Aug 20, 2008

SES San Jose - My Recap of a few key sessions..

Universal (Blended) Search This session was very popular last year – this time around, it seemed a little boring. I’m tired of hearing people say that the “10 blue link” search experience, is dead. I’ve spent many years in the online services industry, so I fully understand the value of a blended search interface – I think it’s great, however I don’t believe it will replace the simple SERP experience which made Google and other Search Engines so popular. I can only imagine how the SEO folks in these sessions, must feel. Each year they go to these sessions hoping to gleam some insights on how Search Engines trigger blended search results. The truth is, even the Search Engines are still figuring things out - and as they do so – traditional SEO tactics will not yield the expected results for certain types of keywords. The Product Mgr from Google provided some interesting insight: “Blended Search is great for advertisers – it drives more traffic and offers opportunities to present new ad types”. Someone else mentioned that paid listings as they exist today, will have to evolve. What’s interesting about all of this is that we all assume that the blended search experience is truly vastly better than the plain blue links with 2 or 3 lines of supporting text. If you show me a SERP which blends search results from video’s, Images, Blog Post and Maps and then show me another with just 10 blue links – I’m going to tell you that I love the blended search approach. I’ll say it’s more relevant, I like the value added content and I’m really loving all the bright colors.

However, If I'm searching for very specific information - my mind has already been conditioned to believe that 10 blue links with some accompanying text, is all I need. The problem with the Blended Search experience is that it starts to resemble a portal home page experience - which users can get from Yahoo, MSN, AOL or any general interest portal.

The key benefit of the traditional 10 blue link user experience - is that it's simple, easy to navigate and informative as well. Search Engines can present useful, relevant algorithmic results along with Sponsored links. Creating compelling advertising links over a blended search interface, will be challenging. There's so much great content available, that users are unlikely to actively engage with sponsored link placements.

This goes back to my central argument about the Search Landscape. In order for a Search Engine to be successful – it must serve 3 distinct customer segments, very well.

è Online Users – who generate the search queries and click on the sponsored links
è Website Owners/Keyword Buyers: Website Owners, Retailers/Wholesalers, Companies of all shapes and sizes – looking to profit from Search Engines
è SEM/SEO Players: Those who make a career out of helping Keyword Buyers & Website Owners – to gain exposure to the Online Users

Google is the only Search Engine which services the 3 customer segments very successfully – Blended Search hasn’t really taken off because – although it certainly provides some great value to Online Users, the rich results page experience presents challenges for SEOs and Keyword Buyers alike. Perhaps most significantly – users seem very content with the 10 blue link experience – can testify to that…….

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