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Google Universal: Friend or Foe?

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I've been displaced. I'm not being found as much as I was. I'm losing visitors. All because of Google's Universal Search. What were they thinking? Why are they doing this to me?

Sound familiar?

Google's switch in May to Universal Search has more than a few marketers awash with panic over loss of rankings – and understandably so – since some have lost visibility due to other digital content such as video, images, or blogs, etc. occupying valuable real estate within the search results.

If you're feeling much the same, here's a bit of advice: Relax. All this hand-wringing is for naught. Universal Search actually represents a huge opportunity for marketers – that is, if you're smart enough to seize it.

There are countless well-optimized and search-friendly websites in existence, but how many of them have a dominating video strategy? How many of them are represented in images, blogs, and finance? How many of them also have a news strategy?

Personally, I doubt there are many companies – if any at all – whose products and services are well represented by every type of digital content. At least not yet... but there will be.

If you don't have a diverse portfolio of relevant digital content, start working on it. Pronto. The more relevant digital content you have designated for each of Google's verticals, the greater your chance to start occupying valuable page real estate again. But don't spend too much time agonizing over the decision, as there's a distinct first-to-market advantage to be had.

And while diversifying your digital content is an effective tactic, it's not enough in itself. You need a strategy.

Just because you have the most real estate, doesn't mean you get to win. Why? Ultimately, the integrity and relevancy of results will demand safeguarding against organizations who seek to dominate the search results. Given that eventuality, marketers need to dismiss the notion that it's all about driving traffic directly to their websites.

Instead, there's a bigger goal: Get in front of your prospects, regardless of where they are on the Web. To remain competitive, marketers need to realize that they can't own it all. In short, they need to extend their presence across the Web.

Specifically, marketers need to begin optimizing content for other sites so it will rank for their target audience. Ideally, you want other sites to occupy space alongside you, so that users begin to see a consistent theme regardless of where they visit from a search results page.

The aim of doing so is to encourage customers to not only endorse offerings on your site, but also those on third party sites such as review sites and the like. This is vital, because the best stories are told by customers. Period.

Smart marketers will also understand that the purpose of this approach is not merely to lure prospects to your site. Rather, it holds branding value. It creates additional opportunity for prospects to become familiarized with your brand. In essence, it creates more touch points.

Granted, such initiatives – and the mindset change needed to embark upon them – might prove a tad challenging to adopt at first (especially in the direct response world). But, if you can begin to draw correlations between an increase in direct visits to your site that coincide with more views of your videos on YouTube or more user posts on blogs, you can begin to build a case that your other touch points are indeed making a difference.

In addition, one could argue that such a strategy is more valuable because it diversifies your efforts, and in turn, reduces your risk or dependence on just one site (i.e., Google). Having a presence on other non-search sites that are appearing in the search engines does just that.

Moreover, adopting this approach not only holds the potential for quantitative improvements (increased traffic), it could be said to lend qualitative advantages as well. How so? If you're driving more direct traffic to your site through all your ancillary brand initiatives across the Web, a case could be made that visitors are far more qualified because they have seen the brand so many times that they remember it and manually type the URL to get to you. That takes effort.

The bottom line? If Universal Search has you in panic mode, relax. The change actually represents an opportunity for marketers. But as Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Instead of bemoaning your loss of rankings, what you need to do is invest in a diversified portfolio of digital content, and develop and execute a good search strategy that goes beyond just search engines – and fast – because the opportunity exists to be first to market.


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