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Universal Search Strategy for Digital Asset Managers

Written by Terry Van Horne   
Wednesday, 14 April 2010 13:11

A guide to Query Space Management

(the following post is by Terry VanHorne)

Many are calling the techniques outlined here DAO (Digital Asset Optimization), however, I use the term DAM (Digital Asset Management) because I see optimization as a smaller part of the process. More important is managing the query space and choosing what Universal content verticals to add to the SERP.

Query Space Analysis

Presently there are no tools that monitor the verticals in a Universal SERP and more importantly their movement around the query space. There should be because tracking the movements of and inclusion of Vertical elements in a SERP will be a "Content discovery" tool for DAMs.

I strongly suggest that for your important SERPs or those you are working on, that you create a spreadsheet and do at least weekly recordings of the Verticals and their positions. It likely wouldn't hurt to include a column for notes in the sheet to enable easy lookups of observations as well.

This enables:

  • Tracking of movement in positions of Universal Elements in the SERP
  • Recording Universal Elements that appear and disappear
  • Tracking Seasonality of Universal Elements
  • Discovery of corraborting Universal Elements that "trigger" appearance of Universal Elements

One characteristic of Universal SERPs I discovered was that adding videos into a query space, you are already ranking in, can knock the text relevant page right out of the SERP. Not an ideal situation.

The above scenario occurred when videos debuted in position #1 in the Universal SERP. We didn't act when our #2 position page was replaced with the video it was all good. Then one day the video started moving down in the SERP. Presently the same videos are still in the SERP in the 8th position. The web pages have never returned even though they had held those positions for a long period of time before the videos were introduced into the query space.

Solving the Universal Search puzzle


Query Space Strategies

The techniques and strategy outlined below are conjecture based on limited testing. They are based on Vertical "triggers" I've observed in a SERP, hypothesis based on Search Engine patent filings and approvals + years of SERP monitoring. The complexity of Universal SERPs provide a daunting task for DAMs entering a new query space.

I would try and get as much intelligence as possible from the client on what verticals have been in the SERP and then removed from the SERP because this indicates what vertical content can enter a SERP. I would target these to see how long the vertical stay in the SERP and how profitable that is for the client.

If the vertical content has a short life in the SERP with low conversion I would try another vertical. Otherwise you should schedule and budget for more of that vertical to try and keep the content fresh in the SERP. Once you have established a presence in the SERP you can start to introduce new vertical content into the query space until you're ranking for a vertical that has maximized ROI for the SERP. Did you get all that?

If there is a vertical in the SERP which we believe can be outranked and it is in a preferred position for the vertical I'd target the query space with competing content. The position in the SERP of the present vertical is important because in many cases a vertical may be "slotted" above or below the fold with 1 or a Universal Pack of results. IMO, the Packs are the result of implicit signals ie: click through rate, gathered from users.


Let's look at Video

Videos in a query space seem to reduce the chances of multiple, (indented) listings in the SERP. This may be due to the higher than average CTR on videos (easily the highest CTR), but regardless of the reason, introducing video into a query space you are already ranking in is not a recommendation I'd make.

"Deeper analysis indicates that search engine users click "news" results more than twice as much (36%) within blended search results as they do when they use the vertical "news search" (17%), and click more "image" results (31%) within blended search than when utilizing vertical "image search" (26%).

The extent to which they report clicking "video" results within blended search results (17%) also far exceeds the percentage of users who click a vertical "video search" result (10%). Only 19% of search engines users report that they have not clicked a news, image, or video search result within the blended search results. This compares to 35% who have not used vertical search. "


Note that the above report covered all three engines so some of those will numbers will be skewed for Google as indicated below:

Comscore Report covered by SEW
That data, gathered during one week in January, showed that there were 220 million universal search results, of the total 1.2 billion search queries in the U.S.

That means 17 percent of all searches on Google showed at least one result with video, news, images, maps, weather, or stocks.

More interesting to me are the stats from the same Comscore report:


...of the 87 million people who searched during that same week in January, 57 percent of them saw some type of universal search result. Of those, 38 percent saw a video result, 34 percent saw news, 19 percent saw images, and 15 percent saw multiple types of results.

What is significant here is that Videos appear in the Google SERP frequently but laying the other data over shows it to have the lowest CTR indicating that perhaps the click analysis has a low weighting or that the CTR in the iProspect data iss skewed by Yahoo! and Bing SERPs.

The last factor I would take into account is the CTR (Click Through Rate) for the vertical. News, shopping, local and video "Universal Paks" can often include images or maps in the case of local. Images and maps have higher CTR because they attract the attention of users. The Paks with groupings of text results also attract more attention. The higher the CTR for the vertical the lower it can be in the SERP and remain a query space target.

Various Universal search elements

The above scenario can be a little annoying since video is often below the fold. In reverse, a text based item could attract enough links and be optimized enough to knock a video with good ROI out of the SERP. In the post Google Universal Search A Mystery and Some History we looked at the SERPs Out approach to SEO.

Personally I have used that method from day 1 as we don't always have to win a battle of relevance. You want to get the click from the SERP which means position 1-3 with a strong CTA in the Description and Title. If our price point is #1 ie: the best damn price around, then I definitely want that in the title! WHY? Simple Ecommerce is 70% price point and 30% trust!


Seasonal Movement in Universal SERPs

We've also seen seasonality in the Universal SERP, in particular, during the Holiday shopping season. During that period the algo increases the number of transaction type sites/stores in the results with more of these above the fold. The most affected Universal element is Shopping/Product Search which often will move a referential site (eg: Wikipedia) lower in the results. I have seen Wikipedia drift from #2 to 7/8 position returning to that position in March.

Although I saw this in many related SERPs we didn't test it thoroughly because as there isn't a benefit large enough to warrant the time and resources needed to truly dig deep. Not to mention Personal search always being on. IMO, all you can do is keep track of the things you see, take them under advisement and move forward without losing your focus by chasing the enigma that is the Universal Search Ranking Algo.

In 2008, 39% of search engine users believe that the companies whose websites are returned among the top search results are the leaders in their field.

This figure has grown from 36% in 2006, and 33% in 2002. Another 42% feel neutral on this question, with only 19% believing that top search engine rankings do not automatically denote an industry leader.


I manage the resulting flux in the Ranking Algo by anticipating seasonal flux in the SERP and optimizing or promoting content for the targeted query spaces when it will have the highest returns. This provides me with the ability to promote and release the content in a way that takes advantage of more visibility and higher rankings.


Don't miss out on oportunities

I am definitely one who believes that if you aren't in positions 1-3 you are missing most of the prime sales opportunities. Too often I've seen even a drop from #1 to #2 lose significant sales and traffic. It bears noting one last time; start to get back to a SERP out strategy. Because with all the verticals and universal search, there is a wide variety of possible oportunities we should not let go to waste. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, this is still an area not discussed a lot in SEO circles

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.


Some More/Interesting/Related goodies;

Universal Search Strategy for Video is not Universal - Reel SEO

Google Universal Search Patent Granted - SEO by the Sea

Google's Universal Search Patent Application & Assigned Patents from Infoseek - SEO by the Sea

How Google Universal Search and Blended Results May Work - SEO by the Sea

Universal Search Now In Google Suggest For Mobile - SEL

Eye Tracking On Universal And Personalized Search - SEL

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