Uncovering the Real Universal Search

Ever wonder just how fast universal search is being adopted? How about the number of searchers that include a universal result? Perhaps more importantly, what’s the real impact of search result multiplicity?

You asked, and we found out. This week’s SES New York saw many new things, but Tuesday’s Orion Panel on universal search finally shed some light on the biggest change in search since Idealab launched paid listings.

Snapshot in Time

Way back in the middle of last year, I asked comScore to provide some real digestible and useable information about blended search results for discussion at Search Engine Strategies. Since that time, we’ve been monitoring search activity within “new and improved” search.

At first, analysis revealed the universal rollout rates were slow. Despite all the talk about bringing video, images, and other vertical-type results, most users were still seeing the “ten blue links.” In other words, comparing the number of searches that contained universal results compared to non-universal results revealed a relatively small ratio of universal to non-universal results.

Well, it seems all that is about to change, according to the latest comScore data shared yesterday at SES by James Lamberti, senior VP of search and media at comScore. In his quest to provide me with the universal search data I asked about, he 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.

Wait, it Gets Better

Looking at it from the individual searchers angle, the data shows that of the 87 million people who searched during that same week in January, 57 percent of them 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.

What Else Does it Mean?

Aside from the obvious need to consider every aspect of your site an integral part of your search program (something prognosticators have been recommending long before search multiplicity appeared on the scene), the real impact of the new search interface might be a bit disturbing. It’s beginning to look like Universal search is changing the way searchers interact with search results, and with ads.

comScore’s findings support the assertion that the search result page is transforming from a directional guide to a destination. In other words, there are fewer ads appearing, which means fewer clicks. Fewer clicks mean fewer dollars for search sites and increased competitive activity in search results.

As James said during the Orion Panel at SES New York Tuesday afternoon, “If the search engine results pages begin to operate as a destination, a lot of things change for those of us in this room.”

If this trend continues, marketers will have to consider the changing interaction with search results when planning marketing initiatives. The practice of SEO (define) will become more important than it has ever been.

Last, but not least, metrics applied to other areas of online marketing will have to apply to search. The “view through” as a success metric may now apply to the search. Of course, the very notion of search as anything but a direct response vehicle is difficult to accept, but we may not have a choice as the pages we know and love continue to change.

Then again, all Google or any of the other search sites have to do is pull back the technology and focus on old school search result basics, i.e. text. Another very important option to consider is that we’re looking at a very small snapshot in time and most blended search results are still in “test” phases. That’s to say, everything we know (or think we know) can and will be refined and changed a dozen times before we see the space stabilize.

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