GUS makes SEM success dependent on diverse content

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The launch of Google Universal Search (GUS) has dramatically changed the search landscape. It's now become important to include videos, images, news articles and other content that search engines may want to crawl, and marketers must revamp both their SEO and SEM efforts in order to rule the Google search engine results pages (SERPs). Basically, marketers need to be as creative as possible when adding elements to Web sites.

Lead generation serves as the primary goal of Bomgar Corporation, which specializes in appliance-based remote desktop support solutions. It's very important to the company to rank well on the SERPs. By adapting methods to better fit the demands of GUS, Bomgar is succeeding in this new search environment.

Bomgar advertises on Google's search network as well as its content network (the content network delivers about 70 percent more traffic than does the search network). The company has begun to generate more varied content and media, and it's experiencing a greater volume of lead generation (about 40 percent via SEM). Since the beginning of this year, Bomgar has seen a three-to-one return on the dollars it spends on Google PPC advertising.

"As a small startup, Google pay-per-click (PPC) advertising presented the most viable means to rapidly grow the business," says Justin Brock, manager of eCommerce at Bomgar. "We knew it was critical to get the word out through the Web, and with only the founder's personal debit card for initial funding, PPC was the most feasible. The Web and PPC offer a significant opportunity that didn't exist years ago with traditional advertising. PPC advertising allows you to bid on key words, directly alongside your competition, to place yourself directly in front of your prospects."

Brock says GUS is Google's step towards providing users with more targeted and useful content through the use of blended results and by displaying everything in one column.

"[GUS] extends our focus on relevance," says Johanna Wright, senior product manager at Google. "Our message is still the same - create great content. [But] because we now are able to give users other types of data when performing a search, companies should make sure they have high-quality content of all types and ensure [that] this content is accessible to Google."

There is also a new element of personalization with GUS. Though Google has always given users the option to personalize the homepage, search and recommendations, GUS combines personalized search results and a personalized homepage. At first, users may not notice any difference, but personalization will take effect as the search engine learns each user's preferences. For example, if a user searches for "dolphins" in reference to the "Miami Dolphins," GUS will provide information on the football team, as opposed to information about marine mammals.

GUS makes advertising beyond the search engine more important, and Bomgar plans to diversify its content to leverage these new opportunities across advertising vehicles.

"A growing number of sites are now displaying ads next to their content," Brock says. "If you can't rank in the top ten organically or entice an ad click on the search engine results page, why not connect to your audience by advertising on pages that do appear in the top ten? As an advertiser, if I can broaden my focus to include both the search engine and the actual pages pulled up by the search engine, I increase my chances for exposure."

Google's ultimate vision for universal search is to search across all its content sources, compare and rank all the information in real time, and deliver a single, integrated set of precise, personalized search results. The company is in the process of deploying the necessary technical infrastructure that will enable the search engine to handle the computationally intensive tasks required to produce universal search results. It is also releasing the first stage of an upgraded ranking mechanism that will automatically and objectively cross-reference different types of information.

New navigation links have been added above the search results to suggest additional information that is relevant to a user's query. For example, a search for "python" will now generate links to Google Blog Search, Google Book Search, Google Groups and Google Code, to let the user know there is additional information on his or her query in each of those areas.

Chris Copeland, founder of Outrider, a global search engine marketing consultancy based in St. Louis, MO, calls GUS a "more complete experience." In order to be successful in positioning, he stresses the importance of cataloging, indexing and optimizing all assets.

"A SERP page that relies on a sponsored listing or an organic listing is far less appealing than inclusion of videos, available product or even localized content around stores and availability," Copeland notes. "These options may have less sponsorship opportunity, but the early adopters can expect to own more result page real estate and benefit from it."

Todd Friesen, director of SEO at Range Online Media agrees. "The most interesting part of [GUS], from an SEO perspective, is how much of real estate you can now own above the fold," he says. "You can have a regular listing, a video listing, a news listing and even capture some image search space. This is very good news for brand search and reputation management."

Phil Stelter, Range Online Media's director of business development advises marketers to get creative. "Create a great viral video with keywords that relate to your brand," he says. "Optimize social media around it. Get your press releases to the bloggers. Get your blog linked to from The New York Times."

Optimized content is very important, and the best way to optimize a blog is to customize its RSS feed. It's most effective to focus on title tags, and wise to specifically mention the blog name at the end of the title rather than at the beginning. It also helps to put the tag name in the title on a tag page and to customize it with additional keywords for display on a home page. Overriding title tags with custom tags, also known as a title tag plugins, is also beneficial.

While images play a bigger role on the search results pages with GUS, the name of a picture isn't going to play a huge role in optimization. Name images so they are useful to you as a webmaster. Put keywords in the Alt tag of the image. (This should be done anyway to help the visually impaired.) Under the images, put a caption that uses the keywords. Most importantly, link to images with keywords as the hyperlink.

When producing video content, think like the video searcher to make information easier to find. Focus on the title tags that mention keywords people are likely to search. Tag plugins also work for videos.

According to Stelter, Google has "normalized" result sets and combined them into one index. So a single search hits all of the different things Google has indexed and displays one result set that ranks images, videos and other content, together with web pages.

This is good news for marketers because it represents "shifting emphasis and opportunities among Google's many stepchildren," says Stelter. "The result is that we have new opportunities to reach users with media that rarely saw the light of day before."

But Stelter remains convinced that success still hinges on keywords and links. He believes the difference now is in the impact. For example, if a video about a new McDonald's menu item ranks as top for BBQ ribs, impact on the searcher will be measurably different from a standard text link result in the SERP - it will stand out, and bring brand marketers and metrics to search.

Many companies, which previously have not thought about natural search results because they weren't direct response-oriented, should now consider it.

"If paid results begin to accept new formats, it could finally mean the entrance of CPG ad budgets into search, which could have a wild effect on brand-centric search results and CPCs," Stelter says. "Not all vertical markets are feeling the impact at this point. For example, a search for a movie title or actor is more likely to yield results blended with multimedia."

Other verticals, such as travel or local, may still be limited to the OneBox Google has been inserting at the top of the results. Over time, it will become more important to various verticals based on how successfully users interact with the blended results set.

"As the margins of direct marketers begin to feel the squeeze of high [cost-per-clicks] and search engines try to find new ways to increase revenue to please their shareholders and users alike, GUS could be the harbinger of growth in search," Stelter concludes. "The search engines have struggled for some time now to prove their case to brand advertisers."

Brock believes that GUS can present some challenges to marketers because all the new blended content appearing in the organic results can draw attention away from an advertiser's four lines of text in a search ad. Bomgar realizes the importance of diversifying content to optimize clicks, and it has already started work on new ads, which include videos and images.

Because Web sites are now competing with images, videos, blogs and news results in the organic listings, ranking in the top three isn't as important as it used to be. As long as a page ranks on the first page of results and has eye-catching graphics that appear in the listings, the site has a good chance of being clicked on, even if it isn't in the top three search result slots. Therefore, Brock concludes that sites with diverse content, such as Bomgar's site, stand ahead of the curve.

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