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August 22, 2007

How Will Universal Search Affect SEO?

What is Universal Search?

Universal Search is rapidly becoming the next big step in search engine evolution. Universal Search is the integration of multiple kinds of media into search results. Search engine monster Google was the first to release universal search. Google’s users recently may have noticed images, YouTube videos, and other forms of media showing up in the standard results page. The other major search engines have all either recently rolled out their own versions of Universal Search or have announced plans to do so. Such a significant change in the operation of every major search engine warrants close attention from SEO companies.

This is not the first time Google has introduced multiple kinds of results on the same search page. For instance, Google has long put pay-per-click advertisements, local results, and book search results at the top of the main search page. It is also not the first time the company has offered searches in multiple kinds of media- Google Image Search is an age-old feature of the search engine giant. However, it is the first time a search engine has been able to put multiple content types within the same ranking system. For instance, under the new universal search system the number one result for a query could be a web page, a news article, a video, or even an adobe PDF document.

What are the aims of Universal Search?

Universal Search is a step towards comprehensive search. Google and the other engines realize that there is information available in more than text on the web. Pictures, videos, and virtually any kind of media can be of use to a searcher. Google has had the tools to search many of these kinds of media, but these search tools have been separated into different tabs and sections of their website. Universal Search is an attempt to bring the most relevant information- from any source or medium- to the search engine user. While currently Google’s Universal Search has not added search capabilities for mediums that previously did not exist, it has started to expand its video search past its own properties (Metacafe and other video services are now being indexed in addition to Google Video and YouTube), and it does indicate the industry’s interest in fully comprehensive searches. Universal Search, along with Google’s new personalized search features, is the company’s newest way of bringing the most relevant and effective information to their users.

Drawbacks of Universal Search

There are a few legitimate concerns with Universal Search. For one, Google may be putting itself at legal risk. Google has faced numerous lawsuits from many content distributors- especially newspapers- due to the fact that Google often caches copyrighted material. However, one of the main arguments against Sam Zell (the owner of the Washington Post) and his case against Google was that Google News, the section of Google’s site that serves as a news feed, did not have advertising and therefore made no money. Because of this, the headlines and story excerpts used on the page constituted fair use. However, now that news articles are being introduced to the main search page, where Google makes the majority of its money, Google may be in danger of more lawsuits.

Additionally, some critics of Universal Search have voiced concerns that the new system may be unappealing to users. Some feel that the system makes it harder to sift through results. Universal Search breaks up the uniformity of the page and could conceivably make it more difficult to sift through the information. At this point there is no way to turn off Google’s Universal Search- a point bemoaned by many industry bloggers.Universal Search is still in its early stages, and Google, as well as the other search engines, may eventually decide to pull the system. However, at this point, it would be extremely unwise for SEO companies to bank on a reversion as the industry as a whole seems to be moving towards universal search.

How does this affect SEO?

Many in the SEO field are worried about Universal Search, and the changes it will bring. While it is still uncertain just how expansive Universal Search will be as Google continues to implement its multitude of features, it is certain that SEO companies will need to react to remain current with effective practices. Until now, on-site SEO has dealt almost entirely with text content. Keyword optimization, meta data, linking and page structure are all text. However, with the advent of Universal Search, new viable options are opening up for the acquisition of traffic. As search expands to cover more and more kinds of content, SEO will as a result expand to cover those same areas. Much the same as SEO has had the goal of making all of the textual content of a website easily accessible to a search engine, so will it become necessary to optimize images, videos, and documents associated with the website.

SEO for different industries may start to take different approaches and have different focuses of optimization. For instance, an SEO campaign for an artist’s website may want to focus on promoting images of the artist’s work, whereas an electronics provider could want to get a demonstration video of their product to the top of the results page. Search engine marketers that have been paying attention to vertical search (also known as “specialty” search) will benefit the most from the changes brought by Universal Search.

Vertical searches are specialized search features of broader engines or specialty search engines. These index specific kinds of sites and documents on the internet include books, blogs, and other informational documents. Universal Search incorporates results from Google’s vertical searches, and content optimized for these searches will be more likely to show up in Universal Search. This should also increase the average user’s awareness of other search options in the engines that adopt universal search. Universal Search allows search engine marketers to direct users to the most relevant and enticing information available on their product or service in whatever media it exists.

Author:  David Salinas is the CEO of Digital Surgeons: A Full Service Internet Marketing Agency specializing in scalable result orientated online business solutions. He has had over four years of Search Marketing experience in the online marketing channel and has been a part of over 200 clients online growth both nationally and internationally.

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