Universal Search – Strategize Your Way to the Top

Posted on April 22, 2009

While we all work to beat the competitors for targeted search terms, hoping to land that top ten ranking; Google's Universal search provides additional opportunities to increase your website's exposure by mixing in universal search results.

Most companies are not taking full advantage of universal search and are really missing the opportunity to increase their exposure and interact with their visitors in a new exciting way. We'll show you how you can utilize Universal Search to push your website to the top of the search results and drive more traffic to your website with this exciting addition to Google Search.

Introduction to Google's Universal Search

While Google offers up the paid search results via Google Adwords and organic search results within the center of their search results page; they are now mixing in other types of results in attempt to give visitors a taste of everything that is related to their search. This includes:

Benefits of Universal Search

For visitors, the benefits of universal search are that they can see various types of results without having to leave the organic search results page. Another benefit is that it breaks up the page adding images, video still shots and information in a way that is appealing.

For site owners, there are quite a few benefits. First, there are now multiple ways to have your products and services listed on the 1st or 2nd page of Google.

Second, if visitors did not select your organic listing, they may select your image, blog or business listing; offering more opportunities to obtain targeted visitors to your website.

And finally, some Universal Search results are bumped ahead of the organic listings. If your website is listed in the #12 spot on page two and you just can't get your site to the 1st page, you may be able to have your images, videos or products listed above the organic results for specific search terms.

Users Intent

If you searched for the word "Apple" using Google in 1999, you were presented with various types of informational websites; discussing the various types of apples, how to use them in recipes and other great apple related information. But over time, people who typed in "Apple" would complete their search and then run another search for "Apple computers". As this trend continued to happen, Google's Algorithm learned that a trend was emerging. Most visitors who typed in the word Apple were looking for computers, not fruit.

Now when you type in "Apple" into Google, you are presented with the Macintosh Apple website, websites that review Apple computers and e-commerce stores where you can purchase an Apple computer. Google's focus is to not only provide searchers with relevant search queries based on their search term, but to emulate the thought process that is derived from the search term itself.

When a searcher enters a query, Google's artificial intelligence attempts to understand what the visitor may want to see before returning the search results. They have come to learn that when a visitor types in a brand name or a product, that searchers may want to:

  • See Photos of the Product
  • Read Product Reviews
  • Purchase The Product
  • Research The Product

In an attempt to give the visitor what they want they try to return the types of results related to the users intent.

To use Universal Search to your advantage, you must understand the user's intent when they type in the search terms related to your website. The best way to see which universal search products are being used for your search terms is to search them within Google. Once you enter the search query, above the search results in the top left area of the screen you will see a listing for the products pulled into the results. For example, if I enter the search query "red scarf" I see the following Google Products listed at the top left area of the screen:

1. Web

2. Shopping

3. Images

Essentially this means that Google attempted to pull in (web) organic search results, Google Product Search and Google Images.

The Strategy

Creating a strategy to increase your rankings through Universal Search can allow you to locate opportunities that your competitors missed; giving you more exposure and targeted traffic.

In the example of the "red scarf", you will notice that although Google attempted to pull in images, there aren't any images displayed within the results. This essentially means that you could possibly receive a listing on the 1st page of Google via Google Images if you optimize your images and submit an Image Map through Google Webmaster Central. Additionally, you can upload your red scarves to Google Base to get them listed within the Google Shopping results.

Now if you visit the second page of results, you'll see that they are now showing different universal search results.

  • Web
  • Video
  • Images

Towards the top of the results you will see 1 video; however in most searches where videos are in the results, you will usually see two. This indicates that you could potentially have a video listed towards the top of the second page. As you continue to view the remaining results on page two you will again notice that you don't see any photos on page two; another opportunity to gain exposure over your competitors.

Once you have completed this type of research and analysis for the keywords important to your website, begin creating and optimizing your shopping feeds, videos, images, blog posts and other universal search products to gain the competitive advantage before your competitors do.

Optimizing Images

You can increase the chances of your images showing up for relevant search queries by optimizing your images. There are a few key areas that will help improve your ability to increase rankings for your images in Google Image Search, as well as where images are shown in Google Search.

Although these tips are for Google Images, these examples can be used throughout various areas of your website; to improve all of your universal search results.

File Names - Give your images accurate names rather than defaulting to what your camera or image editor provides. If the image is of a cashmere red scarf, then consider naming our image cashmere-red-scarf.jpg. This help to further classify the image and show relevancy to the search terms you are targeting.

Image Alt Attribute - Ensure that you have provided a quality description for your images using the image alt attribute. Try using product colors, sizes, materials, brand names, textures, manufacturer names etc. Remember not to overdo it, but provide an accurate description of the product to assist with increasing relevancy for desired search terms.

Captions - Include a caption for your image that describes or relates to the product. The text that surrounds the image helps Google to understand the subject matter of the image.

Anchor Text - The text you use when linking to the image helps to describe and classify the image. Try using descriptive anchor text rather than words such as "click here", "larger image" or "more photos" when describing the link.

Google Image Labeler - While you can do your part in helping to optimize your images, you can also increase your chances of having your images appear in Google Image Search by allowing others to help classify your images through Google's Image Labeler. By simply enabling the Google Image Labeler from the Google Webmaster Console, you allow Image Labeler users to provide words and phrases they believe accurately describe your images in a fun online game. As users are shown images from your website, they type in a few words they feel accurately describe the photo, which is later used to further classify the subject matter of your image.


Google has provided many new opportunities for you to reach searchers in the ways they want to be reached. Search engine optimization has been taken to another level; it's no longer about who has the most number of pages, the best density; or who has the most inbound links. It is about who is utilizing the all their available opportunities.

Almost every aspect of your website is being analyzed and classified; use it to your advantage. Now is the time to take advantage of these opportunities and increase your visibility in every area of universal search; allowing you to increase your traffic and exposure in new and exciting ways.

About the Author

Leona Griffin is a SEO Specialist at 1st on the List Promotion Inc. As a 12 veteran search marketing professional, she specializes in universal search, on-page SEO and creating search marketing strategies that deliver long-term results for their clients.

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