Marketing Pilgrim's "Search Marketing" Channel

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Google Universal Search – A Major Update to Interface & Algorithm

Google has just sent us details of a series of updates to their interface and algorithm, as they move towards what they call a “universal search model”.

With Google’s universal search, every time you conduct a search, Google checks across all of its search properties – web, image, video, news etc – and presents a single unified results page, that incorporates the most relevant content.

At first, universal search results may be subtle. Over time users will recognize additional types of content integrated into their search results as the company advances toward delivering a truly comprehensive search experience.

For example, a user searching for information on the Star Wars character Darth Vader is likely interested in all the information related to the character and the actor – not just web pages that mention the movie. Google will now deliver a single set of blended search results that include a humorous parody of the movie, images of the Darth Vader character, news reports on the latest Lucas film, as well as websites focused on the actor James Earl Jones – all ranked in order of relevance to the query. Users no longer have to visit several different Google search properties to find such a wide array of information on the topic.

Google’s new universal interface is certainly the boldest change by the search engine in many years, and the company is having to significantly upgrade its technology in order to support the new roll out.

Google is also in the process of deploying a new technical infrastructure that will enable the search engine to handle the computationally intensive tasks required to produce universal search results. The company is also releasing the first stage of an upgraded ranking mechanism that automatically and objectively compares different types of information. As always, Google(TM) search results are ranked automatically by algorithms to deliver the best results to users anywhere in the world.

“Google has continued to concentrate on improving the quality of search,” said Udi Manber, vice president of engineering at Google. “The level and speed of search innovation at Google has increased. Most of this innovation addresses basic ranking algorithms and is often not obvious to users. Users just see more accurate results, more often, in more languages, which is our primary goal.”

In addition to the new algorithm, Google’s made changes to the navigation options, presenting new menu options “on the fly” depending on the type of search query

New dynamically generated navigation links have been added above the search results to suggest additional information that is relevant to a user’s query. For example, a search for “python” will now generate links to Google Blog Search(TM), Google Book Search(TM), Google Groups(TM), and Google Code(TM), to let the user know there is additional information on his or her query in each of those areas. As a result, users can find a wider array of information on their topic, including data types they might not have initially considered.

Google’s homepage and a number of applications have also been updated with a new navigation bar to provide easier access to popular Google products. Now, instead of having links above the Google.com homepage search box, users will see a navigation bar on the top left side of the page with various Google search properties and popular products including Gmail(TM), Google Calendar(TM), Google Docs & Spreadsheets(TM), and Picasa Web Albums(TM).

This is huge! Google’s basically telling users – and its competitors – that it has figured out how to identify the type of search query entered and provide a single set of results that it is confident will include all the information you could possibly want. While we’ve seen Google dip its toe in the water of predictive search – showing us images or stock prices – this overhaul of the search results page completely changes the way everyone interacts with Google.

Users will benefit, as they’ll likely find Google’s search results to be much more relevant, meanwhile search engine optimizers will find that their job has become a lot more complex. Now, instead of focusing on web search and battling others for one of the coveted Top 10 spots for a particular search term, they’re going to find the Top 10 now includes results drawn from other indexes such as images, news and video. SEO’s will be faced with two choices. Stick with just web search, and be content that they may only have 5-6 opportunities to be in the Top 10 on Google, or, look at ways to optimize content such as photos, videos, news items, and use a broader approach to gaining page one exposure.

Either way, it’s far too early to know for sure, just how much of an impact Google’s universal search will have on the search optimization space. But as Yoda would say, “on SEO, an impact it will have.”

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    I watched the entire seminar. Very fascinating to say the least. I am starting to see the changes, some good things and some bad with regards to UI layout. I know its always a no-no to reiterate two different ways to get to the same spot. You can currently see it if you do a search lets say for something random… “Kentucky Derby”

    “Web News” – Is displayed right underneath the google logo. You can also get to the news via the links at the top “Web Images Video News Maps Gmail more â–¼”

    Like having two home page buttons on a specific page of a site.

    Also the two “Web” links don’t align. The latter should be fixed. The first comment is a bit more iffy. Perhaps highlight and bold the word news in the top nav.

    Other then that I like it so far.

  • http://www.jasonblogs.com/ Jason Schramm

    Seems like they are now doing what other search engines like A9 and Ask have been doing.

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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/wordpress/ Michael Martinez

    Google is now the third search engine (after AOL and A9) to integrate multiple index results into one interface for the user. I would say that integrated results are here to stay and the optimization perspective will need to be very flexible and well-rounded.

    There may even be some sort of shakeout in a year or two if individual optimizers cannot keep up with the changes in search technology.

  • http://www.markbarrera.com Mark Barrera

    I have always loved A9 (and miss their cool maps) so I am excited about these changes from Google. I think it is only logical to go this route and I can’t wait to see what happens.

  • http://www.xuru.com Jeremy Luebke

    For my ecommerce clients I am seeing a link to “products” search near the top. We’ll see if product traffic increases.

    If there was ever a time to optimize those feeds it’s now.

  • http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/ Matt McGee

    So, aside from the dynamically generated links above the results, is any of this really new? I’ve been seeing image results, local results, news results, etc., along with traditional listings for ages now. And the algorithm … that’s always being improved (so they say). :-)

    Am I missing something? Do I actually have to watch the video?

  • http://www.stepforth.com Ross Dunn

    I am particularly interested in watching how Google reacts to the ramifications of this update. After all, they will have to be very cautious about how much information they mingle into the top 10. Who knows? It may be that a large percentage of users are looking for website links and will be annoyed by the need to look or scroll farther down the page.

    Perhaps Google will pull or juggle the common order of mingled information in a noticeable pattern. If this is the case then some level of analytics ‘intel’ can be gleaned by us SEOs which may prove useful in campaigns.

    I suppose time will tell just how accurate Google’s stats are that drove them to this change.

    Either way SEOs will adapt as usual – it is all good! Life gets boring without a little shakeup now and then :-p I just wish it was another search engine shaking things up… I am experiencing Google overload.

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  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Matt – it’s not so much the new navigation but the seemless integration of all Google’s indexes. Now, when you search, the top 10 can be a mix of web, news, video, images. Google’s experimented with a one box approach, but now you everything will be combined into a unified results page.

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  • http://www.rubyonrailsexamples.com/ Ruby on Rails Examples

    They just did new update with the links bar to the upper left. If you do not see it now, this means you are connected to another data center…

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/lucasng shor

    As Andy says, it’s the seamless integration from different indexes into the interface that we should keep an eye on. Engines like A9 and Naver have had multiple indexes on a one-page SERP for a long time but not with to the level of subtlety of what Google is promising.

  • http://mollermarketing.com Nate Moller

    I see this as an opportunity for more well rounded SEO. It has the potential to get those who don’t do their research to be caught sleeping while true SEOer’s do creative things to get to the front page in multiple ways.

  • http://www.searchenginecollege.com/blog.htm Kalena

    Nice scoop Andy! I agree – this will boost the importance of non-text content within web sites – image and video content will become major marketing channels in their own right, rather than tools to attract visitors to text content.

  • http://www.johnon.com john andrews

    Andy,

    I have quietly enjoyed reading over and over how “image search doesn’t convert” on affiliate and SEO forums, year after year. Truth is, as I have known and Google no doubt determined with the testing it did, some images are magnets for click throughs in some markets. The same has been true for certain aspects of local search, which Google displayed frequently enough during testing for guys like me to see decent volume.

    I am not the only SEO ready for this. I’m looking forward to more free impressions from Google, and more volume to test the quality of organic search traffic.

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

    Let G end user confusion begin. Wonder if these added items add efficiency or clutter? The simplicity of Google was truly the sweetness.

    Of course since results have been weird of late (here one day, gone the next), this makes optimization for all of Google’s family of search properties all more important. Those that have actively optimized for G News, Images, Video, etc. are rejoicing!!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/lucasng shor

    Some of our business units are well equipped to deal with the change. When pre-blend 10% of your traffic comes from google images, then you’d hope that images are going to be prevalent in your industry’s blended SERPs.

    Local search is going to be an issue for us – Google Australia is hardly an established player in the scene, which leads to my next question, when will this be rolled out onto the country specific domains?

    Regardless, I foresee a lot more optimization opportunities for search marketers because there are more database listings to optimize for ;-)

    Smart move from the G as they have effectively force-fed their secondary databases to their primary audience. More people using their 2ndary search engines = increased G monetization opportunities.

    Too bad Google Universal doesn’t have an opt-out function ;)

  • http://www.seoposition.com Brian Gilley

    I think their search results user interface could use a little more ingenuity besides a possible link or two that takes the user to another search results page altogether. They should mesh a combination of results in the first part of the results or promote them more prominently. I’ve never been impressed with what Google serves visually to users anyway. But, you’re right, the marketer’s job is (and will) become more difficult to have to incorporate all types of content to optimize. More work! Yaayyyy!

  • http://www.mynetnuke.com MyNetNuke

    Now it uses combinations? I also noticed a new look with Search results

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Thanks for all your feedback and thoughts!

  • Mark

    it really isn’t anything special. in fact at times the variety of results gets to be quite annoying and frustrating.
    at first many will most likely be dissatisfied with this migration but will end up getting used to it as google improves their algorithms for matching queries and verifies their matches via their query rating department

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    andy, jeremy….

    How about some how to’s now on video and image optimization :)

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Brian – if you can clone me, I’ll have the time to put it together. Tell you what, ask that question for next week’s podcast and I’ll answer it then. ;-)

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  • http://www.4engr.com/dictionary engineering

    google again proved that they are the leader of search engine ….the major change of their search anatomy is really appreciating ..actually the new interface is a silent caution for his antagonist microsoft when a rumor in air spreading in market that microsoft is going to buy yahoo,other search giant.The combination of interface oncharcter,image,history,social result & also important is latent symentic indexing of google is create a new smart search platform what gives google an untouchable position…..

  • http://thearticlewriter.com/blog/2007/05/14/thats-me-on-bumpzee/ Matt Keegan

    The impact on our SERPs could be something. With images included, your Paris Hilton site could be beat out by images of her highness herself. Yuck.

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  • http://www.erikvossman.com Erik

    Great Post, sorry I’m a bit late to comment on it.

    This will have a huge impact on not only SEO masters, but also on content publishers in general. In order to have a better chance at being one of the top results content publishers will need to produce not only written content but also video, images, and I’m waiting for audio to jump on board the searchable google bandwagon.

    Aloha,
    Erik

  • Larry

    As Google makes our search “behavior training” more complex (we are being trained), it will first feel inefficient. Some day (hopefully soon) the search results by this method might become a better value than the seeming simplicity that we were experiencing.

    Providing more unexpected information to the user is not necessarily better in my eyes. When it becomes expected, than it might increase in usefulness.

    I’m all for choices, so why not provide both types of searches?

    Could it possibly get more complicated for the poor advertisers???? The complexity of tracking the adoption of this new search behavior is going to be insane, perhaps forcing SEOs to use proprietary tracking algorithms. Maybe Google’s???

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  • ZeMMoZ

    Take A look at that blog post about Future Of Google Search

    http://www.squidoo.com/predictions

  • http://pass.nejcpass.com gringo

    I have always loved A9. I think it is only logical to go this route and I can’t wait to see what happens.

  • http://seo-ithut.blogspot.com/ Eu

    One friend of mine noticed that the searching is more difficult – she can’t find good results because of the images, blogs and news which appears in top. So she decided to use Yahoo instead. For a normal person (non IT professional) used with the regular searching, the new way of results displaying is very difficult. Annoying. People don’t want to click and choose more options if they don’t have to. So for them Google new look is not a desirable one.

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