Vertical search vs blended search choices

How are searchers choosing to search?

Blended search, also known as Universal search, has shaken up the search industry over the last year. This is the serving of different types of content in a search engine returned page (SERP).

Vertical search is the ability for searchers to look in content-type channels in a search engine e.g. news or images.

According to a study by Jupiter Research, searchers are still a little shy of vertical search, but when different content types are presented in the SERPs users are much more likely to click on these results.

Searchers still unsure of vertical search

The response for searchers using blended search results differ, perhaps indicating that either users are more comfortable with the main results being served to them than going down a channel which they perceive to offer less choice.

Blended Search responses


Blended search offers search marketers additional means of getting traffic. While searchers are still reserved about going down vertical search channels, this may change in the future as users get less patient with search results. (68% of users now don’t search past page 1!!)

However what is clear is the success of blended search – still in it’s infancy but it seems that searchers are liking the choice it provides.


Universal search and CTR

Universal search is starting to shake up search marketing. The recent posting on the Comscore blog makes the interesting point that while CTR for paid search might decline, referrals from Google on the whole could increase i.e. Universal search has the potential to drive more valuable traffic to sites.

At first sight this looks like a very non-commercial move from Google that might have a negative impact on thier paid search revenues (shareholders will no doubt have another wibble). But Google’s success is built on it’s importance as a resource to consumers/searchers. By blending the results, Google is servicing the needs of their audience first, and as sure as a cat’s a hairy beast search marketers will follow. SEO will become increasingly vital.

Put this in the context of CTR for paid search now averaging about 0.2% and video CTR on sites like Youtube averaging between 1-2%. There is every chance that Universal Search will provide more relevant traffic to sites and with around 17% of all searches returning blended results search marketers need to rise to the challenge.

Watch out for the scramble to market as the reality of this filters down the marketing hierarchy.

Is the World Becoming Vanilla?

So there may have been a glass or two of wine taken, but you know that when you get two or more digital marketers gathered, even over cheap pizza, there’s going to be a discussion on a) ideas for niche cool start ups b) latest virals on youtube etc or c) search. Last night was all three, but the conversation about personalised search is the one that stays with me during this slightly out of focus day.

So web 2.0 has been all about user generated content, web 3.0 is all about personalisation. Digital is getting to grips with some amazing behavioural and preference based opportunities. But with the convenience of personalisation comes a darker possible reality.

Take your profiling music engine. You like Tom Waits and based on this preference you get to hear Mr Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. You continue to review the content and based on your choices and the neural networking of the choices of other users, you continue to be fed music in one genre. But what about your penchant for latent 80’s, blue eyeshadow and big hair power ballads… should it remains buried somewhere deep in you subconscious. The problem is that you’re being fed content which is already part of your ken and experience, the randomness of life and musical exploration is dampened. (or is this the onset of middle age?).
But from a marketing/commercial side, this thinking is almost the antipothesis to the Long Tail i.e. supplying to the infrequent niche to large populations can be more lucrative in the digital sphere than following traditional demand and supply models.

So it’s similar with personalised search. Great; you can turn it on and off. Fantastic; getting results which have a higher probability of being what you are actually looking for is no bad thing! Search is already taking us through the back door of sites to what is perceived as being content relevant to our needs, but is there a danger that we’ll loose all that colour that an engine can bring to daily searching and all that will be on offer will be vanilla.