Universal Search 101

During your SEO studies, you might have come across the term universal search or blended search. Not sure what it means or how it works? Then this article is for you.

Universal search has been around since 2007 when Google announced a significant change to its search engine. Soon after, Ask announced their Ask 3D platform and Microsoft Live announced their new Live Search. Yahoo followed up with what they called the new Yahoo Search.

Search is Universal
  • Add a press release about your product and post to PR sites for promotion
  • Add a blog post about your product
  • Produce a short video about the product and post accordingly
  • Go beyond your Web site and push this content into various social media channels

Now all the major search engines use a new form of search results designed to bring a better user experience to searchers. So what is universal or blended search?

What is Universal Search?

These upgraded search engines return more than the just the traditional text results. Now they bring back images, news, local listings, shopping, video, blog posts, etc.

For example, go to Google and type in "iPad" and see what shows up in the SERP. You'll see news, real time posts, images, and the usual text results. All of this blended together is what universal search is all about -- trying to provide a richer experience to the searcher who may be looking for more than just a site to visit.

iPad Google Universal Search Results

Try this out yourself. Go to each of the major search engines and see if you can identify how each attempt to provide this experience.

What Does Universal Search Mean to Search Marketers?

New rules mean new challenges for search marketers. No longer are you trying to just optimize for certain textual content, but now you need to optimize for video, images, local, news, and blog results. Plus, you may have enjoyed good rankings in the past but now they have been pushed down by each of these new data sources.

If you don't have any of these data sources on your Web site, achieving the rankings you desire might be harder. The process of optimization just became more complex.

Look at your approach to universal search holistically. Don't look at optimizing for just video, then images, then news, for instance. Look at all of your digital assets and see how they all fit together and relate to one another.

In some cases, you may need to create new content. This isn't a bad thing. You really need to have more than just text content to compete in today's marketplace. You need to have all of the other media types as well.

How to Optimize for Universal Search

If you plan to launch a new product and put it on your Web site, don't just add the usual picture and text about the product. Take it much further. Add a press release and post to PR sites for promotion. Then add a blog post. Produce a short video about the product and post accordingly. Go beyond your Web site and push this content into various social media channels.

Do you see where this is going? Again, if you think of this with a holistic perspective and from the beginning it will be a lot easier to manage.

There are many other aspects of optimizing for universal search. This chart, with comments from some industry experts, does a good job of showing specific things you can do to optimize for universal search.

Hopefully you understand that you need to produce, optimize, and promote all of the media types that your customers/visitors and search engines will respond to.

Be optimistic. Don't look at this as more work on your part, but as a new opportunity to develop richer content and explore new marketing channels. As you create new content in different media types you will be setting yourself up for the long term and building a sustainable, searchable infrastructure that will keep you going way into the future.