Whilst it is not a new concept, it is surprising how little media attention universal search has had in comparison to traditional SEO optimisation techniques.
Have search marketers been missing a trick? The short answer is yes I think they have.
So what is it? Universal search or blended search pulls results from multiple data sources to provide the most relevant results to a user based on their search needs.
At the recent Search Engine Strategies conference in London, it was suggested that 33% of all search results now contain a blended result and this comes as no surprise. Blended results are particularly prevalent in industries where decisions are made with visual aids like that of the travel industry or in situations where instructions are more easily consumed through rich media – such as how do I do the tango – in these situations text descriptions just simply doesn’t cut it.
This alone however doesn’t capture the essence as to why in particular rich media formats are so important within SERPs.
So why else is it important? Firstly it is that blended results present the opportunity to dominate the SERP results. As Google now aggregates content from Maps, Images, Local, Books, News and Video it presents sites with far more opportunity rank on the first page, and not just onsite – but also offsite on sites such as Wiki’s and social media sites. Combine these opportunities and they are far greater than the opportunity than to simply rank in the SERPs through text only optimisation.
What is also more appealing to the end user is results which draw the eye away from text results towards the more visually stimulating content – turning the traditional position=clicks equation upside down. And this isn’t just a theory we have dreamt up. Google has in-fact conducted an eye tracking experiment to prove the changes that universal search is having a major impact on behaviour.
Google Eye Tracking – Universal Search
So what does this mean for your SEO strategy? The first step is to re-frame some of your pre-existing thinking. With content portability the web is now about people interacting with your brand on and off your site, thus you should look towards an SEO strategy which sees you dominate SERPS on and offsite.
Look at how you can leverage from organisational assets for the benefit of SERPs. For instance do you have images, videos etc that are part of your content strategy – if so how can these be optimised onsite and also used on third sites. Does your PR team distribute news via online PR tools – if so do they feed into Google and Yahoo news results?
As a final note of advice, this is just the beginning. Universal search will become an even bigger phenomenon as Google and other engines start to test the ability to read videos through voice recognition software thus the true explosion in this arena is yet to be seen. So start to prepare for it now.