What Is Universal Search? Blended Content For Richer SERPs
Despite Google’s best efforts to shift toward a more encompassing set of single-page search results, up until the end of April 2007, the search engine results pages (SERPs) were built solely around ten blue links. Cue May of 2007, excitedly, Google announced they’d finally cracked the code of universal search, propelling users into a new era of search—SERPs built upon the most relevant information, no matter its form.
Sure, it began as a series of incremental updates, but as the years have rolled by, Google has continuously honed universal search. Today, diverse media forms such as video, news, and maps are seamlessly woven into the SERPs, eliminating the need for users to toggle between individual tabs.
To catch you up on everything universal search, here, we’ll
- answer the question, “What is universal search,”
- explore the evolving landscape of universal search,
- and break down the anatomy of universal search-driven SERPs.
What Is Universal Search?
Google’s universal search, sometimes called “blended” or “extended” search, is a search feature that seamlessly blends different forms of content—web pages, videos, images, news articles, books, and more—into a unified search results page. You can see this play out in the below righthand side image. Executing the search query “Seattle” returns a multitude of integrated resources, including rich snippets, recently published news articles relative to the region, and even a map of the city.
In contrast to the way the present-day SERPs look, up until mid-2007, if users wanted to access different mediums of information, they were forced to navigate through individual tabs like “Images,” “Videos,” or “News.” If you cast your eyes back to the above image—for the same search query, “Seattle”—you’ll notice that on the left is the 2007 iteration of the SERPs. The only way to access resources other than text-based information was to click one of the options above the search bar.
As you can see, upon its launch, universal search shifted this paradigm, unifying a wide range of information sources into a single, cohesive search experience.
But why the pseudonyms “blended” or “extended” search? Well, universal search amalgamates various content types to answer a search engine user’s query in the most relevant and comprehensive way possible. Or, you could think of it like this: universal search “blends” a diverse range of content into one “extended” search offering. And with this innovation, Google fostered a more diverse, user-centric, and dynamic search landscape—an evolution that continues to impact how we digest information.
Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.
Why Is Universal Search Important?
So now we understand how universal search surpasses the confines set by conventional text-based search results, let’s take a look at what makes it so crucial in the current digital era.
- Richer results. Google’s universal search provides a broader perspective on the search query, offering richer, more comprehensive results. Instead of just seeing a list of websites, users get a full spread of related content—blog posts, news articles, images, videos, maps, and more—making the results more engaging and informative.
- Improved SEO opportunities. For marketers and SEO professionals, universal search introduces new opportunities for visibility. If you’re creating a variety of high-quality content, your chances of appearing in universal search results increase, broadening your potential audience reach.
- Deciphering user intent. universal search also gives us valuable insight into user intent. By analyzing the types of content that show up in universal search results for specific queries, marketers can gain a better understanding of what users are looking for, helping to inform their content strategy.
The Mechanics of Universal Search
So, how exactly does universal search work? How does Google decide which sections to display, and in what order? The answer lies in a complex blend of user behavior, query analysis, and machine learning:
- Understanding user behavior. Google uses extensive user behavior data to inform its universal search results. If users often click on videos for a particular type of query, Google will likely display video results prominently in the universal search results for similar queries. The same applies to images, news, maps, and other forms of media.
- Analyzing query data. Google’s algorithms interpret the nature of a search query to understand its intent. For instance, if a user searches for a how-to guide, the SERP might prominently feature a YouTube video tutorial. Or, as we saw for the city of Seattle, for a search query about a specific location, a map or local business listings may take the lead.
- Leveraging machine learning. Google also uses machine learning algorithms to continually improve its universal search results. These algorithms analyze enormous amounts of data to discern patterns and make predictions about what users will find most helpful.
It’s worth noting that Google’s universal search isn’t static. It is continually evolving, with the tech giant constantly refining its algorithms to improve the quality and relevance of its universal search results. Google is also testing different blocks of data for different types of queries to determine how users interact with them and how they could be improved.
Anatomy of Universal Search
Here’s a detailed look at the different elements that are integral to delivering comprehensive universal search results:
|Based on the textual content of the page, text results include the attribution, title link, and snippet of a webpage. Additional elements like rich attributes or a site links group might also be included.
|These provide graphical or interactive experiences that rely on the structured data of your page. They could include elements like review stars and recipe information.
|These are results based on images embedded on a webpage. They are more likely to show up for image-seeking queries
|Video results are based on a video embedded on a webpage and are more likely to show up for video-seeking queries.
|Shopping/Product Listing Ads (PLA)
|If a user’s search query indicates a shopping intent, universal search can incorporate Product Listing Ads, providing crucial product information like price, reviews, and an image.
|For local search queries, a map is likely to appear in the search results, providing geographical context and helping users navigate to local businesses or landmarks.
|News results appear for topical or trending queries, keeping users informed with up-to-date content from various outlets.
|For academic or literary queries, Google Books results can appear, providing extracts, reviews, and purchasing options for relevant publications.
|These features help users refine their initial search or explore related queries. A webpage owner can’t control them but can be helpful for understanding related search queries and potential topic areas for content.
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