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Google’s Universal Search and What It Means For You

Google’s Universal Search and What It Means For You

Google Universal Search

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an increasingly complex field. Google is rewarding original content more than ever before, favoring videos, images, and shopping links in user searches. The term for these rich snippets embedded in your web search is Universal Search Integration. Universal search encompasses all the results other than simple website links (or blue links) on a Google search engine results page (SERP). Today a simple query can produce Wikipedia entries, images, and map locations.

While the SEO field was once focused primarily on cramming as many keywords onto a page as possible, today it’s a tapestry of high quality content and strategic uses of rich media. These universal results come in all shapes and sizes including: images, videos, news articles, shopping elements, and map locations. Universal results have become increasingly important since Google introduced the feature in 2007, these. How important? A recent study by Searchmetrics found that in 2013, 81% of all Google searches included universal search elements.  Universal search integration poses two problems for SEO professionals:

  • Are you optimizing for universal search?
  • And are you incorporating universal search into your reporting?

The Breakdown

Want hard numbers? Searchmetrics studied search results for millions of keywords and found which integrations were most common. Across the keywords researched in 2013, over 81% had universal search elements on the SERP. Within that 81% this is how the elements shook out.

  • 65% Video
  • 45% Images
  • 18% News
  • 5% Product Listing Ads (PLAs)
  • 1% Maps

Note: Percentages add up to more than 100% because one keyword may have multiple elements. If you need further evidence that you should be optimizing more than just text, then check out this simple Google query (or try one yourself) for “Jewelry.”

Click image for full results.

As you can see, of the Google listings on the top half of Page 1 only nine are traditional links to websites. The full breakdown is:

  • Jewelry SERP Pie Chart

    Google SERP Percentages

    9 Traditional Links

  • 8 Ads
  • 7 Map Pins
  • 5 Images
  • 3 News Items

So while traditional links make up the plurality of the top ranking pages, it only accounts for 28% of the total real estate on the SERP. So while optimizing websites through traditional keyword rankings will always be important, it’s apparent that taking the time to create rich content, optimize images, videos, and securing local listings for businesses is time (and money) well spent.

Are You Optimizing for Universal Search?

There are several steps you can take to create more robust search elements. If your website already manages a blog, be sure to utilize the ability to integrate Google Authorship to posts. By connecting your Google+ profile. This will give your blogs posts authority, strengthen keyword impact of the post, and integrate social media to your posts, all of which amplify work you’re already doing. Amplification is key in the era of universal search results. Simply writing content is no longer enough. It is essential that you spend time optimizing the work you’re already doing. It may seems like a small task, but creating image alt-tags that match on-page keywords can help produce significant results. Similarly, optimizing video text on YouTube and Vimeo amplifies the reach of your work. Ideally, each element will simultaneously build upon each other. Finally, as you begin to build new content – whether that’s blog posts, videos, or new web pages – keep the SEO implications in the front of your mind. SEO is best when it’s fully integrated into a project, and not an afterthought. Identifying which keywords are most integral to your business (not just from a branding perspective, but which keywords are consistently generating the highest rate of conversion), and creating content to maximize your share of voice. Is your site taking advantage of universal search integrations? Take a few minutes and use these nifty tools to find out if your site is optimized so that Google and Facebook are able to display the rich snippets integral for success. It is important, as you work towards universal search optimization, that you also implement a comprehensive method of tracking success and failure in this new field.

How to Track Universal Search

At Forthea, we’re ahead of the curve. Our partnership with BrightEdge provides us with unique insights into universal search results. With the ability to track universal search placements, we can provide clients with a holistic measure of keyword success and create strategies to maximize opportunities. Most reporting platforms are still reporting keyword ranks based off an incomplete data set. Forthea has already begun tracking universal search terms for our clients and we’re building strategies to optimize for the entire brand. Below is a snapshot view of the power of universal search integration tracking.

BE Universal Search

Universal Search Reporting

As G.I. Joe once informed children everywhere: knowing is half the battle. Being able to track universal results is a great new insight that we’re very excited about. Identifying areas where clients are stronger – and weaker – helps us to devise a custom strategy to get them qualified leads, no matter how the user is searching.

Mastering Universal Search

So now with this broader approach to SEO and keywords, how can one hope to master it? Creating media that ties-in with your targeted keywords is important. The new Google landscape means it is time to turn your focus to optimizing images or video. If you’re in a position to create high value content – and to Google that means blog posts, original images, and original videos (preferably on YouTube) – then it is well worth the investment. But it’s not enough just to create this content, you need to ensure titles, descriptions, and alt-tags all line up with your targeted keywords. It also helps to be sharing that content across social media platforms. Universal search integration isn’t going away any time soon (or probably ever), so it’s up to you, SEO professionals, to be the master of all trades. Creating a rich environment of content that builds your brand is just part of daily life. Accept it, embrace it, own it. If your business is ready to master universal search, email us today and take the first step towards building a complete digital strategy.


Nick Lindauer
Nick is the vice president, client services and operations at Forthea. He’s been working in internet marketing since 2002, when – ironically – he answered an ad in the newspaper. When he’s not at work, he’s off spending time with his family, working on his house, building furniture, cooking on his two Big Green Eggs & brewing hot sauce.

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