Google's new universal search format may force you to change your business' Web presence and marketing strategies.
The format blends traditional Web results with news, maps, blogs, books, video, and other forms of content onto the main page, and could affect your business' rankings. Google's share of the search engine market was 51 percent in May, according to ComScore Networks, and many small and mid-size businesses depend on the search engine giant to drive customers to their sites.
Search-engine marketing experts say Google's changes will gradually compel businesses to diversify and freshen their online content, and to think about search-engine marketing in a slightly new light. The changes won't be too difficult, experts say, and could help small and mid-size businesses increase their Web presence.
Small and mid-size businesses "have the advantage of being potentially more nimble and open to emerging technologies and media outlets over bigger corporations," says Web and search-engine expert Richard Walters of Mindspace, an advertising and public-relations agency in Tempe, Ariz.
Reassessing how your website is found
Google's changes won't wipe your business off the main page right away -- if ever -- search-engine marketing experts agree. But it may force small and mid-size businesses to become more sophisticated about search-engine optimization strategies, which can help your pages jump in the rankings but were generally a weak point for smaller businesses even before Google's changes.
"Maybe they're getting their feet wet, but they haven't dove completely into it," says David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, a Phoenix-based search-engine marketing firm. "I would definitely say that there is probably a lot of room for growth there."
One basic search-engine optimization strategy is to include relevant, high-ranking keywords for your business in the webpage title and content. Search engines crawl and often pick up on pages with those keywords. The method will still apply to webpages, but other content such as images and video should also be identified with relevant keywords, according to experts.
While most people didn't know it, Google includes 14 separate search databases that enables individuals to search for specific content in images, books and other databases. The universal search format crawls for terms across Google's various databases, rather than just webpages so it's important for businesses to have several different forms of content such as blogs and video that can show up in search results.
"It's my belief that if anyone has any size of business … they should have a blog and it should be updated," Wallace says.
Developing multimedia and fresh content
Businesses should begin developing multimedia and fresh content, experts advise, such as putting online videos that can pick up hits on YouTube. YouTube and Google Maps had higher traffic shortly after Google launched its new format, according to research by Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise, a search engine intelligence and marketing firm based in New York.
Brick-and-mortar stores in particular need to be listed on Google Maps through Google's local business center, experts say. They should also consider issuing company news releases or ramp up their publicity to get news-related hits.
Search Engine Guide Editor Jennifer Laycock says that many companies are highly dependent on Google, but it shouldn't be the only search engine that businesses target.
She says Google's new universal search format gives companies the opportunities to create content for specialized searches, or "vertical searches" as they are called in the search-engine industry. Laycock says that if you upload a video, for example, you may end up having two hits within YouTube as well as one video hit on Google's main page. In Google's old search format, your video would not have made it to the main page.
"If small businesses figure out how to play those verticals, they're actually in a better position than they are now," she says.