Tomorrow Today: Google Universal Search – Part 1: Industry Disruption

About a week ago, Google took the lid off a project that had been brewing for several months. The company calls it Universal Search. In a nutshell, it “will blend listings from its news, video, images, local and book search engines among those it gathers from crawling web pages.”

For ordinary web searchers, the change is hardly noticeable. In fact, a lot of ordinary surfers I’ve spoken to since Google Universal Search (GUS) went live have given me the “Duh” reaction. And therein lies the genius of this innovation. This subtle, almost invisible new search is a disruptive innovation; affecting the entire SEO industry, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google itself.

This week’s Tomorrow Today is a four-part series where we’ll examine just how GUS has changed the rules of the game for all stakeholders.

Part 1: What people are saying about GUS
Part 2: What it means for SEO
Part 3: What it means for Microsoft and Yahoo
Part 4: What it means for Google and the future.

Part 1: What people are saying about GUS

Google’s had plenty of “vertical”searches in the past – its bread-and-butter web search, image search, blog search, local search, video search, even book, map, news and email search. Google Universal search unifies these previously siloed searches. Now, a search for a term will return a list of results that span all of the above. The most dramatic change as of now seems to be the video search integration. As an example, the results to the search request ”I have a dream” will include an actual video showing Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 speech along with the usual assortment of Web links (Associated Press). Now you begin to get understand how significant this little change is, and begin to think up of other scenarios. Imagine a search for “apple store”. This could lead to (apart from normal web results), a map of Apple stores throughout the state where you’re located, new results about apple stores, images of the glass Apple Store in Soho, and so on.

The real technical smarts with converting siloed searches into GUS have to do with “finding the best answer across multiple content types“. How do you rank an image search result in comparison to a web search, or a video search result? Previously, comparing a news result for a search term with a maps result for the same term, and ranking them relative to each other was like comparing apples and oranges. No longer.

Danny Sullivan demonstrates how news, maps and book results now form part of the standard search results set. Admittedly, these results did show up on the first page of the Web search results, but they were placed separately, out of the top 10 search results. That, ironically, reduced their relevance. Consequently they were hardly clicked on.

Tomorrow we’ll see what this means for Seach Engine Optimization firms who, for good reason, are quite shaken up by this new development.