Universal Search: Is SEO As We know It Over? (Guestpost)

Mon 6 July 2009 10:30, Editors

Universal Search: Is SEO As We know It Over? (Guestpost)

I first met Anne Kennedy in person at SES Amsterdam where she was the closing keynote speaker. But I could have met her on any other SES conference world wide, because Anne travels the world to speak at different places and to get her international contacts to work together.

Anne Kennedy founded Beyond Ink in 1997 to bring the fundamental principles of marketing communications to online media. She is now Managing partner and founder at Beyond Ink and a member of several boards in the industry, which makes her one of the most influential people around. Who better than Anne to talk about Universal search?

Universal-Blended-Integrated Search: Is SEO As We know It Over?

A couple of years ago search results pages were all 10 blue links and ranking in the top spots was mostly a matter of your on-page relevance and the authority granted to you by your inbound links.  Nowadays, SERPs list so many visuals – images, thumbnails, local maps and links, that a #1 organic ranking frequently appears just above the fold, if at all.

While it’s tempting to moan that SEO just isn’t what it used to be --  which it isn’t, of course -- let’s flip this around and look at all the ways we can attract searchers to our sites by putting our digital assets in gear.

Universal/Integrated/Blended search results are not that new. Here’s what a  search for “lighthouses” from the US in 2005 looked like:

(Image copyright Beyond Ink LLC. All rights reserved)

Yahoo!, then Microsoft Search, and Ask all served up similar results, some calling the new style “Blended” or “Integrated”. By 2007, a searcher could look up popular entertainment, and find out where to see it by entering a Toronto postal code in a field . . . in the result!

(Image copyright Beyond Ink LLC. All rights reserved).

A very worthy advance, no doubt, and a big step toward improving searchers’ experience. However, for those of us who toil in search marketing, the net effect of adding all those results before the first organic ranking has been to push that link to below the fold, rendering it not visible to searchers who don’t scroll; many do not bother.

On the next SERP, Look for the line marked “fold” on this search from 2005. While the #1 organic ranking is visible, where is #2? Anybody see #3?

(Image copyright Beyond Ink LLC. All rights reserved)

Moreover, the appearance of universal search results has changed the way searchers scan the links on a results page, as proved by recent eye tracking studies. The sought after “Golden Triangle” in the upper left has given way to searchers’ eyes landing on the first image in the results, often a thumbnail next to a link for an image or video. From there they look up or down, but they don’t start scanning at the top, unless of course the top ranked link has an image in it.

It’s not so much that a picture is worth a thousand words; it is that a picture will make us READ 1000 words.

That image could be a local search map as well. Take a look at this recent UK result for “kentucky fried chicken” (For the record, exporting greasy fast food was not, in my humble opinion, our best US effort)

Skipping over the first links, a navigational result, based on Google’s assumption that the search was for the KFC website, and the inevitable Wikipedia link, you will see videos, and then a map of KFC shops near London. This results pages has something for everyone, which is broadly brushed effort by Google to satisfy a variety of queries. You want to know about nutrition (no kidding) of KFC? Listen to the Colonel reminisce? Easy. And for those who hunger for where in London to find finger-lickin’ goodness with 11 secret herbs and spices, that map is hard to miss and likely to draw eyes first.

News counts, as well. Take a look at search from Holland for Michael Jackson, mourned these days by music lovers everywhere.
Michael Jackson is very big news right now. News results rightly appear first, and with a thumbnail. Even before reading the link, the image assures searchers they have found Michael Jackson links and they won’t have to go very far to view a fave Jackson video.

Clearly, Google is rolling out universal search results beyond North America. Search Engine Optimization isn’t over, but there are so many digital elements to rank that they may well push your first text to below the fold. Or your competitors’. Think about that!

Smart SEOs are cataloguing, tagging and wrapping relevant text around images and video thumbnails and adding such digital assets to formerly staid press releases. So I have to ask, instead of “universal” or “blended” or “integrated” search, isn’t it about time we just called it all universal marketing?


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