Last week, Microsoft Live Search expanded the description that appears below Wikipedia results and added navigational links to major headings within the Wikipedia article. Google has long been gently mocked by the search marketing community for ranking Wikipedia results highly for a large percentage of queries, but the general searching population tends to find these results useful. Microsoft must have found that their searchers find Wikipedia results particularly valuable for their queries to have implemented special treatment for them.
Below is the Wikipedia result for the query breakfast at tiffany's on Live Search. The description that appears below the title is twice as long as standard descriptions and links to sections within the Wikipedia article are listed horizontally below the text.
Below more details about the expanded Wikipedia listing, as well as on the overall trend of all the major search engines showing increased details on the results pages and what that might mean for site owners who are worried about lowered click-through rates.
Microsoft Live Search Expanded Wikipedia Listings
Wikipedia appears to be the only site that is receiving these expanded listings, although since the infrastructure is now in place for this type of special handling, I wouldn't be surprised to see this display used for other sites as well. The links below the description differ from standard sitelinks that appear for many sites on all the major search engines in that they link to sections of a single page (whereas sitelinks link to other pages within a site) and they appear regardless of the position of the listing (sitelinks tend to appear only if the listing is the first result).
At first glance, this new treatment may seem like a special advantage for Wikipedia, but it's just as likely that the searcher is now more likely to get an answer on the search engine results page (SERP) itself and may not need to click through to the Wikipedia page. The click through rate could theoretically go down with this new display. Search marketers with sites listed in the search results for queries that return a Wikipedia page may also find reduced click-through behavior to their sites if the Wikipedia listing provides the answer to the query.
Search Engines Continue Evolving Search Experience
This move is one of many user interface changes that the search engines have been making in an effort to fulfill their primary goal of providing searchers with exactly what they're looking for as quickly as possible. Some of these changes, such as Google's recent launch of site search on the search results page, have made some search marketers fear that they're losing visitors and content that once was only available by clicking through to sites is now available on Google itself.
However, from a marketing perspective, any interaction with your brand raises awareness, and while interaction on the SERP is clearly more difficult (if not impossible) to measure than a search referral, that interaction is still valuable. In some cases, it may be more valuable, if the user associates the positive experience of a quick answer with your brand. With that in mind, it's more important than ever to ensure both your brand and primary message are prominent in your title tag and meta description tag.
Yahoo! is, in some ways, taking this idea one step further by enabling anyone to create enhanced listings for a site's search results with their new SearchMonkey program. A site's users will be able to opt-into those enhanced listings and subsequently may often get enough information from the SERP that they often won't need to click through to the site. For instance, a Yelp enhanced listing developed someone identified only as a "Yahoo! user" is available in the SearchMonkey gallery and opting in to that causes Yelp results in Yahoo! to look like this:
Yelp users may find that an enhanced listing with a ratings summary, address, and hours for a restaurant is information enough. On the one hand, this could mean fewer page views (and thus, lower ad revenue). On the other hand, it could mean increased loyalty and branding that may ultimately cause users to visit the site and contribute to it more often (and thus, higher ad revenue).
A Wikipedia SearchMonkey application is available as well (also seemingly developed by a third-party), although it's more understated that the Live Search display. A SearchMonkey-enhanced Wikipedia result on Yahoo! has a simple arrow below it, which if you click on it, opens to a full table of contents for the article.
Google Discontinues Video Playback in Search Results
Not all search engine attempts to make the search results experience richer for users will be successful. As the engines start to experiment beyond the standard ten blue links, they'll presumably find that some aren't as useful for searchers or are too poorly received by site owners. Google, for instance, introduced a video playback feature directly in Google's search results, as part of its universal search behavior, but that feature is no longer available. A Google spokesperson told me:
"We are constantly experimenting with new features to help improve the search experience. When some features — such as the "Watch Video" link – aren't as useful as we want them to be, we remove them and go back to experimenting. We'll continue to try out new features in order to provide the most useful and relevant search experience for our users."
You can, however, still watch videos in their entirety on the Yahoo! search results page.
Microsoft Live Search handles video playback in the SERP a little differently, possibly in an attempt better meet the needs of the searcher who likely doesn't want to watch full videos from the results page, but just wants to determine if the video is the one they're looking for before they click through to the video page. If you hover over a video thumbnail, the video jumps to "highlights".
Evolving the Customer Relationship
Search engines will continue to experiment with ways to enhance the searcher experience, which is clearly a win for searchers. If search marketers and site owners view the search results page as another way to engage with customers, they can benefit as well. The way the site is presented in the search results will continue to gain importance and we may need to find new ways of measuring search effectiveness beyond click through.