About three months ago, Google, which consistently strives for relevant search results, announced the release of what it calls Universal Search. If you haven't heard about it, don't panic just yet. As ominous as it sounds, it's really not all that earth-shattering. Universal Search is, however, the future of all search technology.
It's only a matter of when and how extensively Universal Search will be implemented by other search engines besides Google. Already we have seen signs of this type of technology being utilized by both Ask and Yahoo! Ask refers to their version as "3d" search, and Yahoo! is calling it "blended" search.
Just What Is Universal Search?
Google, ever the pioneer in this space, has been striving to go in this direction for the past year or more. We've all seen signs of Universal Search being integrated into the Google search results, but most searchers are somewhat blind to the small changes in what they get from Google in results that are relevant to the search. What are these small changes? In the past, they were dubbed OneBoxes, and usually only one type of OneBox would show up at the top of search results in Google.
OneBoxes could take the form of links to Google's Product Search (formerly known as Froogle), a movie listings box where you place your zip code, links into Google maps, news listings, and a few more types you've probably seen here and there scattered throughout the results of your searches. Take a look at the examples in Figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1 Search: "Harry Potter"
Figure 2 Search: "Beyonce Irreplaceable"
With the launch of Universal Search, Google isn't limiting itself anymore to putting only one OneBox in the search results. It's quite possible you'll see three or four OneBoxes on the first results page. From inserted videos that can be played from inside the results(Google calls these Zippies), to a listing of news links related to your query—no longer are the Google search results limited to just 10 blue links.
So what does that mean to you, the webmaster or business owner or marketing manager? It means you'll have to start thinking well beyond the "box" that is the content on your website. It also means that the fundamentals of optimization, like those discussed in 10 Tips for Optimizing a Web Page, will be just that: fundamentals. You'll have to start paying attention to the fact that text on a web page is not the only content a search engine sees.
To Google, content = everything. Content goes beyond characters that make words, sentences, and paragraphs on your website's pages. Content will be anything that a visitor to your site consumes. It has no limitations. Videos, images, ratings and reviews, recipes, Questions & Answers, product statistics...it will all be consumed by the searcher coming to your site, and therefore will be important to Google.
So how do you go about optimizing your site's content at this expanded level—text and more—to be relevant in Google's eyes? You start with the fundamentals and you build upon that with each type of content you have on your site.