The Google Conflict: Search Engine or Destination?

Google’s search results are evolving into destination pages, marking a change in the way marketers and Google itself will have to do business.

That assessment was made by several speakers during a Search Engine Strategies New York panel discussion about so-called universal search or blended search. Under universal search, an engine serves up search results such as news, video, or images at the top of the search engine results page. (Search Engine Strategies and ClickZ are owned by the same parent company.)

Of some 1.2 billion search queries on Google during a one-week period in January 2008, universal results were presented about 17 percent of the time, according to research released by James Lamberti, comScore’s SVP, search and media. What’s more, the total number of clicks on universal results totaled 16 percent.

“The search result page is beginning to operate as a destination,” observed Lamberti. “The consumers are a priority. Not the marketers.”

Plus, Google sent nearly 400 million search referrals to their own multi-media properties, such as YouTube, over six months. That includes 148 million referrals to YouTube and 173 million to Google Images, the comScore data show.

Another panelist, John Battelle, chief executive of Federated Media, said Google’s moves, including its purchase of YouTube and use of video overlay ads on that property, suggest the company is rethinking its business model.

Battelle also wondered whether Google gives preferential treatment to its own content, such as Google Finance over Yahoo Finance, a popular finance Web site. “It’s interesting, if you put in ‘stocks,’ Google Finance comes up first… It used to be that Yahoo was first,” he said.

Jack Menzel, project manager for Google’s Universal Search, said the company aims for relevance. “We try not to promote ourselves any more than we believe is fair,” he countered. “We try to be relevant as possible and not biased toward ourselves.”

Battelle shot back: “You guys are becoming a media company and let’s call it that.”

Battelle said he had met comedian Damon Wayans earlier that day at another conference. Wayans, he said, discussed how he’s a YouTube partner, has a revenue sharing arrangement, and indicated that YouTube guarantees his channel 60 million impressions.

When Battelle asked Menzel about whether such a distribution agreement could exist, Menzel said he had no knowledge of that.

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