Blended Search: A Year Later

Believe it or not, it’s been nearly a year since Google launched Universal Search. Given that, how has your marketing changed over the last twelve months? If it hasn’t, it should. Let’s take a look at why.

The development of universal search heralded in a new era in search engine marketing. Overnight, various types of digital content – such as press releases, images, and video – were blended into the general web search results (where previously it was limited to vertical searches). Not surprisingly, Yahoo! and Live Search soon followed suit with similar offerings of their own. Today the development is commonly referred to as blended search.

And the effect of this change?

The web page is no longer the de facto search result. Today, a general search can just as likely return a video or image result in the top spot as it could a web page. The development translates into a major shift in page real estate in the general search results.

But like many marketers, you might be wondering what prompted the engines to make such a dramatic shift. Why fix something if it isn’t broken? The answer is most likely twofold: inventory and relevancy.

Prior to the blended change, each of the major search engines had a huge inventory of content in their vertical categories (news, images, videos, etc.), but few ever tapped into it. And despite their efforts to get users to explore these offerings, the content remained largely ignored. So much so, in fact, that industry pundits dubbed the vertical categories “invisible tabs.”

Since the engines were unable to get users to consume the content where it resided, they needed to develop a way to bring the content to the user. And blended search does exactly that. Moreover, it accomplishes it without the need to affect a change in user behavior. Ultimately, it brings a variety of content types directly to the user, where they are most comfortable and open to receiving it.

But there’s more to it than that. Beyond providing exposure for massive inventories, the engines likely developed blended search to also improve relevancy. For instance, providing users with a wider array of content to choose from in the general results may help reduce the ambiguity of user intent expressed in a query. In the end, it could help provide a better user experience.

But the skeptic in you might be wondering if blended search will really affect you. Will users click on these other types of digital content within the general search results? Perhaps they ignored the vertical categories because they weren’t interested in such content.

Fortunately, new research answers those questions and more.

Conducted by JupiterResearch and sponsored by iProspect, the iProspect Blended Search Results Study quantifies users’ propensity to click-on specialized results – news, images, video – within blended search results, compared to that in the vertical search results.

Below are a few of the key findings:

  • 36% of search engine users surveyed click on a “news” result within the blended search results page, while only 17% click a “news” result after conducting a news-specific search on the News tab.
  • 31% of search engine users surveyed click on an “image” result within the blended search results page, while only 26% click an “image” result after conducting an image-specific search on the Image tab.
  • 17% of search engine users surveyed click on a “video” results within blended search results page, while only 10% click on a “video” result after conducting a video-specific search on the Video tab.

Overall, the study shows that users are roughly twice as likely to click on specialized search results that appear within the general search results page than they are to click on those types of results within the vertical search categories.

The implications of this should be obvious to marketers.

Since web pages are no longer the ultimate search result, marketers have a great opportunity to claim more real estate in the general search results by leveraging their news, image, and video assets. In essence, blended search increases a marketer’s inventory and improves their chances to be found amongst the clutter. While marketers might have sidestepped investing in the development of such content types in the past (because users previously ignored the vertical categories), they would be ill-advised to follow that course today. Undoubtedly, those who lack such digital assets will essentially forfeit page real estate to their competitors.

To best capitalize on blended search, you need to develop a diverse digital portfolio and build a holistic search strategy. Doing so requires assessing both your current digital assets and the competitive search landscape in your business category.

To start, first take an inventory of all of your available digital assets, by class and type. In the process, be sure to make note of whether or not you own the digital rights to your image and video assets.

Next, define what the search landscape looks like for your category. Think of it as shelf space in a grocery aisle. Are most of the results pages on your keywords returning images, web pages, press releases, videos, or blog results? What position do particular asset types tend to be in? Gaining clarity on this will in turn guide the further development of your digital portfolio.

Lastly, once you know what your search shelf looks like and what kind of inventory you have available to put on the shelf, make sure your digital assets are optimized – otherwise, they’ll never make it there.

The bottom line is that blended search has changed the competitive landscape of the search results page. It essentially increases marketers’ inventory and chances to show up amongst the clutter. The question is – are you prepared? Companies that have developed and optimized a variety of digital assets will have a distinct competitive advantage. Those who lack such assets will not only forfeit page real estate to their competitors, but quite possibly, a whole lot more.

Robert J. Murray is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at The Brand Aid column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: Strategy


About The Author: is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at

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