Blended search optimization a must-do for marketers

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Marketers would do well to make sure their online images, video and press releases are optimized for natural search. A new study, published Monday by search agency iProspect, indicates searchers using the major engines are more likely to click on image, video or news link within the main, blended search results page than vertical-search results. (An example of a vertical search would be searching within the Google Images tab for a photo of Warren Buffett.) Vertical offerings from the major engines historically have been largely ignored, according to the study.

The survey, conducted online by JupiterResearch in December and January, found more than a third (35%) of search engine users do not use vertical search at all, and 25% do not recall if they have clicked a result after using vertical search. JupiterResearch said there were 2,404 respondents to the survey.

When it comes to image search, 31% of users click image results within blended search, while 26% click an image result after conducting an image-specific search. Seventeen percent of users click video results within blended search, while just 10% click a video result after conducting a video-specific search.

Videos are clicked infrequently compared to other vertical search categories. JupiterResearch said two reasons for this are that video is the newest form of specialized search and because video-specific engines such as YouTube have become very popular.

“You can’t pay for listings within image search results in Google, for example, so you need to stay on top of your optimization efforts,” said Peter Sargent, a VP at JupiterResearch.

Given the propensity to stay within the main page of blended search results, iProspect President Rob Murray said that marketers need to look at their search strategy holistically.

“With the advent of blended search results, marketers have to understand what their search shelf space looks like,” Murray said. “It’s like an aisle in a grocery store. At end of the day, whether it’s a blog or video or images, marketers need to understand what the search shelf space looks like for their category [on the blended results page] and build a search strategy to address it.”

Murray said sometimes that involves original content creation around digital formats. “For example, a b-to-b engineering portal might want to have specific video clips and an asset library with product specifications and product diagrams—and maybe a video of scientists talking in precise language,” he said.

Murry added that those various content types don’t necessarily need to reside on a marketer’s Web site. “They can live on YouTube or blinkx, or Flickr or a Technorati blog,” he said.

Sargent said he agreed with this strategy. “What we understand about the basics of algorithms used by engines is that part of what goes into natural search rankings is referrals to your content, so that whether that resides on your site, or on a blog or in the press, each of those is taken into account,” he said.

The study also revealed that brand equity is conveyed upon companies whose digital assets appear in the top search results. Thirty-nine percent of search engine users link search result placement to company prominence.

Finally, while optimizing for blended search is inherently more complicated than the straight text, it also provides opportunities, especially for the smaller marketers.

“This may be relevant to small and midsize businesses,” Sargent said. “There is to some degree a level of weight given to [marketers that appear at the top of blended search results],” he said. That weight would level the playing field for smaller, lesser known marketers.

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