For some years now, search engines have been integrating relevant results from their niche search engines into the results of web search. The search results are expanded to include relevant multimedia elements such as images, videos or PDFs. Google calls this “Universal Search”. Special content types such as news, products or yellow pages are also displayed. If companies optimize these special media for the vertical niche search engines, they can generate additional traffic via the universal results.
There are a variety of search engines out there, Google’s web search is just one. There are also niche search engines which, as vertical search engines, cover special areas such as individual media types, industries or services. The three major search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo! offer vertical searches. In addition to web searches, Google also conducts vertical searches in the areas of video, news articles, products, images, places, scientific publications and books, among other things.
Universal Search: vertical search results in one place
With the launch of “Universal Search” in May 2007, Google integrated relevant results of its vertical searches into the search results page. The web search – previously actually a niche search engine exclusively for websites – is now becoming a universal search. The term “Universal Search” refers specifically to Google, while the terms “Blended Search” or “Enhanced Results” also refer to other search engines.
With the Enhanced Results, Google and other search engines are expanding their text results with multidimensional content from other media types. These include videos, images or PDFs. On the other hand, they summarize special content types and industries. This is the case with news, shopping results, yellow pages or the more recent hotel and flight searches.
Display depending on the type of search query
Which vertical search results Google integrates into Universal Search depends primarily on how closely they match the user’s intention of the search query. If a user is looking for instructions and explanations, videos or pictures are often found. If Google recognizes a regional reference, local search results are displayed . But the assignments are not always that clear. It is therefore advisable for website operators to check the potential of their universal search displays for the relevant keywords and to match them with the intention of the search query.
In December 2012, according to the Universal Search study by searchmetrics on Google, seven out of ten keywords led to a universal search result. The overlays of videos come first, followed by the results of the image search. Instead, shopping results, maps, and news are displayed less frequently.
Universal search types and their optimization
Universal Search is created by Google displaying various results from its niche search engines in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Positions). In order to be listed as a website in the extended results, good rankings in the vertical search engines are necessary. Only then does Google take the results into account when displaying the enhanced results. Website operators should therefore optimize the individual media types for their website accordingly .
Videos make up a large proportion of the advanced results. Search phrases in the context of previews, reviews, tutorials, instructions, tests or explanations lead to video results. Queries related to music or films also very often show video previews.
To optimize videos for Google video search , Google itself gives some advice . The main thing is to make it easier for Google to understand the content of the video. Ideally, there should only be one video on each page. Content that refers to the content of the video, suitable titles and awards via markups help Google to classify the video. A suitable preview image appeals primarily to the searcher. Where the video is hosted is also crucial for optimization. If a video is hosted on YouTube, Google is more likely to show it on Universal Search via the YouTube link. If your own website is the goal, it is therefore more advantageous to host the video on your own server.
Google also frequently shows images on Universal Search. This can be within the web results or in the information box of the Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph, introduced in 2012, bundles the most important facts in a central location, especially for informative inquiries (see figure).
When optimizing images, it is also important to convey the content and relevance of an image to Google. The ALT attribute, the image file name or the incoming links are important for this. The content in the immediate vicinity of the image also signals to Google which content can be found in the image. Images should therefore, at best, always be surrounded by content and not be in the sidebar.
Places / Local Results
Around five to ten percent of the keywords lead to Google Places entries. These are particularly important for regional providers and in the context of local SEO. A distinction can be made here between pure Places displays and the displays of organic hits with linked Places profiles. Using the search phrase “Keyword + Location” or the location determined, Google decides for which region it outputs the industry results as pure blocks of location overlays linked to Google Maps.
First, companies should claim and confirm their Google Places entry for optimization. By choosing the right business fields and providing an informative description, Google can better classify the business type. The ratings on Google Places and other connected rating portals also influence the ranking . In addition, companies can optimize their own website for Places. The company name, the location and the industry should be used in the title, in the meta description and in the content. A focus should also be placed on this data in the off-page area. However, it is important to pay attention to naturalness and the correct use of the brand .
Google Shopping is the vertical search engine for physical products. Google receives the data for the products by means of a feed via Google Merchant (formerly: Base), which the shops send to the search engine. In February 2013, Google switched this search to a paid model in the form of Product Listing Ads (PLA). This means that companies have to pay for the clicks on the displayed products, which Google does with a link to AdWords.
In order to increase the display for Google Shopping, on the one hand, optimization through AdWords is necessary. This includes bid optimizations. The product data from the Google Merchant Feed determine whether Google shows the advertisements with product information. This is why the content of this feed must also be prepared. This depends on the product names, the categorization and the description.
This information should also cover the long tail and individual product specifics as well as common terms that users use to search for the product. It is also important to ensure that it is complete and up to date. In contrast to other ad formats with AdWords, only this data leads to a display. Keywords do not affect delivery in the SERPs.
Universal Search Opportunities for Websites and Businesses
Google draws attention to vertical searches with the advanced results. Website operators also benefit from this type of listing. By contrasting web search results, users also look at those results more often. With the display of additional content types, websites can achieve a multiple listing. This increases their presence on the search results page. Companies that publish these media in particular also have the opportunity to attract attention and traffic away from the pure niche search engines.
The possibilities of individual advanced results depend in part on the type of business. Services that, like the Places entries, focus on individual industries, limit competition to the specified area and thus increase the chance of being displayed. Even in highly competitive web search areas, the vertical results form a niche in which websites can be specifically positioned. Individual extensions such as book searches, shopping or news already specifically limit the products offered. The shopping search is particularly suitable for e-commerce companies. News displays, on the other hand, bring valuable traffic, especially for news sites and magazines.