By Rob Sheppard, Senior Product Manager, Ask Jeeves. Rob has worked at Ask Jeeves for six years, and is currently working on a range of product areas including search results, content partnerships with third party providers and custom advertising opportunities on the Ask Jeeves homepage.
‘Universal Search’ – the blending of different types of information into search results - has become the standard for all the major search engines.
Its implementations vary but essentially it boils down to providing more varied content to users, going beyond standard text results to return images, videos, news results and other related content.
From the search engines’ perspective ‘Universal Search’ allows them to showcase the variety of content that they can provide without requiring users to leave the main search page, e.g. to do a specific video search. Increasingly, search engines are looking to add new types of content that will further enhance the breadth of their results.
For users, ‘Universal Search’ offers a breadth of information that was not provided previously and, increasingly, presents a freshness of content via news, videos and real-time search sources that is incredibly compelling.
However, content owners trying to optimize their sites for maximum exposure on search results may be one group ‘Universal Search’ doesn’t immediately appear to help.
This is because a hard-earned listing on the first results page for a search can now be bumped off by a video result from a competitor.
Despite this disadvantage, ‘Universal Search’ also presents opportunities for sites whose overall rankings aren’t as high as the rankings of their competitors, since ‘Universal Search’ creates new ways for content to rank highly and so can drive brand awareness and traffic.
Site owners and SEO teams have had to react to this development by ensuring that they have a breadth of content that is optimised for search.
If your brand or website is looking to optimize its rankings through Universal Search, here are some of the basics to think about:
• Take opportunities to introduce other types of content into your website and online presence (e.g. Twitter feed, Facebook page, Youtube channel).
• When adding videos to your site ensure they are listed on major video sites as well (Youtube, Video Jug, Vimeo).
• When adding images ensure they are tagged correctly and specifically – don’t just use generic descriptions of the images.
• Suitable images can also be added to photo sharing sites such as Flickr, Picasa, and PhotoBucket.
• Ensure press releases about your product or company are distributed via syndicated channels and written in a search-friendly way – clear relevant titles that correspond to the core subject of the release should be used.
• Images accompanying press releases should also be tagged with the associated keywords for the release.
And here are two final tips that not many SEO or online marketers will consider:
• Don’t forget question & answer sites such as Yahoo Answers, Wiki Answers and eHow. Answering relevant questions on these well-ranked socially-driven sites can help ensure that your content is returned as an answer when search engines use these sources.
• Structure elements of your site to specifically answer your users’ questions. Users will often search using full questions as well as keywords and search engines love structured data such as FAQ pages and Help sections.
The Future of Universal Search
The breadth of searches that ‘Universal Search’ impacts upon will increase as search engines look to boost the range of content returned for longer tail searches.
Socially-driven sources like Twitter, Wikipedia and question & answer sites are moving ‘Universal Search’ from being a ‘nice to have’ feature for popular searches about well-known figures and news stories, to being the default means of delivering search results on increasingly niche topics.
At Ask Jeeves we believe that answers are the future of search, but even today’s ‘Universal Search’ technologies can’t deliver fully against this future.
Asking a question is different from conducting a search, in that users want to find one specific piece of information rather than sift through a variety of results to find their answer.
Incorporating many different content types helps us answer questions but increasingly we are focusing on true question & answer content.
Ask Jeeves has built one of the highest-quality and most useful Q&A databases on the Web: it has more than 400 million high-quality Q&A pairs.
So next time you’re optimizing your brand’s web content, make sure you remember to answer your users’ questions so you can in turn reach the millions of users who come to Ask Jeeves each month with a question.
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