SMX West: Universal Search Abides, Dude

Universal search brings video and images to searchers

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The big thing in search brings more than text to searchers. Images and video figure in the universal search plans of the major engines.

(Coverage of the SMX West Conference continues at WebProNews Videos. Keep an eye on WebProNews for more notes and videos from the event this week.)

During the Search 3.0 track session on Videos, Images & Blended Results, Todd Friesen clarified some history behind blended search. "I’d like to point out that Google did not invent universal search… Ask.com did," he said.

Universal search sweeps different media types into the results pages. No more list of ten plain text links. This iteration of search reflects the changing nature of the searcher, who expects rich media results mirroring his or her interests.

The ten blue links still exist in Google’s results, for example. But now these are complemented with results from news, images, videos, blogs, even books when appropriate.

SMX West: Universal Search Abides, Dude    SMX West

This represents an opportunity for site publishers to reach an audience beyond text. High quality content of relevance to searchers will bring them to a publisher’s site, whether it is text or something else.

Eric Enge noted comScore’s estimate of image search activity: seven percent of all searches take place in image search. More optimistic figures from other quarters peg that figure as high as 15 percent.

Images become important in search due to the scanning habits of people looking at a web page. In plain text search, Enge said studies found people scan over a page in an ‘F’ pattern. Add images to the mix, and they scan the top of the page before going directly to the pictures.

If you want universal search to find those images, attention must be paid to URL attributes. One HTML document with a bunch of variable images doesn’t work well; worse, Enge noted the potential for this being treated as duplicate content, with the usual penalties a search engine could assess.

ALT attributes are the publisher’s friend. Words like ‘pictures’ or ‘images’ or ‘photographs’ help here, as Enge cited a case study his firm performed. They found a universal search inclusion rate of about 30 percent without descriptive words in the ALT attribute.

Once those attributes were in place, inclusion rates jumped to the 70 percent range for a nice increase.

Benu Aggarwal discussed videos and universal search, saying three out of five people consume video online today. She provided a nice six-step list to creating and promoting videos:


1. Keyword research/story board.
2. Video production
3. Optimize the video for web delivery
4. Surround the video with HTML
5. Create Media RSS; create video sitemap
6. Do video submissions and track your video views


Keyword phrases for video pages are just as important as they are for other content. She also tapped Flickr as a friend to video creators, since screencaps of interesting content can be uploaded and tagged at the service.

User expectations have moved beyond text. Modern Internet users see images and videos as a given part of the experience. Since so many millions of people use search engines to get what they want, site publishers should work at capturing their interest through universal search.

SMX West: Universal Search Abides, Dude
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