Universal Search Strategy for Video Is Not Universal

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The major search engines (in particular MSN, Yahoo, and Google) have taken different approaches with regard to the way in which they serve video search results in a universal search environment.  It is interesting to examine how universal search has changed and developed at each search engine over time as they test various strategies and learn the effects.

As reported by Vanessa Fox last week on SearchEngineLand, Google’s universal search initiative has undergone a sizable change with regard to how it displays video results.  It used to be that when you found a video result within the universal search results, the video was playable from within the Google SERP (search engine results pages), as seen in the following image:

If you conduct the same search today, you will notice that the plus sign and the “Watch Video” are no longer displayed and you can no longer watch the video within the search engine results page, as seen in the next screenshot:

google serp universal

What was the reason for the change?  I can think of several possibilities:

  1. Bandwidth Costs – I can imagine that this was a large enough issue to cause the change in strategy.  After all, Google owns Youtube and both have plenty of bandwidth.
  2. Advertising – Now that Youtube has been growing in terms of video advertising offerings and video advertisers, perhaps they do a better job monetizing videos when displayed within Youtube itself.  It would make sense then to push more traffic directly to Youtube.
  3. User Metrics – Surely Google was able to draw some significant conclusions with the data it gathered after offering this feature for the last year.
    1. It could be that users did not understand or utilize the feature with much frequency.  We know that users tend to click on the title of the search results.
    2. Conversely, perhaps users used this feature often and as a result, viewed fewer search engine results pages, resulting in less PPC revenue for Google, etc..
    3. Perhaps they did A/B and multivariate testing and determined that users who followed the link to Youtube vs. watching the video within the SERP generated more traffic and resulting revenue.  This would make sense as users who end up on youtube are shown a variety of related videos and additional information.
  4. Feedback – Surely Google has received ample feedback from users, video providers, and advertisers.
    1. Perhaps advertisers were upset with the fact that for the most part, only Youtube videos enjoyed this functionality (with a few exceptions).  Some thought that Google’s release of video sitemaps several months back was a way to help even that playing field.

Obviously a multitude of factors could have driven the change, but we must leave it to Google to explain.  As one would expect, their explanation revolves around creating an ideal user experience,

“We are constantly experimenting with new features to help improve the search experience. When some features — such as the “Watch Video” link — aren’t as useful as we want them to be, we remove them and go back to experimenting. We’ll continue to try out new features in order to provide the most useful and relevant search experience for our users.” – According to a Google spokesperson.

With Yahoo, video results are still shown with the “play video” functionality whereby a user can watch the video in its entirety on the Yahoo search engine results pages, as seen in the following screenshot:


Yahoo has also made some changes (not sure when) to how it treats these search results. As I was watching this video on the search engine results page, I stopped the video and the following message appeared:


If you choose “OK,” the search engine results page completely reloads, without the image thumbnail and without the playback feature as well.  In addition, you can see that they allow you to report whether a video is inappropriate or not directly from the SERP.  Perhaps this is not new, but I do not recall seeing this previously.

Finally, lets take a look at the way in which MSN Live handles video results within its search results pages.  When you see the video results, you can hover over the video thumbnails, and the video will play certain short clips and highlights from the video results.  Presumably, as Vanessa points out, this is a feature that helps searchers decide first if the video result is one that matches their query prior to visiting the result itself, much in the same way that other search results have descriptions.


Clearly MSN, like the others, is watching this feature closely.  You can see in the screenshot above that there is a snippiet of text – “Is this useful?  Yes | No.”  MSN is allowing users to provide feedback on this feature directly through the search itself.

So, what do you think will be the future for universal search? Will universal search strategies across the various engines adopt a ‘universal’ way to display video search results?  What do you think would be the ideal solution for the search engines to adopt?


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