Organic search results pages initially started out by offering 10 boring blue links that pointed to relevant pages of content that correlated to what a user was specifically searching for. As the Internet and search engines evolved and download speeds increased, so did the demand for rich media consumption.
In an effort to provide searchers with the most relevant content possible, Google and other major search engines developed "universal search" in 2007. Universal search refers to the ever-evolving nature of content displayed in organic search results pages - including anything from video, images, and maps to news, books, and products. One question every company should be asking themselves is "Are our online marketing efforts evolving with the search results?"
Universal search is providing many opportunities for search engine marketers to strategically gain competitive positioning and drive highly-targeted traffic to their content. Below are two compelling reasons why your company should be optimizing for universal search.
Currently, any one domain has the ability to rank for only two URLs on any given search query. Engaging in universal search optimization grants you the potential to greatly expand upon that limit. This can allow your company to become more visible in the organic search result listings, thus improving brand recognition and online visibility - think of it as increasing your "shelf space"! By utilizing the social media platforms that are now included in universal search, companies are able to show up multiple times in a given search. For example, if you have video content and host it on video sites such as YouTube, not only does your branded domain have the opportunity to rank, but the YouTube.com URL can also rank at the same time. That just increased your available organic ranking spots from two to four.
By spreading your content to other sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you'll have the potential to occupy most, if not the entire first page of results - which increases the likelihood of people arriving at your content, and not someone else's. You'll also develop the potential to reach a broader audience with unique and engaging content.
Now that you have content on third-party sites and it's starting to pick up traction on the organic rankings, you should also be focusing on cross-linking your content back into your main branded site. By definition, cross-linking refers to the act of linking one website to another. This may sound simple, but adding links to these third-party sites which point to relevant pages on your main domains can provide you with a secondary level of inbound organic traffic. It also provides your company with another valuable link from a trusted domain, provided that the site does not use the "no-follow" tag. In addition to secondary traffic from organic search, cross-linking can provide easy access to relevant pages on your site for people that found your site naturally on the third-party site or from a link from a friend (who may not have found it otherwise) where they'd like more information.
In short, properly utilizing universal search can increase organic traffic and brand recognition while improving search engine rankings, but more importantly, it also helps deliver a wider variety of content to potential customers. As the search engines continue to strive toward providing users with the best experience possible and placing the most relevant and useful information in front of them, the concept of universal search seems to be here to stay. If you and your organization's online marketing efforts are not changing with the times, you may soon find yourself buried by the competition's rich-media content in organic search.
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Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.
Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.
A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.
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