Beijing Olympics 2008 last night, and explained some of the results.

  • Photos: Not just at top, but blended in. Flickr and Yahoo!@ Images appear in the search page results.
  • Videos Users have ability to click on video and watch it w/o leaving the search results page.
  • Modules – news, Wikipedia “expando”. Ability to expand and interact with content. It’s call the info bar, you can click and get additional content displayed right in SERP.

Why blended search is important

  • Boost comprehensiveness and relevance of Yahoo! offerings to consumers.
  • Unmatched new opportunities for publishers
  • First step for building a smarter search engine with structured data.

What is SearchMonkey?

  • Yahoo! Search is the first major search engine to open its search page to site owners/developers and allows them to create visibility differentiated  results for users.
    • Enhanced results in SERP: Deep links, images, Key’/Value pairs or abstract.
  • Infobar. It’s one line of text appended to the result that gives a little bit more information about the result. You can click and bring down more information from a result.

Why is it important for you, and what does it mean?

  • Helps the user gets straight to the answers
  • Increase in quality of site traffic
  • Fosters loyalty and engagement
  • Enhanced results in infobars
    • Ratings and reviews, images, deep links, and other name-value pairs.


  • Site owners – content benefits
    • Influence and optimize presentation of your search results to boost traffic quality and quantity
    • Access to the enormous search audiences
  • Users – get from ‘to do’ to ‘done’ faster

            Missed rest

Site owners: write plugins to offer enhanced search results. These can include pictures, task links, structured data, a Yahoo! Search badge.
Users: Relevant plugins triggered on every search – can be added or turned off by users; viral distribution

Reactions from people:
User: I can get more done, faster – I’m most productive searching on Yahoo!
Site owners: Helps us target our active users, measurably increases traffic.

Next up is Todd Schwartz from Microsoft Live Search.

He showed us examples of live search, how he used it to keep up with the Olympics. General theme was that blended search is a great way to get a quick overview of what is happening in the world.

Other examples included travel, how they have everything on one page to help make things easier, and to also make ads more relevant for the advertiser. Next was shopping. You can upload your products to (missed URL). There is an opinion index as well, you can sort by most recent user review, highest rating, etc. Next example was to check the latest news.

Microsoft Strategy

Focusing beyond blended results to address consumer needs

  • Deliver best search results
  • Simplify key tasks
  • Innovate in the business of search

Implications for publishers and advertisers

  • Higher ROI
  • Broader reach
  • More info available at webmaster.live.com and adcenter.microsoft.com

When is all of this information too much? Live lets users decide. They do a lot of user testing. Lots of searches are multiple sessions, and how to make it simpler over multiple sessions.

Erik Collier from Ask is up next. An interesting note: A lot of the Ask skins are Erik’s own work, as he’s an amateur photographer.

Evolution of Ask3D (changes made since last year)

  • Challenges of ranking blended content
  • Ways to measure blended content performance
  • Future of Ask3D.

Ask3D is constantly evolving.

  • Adding new blended content
  • Blending within the blue links
  • Search box location
  • Navigation menu location.

Now blending news results, TV blending, page layout changes.

The content that they blend

  • Organic web results (blue links)
  • Smart answers –editorially created content, structured partner content (health, jobs, etc.)
  • Images/Videos/Music
  • News/Blogs

Content specific ranking signals

  • Blue links: Many signals in the traditional web search sense
  • Smart answers: Editorial judgment/Business rules
  • Images/Videos/Music combo of user query and business rules, associated with the matching of entity smart answers
  • News/blogs buzz factors, story clustering, subscriber counts.

Ranking questions (questions they ask themselves

When should breaking news rank higher than a navigational blue link?

  • Should you show all (or nearly all) news results for some queries? (Amazon, Olympics)
  • How do you determine when and where to show images or videos? (john Edwards affair, john Edwards)
  • How do you determine when and where to show images or videos? (summer Olympics, Greek alphabet)
  • Are there times when you don’t need to show blue links at all? (what is the tallest mountain, define brio)

Difficulties in measuring blended content performances

  • User interaction signals are unique for each type of content
  • Content not always clickable, but users could still be satisfied with results
  • Content does not require clicks to be useful to user.

Ways to measure

  • User activity (clicks, other interactions)
  • Frequency/retention
  • Cohort analysis
  • Online surveys

What does the future hold for Ask3D?

  • Slow death of the traditional blue link
  • Unique information will be shown in addition to just a title and description (restaurant ratings, links to purchase a product, social network shortcuts, etc.)
  • Enhanced UI for all content
  • More data from offline/online structure content/databases
  • Sponsored listing will move toward some level of enhanced UI. One reason you don’t see faster changes is because of concerns about monetization.

Shashi Seth is the final speaker.

He talked about how things have changed in the past ten years, with respect to how screen resolution has affected things. 70% of the monitors in the world are 17” or larger. We’re not taking advantage of the size of the monitors the users have.

Why are we still browsing the way that we did so long ago, with just ten results, small thumbnails of things, lots of white space. We’re not taking advantage of what technology has to offer. Showed interesting screenshot from his company, could be thousand of results on a page, blended together, with easy to scroll through results.

Universal search takes on a new meaning when…new navigation paradigms start to emerge that allows users to go through large amounts of content, blended together in new and unique ways.

In the Q&A, a couple of times it was mentioned that monetization and advertisers are something that need to be considered in all of these blended results, and they’re not quite sure how it will end up working.

Live coverage of this session is provided by Keri Morgret. Please excuse any typos and grammar errors on our live coverage notes.


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