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Google Universal Search:Universal SERP Strategy for Digital Asset Managers

Written by Terry Van Horne   
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:42

(The following is a guest post from Terry VanHorne)

Managing Digital Assets To Manipulate Universal Search SERPs

The Google Universal SERP mystery begins with what triggers a Universal SERP and ends with the media/content displayed, information types and vertical searches that make up the SERP. To some extent the mystery can be solved by Digital Asset Managers looking at the evolution of the Google Universal Search SERPs.

Universal Search: The Mystery in Google SERPs

The evolution started November 2003 with the infamous Florida index refresh which began a transformation to a more behavioral centric user intent aware SERP from a textual relevance centric algorithm. This likely included "labeling" query spaces, IMO, this might have also included a label/algo addition for transactional/informational searches ie: behavioral in basis. Context Aware Query Classification is a post I did on research that Microsoft did and I felt was close to a reverse engineering of what Google did with Florida update.

Webmasterworld thread indicates GBase was at the top of the SERPs in April 2006, however I recall that in or about the fall of 2005 Froogle results were in the SERPs. The next big change was the rollout of Big Daddy in December 2005 which seemed to dampen the links from user generated content possibly by measuring a page's link integrity (IBL/OBL).

In July 2006 Google started including Google Maps business listings in the form of Local OneBoxes in the main Google search results. On December 9 Google integrates the PlusBox in the main search results. On December 19 Google added a feature that lets you add multiple destinations to your driving directions. Still with me?

Evolution of Universal Search

On May 16, 2007 Google rolls out Universal search results including more Map information on the main Google results page. That was the "official launch" of Universal, however, IMO, UNI started it's ascent on the SERPs in 2005 when Froogle results provided the first "Shopping Paks" at the top of the SERP "triggered" by user intent indicated in the search query. Primarily intent was determined by transactional keywords like buy, cheap etc. and brand/product keywords in the query.



Starting from the top

What is significant is that every new "Pak" starts at the top of the SERP and are some sort of a vertical search result with informational resource or reference or transactional user intent. One could argue the "Shopping Paks" were the first rich snippet, however, IMO that is really the distinction that is owned by "sitelinks".

SEOs fretting about the potential for reputation management issues with Real Time Search results can rest assured the RTS results will not be "slotted/hand jobbed" to the top of the SERP for much longer.

I believe that as new Universal verticals are rolled out they are started at the top of the SERP to gather "user experience" data on the vertical. At some point it is rolled into the SERP. IMO, video is so popular that has been "relegated/handjobbed" to below the fold in many query spaces. At the end of the day, what we do now is that there is query analysis at the root of it all.

Universal over time

Why? For some of the same reasons images or news with pictures are clicked more frequently by users. If videos and images appear above the fold they deflect users attention from sponsored ads and other more "lucrative" results or Google properties. We can also consider the ongoing query analysis and tweaking of the various algorithms responsible for them appearing (when and where).


Digital Asset Management (DAM): The Enigma in Google SERPs

Once you view the enigmatic nature of the Universal Search SERP in the context of user intent you realize that directly manipulating the Universal SERP with onpage optimization and indirectly with offpage/authority links is less effective in a temporal/behavioral environment. Now various search verticals like local, images, news, product/shopping/feeds/, video and RTS; social networks; RSS Feeds (Salmon protocol) are more effective in a temporal environment. Enter the new SEO class in town the "Digital Asset Manager" or DAM (no trademark, feel free to use it lol).


Universal Search Vertical Targets

Below is a list of Vertical Search query spaces with its corresponding behavioral or time sensitive characteristics. By determining the characteristics of the query space DAMs can design campaigns to trigger the targets using "trusted resources", signals from other Vertical Searches and content/media choices.

  • News/Blogs: Temporal and/or informational query space with heavy weighting for QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) signals especially for news
  • Shopping: Positions in some query spaces may be "slotted" seasonally but for the most part is a transactional query space
  • Local: The toughest to understand with Geo, Temporal and Transactional influences in this vertical search query space
  • Video: ? not sure
  • Real Time Search: Temporal, Temporal, Temporal!
  • Images: Informational query space


    Universal Search Vertical Triggers

    Now that we're looked at the Query Space and Vertical Search influences you can develop marketing campaigns using SEO techniques to optimize vertical signals to corroborate appropriate relevance for query space influences and freshness in the query space. Managers should also be using PR techniques,(no, not that Googly thing) to create a buzz that can "trigger" activity in the appropriate Vertical Search.

    • News/Blogs: Buzz in Real Time Search is possibly one of the "Triggers" for news and blog verticals to be included in the query space. Other "Triggers" may be citations/links from authority blogs or news sites.
    • Shopping: Transactional Keywords and some brands and product category keywords in the query "Trigger" shopping results
    • Local: Transactional, brand and Geo keyword "Triggers"
    • Video: Availabilty of video makes determining the "Triggers" tough but does seem to be Transactional or keywords in query
    • Real Time Search: Brand and keyword buzz
    • Images: Informational query space and sometimes in combination with other Search Verticals such as news and shopping


    Universal triggers for Google SERPs

    DAM: SERPs Out Content Strategy

    Generally SEO campaigns are built from the keywords out because the available traffic data enables prioritizing of keywords for profitability and meeting the clients goals. DAMs work from the SERP out because Universal Search is all about determining the content or media that can be used to enter the SERP. I like to target tough keywords that may take the site quite some time to enter in the traditional manner.

    There are a number of things for the DAM to consider:

    1. What types of Universal Search components are included in the target SERP?
    2. What types of Universal Search components are missing from the SERP but have been included in the past?
    3. Shelf life of Universal Search component target (News may only last a day or two in most cases)
    4. Where is the Universal Search component located (Above or below fold) and does it move up and down in the SERP
    5. Regardless of click bias some Universal SERP components like images and videos have inherently higher CTR (Click Through Rate)

    Understanding the influences and characteristics of the Universal Search SERP enables Digital Asset Managers to develop campaigns including the components that are required for gaining a foothold in a SERP. The strategies developed using the above information will give DAMs a leg up on those who approach Universal SERPs with traditional keyword strategies.

    Today we've only touched the surface. Be sure to stay tuned for more real soon.. and leave your own thoughts in the comments


    About the author; Terry is an old school SEO geek that works out of International Website Builders and the founder of - You can also hook up with him on Twitter.


    NOTE: We will be doing some research with the SEO Dojo gang over the next while on Universal Search - we shall let you know what we find or better yet, why not join us to get the full story?


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