Is Google Not So Portal-Like After All?

During the Orion Panel on universal search at last week’s Search Engine Strategies conference, James Lamberti, SVP of search and media at comScore, presented new data that raised a series of new questions.

As Kevin Ryan reported in “Uncovering the Real Universal Search,” comScore found that in only one week in January, of 1.2 billion search queries in the U.S., there were 220 million universal search results. That means 17 percent of all searches on Google showed at least one result with video, news, images, maps, weather, or stocks.

The data also showed that 57 percent of the 87 million people who searched during that week in January saw some type of universal search result. Of those, 38 percent saw a video result, 34 percent saw news, 19 percent saw images, and 15 percent saw multiple types of results.

Google is now sending 78 percent more downstream referrals to YouTube, 40 percent more to Google Maps, and 18 percent to Google Image Search than it was before universal search debuted last year on May 16. However, the data showed no growth in downstream referrals from Google to Google News.

Since the search result page is beginning to operate as a destination, this prompted:

I saw the same data and asked a different question: “Why hasn’t universal search increased traffic to Google News?”

The quickest way to answer this question was to conduct a query on Google that showed news results blended into the universal search results. On March 23, I Googled Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain and found news results in universal search results for all three presidential candidates.

“News results for Barack Obama,” “News results for Hillary Clinton,” and “News results for John McCain” linked to Google News. But, we now know that universal search isn’t boosting downstream referrals to Google News.

So, I took a closer look at the headlines for the top three stories about each of the presidential candidates. These headlines linked directly to Pakistan Dawn, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, AFP, Salt Lake Tribune, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and TIME.

This prompts more questions. Are universal search results pages becoming destination pages for news, or is Google bypassing Google News and referring more traffic directly to the news search engine’s more than 4,500 English-language news sources?

Recent data from Hitwise provides the probable answer. Last month, Hitwise reported that the market share of U.S. visits to the News and Media category had increased 22 percent for the week ending Feb. 23 (after universal search), compared to the same week in 2007 (before universal search).

According to Hitwise, “The Print category, which is comprised of online magazines and newspaper websites, increased 23 percent for the week ending Feb. 23, 2008, compared to the same week during the previous year. The most visited website within the Print category last week was The New York Times, which received five percent of the market share of visits.”

Now, call me a contrarian, but it appears that The New York Times and other newspaper Web sites are benefiting more from universal search than Google News itself.

So, what does this mean to search engine marketers?

It means you want to “go beyond” the debate over whether the second click takes you to YouTube (which Google owns) or The New York Times (which Google doesn’t own). In either case, you want to get found in that second click.

Before universal search debuted, this meant creating a useful, information-rich site, and writing pages that clearly and accurately described your content. Today, it also means creating videos for YouTube, pitching stories to The New York Times, and generating other original and unique content of genuine value.

This is what The New York Times has done. Back on April 9, 2006, Steve Lohr wrote “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” In the article, he reported that the Times Web site staff “has undergone some search-engine optimization training.”

And now they have the most visited Web site within the Print category. Coincidence? I think not.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization and public relations firm. He covers news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog. Greg is one of the 25 successful online marketing gurus interviewed by Michael Miller for the new book, Online Marketing Heroes.

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