Here’s today’s column, originally published in MediaPost, which continues in the extended entry.
GOOGLE JUST GOT MORE HONEST. That’s the main premise behind its
universal search announcement last week. Honesty has a way of making a lot of
people worried, but the immediate implications for marketers are minimal. It
does, however, provide marketers with the impetus to institute a long-term
holistic optimization strategy. More on that in a minute.
To recap the news, Google’s new universal search initiative
incorporates some of its vertical and specialized search results into the main
search engine results page. Google has been working on this for years; Google
Vice President of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer blogged that
this initiative has been
in the works since 2001.
Google’s bloggers say that the first iteration of universal search
right now centers on video, news, local, and books. Searches with video results
showcase the most dramatic changes. For instance, for a search on coke
mentos, Google includes three videos in the results, two from Google Video
and one from YouTube. Each of the video results has a thumbnail image from the
video, along with a "watch video" link which, when clicked, opens the video
right in the body of the results. All three of those videos can be played at the
same time. The purity of text-only search results is waning at last.
Marketers in all likelihood have one of three reactions to the
universal search news:
1) Awesome. I’ve been anticipating this since 2001 and have
aligned my search engine optimization strategy along these lines for years.
(Congrats. You’re such a rare entity that most people don’t know you exist.
You’re a black
2) Uh-oh. I’ve been thinking this way for a while, but I haven’t
done anything about it. (Congrats. You’re still ahead of the curve.)
3) Holy @$%# — I’m screwed. (Fear not; you’re in good company,
and there’s less of an immediate impact than with some of the previous Google
For those marketers in camps two or three, this is where the
holistic SEO strategy comes into play. You have to optimize around all of
Google’s vertical and specialized offerings — namely news, video, and local —
For more on how universal search works, consider a search on
Google for a newsworthy topic. In the era way back when before universal search
(in other words, earlier last week), Google would sometimes feature listings
from Google News atop the 10 natural listings on the first page. If links from
Google News didn’t merit appearing up top, then that section wouldn’t appear at
all. The inclusion of Google News links didn’t affect the ranking of the first
page of search results at all, though it did require that users scroll a bit
more to see everything on the page.
Now, with universal search, Google’s algorithm decides whether or
not to include Google News up top, or somewhere else among the first page of
results. A search over the weekend for "Mets" brought up Google News listings on
top, followed by nine other listings — meaning News was the first result,
rather than an add-on above, so it bumped one result to the second page. A
search for "Tigers" brought up the Google News results as the fourth listing.
The first takeaway is that search engine optimization continues to
get harder. Universal search gives Google one more way to compete with every
other listing. There’s something almost mythical about appearing the first page
of search results, but click patterns reliably show that clicks on search
results follow a power curve distribution, where the top few listings get the
most clicks, and each listing down — especially on subsequent pages — is stuck
in the long tail (for more on power curves, check out blogger
Noah Brier, who’s always worth reading).
To tackle this challenge, marketers need to pursue a holistic
approach that involves optimizing for all of Google’s vertical services. With
local, a starting point is Google’s Local
Business Center, referenced by columnist Heather
Frahm last week. For news, it means press release optimization. Video is a
more complicated issue, as universal search aims to improve the indexing of
Google Video and YouTube videos. Marketers who focus on optimizing video on
their own sites will still want to redouble those efforts, especially if
syndication isn’t part of their strategy.
Marketers should also look to the future. Google’s specialized
search functions span images, code, patents, scholarly journals, and blogs, to
name a few examples. Optimize any asset you think Google will find of interest.
And while you’re thinking in this direction, keep the other engines in mind.
With Yahoo, optimize for Flickr, del.icio.us, My Web, and any of its vertical
search engines. For Microsoft, you may well one day be optimizing around the
In other words, universal search’s action item for you is to
optimize everything. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.