Google, the dominant search engine for business searchers, made a dramatic change to its search results starting in 2007. And that change has the effect of making it harder — and at the same time easier — for small businesses to be found in Google.
That change is called “universal search.”
Universal search means that whenever someone searches in Google, they no longer get back separate results from the different Google databases (for YouTube videos, Web pages, images, news, maps, books, and other types of material) on the main search results. Rather, Google now returns search results with such materials mixed together on the same page.
Here’s an example of a search that returned a Google results page pulling content from four different Google database sources: regular Web pages, a YouTube video, results from News, and Blog posts.
John Battelle suggests that Google’s universal search results promote Google’s own content. He writes that the universal search results:
“… lay bare Google’s own editorial choices. Why when you search for stocks does Google Finance come first? Let’s be honest here. It’s not because some neutral algorithm chose Google Finance. It’s because Google owns that data. Google’s representative admitted as much on our panel today.
And, given that, can one reasonably ask why, according to Comscore’s data, the preponderance of results that come up in Google’s universal search are YouTube? Might it be because they are they best results? Sure. Might it also be because Google owns YouTube, which is madly trying to monetize the second, third, and fourth click with new models that it hopes to heck are going to pay off?”
So in one sense you are now competing against Google itself for placement in the search engine results.
What can you do about that? The first step is to not bemoan it. Part of running a business is figuring out how to deal with change and competition.
This is part of a bigger shift in how Google search operates. The amount of information on the Web is growing. We small businesses are all going to have to adapt to if we want to continue to get online traffic because there’s just more stuff competing for attention in the search results. But most changes bring new opportunities if you look hard enough. Here are three ways I see that small businesses can benefit:
(1) Video that you place on YouTube could have very real value. Previously you might have thought of YouTube videos as being frivolous frou-frou.
But does it change your opinion when you realize that Google tends to return YouTube videos with regular frequency, as the Battelle article above points out? Suddenly those YouTube videos start to look attractive — necessary — when you learn they might be a way for your business to get to the first page of the Google results.
(2) With video of such importance to search results, I expect demand to grow for videographers in your local areas. Most small businesses do not have the equipment, software, skill or time to create professional quality video. We don’t know how to edit video, add music and text, and get it on the Web. Even if we wanted to learn, most of us don’t have time. We are going to need help.
(3) Even though search results are now a mixture pulled from various Google databases, keep in mind that people can still search in those vertical databases. The other “vertical” Google search databases may provide more ways to be found online.
Try to think of content you can add about your company or products into those other databases. Each time you add something think of it as one more way to be seen. Your content may be seen not only in the main Google results, but also by those who search specifically in those other databases.
You can find those other Google databases by going to Google.com. When you look at the page, across the top left corner, you’ll see links to Images, Maps, News, Shopping, and More. When you click on the More link, you see Books, Blogs and other choices. Those are all different “places” within Google. If one or more of those databases apply to your business, start trying to get content in them.
With YouTube, for instance, you have to go over to YouTube and load your videos. To get into Google News, most small businesses will need to put out press releases regularly through one of the press release distribution services that distributes through Google News.
To get into Blog search, you just need to have a blog and Google will pick up your RSS feed whenever it is updated. If you have products and want to get them into Products search, try uploading them using Google Base.
That’s only a partial list — explore all the Google databases and figure out what it takes to get content into them, if applicable to your business. Not every Google search database will make sense for every business. The trick is to find the opportunities inherent in Google’s various search databases that apply to your type of business.
It’s hard to say to what extent any of these vertical Google databases will drive traffic and search visibility to your business in the near term. But as one commentator predicts, this kind of vertical search will be the future.