Google has evolved its search results to include images, news, recent blog posts, videos and related links.

Let’s build a quick to-do list to spruce up your site for Universal Search.

It’s the video and images which appear in Google’s Universal Search that people notice. The news and product listings are what people notice next.

It is often argued that the Google Local oneBox and sitelinks aren’t technically part of Universal Search.

From a marketing manager’s point of view, however, both of these changes came to Google during the introduction of Universal Search and significantly change the landscape so let’s talk about them here too.

It’s certainly true to say that a large map with 10 addresses draws more attention than any video thumbnail embedded further down the search results.

Google’s sitelinks are the smaller links which appear, in an indent, after the first listing. Sites qualify for sitelinks on a per query basis and once Google’s certain that the right site has the first position. Sitelinks are an extension of navigational searches at Google.

One common reason why brand sites fail to attain sitelinks is the use of domains. If a big brand employs a multi-domain strategy then Google may not be confident which of the many domains is best matched to the term. This does not mean one of the many domains will not outrank the others in organic search but it can certainly prevent the sitelinks from appearing.

Sites aspiring for sitelinks should work on their navigational search SEO. Sites should make sure their brand or homepage keywords are the ones searchers would use to find the site and this may sometimes cause a conflict between promoting the site or promoting a particular product on the homepage.

Once sites have achieved the sitelinks it is important to understand that Google’s algorithm awards them based on a combination of on and off-page factors. The first set of sitelinks may not be the pages you wish to drive traffic too. It is possible to opt out of specific sitelinks via Google’s Webmaster Console. Opting out of a specific sitelink does not opt out of sitelinks as a whole may reduce the number of sitelinks a site enjoys for a number of months.

Sitelinks can affect PPC. If a site has a full complement of eight sitelinks, a Google Teleport box and a second branded result then that site nearly owns the first half of the top page. The addition of a PPC creative can often be enough to reach that psychologically important ‘domination of search’.

In the UK, the only videos that appear in Google’s search results are from Google owned properties. Suddenly the YouTube acquisition makes even more sense. In the States alternatives like Metacafe can also appear.

Users with their safe search turned off will often be able to watch the whole video without ever leaving Google’s results page – for these searches Google acts as a destination. Users with safe search on (which is not a default setting) will see video thumbnails which point to where the video is on display in YouTube.

If you spend a lot of money producing a high quality video then it is understandable that you will want to display them on your site. While Google Universal Search’s selection of ‘trusted’ video hosts is restrictive brands face a video distribution dilemma.

To have any real chance of your video appearing within Google Universal search then the video needs to be hosted on YouTube, it needs to rank highly in YouTube’s own search engine for the term you want, it needs to be tagged, commented on, linked to and popular.

A very good way to boost the popularity of a video on YouTube is through an ethical search marketing campaign. Just be prepared for the campaign to fail – brand videos are rarely the sort of clip that the YouTube public watch. A video of your CEO falling into a puddle is likely to be more popular.

If you do have videos on your site and want Google to pay as much attention to them as possible then don’t forget about the video sitemap option.

Maps and Google Local Search
Perhaps the biggest disruptor to search traffic has been the introduction of large maps and ten phone number and address links. A search for [something] in [somewhere] will often produce this map today, for example, pizza in london.

The best way to ensure that your details are present in the local business map is to be present in Google Local. There are two ways in:

  1. A feed via Google Base.
  2. Manual submission via Google Local.

Neither scenario is quick. Once Google has your details it can take up to four weeks for the next update to Google Maps.

The map oneBox also shows the biggest cluster of matching locations near the centre of town. If you have a single business on the outskirts then your chances of listing for a generic [in city] search are reduced.

A few years ago, there was little business case for most brands to look at image SEO. Any ‘image optimisation’ was usually the process of getting the best quality images in place but at the lowest bandwidth cost and sometimes that meant excluding search engines entirely.

It was not that long ago that the biggest use of Google Images was people stealing images for their own site or HTML newsletters. Google’s Universal Search has certainly changed that.

A good example of an Universal image search (and of a Universal Search in general) is for Darth Vader. A click on the image takes the user to a framed result with the image thumbnail at the top and the web page which the picture appears in below.

Sometimes sites configure web servers to not show images when appearing in an external frame or when Google Images are involved. This tactic is mutually exclusive with getting your images included in Google Universal. In fact, sites should look at how they behave when presented in a frameset in general.

Optimising for images can be complex but has three simple and effective core elements

  1. Use keywords in file names.
  2. Use appropriate keywords in alt attributes.
  3. Use appropriate keywords in the semantic text around the image.

Queue jumping your products to the very top of Google’s organic rankings is a smart thing to do. To see this in effect try a search for ipod touch.

Froogle is gone now and has been rebranded as Google Product Search. The way into Google Products is via Google Base.

We’ll see Google push Google Checkout this year and an easy way for them to do is to increase the attention merchants who use Google Checkout get in Google Product Search. This is certainly something for retailers to consider.

Products that have information about them will rank more highly than products with just price information. The fuller and more detailed the Google Base feed the better it will do.

As users can refine Google Product searches by ratings it is also worth keeping an eye on the rating sites. Google likes to use traffic to judge the quality of ratings sites – the more traffic it gets; the more likely it is to be a rating site that Google Product Search uses.

A very bad idea is to place fake reviews in popular review chart. Follow that route and you’ll find yourself in PR Nightmare City. That’s not a nice place to be.

There is no escaping how important Google News is to publishers. Simply put; Google News can drive many times more traffic than Google Web.

The trick to do well with Google Web and Universal Search for a site that’s in Google News is to aim for the clusters. This is particularly hard if you’re breaking the news. Clusters form around the common keywords associated with a popular story. If you break the news then it can be hard to predict what the common keywords will be.

Once a news story starts to cluster then it can appear as a news result insert into Google Web.

A very good tactic is to associate a small square image with the news story. Clusters only show a handful of text links even if there are dozens or even hundreds of articles which match the cluster keywords. There will only be a few images associated with a cluster and they’ll cycle in and out over the course of the story’s lifetime.

Code et al
There are other types of Universal Search results but this is already a long article and these more obscure results move the needle less on the marketing decision scale.

An example of a more obscure Google Universal Search result is Google’s Code Search. This is illustrated by this search for strlen – or string length.

Is that code snippet useful to you? It might be if you’re a programmer. However, if you’re thinking of naming a new product or finding a quirky brand for a web 2.0 site you may want to check to see whether or not it is also a function or command in any popular programming language or you may find it very hard to find page space on Google.

Breakfast with e-consultancy
In fact, as this is such a large topic I think it needs extra time. I’ll be presenting at an Econsultancy breakfast briefing this week on Universal Search. If you’d like to find out more then you’re welcome along.

Andrew Girdwood is Head of Search at



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