Succeeding with universal search Follow these tips to improve your chances of landing a top search spot

Universal search—search results that include images, product and shopping links, social media commentary, videos and news, among other elements—was designed to make Web searches more contextual and to give searchers more options to help them find the information they seek. However, although universal search has made end-users’ lives easier, it’s added a degree of complexity to the overall search engine optimization process. As a result, even though getting a good ranking in universal search results can help boost a company’s overall search visibility and brand awareness, many b-to-b marketers aren’t taking advantage of it, experts said.

“Most b-to-b marketers really underleverage the abilities of natural search marketing,” said Shar VanBoskirk, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Most b-to-b marketers have started doing paid search, but not optimizing their sites or other assets so they show up well in the natural results, which is a mistake since universal [search] gives them more chances to show up on the natural listings.”

There are challenges to be sure. For one thing, universal search is dynamic—so much so that identical searches only hours apart could net completely different results. Even those marketers doing a good job at optimizing on-site assets may end up being shut out of universal search listings because, as with websites, the results are dependent on inbound links and overall reach. “Google’s algorithms are so dependent on off-site promotions,” said Douglas Karr, founder and CEO of DK New Media, an interactive and search agency. “What you’re doing off-site has become perhaps even more important [when it comes to universal search] than onsite search optimization. But it’s important to realize that each strategy has a different execution process. Google treats images differently than it treats video, and it treats video differently than it treats Web content.”

Still, there’s good news: There are tactics you can use to improve your chances of landing in a coveted top search slot. This is key, since owning a top spot can be one way to manage your online reputation. “You don’t want a third-party video that hasn’t been through your PR and legal review taking the top spot in a universal search,” said Mike Gullaksen, VP-search at Covario inc., a provider of SEO and SEM software and services. While you should start with the basics—finding out how customers and prospects are talking about and searching for you, and making sure your own site is fully optimized—you can boost your own universal search results by implementing these five must-dos, experts said.

  1. Get tagged and named. As websites get larger and companies add more images and video files to their sites, posting has become more automated. File names, for example, are more likely to be named numerically than to have names that reflect what they are about. In addition, some companies completely forget about metatagging or adding alternative text. Because search engines can’t “see” images or videos, these untagged, numerically named elements are less likely to get ranked by search engines, said Julie Warnecke, CTO of RepuChek, a search marketing consultancy for the medical field. “The challenge is around naming images in a way that’s relevant to the content around them,” she said. One important new tag to consider: a source metatag that identifies who the original creator of content is.
  2. Outreach is critical. Images and video have a better chance of capturing a search slot when they go viral. “Blogger outreach is critical, especially in manufacturing when companies don’t talk about products until they are released,” said Covario’s Gullaksen. “Let bloggers know that video and images are out there, and leverage the embedded coding to allow your video to be taken off your site and be shared.”  But back links must be relevant to affect search rankings, DK New Media’s Karr said. “You need those images and video to be placed on pages that have relevant content around them,” he said.
  3. Make your company newsworthy. News is a big component of universal search, and it’s not just earth-shattering items that help boost your visibility, said Jonathan Bentz, director of client marketing at ProspectMX, a search marketing company. “One of the things I tell all my clients is to schedule regular distribution and publication of press releases,” he said. “It helps make your brand visible and builds “back links’ into your website, increasing your search popularity.”
  4. Get social regularly. Social media play an important role in universal search. For example, live Twitter feeds around any given subject can land in Google search results, if there are enough people tweeting about something. You can ensure your tweets are first and persistent by purchasing a Promoted Tweet, which will give your topic more exposure and earn you the top spot. “Tweets are not a static ranking,” said Greg Sterling, founding principal at research firm Sterling Market Intelligence. There are other social elements that can help boost universal search, too. Post videos on as many video-sharing sites as possible, such as BrightCove, Viddler and in addition to YouTube, even if you are hosting video on your own servers.
  5. Localize when possible. More than 20% of Google searches are related to location, so making sure your closest outpost or location shows up in universal search results requires some work, said ProspectMX’s Bentz. “Make sure your Google Places listing is owner-verified and complete,” he said. “If you have multiple warehouse locations, make sure that all have been uploaded; there’s a bulk upload and bulk verification option so you can do this more easily.”
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