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SEO Game-changers: Expert Interview Series, Part 1

Below is part one of a two-part interview w/ SEO Guru Mike Grehan. Mike's examples are striking, and his ability to see far down the road is legendary. He speaks at the major Search confabs around the world... he's also a dear friend of mine. Now, w/out further ado, let's get into this most provocative interview... LC

Blended vs. Universal Search

Larry Chase: I notice many Internet marketers who aren't specifically in SEO or PPC may not be familiar with the terms universal search or blended search. Please explain what they are and if those terms are interchangeable.

Mike Grehan: The whole purpose of Blended Search, or Universal Search, is to bring different file types from many different sources onto one results page. All of these sources were previously available, of course, but they were locked in vertical channels, such as video, local search, and so on.

In search, we have created this language of our own and came up with terms like "Blended Search," which is the industry term for it, and "Universal Search," which Marissa Mayer at Google coined and is Google's term for it.

Yahoo has something similar, called "Shortcuts." They have a saying for search: "From 'to do' to 'done' in the shortest possible time."

Search is very much a task-based thing. People wake up and have something they need to achieve. Maybe it's the weather, helping kids with homework, or buying a digital camera.

What the search engines are looking for is a "signal" that's relevant to the user's query. The search engine can say, "Oh, here's a URL with a Web page featuring content about digital cameras, but, there's also relevant video content over on YouTube." The search engines also notice there's recent financial news about the manufacturer of the digital camera in question. Additionally, the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) feature retail outlets, local to the user, that sell the digital camera the user wants.

In this way, Blended, or Universal, Search creates a much richer end-user experience.

The end user has decided with clicks that they know what they're looking for. We can get away from this obsession with 10 blue links ranked in specific order, 7 of which are not relevant but you don't know that until you pick through them all.

Case Study: Successful Use of Blended Search

LC: How could a marketer take advantage of Blended Search?

MG: You can use it to gain much more visibility more quickly on the search engines. I demonstrated this with a short video I did to promote Search Engine Strategies London 2008.

I uploaded the video to YouTube, AOL Video and Metacafe. Then, I went on various social-media sites and social-bookmarking sites like Delicious and StumbleUpon and tagged it, blah blah blah.

After that, I sent an email to friends and family, asking them to play the movie, being sure to play the whole thing, and then go to Delicious and StumbleUpon and tag it.

That video achieved a No. 1 ranking in about 8 to 10 hours.

Game-changer for Search Results

LC: With Blended Search, do you have any compiled data that suggests people are going to click on those videos rather those passive blue links? Is one type of result more popular than others?

MG: On a results page, you have the 10 blue links and images and embedded video. The golden triangle is the top left side of the page. The minute you put images on pages, (and I've seen this in eye-tracking studies), the eyes of users dart all over the search results page.

LC: So, it explodes the golden triangle?

MG: The golden triangle does disappear when search results feature images. Here's what I mean:

I did a Webinar in which I showed a search results page featuring four images of [the singer] Beyonce, each one showing her in a swimsuit. The conventional wisdom in SEO is if you write a compelling title tag, even if your company is No. 1 for a keyword, you'll get more clicks on your link; but, no compelling title tag is going to stop me from clicking on those images of Beyonce in a swimsuit.

What's Happening with Local Search?

MG: Local Search is becoming very big in Universal Search results. People see different results for the same query, depending on where they are, which is another reason why search ranking goes out the window.

Different SERPs result because of different data centers. Also, if someone is logged into their Google or Gmail account, Google will deliver personalized results.

(More on local search in Part Two of this interview, which will run in a future issue. Stay tuned.)

LC: Do you see skewed results if you have the Google toolbar installed?

MG: No. The data you send back via the toolbar might help indicate more popular pages, but if you are logged into any part of your account with Google, you will see all kinds of extras and add-ons. Google knows which results you prefer because it knows which results you click on.

Digital Asset Management

LC: I hear you refer to digital asset management (DAM) in some of your presentations at Ad:Tech and SES shows. What is it?

MG: Digital asset management is a move away from SEO. In the initial part of the equation, you had files the (search engine) crawlers couldn't deal with.

Now you have all of these other places you can go to make sure you have visibility in the search engines. Today, it's not about ranking but about visibility.

DAM is really digital asset optimization. What you want now is domination. A combination of paid results, blue links, video posts, etc. You want to own the page, with all of these verticals blended together.

The Problem with PageRank

LC: You're not a big fan of PageRank. Why?

MG: PageRank, when it was first developed, was very novel. When we were hand-coding pages in the millions, we could deal with it, but the Web grows exponentially.

Google even mentioned it. Somebody asked how many pages were out there, and Google said, "We have no idea, and no time to find out." They did say they had 1 trillion URLs but will never be able to crawl all those pages in a timely fashion.

In that sense, PageRank isn't really democratic, as the Web was intended to be. You have the filthy linking rich, meaning people with links get more links.

There's so much user-generated content now: videos, pictures, blogging, networking sites, bookmarking sites. PageRank in the way it was originally developed can't possibly work in real time, because there are so many pages hidden away in databases. With dynamic pages, and a couple billion new links every day, it's just not possible to crawl them all.

Coming in Part Two:

  • Why you shouldn't hoard your videos on your own Web site
  • How to make your business appear in searches that happen outside of Web browsers
  • The future of search


Mike Grehan is Global Director of Keyword-Driven Marketing (KDM) for Acronym Media, where you can download his latest white paper, "New Signals to Search Engines: Future Proofing Your Search Marketing Strategy."

Mike Grehan is also chairperson of Search Engine Strategies 2009 London.

Find Part Two of my interview with Mike Grehan here.