Tomorrow Today: Google Universal Search – Part 2: What it means for the SEO industry

It means everything. It means a massive opportunity and a massive threat. It means a period of flux in the SEO space for the next six months. Why?

Until today, everything – everything – in the SEO industry was to do with optimising web pages. Firms in this space have fine-tuned the art of Optimization into a science over a decade. Pagerank was all that mattered, and SEO firms knew what worked and what didn’t.

But it was all page optimization. Meaning, web pages with textual content. Because the default, vanilla Web Search dwarfed other vertical searches – image, news, map, book, video search, they didn’t even register on an SEO firm’s radar. After all, if no one’s searching for my client on Google Book Search, why do I even bother optimizing his/her website for it? What’s changed is that results from those same niche searches have found their way onto the hottest property on the web today – Google’s web search results page.

To optimize for GUS means optimizing for a whole host of data types. It also means several paradigm shifts in thinking. Fundamentally, “news” is not a different data type – it’s also text on a web page. But one, the way in which its relevance is measured is definitely different. For instance, recency is probably much more important here. Two, it’s tough to simply “generate” news, when compared to how quickly a business can “generate” content on static or dynamic web pages that are *owned* by the client. Maps is another example. Providing location-based data is something that has never been done before with text, at least not in the spatial sense. Video presents similar challenges. How does Google rank videos based on relevance? And what kind of video content can you create for your client? Maps deserves an entire post to itself, but I’ll leave it to your imagination for the present. The indsutry will enter a phase where SEO firms will have to work much more closely with their clients to optimize for them than they do today.

Paid Search Engine Optimization (which is currently almost entirely Adwords/Overture campaign) is set to change dramatically. Marissa Mayer, VP Search Products and User Experience at Google, commented during the launch of GUS, “For us, ads are answers as well…. And so I was hoping that we could bring some of these same advances in terms of the richness of media to ads.” Consider location-based ads. Today, searchers in different countries see different sponsored ads based on their location. Maps can take that to an entirely different level. Consider a search for “sports shoes”. Apart from other results, you could, on the right pane, have a map of your region showing you stores with sell sports shoes. Which stores are shown will depend upon a bid-based mechanism similar to Adwords. Video ads are more or less a given. Travel advertisers, for instance, could optimize videos displaying cruise line offerings or hotel amenities, while financial firms might focus on promoting educational videos rather than straight text articles. How GUS will embed these ads in the company’s traditional unobtrusive manner remains to be seen.

In summary, SEO firms will spend the next few months taking stock of how much their business has changed with GUS. Those that do find a compelling strategy for GUS will be able to put miles between them and their competitors. Think about it – with GUS, the battle for Search is all but over. Having defined Search 2.0, Google has left other engines in the Search 1.0 era. Those SEO firms that declare that they can now optimize for Search 2.0 will not only be able to scale up, acquire larger customers, but also win over significant accounts from their competitors. In other words, they will have won the SEO wars.

Tomorrow, we’ll see what the mandarins at Microsoft and Yahoo are thinking about GUS, and what they ought to be thinking instead.