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INTERNATIONAL: Universal Search Research Update

by Christian Thurston, March 17, 2011

As part of the work that we perform for clients, we closely monitor the number of Universal Search results appearing in the google.com.au search results. We have not noticed many recent large changes but have updated our testing from last year to gather some real data to determine what is changing in the search results.

In 2010 we started this research to test what Marissa Mayer, the Google VP of Search Products & User Experience stated in November 2009. In the interview, she noted that when Universal Search launched in 2007 a Universal Search item appeared in 4 percent of search queries, whereas in November 2009 a Universal Search item appeared in 25 percent of search queries.

As in the prior year we selected a sample of different search results in google.com.au (searched from an Australian IP and eliminating the impacts of personalised search) and recorded the occurrences and types of Universal Search results. We gathered this data across a number of different keyword groups including brand, high volume, mid tier, long tail and celebrity/news related keywords. Please note that these are based on a sample size and are based on an average across the sample set.

The key findings are:

  • The percent of times a Universal Search result appears in a page 1 set of search results has stayed roughly the same, at 86 percent from early 2010 to early 2011. For above the fold it has decreased slightly from 74 percent to 73 percent
  • There has been a slight decrease in the number of Universal Search results and links appearing on page 1 of google.com.au, for both the whole page and above the fold
  • The percent of Universal Search results on page 1 by keyword type has shown some minor changes. The big mover up has been mid-tier companies. News/celebrity, ASX listed companies and high volume keywords continue to have the highest percentage of Universal Search results on page 1.
  • News is the most commonly appearing Universal Search result, followed by local, video and images. This is consistent with 2010.
  • Blogs and real time search results did not appear in any of our searches. This was a drop from 14 percent of searches for blogs and 9 percent of searches for real time results, from the previous year
  • Images dropped from appearing in 26 percent of searches to 14 percent of searches (for above the fold, the drop was from 14 percent - 10 percent)
  • News results increased from appearing in 53 percent of searches to 60 percent of searches (for above the fold, the increase was from 37 percent - 39 percent)
  • Local and video results dropped slightly, for both the whole page and above the fold

More details of our research are included below:

Percent of times a Universal Search result appears on page 1

Our research shows that:

  • 86 percent of all searches returned a Universal Search result on page 1 (no change from 2010)
  • 73 percent of all searches returned a Universal Search result above the fold on page 1 (a 1 percent drop from 2010)

In google.com.au, we are thus seeing significantly more Universal Search results in 2011 and 2010 than the 25 percent quoted by Google in November 2009. It is thus as important as ever to optimise for Universal Search.

Universal Search result occurrences on page 1

Our research shows that (please note there are some rounding differences in the calculations):

  • In terms of search results (please note: for the purposes of this portion of the analysis, a result is a group of related links. For example, a group of 7 Google Places links is counted as one Universal Search result):
    • There are 11 search results on page 1; 1 being Universal Search results (12 percent of the search results) and 10 being text search results
    • There are 6 search results above the fold on page 1; 1 being a Universal Search result (15 percent of search results) and 5 being text search results
    • The key change from 2010 are fewer Universal Search results on the page, from 2 to 1 (15 percent - 12 percent) results, for the whole page, whereas above the fold has remained at 1 Universal Search result (15 percent)
  • In terms of links:
    • There are 14 search result links on page 1; 4 being Universal Search results (31 percent of the search results) and 10 being text search results
    • There are 8 search result links above the fold on page 1; 3 being Universal Search results (36 percent of search results) and 5 being text search results
    • The key change from 2010 is fewer Universal Search result links on the page, from 6 to 4 (36 percent - 31 percent) links, for the whole page, and from 4 to 3 links (39 percent - 36 percent), for above the fold
  • The following charts show the average number of search results and links:

  • The following charts show the above data as percentages (please note there are some rounding differences in the calculations):


Universal Search results as a percent of total search results - split by keyword type

Our research shows that:

  • The percent of Universal Search results on page 1 varies significantly across keyword groups
  • News/celebrity keywords have the highest percent of Universal Search results on page 1 (this was also the case in 2010)
  • Mid-tier company keywords have the lowest percent of Universal Search results on page 1 (this was also the case in 2010, but this area has shown the largest percent increase from 2010)
  • ASX listed company keywords have a much higher percent of Universal Search results on page 1 than mid-tier company keywords (this was also the case in 2010 but the gap has narrowed)
  • High volume head term keywords have a higher percent of Universal Search results than long tail keywords (this was also the case in 2010 but the gap has narrowed)

Types of Universal Search results

Our research shows that:

  • News is the most commonly appearing Universal Search result, with 60 percent of searches containing a news result on page 1 and 39 percent of searches containing a news result, above the fold, on page 1
  • The most frequently occurring Universal Search results in order of frequency are (this is consistent with 2010):
    • News
    • Local
    • Video
    • Images
  • The key changes from 2010 are:
    • Blogs and real time search results did not appear in any of our searches. This was a drop from 14 percent for blogs and 9 percent for real time from the previous year
    • Images dropped from appearing in 26 percent of searches to 14 percent of searches (for above the fold, the drop was from 14 percent - 10 percent)
    • News increased from appearing in 53 percent of searches to 60 percent of searches (for above the fold, the increase was from 37 percent - 39 percent)
    • Local and video dropped slightly, for the whole page and above the fold


It is clear from the above research that Universal Search continues to be a key component of the Google search results but the number and type of Universal Search results does not appear to be increasing as rapidly as in the past and may even be decreasing in certain areas .

The following key actions should be followed to take advantage of opportunities presented by Universal Search and stay ahead of your competitors.

Key Actions

We mentioned these key actions in our research from last year. We have repeated these here, with some updates, as we believe they are still relevant and as important as ever.

1. Optimise all digital assets

Ensure you have a strategy in place to optimise all your digital assets to take advantage of the extra ranking opportunities available (86 percent of all searches contain a Universal Search result and 12 percent of the search results and 31 percent of links on page 1 are Universal Search results). Protect against organic results being pushed below the fold (15 percent of search results and 36 percent of links above the fold, are Universal Search non-text search results) by optimizing all digital assets.

2. Add Engagement Objects to landing pages

Ensure you include Engagement ObjectsT on all landing pages. Engagement ObjectsT are non-text elements on a page which draw attention and elicit user involvement, such as images, videos, Flash objects, infographics, audio, maps, news, books, widgets, feeds, interactive games, tables and blog posts. We believe that the search engines will rank pages more highly if they include Engagement ObjectsT and that have a high engagement with users. Also, this will give you more ranking opportunities in the Universal Search results as discussed in point 1 above.

3. Use digital asset optimisation and distribution to improve online presence and visibility

Digital asset optimisation (or Universal Search optimisation) and distribution and syndication of derivatives of this content will improve search engine visibility, online brand presence and social media visibility, and these in turn will support each other, leading to higher rankings and more traffic.

4. Leverage traditional SEO strategies

There are many specific tasks that need to be carried out in order to rank highly for each of the Universal Search results but many of the tried and tested standard SEO strategies still apply. Ensure you get the foundations in place as outlined in the SEO Hierarchy of Needs and then apply item specific strategies to optimise further.

 


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