Earlier this month, Google unveiled a new “Universal Search” system, a radical change to its search results pages that will surface listings from its news, video, images, local and book verticals with much greater frequency. This article considers how the webmaster should respond to this innovation, considering both traditional “asset optimisation” and specific strategies for Universal Search.
What is Google Universal Search?
So-called “Universal Search” is a system which will expose, much more often, Google images, video, news, local and book searches alongside regular search results. These so-called “search verticals” have thus assumed a much greater share of SEM attention in recent times and, with this, the theme of asset optimisaton. Universal results appear either through the (familiar) OneBox links at the top of the SERPs or through inclusion in the regular results themselves.
Universal Search is, in fact, nothing new. Anyone who has used the A9.com search engine (from Amazon) will be familiar with search engines that display results from different verticals alongside each other. Recently, Ask.com have also rolled out their Ask3D concept, which similarly (and perhaps more elegantly than Google) displays results, as they put it, “across the three dimensions of search: Expression, Results and Content”. Ask, indeed, provides a good idea of where Google may go in the future: ask.com.
Whilst Ask is a certain winner for presentation, it only has a tiny share of the search engine market. However, when Google (as market leader) begin to roll out something, people tend to take much more notice. Indeed, the increased maturity of the web probably means that the time for Universal Search has indeed come. We will watch these developments with interest. However, suffice to say, successful SEO in the future needs to take account of the placement of assets (particularly video) throughout the Google verticals.
Optimising Asset Metadata: Office Files
In future, when people search on Google, they will get an ever wider range of results, including more links to videos, images, news, maps and books. Let’s start, however, with a challenge that has always been there – and has often been given insufficient attention by the average webmaster; the optimization of Word Documents, Excel Workbooks, Powerpoint Presentations and Adobe PDF files.
Try typing a Google Search on Tony Blair filetype:ppt and look at the results. You will probably notice that, whilst some of the result links make reasonable sense, many others are in the nature of “slide 1” or “Lecture 29”. This is because Google uses the title field from the properties meta-data. The description field is drawn from the body of the document. The same principle works for Excel files, Presentations and PDFs.
If you carry Adoble PDF and other office files on your website, I recommend revisiting each in turn and using the menu item file-properties to improve your metadata; (a) add a meaningful title, (b) add a subject, (c) add keywords, and (d) if you can, change the filename of your asset to also include your keywords. For example, tony-blair-iraq-dossier.ppt is better than plagiarism-v1.ppt.
Optimising for Google Video
Search Engine Optimization for Video, since the launch of Universal Search, has become one of the most exciting challenges in the field. Getting it right is remarkably simple – and in many ways simply an extension of the same principles we have seen for optimising MS-Office files (so begin by using a keyword-rich file name and title – from the file-properties summary tab in windows explorer).
Google Video supports the upload of AVI, MPEG, Quicktime and Windows Media files (so nearly all the extensions you are used to). The frame rate should be above 12 frames per second and the bit rate should be above 260kbps. Google will crop your video to fit within a 4:3 frame and display it at 320×240 resolution using a Macromedia Flash object. As such, if you are preparing your video from scratch, try to use the 4:3 aspect ratio (to avoid arbitrary letterbox cropping issues).
There are two ways to get your videos onto Google Video. If your video file is under 100 MB, the easiest and fastest way to upload it is to use Google’s web-based uploader (at http://upload.video.google.com/). If your video is over 100 MB or if you’d like to upload multiple files at once, the Google Video Uploader client software is your best bet (currently at https://upload.video.google.com/video_instructions.html). As a rough guide, keeping your video to 4.5 minutes or less should make the whole process a lot easier!
Note that, if you upload from the web-based interface, you can specify upfront the title, description, genre and language of the file. For the title field, simply repeat (perhaps at greater length) the title you used for the file properties dialogue. For the description, follow the same principles we covered in the meta-description tag section. Select an appropriate genre (e.g. “business”), set access to public and click to upload your video.
Once your video is up on Google (or YouTube) you can obtain code to insert the video into your web page. Usefully, this means Google are hosting and serving the video rather than you (saving on your computing power and bandwidth charges).
This is the Wild West frontier of SEO, so enjoy yourself. You could find this to be your quickest route into the top 10 (at least for the time being, until the spammers get hold of it!) Put in a few inbound links to your video, get friends and colleagues to vote for it on Google Video and see what happens. You might surprise yourself.
There is more to Universal Search than Office files and Videos; on my blog, I consider in greater detail the SEO of Products (through Google Base) and optimising for Google News. In an earlier article, I reviewed optimising for Google Earth and Google Maps through the use of KML files. For more help, jump onto my forum – and good luck with your Univeral optimisation efforts!