By Jennifer James

Almost a year ago Google launched universal search, blending various types of content such as images, video and maps – into general search results. In one short year, universal search has changed the search engine landscape, providing searchers with all relevant content, from stock quotes to news and everything in between.

Before Google flipped the switch on universal search – quickly followed by MSN and Yahoo! – search engines had a lot of content in vertical categories. News was here. Videos over there. Blogs were there. It was complicated and, as a result, was ignored by the majority of searchers. Universal search changed all that – it brought a variety of content directly to the user on one easy-to-view page. In a nutshell, universal search provides searchers with content that they didn’t realize they wanted to find until it was found for them!

Because of Universal Search, optimizing (properly tagging) everything to do with your company – images, news, videos – is extremely important to ensure that you show up in search results. Web page SEO alone just doesn’t cut it anymore because there is a lot of content vying for the coveted top spot.

A ComScore study released in March 2008 further emphasized this point. The data, gathered during one week in the U.S. in January 2008, shows that there were 1.2 billion Google searches and, of that total, 220 million were universal search results. This means that 17 % of all searches on Google showed up with at least one result with video, news, images, maps, weather or stocks.

Research from the iProspect-sponsored “Blended Search Results Study”, conducted by JupiterResearch and the NPD Group, further confirmed that searchers click on universal search results more often than vertical search results. The study, also released in March 2008, indicated that if people don’t find what they’re looking for on the first page, they’re likely to start a whole new search, not dig through following search result pages. In fact, nearly seven out of 10 respondents said that they clicked on a search result within the first page of results. This is a growing trend – in 2008, 68% of searchers clicked on the first page compared to 62% in 2006. In addition, the study showed that fewer people were willing to click on results past the third page – 8% in 2008 compared with 19% in 2002. The study also found that 37% of searchers associated being at the top of a search page with a company’s leadership within its industry. Convinced to optimize all of your content yet? Here are some more great stats:

  • 36% of searchers click "news" results within universal search results; only 17% click a "news" result after conducting a news-specific search
  • 31% of searchers click “image” results within universal search results; only 26% click an “image” result after conducting an image-specific search
  • 17% of searchers click “video” results within universal search results; only 10% click a “video” result after conducting a video-specific search.

Bottom line: universal search increases visibility and presence on the web. Google changed how it searches, so you should be changing how you provide online content. You can get in on the universal search action really easily! How? At marketworld we submitted our address to the Local Business Centre, helping Google provide local search results to searchers searching both on the web and in Google maps. There are other key ways for you and your site to get the most from universal search, including:

So, happy birthday universal search. You’ve changed how we search (and have given us a great way to rise to the top of the Google search food chain)! Your e-card is in the mail.

(Jennifer James is a Communications Strategist with market2world communications inc., Ottawa, Canada's Web 2.0 tech PR and product launch agency.)