Universal Search: Still Relevant for Small Companies?

In mid-2007, Google gave SEO experts and Internet marketers an entire year’s worth of job security when it announced the first steps toward a Universal Search model.  Shortly thereafter, similar announcements were made by MSN and YaHoo; and for the remainder of 2007 and much of 2008, the topic of Universal Search was featured at every marketing conference and written about by every blogger on the planet.  But then—like O.J. Simpson to David Hasselhoff—social media swept in and stole Universal Search’s moment in the sun, and topics like blog monetization, social bookmarking and Twitter have dominated the marketing landscape ever since.

[ Aside ]In 1994, Hasselhoff was scheduled to perform a televised concert from Atlantic City to jump-start his U.S. singing career. On that same night, the infamous O.J. Simpson police chase was televised live across the country. Hasselhoff has not attempted a TV concert since.

So whatever became of Universal Search?  With all of the other new and easy-to-use traffic generating technologies, should Universal Search still be on a small company’s marketing radar?  The answer to this question is a definitive “Yes,” for one important reason:

Over 90% of organic search engine traffic comes from the first page of results.

The point here is, any marketing program that allows your small company to appear on the first page of search engine results is a wonderful use of your time, regardless of how many other more “trendy” marketing channels may exist.  As a refresher for those of you who need it (I probably should have done this earlier) Universal Search is basically the integration by search engines of elements other than web pages in overall search results.  These “other elements” can include videos, images, blogs, news, book and shopping listings.

If you click on the screen shot thumbnail to the right (which I found at SubHub.com) you will see how Universal Search elements are presented during a search for the phrase “Paris Hilton.”  In addition to the standard list of 10 web pages, this particular search generated multiple listings for News, Images, Videos and Blogs about Paris Hilton—a total of TWELVE additional (and free) opportunities for exposure on the first page of results.

So how do you get there?  As a small company with limited resources, are there some relatively low-cost steps you can take to leverage the value of Universal Search?  Of course.  And here they are:

Step #1: Walk Before You Run. Prior to putting a ton of effort into Universal Search, make sure your website is optimized for organic (regular) rankings.  Maximize your title tags, work on your meta descriptions, and submit an XML sitemap to any engine that  will take one.  For more information on these specific tasks, check out Inexpensive SEO Strategies for Small Company Websites: Part I and Inexpensive SEO Strategies for Small Company Website: Part II.

Step #2: Channel Surf. Because Universal Search will take information from all of a search engine’s “channels,” check each one to see what kind of exposure your site has (if any) within that specific channel.  In Google, the channels you want to focus on are Images, Video, News, Blogs and Shopping (FYI—”Blogs” is actually underneath the “News” channel).  Channels for other engines can usually be found above or near the search field.

Step 3: Take Inventory. Before your site can actually benefit from Universal Search, you need to make a comprehensive list of your company’s digital assets.  Do you have files, images, videos and news releases that aren’t showing up in universal search results?  If so, chances are these items are not tagged correctly.  Find and review the Webmaster guidelines for each search engine your small company is targeting, and make sure you are follow proper tagging rules.

Step 4: Do the Easy Stuff. In addition to tagging Universal Search items like images, videos, news releases and blogs, there are a few other clever ways to earn free space on the first page of search results.  Does your small company have a regional customer base?  Update your local business listing.  Also, figure out a way to get your company or one of its products (or possibly a key employee) a Wikipedia reference.  And of course, if your company can justify one, start a blog.  All of these are easy, and all can be done for free.

Comments?  Questions?  Feel free to reply to this post.  Otherwise a RetweetFacebook ShareLinkedIn Share or other type of social share (handy buttons provided) would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you!

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