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SES San Jose: Universal and Blended Search
Monday, August 18, 2008
The first session of the event that we attended was on Universal Search. Also known as blended sarch, Universal Search was introduced by Google in late Spring/Early Summer of 2007. Universal Search presents an opportunity for users to see you in many different forms. Technically you could now dominate the first page of results.

The panel featured:
Johanna Wright - Director of Product Management - Google
Cris Pierry - Senior Director o Product Management - Yahoo! Search
Erik Collier - VP, Product Management - ASK.com
Todd Schwartz - Group Manager, Live Search
Shashi Seth - Chief Revenue Officer - Cooliris

The session started out with Johanna. She started out discussing what exactly Universal Search is. It's Google's responsibility to give the user the data that they want. The best answers for the users. Google works on the premise to keep it fast, keep it simplae and above all keep it relevant. She used the local search example of the Original Joe's restaurant just up the street from the Convention center. She illustrated examples included images and video. She stated that in Google 20 - 25% of the queries that have not seen before. I assume pertaining to Universal search queries. There is a lot more support for queries in different languages.

Google decides what to show only after they collect all of the data. How they do they rank apples to organges? Well many type of signals are involved. For News for example, how recent did the news story/result break? There is a lot of deep complex understaning that goes into how Google ranks a universal result. There was not a lot of specifics presented here. Johanna did mention that they continue to update how they look at which results to serve up. A tip that she did give is to create high quality blogs to help with Universal Search.When deciding to serve up three local results vs. a result, Google bases this on the information that they have. the solution? More rich content.

Cris was up next. He started by showing how the search engine results pages have changed with blended search. Yahoo example used for for the query "Beijing olympics 2008". He showed other examples as to how Yahoo included photos and video into the search results. With video, users have he ability to play the video right from the result. This a pretty cool feature that Yahoo has incorporated into their blended results. He mentioned that blended search is important because it helps boost comprehensiveness and relevance that Yahoo can provide to the user. He touched on "Search Monkey" where site owners can open the results page and differentiate the result for the user. Yahoo appears to be sincere with their Blended Search efforts, they truly want to provide the user with the most relevant information. Cris mentioned that you can provide relevant plug-ins triggered on every page. Help the users get the right information at the right time. Serve up rich data so that the users can get more done faster.

The third speaker was Todd Swartz from Microsoft. He demoed how Live Search is trying to incorporate blened results into their search results. He used an example from the olympics where the Live Search SERP returned a medal count from MSNBC at the top of the results. It was apparent to me that Microsoft is still behind when it comes to blended search. He used travel and shopping examples where the blended search results were not necessarily innovative and showed images with the results. It was not until you dug deeper that you were returned with a better blended result. Todd did comment that for SEO you should pay attention to user reviews and ratings. This is obviously one of the key factors used by Microsoft when determining which result to present in their SERPs. Again Todd mentioned that Microsoft is detemined to serve up the best results for the user.

Erik was up next, which was exciting for me because I am a fan of the ASK SERP. I think that they really did a great job with their blended search results. Erik started to update us on the ASK 3-D experience. He discussed the blending in with the blue links. They are blending in TV results associated with movies and famous people. Try a search for "What is on TV tonight?" ASK is experiementing with placement of the search box. They blend organic results, Smart Answers, Images, Video, News, blogs. ASK probably blends more different types of results than any other major search engine. They use clustering to help determine which types of results they serve up. When there is breaking news, ASK determines which results should be ranking. Should they serve up all news results? It is difficult of when to show images or video. They A/B test to determine this. Erik suggested that there are times when you don't need to show blue links at all.

Blue links are easy because they cause the user to link them. Images do not necessarily require the user to click on them. ASK use user activity, time on page, cohort analysis (testing new content), online surveys. The future of ASK 3-D should present:

a slow death of the blue link
unique informaiton will be shown in addition to just page title and description (think ratings, social network shortcuts)
sponosred listings may slow down the progress of ASK 3-D

ASK does a much better job of revferene queries. ASK likes to show enhanced content more than the other engines. ASK shows a lot of partnered content.

Shasi was the final speaker. He showed some stats and that much has changed since the launch of Netscape. Screen resolutions have changed. It's pretty high across the world. We may not be taking of that. 70% of the monitors in the world are 17" or larger. We are not taking advantage of this. He posed the question, Why are we still searching and browsing like this? Shasi made an interesdting statement of the future of search where you have panels or walls of content that are blended together where you can quickly scroll through this content very fast. He likended this experience to walking through a mall and entering stores that pique your interest. He mentioned that this experience is going to be how blended and universal search will change in the future. Great presentation by Shasi.

I like the topic of the session as we are expecting Blended Search to become even more prevelant in the future. We are already seeing more video results, image results and news results mixed in within the traditional Search Results of the engines. The common theme communicated by the engines is that blended search is all about improving the relevancy of the results for the user.

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posted by Jody @ Monday, August 18, 2008  
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