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Optimizing for Universal and Blended Search

I am privileged to have international SEO expert Mike Grehan contribute his Top 10 Universal SEO Tips to this issue. Aside from being a close friend of mine, Mike is newly ensconced at New York's Acronym Media as Global Officer of KDM (Keyword Driven Media). He's been one of the top SEO go-to guys since 1995. He has three SEO books under his belt, with another due out later this year.

1. The first thing you need to know before you start optimizing for Universal and blended search is... What the heck is Universal and blended search?

Okay, at Google it looks like this: At the time of this writing, a search for Edith Piaf (the French singer played by Oscar winner Marion Cotillard) brings back a complete mix of results.

The top result is a vertical music listing. Scroll down the page, and you'll find a news result (complete with image), a YouTube video (which you can play right there on the results page), news archive results and other searches related to Edith Piaf.

Basically, the old vanilla-flavoured ten blue links are being replaced by a mixture of result types and file types. Be prepared to see images, video, news results, stock quotes, local results and more beginning to fill out the search engine results pages (SERPs).

2. Is this the end of SEO as we know it?

Not quite, but it's a sure indication of the direction search engines are taking to provide a much richer end-user experience. So don't stop doing what you're doing on page optimization and your (vital) link-building campaigns. But you need to rise to this new challenge and take stock of whatever content you have and determine how many formats you can provide it in.

Start to think about images you own and any video you may have or can create. Think about local results and maps, news results, finance and blogs. Now is the time to brainstorm and get really creative.

3. The best place to start is with your images.

The number of people online searching for pictures is huge, and it's an audience that is frequently ignored when it comes to SEO. Make sure you name each image file in a descriptive way. If it's a picture of spring daffodils, then name it as such. And don't forget to do the same with the alt attribute. Also, be sure to have a descriptive caption next to the image.

But here's the most important thing with images you own: Make them available everywhere. In particular, make them available anywhere people can rate them. For instance, Google owns Picasa and Yahoo! owns Flickr, so open up accounts and make your pictures available to all.

Upload images to social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace. And be sure to get pages with good images bookmarked around social media sites.

4. Your next target is local results.

At the time of this writing, a search at Google for bed and breakfast new york brings a long list of ten local results at the top of the page before the indexed organic results.

And a search for san francisco airport brings back a list of ten local results related to the airport... right in the middle of the page! So, open up a Google Account and make your way directly to the Local Business Center to enter your free listing.

5. I read the news today, oh boy... and hundreds of thousands of people around the world do the same at Google.

I mentioned above that Google will fold news results into the mix with Universal Search. A well-optimized press release can do wonders for your ranking. In the first instance, it's possible for the press release itself to turn up in Google's news results. But if the story gets picked up by major online publications and bloggers, the story could likely turn up right there in the SERPs. For example, at the time of this writing a search for Obama Clinton has a mixture of news results, images, videos and blog posts.

And you know, you don't have to paint yourself purple and set yourself on fire on Main Street to get noticed by the press. Think about the industry you're in and research areas such as health and safety at work, for instance. Then set yourself up as an expert industry commentator. You'll probably find that from time to time you won't need a press release, as you may well have publications and high-profile bloggers knocking on your door asking for a comment.

6. Blogs are big. And that's a fact.

If you can develop a popular blog, you can surge to the top of search engine results charts. A good blog attracts many, many subscribers to your RSS feed. Remember that Google owns Blogger and FeedBurner, so you can be sure they know which are the popular blogs. And, of course, popular blogs attract lots of links. And blogs are not just static text anymore. You can embed audio, video and images.

An RSS 2.0 document used for syndicating blogs and podcasts can be optimized similar to an HTML document. There's a title tag, a description tag and a publishing date tag to give an indication of the freshness of your content. If you're syndicating a podcast, for instance, this is a great way to get some keyword-rich optimization into your feed.

7. Get into movie business.

Ten years ago (and that's not really a long, long time ago) the thought of making your own movies or advertisements was as alien as... er... something alien. But now, you can be making movies and showing them to people around the world for the price of a cheap camcorder. Videos are beginning to creep into all types of searches conducted on Google's Universal and blended search (and the other major search engines), not just those related to entertainment.

For example, at the time of this writing I made a short video chatting about the search engine strategies conference in London. I uploaded it to Google Video, YouTube and MetaCafe, bookmarked and tagged it at a few social media sites... and within two days (at the time of this writing) it was a number one result at Google. Granted, a search for mike grehan ses is a very long search tail. But it shows how easily it can be done.

8. You can quote me on this: If your company is big enough and you have some presence in the financial markets, you can take advantage of Google Finance

Many searches for large companies and brands will bring back not only the regular results (plus news results); you could even get your own stock quote folded in. At the time of this writing, a search for American Airlines brings back a classic example of how big-brand search results are beginning to look.

AA has what Google refers to as "site links" (notice the eight links to other pages on the AA site below the main result). In addition to that, there's a small plus box. Click the plus box and you get the current quote (as well as pushing all of the other organic results below the fold).

9. Sell, sell, sell. If you have anything from a single item to a huge database of stuff to sell, Google will gladly let you upload to its product search (formerly known as Froogle).

At the time of this writing, a search for nikon camera brings back three shopping comparison results from Google's Product Search at the top of the pile, plus a link to items listed in Google's own checkout service. Submit your products at no cost (it's easy to set up a data feed) and add descriptions, images and prices. And with your Google Account, you can log in and manage your products at any time.

10. Don't panic! Pause, take a deep breath and relax.

No, you don't have to worry about becoming the next Steven Spielberg in order to get indexed and ranked at Google. For now, those old blue links are still very much the order of the day. So, if you don't have audio/video, stock quotes, a product database or press releases flying over the wires every day, good old-fashioned linkage data still has pages popping to the top like corks.

But don't be complacent. A lot of what you need to get up to speed with Universal and blended search results applies to just about every website online. You're bound to have images, at least. So start optimizing there. Are you a local business only? Get into the local results right now. Got something to say? If you have strong opinions that you think other people want to hear, start your blog.

But... and this is a BIG but... don't do anything just for Google (like rushing out, buying a camcorder and making a video of sewage plant equipment). Think about your audience first and think about what *they* want. After all, it's not about you and Google. It's all about them!