Getting Creative with Content for Universal Search

Google and the other search engines have begun mixing in more than just text-based results in their web searches. You can still perform specific searches for videos, images and blogs, but thanks to Google’s Universal Search, you can also find them in general results. How does this affect your SEO strategy?

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so let me show you an image of a blended search result. Here’s screen shot of a Google search on otters:

 

I shrank and cropped it to fit, which is why you don’t see any ads on the right. Anyway, I want to focus on the results. At the top, just below the sponsored link, you can see three image results for otters, sitting nicely in a row. Just below those images are two entries from Wikipedia on otters. Just below that is a link to a viral YouTube video that features two ever-so-cute otters swimming and holding hands. Finally, below that, you see results for other web pages about otters.

What can we learn from this? It’s not impossible to get text-based results into a good position on Google, but they do get pushed down. I don’t need to tell you that a lower position in the search engine results pages (SERPs) can lead to fewer visitors. But you’ve worked hard for your good position; you’ve spent many hours creating good content and optimizing your web site. This change hardly seems fair, does it?

Roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. If you’re prepared to fight for your position, keep reading. I’m going to give you a few tips I’ve collected that should help you “mix it up” with the best of them. Some of them may be new to you, but you’ve probably heard others before. It’s the approach that’s a little different.

Like a general preparing for battle, the first thing you need to do is take stock. What do you have on your web site in the way of content? What format(s) is it in? Are you mainly focused on text? Or do you have quality images as well? Perhaps you have audio and/or video content with possibilities?

Be prepared to look at your content with new eyes. Perhaps you have images of all your products on your site with descriptions under them, and you can’t imagine them out of that context. Or maybe you publish articles and all of your images are used to highlight those stories. That’s not the only way to look at an image however.

Let me give you an example, with a nod to Lee Odden for presenting it in one of his articles. You don’t necessarily think of a jewelry store as a place to shop for holiday ornaments, but online jewelry retailer Adler’s offers a nice selection. To meet the holiday shopping season head-on, they optimized the web pages that displayed ornaments with keywords. They also put images of their ornaments on Flickr and other photo-sharing sites, with links back to their product pages. You can still find the ornaments on Flickr; here’s a screen shot showing the results of a search:

 

And what was the result of this unconventional approach? According to Odden, “By not relying solely on search engines to send traffic, Adler’s realized more than an additional 750 unique visitors via image search within the first few weeks of implementation.”

I’ll talk more about branching out from the search engines later. But the point of this example is to get you thinking about the kind of content you have, apart from its current context. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm a little; in fact, you’d better be prepared to do just that, because you may want (and need) to make new content in different formats to deal with the search engines’ changing approach.

It’s natural at this point to start thinking about ways to branch your content into different formats, once you know what you actually have to work with. I want you to put that idea on hold for the moment. You may have discovered that you have more different kinds of content on your site than you thought. Good for you! Are they all optimized?

If they aren’t, you know what your next step should be. Get that on-page optimization done! I’m going to start by talking about images here, because that seems to be an area that most people still forget to do anything with. Use alt text tags to give each image a good, concise description, with your chosen keyword in it if possible. Search engines can’t read images, but they can read alt tags.

Alt tags also let you give your visitors more information about an image when they hover over it. This is used to good effect in the online comic strip xkcd. If you’re not familiar with what happens when you add an alt tag, here’s an example from Wikipedia:

 

You should also optimize your images for size. I don’t mean actual physical dimensions so much (though that’s a factor too) but how much memory they take up. That affects how fast the image loads, and therefore how fast your page loads. Further detail is beyond the scope of this article, but image optimization information is freely available on the web.

While you’re updating your current optimization, you might want to do a little rethinking. Look at your page titles, for example. With blended search, it’s more important than ever that you stand out in the SERPs – not just to get the search engines to put you near the top, but to convince searchers to click on your link.

David Davies, writing for ISEdb, uses titles for his own company’s SEO site (Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning) as examples. Here’s his over-optimized version: “Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services Company | Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning | SEO Services, Internet Marketing, Link Building, Consulting, Training & Copywriting.” And the version his company is actually using? “Expert SEO Services by Beanstalk.” They keep it short and easy to read so that the whole title will appear in the SERPs. “Our clickthroughs are much higher with shorter titles than longer and we have seen the same results with client sites,” Davies notes.

Once you’ve done everything you can to optimize your current content, you’re ready to brainstorm. How can you make your current content more useful to visitors? And what different kinds of content can you add? You may not be able to do a full-fledged podcast, but what about a regular blog? Think about what your visitors will want to see, and come up with some approaches that make sense for your field.

Say you own a real estate site. Some real estate agents have done well with a regular blog that discusses the advantages of moving to the area in which they’re selling homes. But what if you don’t have the resources to maintain a regular blog? Can you at least add video for featured homes that lets visitors walk through them online? If you can’t do that, can you add multiple images to your site for each of the homes you list, showing the different rooms as well as the outside of the buildings? Something this simple can make a huge difference, and your visitors will love it.

Once you’ve decided what kind of content makes sense for you to create and add to your site, you should set up a regular schedule for getting it live. Think of your web site like a publication. This will help you make sure you keep producing fresh content to get the search engines and your target audience to revisit regularly. Don’t overlook the advantages of using RSS feeds to lure visitors back to your site!

You may be wondering what that has to do with blended search. One aspect of blended search involves getting a wider variety of content on your site, so you’re more likely to show up in several places on the SERPs. Another aspect involves depending on the search engines a little less for traffic to your web site. If you have a plan for regular publication, you will have an easier time promoting your content on social media sites because you’ll know when items will go live. It’s one reason why Adler’s did so well. In the next part of this series, I’m going to delve more deeply into social media optimization and other ways for your SEO campaign to take blended search into consideration.

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