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The Real Impact of Blended Search

ryan-kevin
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Every major search engine has launched some form of blended search results. Images, news, video and local information is now being delivered in one easy-to-use and sometimes personalized interface.

Google's universal search, Ask's 3D, Yahoo's "new search" and Microsoft's Live Search are certainly changing the way search marketers look at queries and results pages. The "new and improved" search dynamic is aimed at providing better monetization for ancillary search-engine-owned sites like Flickr and YouTube, while improving search function for users.

Are searchers warming to the blended search concept? Will they abandon the new format and seek out the simple search page from days gone by? Will Google’s stock reach $700 as a result of increased mashed up search revenue?

The Downstream Story

Some of the biggest questions search marketers have about blended search results surround user adoption. How are people searching? What are they searching for? Search engines are dumping millions into mainstream media awareness initiatives, but is it working?

Most of the questions can be answered by studying searcher behavior. Changes since launch have included increased traffic to popular video and image sites as a result of blending web results (text links) into search pages with video and image results.

One could argue that search increases have come as a result of overall market share increases. This argument is definitely valid, but according to October comScore data, referral rates are increasing faster than overall market share growth. For example, growth to YouTube via referrals from Google increased by 78 percent from March to August 2007. Visitor growth to YouTube increased 75 percent on its own.

The standalone traffic growth in contrast with referral gives us a very clear picture of what's happening behind the search scene and answers one of our key questions. Traffic is not slowing as a result of search result diversification, quite the opposite is happening.

Spurring Growth

Leaving aside last week's ethical or moral considerations for search sites sending traffic to sites they own, if we compare Google's traffic into blended areas pre and post Universal search launch, we see more insights into blended search results pages.

Pre (March)/Post (August) Analysis of Google Search Refferals to Select Google Channels
Mar-07 Aug-07
Google Entity Referred Uniques (MM) Referral Visits (MM) % Visits from Google Search Referred Uniques (MM) Referred Visits (MM) % Visits from Google Search
YouTube 14.0 80.3 14 24.4 142.8 12
Maps 15.1 32.4 39.9 19.3 45.2 44.1
Image 30.5 147.2 19.9 35.8 173.4 23.4
Video 9.7 63.8 57.3 10.2 76.2 60.3
News 7.7 31.6 40.9 7.3 32.0 41.5
Total Net 177.3 12,075 14 181.3 11,797 12
comScore MediaMetrix, October, 2007

While most of the data speaks for itself, again comparing pre and post launch information tells us that Google is hanging on to traffic for both Google and YouTube domains. Referred unique visitors are up but the remaining question (where will the money come from) remains.

"In 2005 and 2006 we saw enormous monetization ramp-up efforts from the search engines," says James Lamberti, senior vice president of Search and Media for comScore Networks. "What we haven't seen until now are the fruits of those efforts."

Quality Over Quantity

The new search page is driving market growth. While other formats are seeing growth, blended search seems to be driving growth of search advertising bigger and faster than other ad formats. As Lamberti points out, 2005 and 2006 seemed to focus on increased monetization, with little product or searcher benefit focus. Universal and blended search numbers tell a whole new story for 2007.

Search Monetization Pre (March 07)/Post (August 07) Comprasion
Search Engines Pt Chg in % Searches With At Least One Ad Present % Increase Paid CTR
Google -10 pts 14%
Ask -14 pts 15%
MSN -9 pts -30%*
Yahoo! Flat 12%
* Club.live promotion have hurt MSN's paid CTR
comScore qSearch, October, 2007

With the exception of MSN, every major search site saw vast increases in click rates on search advertisements while the actual number of ads has decreased.

Over the long term, we'll have to pay close attention to search advertising revenues compared to the number of ads shown. Short term analysis implies that fewer, perhaps more targeted ads would lead us to believe that improving the quality of search results with blended content is more favorable for searchers and the search engines.

Once again – with the slightest tinge of sarcasm – who would have thought focusing on improving search quality would lead to more revenue?


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