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Google rolls out universal search

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Saturday May 19, 2007 )

Take note as Google’s gradual rollout of universal search is big news – some great features for Joe Surfer and possibly some major ramifications for those of us running sites and battling for good rankings.

Announced by Google a couple of days ago and now rolling out across their data centers is new infrastructure. Google is beginning to incorporate results from a variety of previously separate sources, or “verticals”, such as videos, images, news, maps, books and traditional site content into a single set of results.

I haven’t been able to view all the changes as yet, but I just tried a search on the works of one of the world’s greatest philosophers, Weird Al Jankovic, with the following criteria:

white and nerdy video

This is what appeared..

Google Universal Search - sample results

This feature has been tested randomly over a few months, but will now be a permanent addition. Note that some of the thumbnails aren’t just displayed at the top of the listings, but also embedded further down the page. If a video is on Google Video or YouTube (at this point), then a “+” symbol will appear next to the listing, allowing you to view the video directly within the results, like so:

Google Universal Search - video player

A search on Darth Vader should bring up some images at the top, then at around position 7, a thumbnail from a video, along with an option to watch the video from within the results.

OK, so this is a nice feature, but how will universal search affect search engine rankings?

Previously, Google had specialized (vertical) search features for blogs, video, images etc.; but many people don’t use these advanced search mechanisms; so Google is simply incorporating more of what it thinks the user is looking for in the search results and making accessing some of that content more convenient. For example, in the video search I performed above, it was quite obvious what I was searching for.

This means that in the time ahead, rankings in Google’s results may change quite dramatically, with more content being drawn into the regular organic SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages) from other Google verticals – such as Google Video.

As with any shakeup, for some online businesses it will be great news, for others, potentially disaster. The traffic from a no.1 ranking on a term can be a great deal more than from being listed at no.2

No doubt there will be many ebooks and other new information products coming out entitled “How to optimize for Google Universal Search” and similar very soon – watch out for snake oil salesmen and black hat (spamming) strategies that may bring very short term success and then eternal Google damnation. There will be a whole new set of strategies for spamming the SERPs as I can see many ways that this new approach can be abused.

The other question is just how far Google will go with this sort of approach – how much content will they scrape into their results? So much so that surfers may not have to visit the site the content is from? I guess that would likely open a can of legal whoopass on the company, but it’s a concern that many industry commentators have raised in the past.

I’ve really only just touched on what Universal Search is all about; for a more in-depth analysis, read this excellent post on Search Engine Land. You can also read Google’s related press release here.

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