Google took a bold step today and announced a commitment to “universal search”. We’ve seen the vertical search “beta” programs for years.. Google local, Google maps, Google Financial, Google Video, Google Base, etc. Truth is, nobody uses them because everyone takes for granted that Google has already integrated everything they have into “google”. Don’t believe me? Turn to the non-SEO in the cubicle next to yours and ask her “If I told you Google had access to the entire pubic database of the stock exchange, and had indexed and categorized it, would you expect that data to be included inthe results sets when you searched Google for information about stocks?” Of course she thinks they incorporate that data.
But they don’t. They only present stuff they found on the web, in web pages.
Google says it will now integrate all that “other stuff” with web search results, *and* rank it all for relevancy. Of course the key word there is “will”.
What does this mean for Google? One, Google is clearly threatened by “vertical search”, those non-Google search engines that limit their focus to specific industries like financials or local commerce (like an online yellow pages). Everybody knows Yahoo! is kills Google when it comes to Finance, for example. In case you were wondering just how Google was going to keep user loyalty as specialized vertical search engines deliver better, more highly-focused results, this announcement says “we’re working on it”. I suppose Universal Search also takes the wind out of the sails of some upstarts looking for venture money to challenge Google in a vertical… who wants to fund something
Microsoft Google is already working on?
What does it mean for search marketers and SEO’s? More business, of course. More specialization, as well. For the current Google search engine, SEO is all about the web pages. How they are crafted, what is on them, and how they relate to each other and the web as a whole. But for many publishers, the web has been about data. How to present it so it is consumed by users and search engines. SEOs work all of that, although many focus on database-driven dynamic websites publishing massive amounts of data, while others work on creative content, where a single web page can”go viral” and earn assive market attention (and rank well in Google). Same story, but perhaps with a renewed energy because more data means more confusion (more need for signals of relevancy, and therefore more need for optimization on those signals). It also could me more use of Google, as (potentially) a wider audience is satisfied by Google’s results. And that is a double-edged sword. Google is loved in large part because it is simple and easy to use. How many consumers actually want to know all of the options? Most probably just want “a good answer” followed by 9 obviously lesser answers, not “here are the best 10 good answers, sort them out for yourself”.
I think Google’s personalization efforts are the real answer to Google’s future, if it’s possible to actually achieve it (I have serious doubts). But “Universal Search” is a sexier concept to sell and easier to implement. So, everything’s changed now; expect more of the same.
John Andrews is an independent search engine optimization consultant out of Seattle.