Since May 2007, we have been hearing about Universal Search
and Blended Search
. Google was the first of the major Search Engines to unveil blended results as part of their main search results in May 2007 with Universal Search. ASK was second in June of 2007, followed by MSN in July 2007 and Yahoo in October 2007. Yet here we are two years later and the discussions have died down a little. When’s the last time you heard someone in your office discuss blended search? Of course there are exceptions and early adopters, but in discussions that I have with many, they are not yet leveraging blended search optimization
. How is blended search affecting B2B websites? Should B2B sites be optimizing for blended search?
What is Blended Search Optimization?
Blended Search optimization is simply the process of developing relevant content in a format other than a typical web page so that it appears as part of the different types of search results within the major search engines. There are numerous types of blended search results
that are now being featured as part of a search engines main results. Types of blended search results include videos, shopping results, images, news results etc.
Why is Blended Search Important?
The short answer is that searchers (i.e.. users of Search Engines) are expecting richer experiences. They are looking to find relevant information that answers their questions and their need for timely, relevant information. In the past, this need was satisfied by newspapers, print, radio and television. With the digital age and with the emergence of digital natives (More on Digital Natives here) and millennials, people are looking for dynamic types of content. Not just a blue link with a somewhat relevant description. Hence the need for blended results. Some users relate better to articles and press releases, others to podcasts, images or videos. The fact of the matter is, depending on the nature of the searcher’s query, the type of results that they are looking for will vary. This is why blended search is important. Someone looking for a new CMS solution may be more tuned in with a video demo as opposed to a webpage that describes what a CMS is. Blended Search results provide a richer experience and search landscape for the user. Searchers are looking for this. They are no longer satisfied with ten blue links on a results page.
Does Blended Search Work for B2B?
The short answer is that yes blended search optimization can work for business to business websites. It depends on your blended search strategy. For example, we know that unlike a B2C site that may feature a large variety of products, for B2B sites things such as optimizing shopping feeds to improve visibility with shopping results may not be the best avenue to pursue (for the simple facts that a typical B2B site may not have a series of "products" to submit). However, things such as video optimization, news release optimization, image and blog optimization can all help increase the visibility of a B2B site on a search results page. From an SEO perspective, blended search optimization can work well for B2B sites.
The SERP landscape has become hyper-competitive over the past three or four years. Being found in Google, Yahoo, Live Search or even other vertical search engines is becoming increasingly difficult. While it is not necessarily about the rankings, it is about the visibility and about the click. A 2008 study on blended search from iProspect outlines, the continued importance for marketers to ensure that their digital assets are found within the first three pages, if not the first page, of search results. Blended Search provides an opportunity to accomplish this and in some cases effective blended search optimization can allow an organization to dominate the real estate of the Search. We have clients who actually represent 30-60% of a Google SERP for a given key phrase as a result of strong blended search optimization.
The secret with blended search optimization for B2B sites is that there is no secret. You simply need to understand your audience and the type of content that they prefer to engage with. For B2B sites, this means testing the type of content that you feature on your site. Do users engage with videos better than PDFs? Or is your audience looking for news updates and articles describing your service/product offering? Perhaps they are looking for content that is updated frequently such as blog posts or maybe they are simply looking for user reviews and testimonials about your brand. This is where a social network result such as Facebook or Twitter may prove beneficial. While technically not a blended search result, social network results for your brand are a different type of result that elicit a specific response (participating in a community setting) from the searcher which is why we classify social network results as a "type of blended result". The fact is, the searcher may be looking for a different type of result when searching for your brand or related key phrase.
Past search research dating back to 2004 shows that typically users will not look past the third page of search results, in fact many might not even click through to the second page of results. As a B2B site, having the ability to "own" multiple results (and multiple types of results) on page one of Google or Yahoo for a non-branded key phrase can provide a great return in terms of intercepting your audience. This is what blended search optimization can do for a site. You can have a traditional website result as well as a video result or perhaps a news result to intercept these clicks and gain this traffic.
Three Types of Blended Results That B2B Sites Should Focus On
While the following is not specific to B2B sites, here are three types of blended search optimization that B2B sites should focus on:
- News/PR Optimization – optimizing articles and press releases is a great way to find your site within the blended results of Google, Yahoo or MSN. The Engines (and searchers) tend to treat news results as more relevant due to the timely information that is within them. Launching a new version of your software or a new strategic partnership can provide useful information to your target demographic. As a result a well optimized press release can show up in Google News and in the blended search results displayed by Google. Not to mention that in Google, News results tend to appear above the top organic results of the SERP or after the first one or two organic results meaning that they often occupy prime real estate within the results page. Furthermore, deeper analysis from the above mentioned iProspect study indicates that search engine users click "news" results more than twice as much (36%) within blended search results as they do when they use the vertical "news search" (17%).
- Video Optimization – for whatever reason video results seem to appear more often than other types of blended results such as image results, book results etc. All B2B sites should feature some video content on their site and/or on a video aggregator site such as YouTube that demos a product, explains their service, communicates their unique competitive advantage etc. Video may resonate better with certain demographics and as a result create more engagement with your brand from the SERP. The messaging in the video can be more targeted than say the information that a user receives once they click through the "blue link" result from the results page. Perform a search in Google for "supply chain management". Depending on the data center that you hit you should be returned with a couple of video results (as well as a couple of image results) in addition to the typical blue link text results that would normally appear.
- Blog Optimization -blogs, love them or hate them are garnering more trust as a resource than typical web results. Optimizing your blog posts and posting regularly can be a great way to tap into the blended results for a topic specific keyword query. Blogs that feature relevant and informative posts about a specific topic have been known to show up in the main search results of Google. The thing with blog results are that they can appear "blended" in within the normal results, meaning that they look like a typical result, or they can be labeled as a "Blog Result" indicating that they are in fact a blended result. A search for "online marketing" or "Susan Boyle’ in Google returns both.
Blended Search is all about content and the type of content that you optimize for your audience. Does it apply to B2B? Yes of course it does, for blended search optimization is simply another way to gain visibility in the organic/natural search results of a search engine. So while rankings may be dead, visibility is not. Blended Search allows you to optimize content and different types of content in order to intercept your audience to begin or build a relationship between the searcher and your brand. So while they may not convert on this initial visit, they will at least engage with your brand and become more aware of what your organization has to offer.
Labels: b2b, blended search, Google Universal Search