Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Where Is Blended Search for Ecommerce Queries?

When the concept of blended search was introduced, the search engine optimization (SEO) industry and ecommerce retailers got very excited. By optimizing the images and video content that many sites already produce, search engines were adding visually appealing content to the standard 10-blue-links search results, and the doors to winning more natural search visits were opened.

Image search has been heralded as the next big optimization front for ecommerce. Images are always a better way to increase brand impressions, and sites that included video reviews and how-to guides were expected to leap past their boring blue-link search results competitors.

Although blended shopping and news results are very common (as are local results for searches related to brick and mortar retailers), I was hard-pressed to find a shopping search that included images or video blended in the natural results. Where are all the visually appealing blended results for ecommerce queries?

Examples of Blended Search

Let’s say I want to send roses to my grandmother for her birthday. I search Yahoo! for “send red roses” to find a florist. I clearly want to take an ecommerce action – buying red roses for someone. The search results are very plain and boring, but, I do find a florist. The results of a similar search without purchase intent, i.e., “red roses”, blends in images for a much more attractive search results page.

I’m likely still going to scroll down a bit to find a florist, because what I really want to do is send roses, not just learn about them. But as an e-tailer, I want Yahoo to blend rose images into the purchase-intent search as well. Some rose images could also result in a click-through to an ecommerce site and even a conversion. If the image is branded, at the very least it would make a brand impression.

Here’s another example. Let’s say I’m in the market for some trendy new shoes, and my friend just got a pair of hot Jessica Simpson shoes. As you might imagine, a search on Google for “Jessica Simpson” returns images and video blended in with the natural search results. But, narrowing the query to a product focus like “Jessica Simpson dress shoes” produces a standard results set with the product at the top. That’s a step in the right direction, but Google has great images indexed only a click away at its image search. Why can’t they be integrated as well to add more interest to the page for searchers and to give sellers a chance to rank in a visually appealing way?

For example, Shoes.com’s Jessica Simpson shoes page has the top ranking spot in the natural results as well as in the top image search results. Including image results with the product results (blending) would be a natural pairing.

Interestingly, I did uncover one product search that returned a blended video result: “wrap maternity top”. Women’s clothing designer, Isabella Oliver tops the natural search rankings, and won a blended video result. Spotting video results in a product- or purchase-based search result set is unusual, and this example speaks to the power of a successful product video.

One last example involves Bing, the newest seach engine. Like the other search engines, searching Bing for “Jessica Simpson” returns images and video blended in with the natural results. Bing also provides faceted navigation designed to help searchers focus their queries for stronger relevance.

But a product-focused search like “Jessica Simpson dress shoes” on Bing returns only the usual list of 10 blue links; that is, until the searcher scrolls to the bottom, where they find shopping results with large images. Now that is what I’m talking about (though Bing’s version is essentially paid advertising). Why can’t it be done with natural searches as well? And instead of putting visuals at the bottom, they should put the eye candy within easy reach so merchants can capitalize on those impulse purchase clicks.

Bottom Line

Image and video blended search is not designed yet to allow online sellers to showcase their products and brands. Without a doubt, search engines need to consider their human users’ need for relevance and understandability. But why not add visual appeal to the search results pages and allow online retailers to win extra exposure at the same time?

Search engine companies, it’s time to blend image and video into more product- and purchase-based searches. Online merchants, it’s time to position yourself for success by optimizing your image and video assets to increase your visibility when the search engines come around.

Jill Kocher

Jill Kocher

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. travistruman June 17, 2009 Reply

    Product images in search results will be driven by wider adoption of the hProduct microformat http://bit.ly/ouF0x by retailers.