Chapter 5. Universal SERP Analysis

Universal Search is a group of results including images, videos, maps, shopping and news. If you cast your minds back, it was actually launched by Google nearly 14 years ago, back in May 2007.  It was one the most radical changes to the search results at that time and blended listings from news, video, images, local and book search engines, hence why sometimes it is also called blended search or enhanced search.

How can you stay ahead in the SERPs? You need to know how your content is performing, where it is showing and where your competitors are.

Images

The image pack shows a horizontal row of images links and when the user clicks through they are taken to a Google images page. You can impact the likelihood of your image appearing in this pack by ensuring you have a descriptive file name, alt text, title tag, plus SEO friendly URL and it should also be an optimised image size. This means it is not a massive image taking time to load on your site. Ideally you should compress your images before uploading them, tools such as TinyPNG or CompressJPEG are free. Images are extremely important in SEO, and especially so if you are an eCommerce site.

The Local Pack

Also called the Local 3 Pack, this shows the map and address of three businesses relevant for that search query. If the query has local intent, then Google will show the three local businesses. Back when it was first launched it showed 7 results, but now focuses on just showing the top 3. They are based on Google My Business listings and what the algorithm thinks is most relevant for that query.

Appearing in the local pack is crucial for any company that has an offline presence even during a lockdown. Some businesses may turn into delivery only, while others may be by appointment only (such as hairdressers). Therefore it is very important to optimise for local SEO and ensure your Google My Business is up to date. The information in Google’s Local Pack comes from what is in your own Google My Business listing. Ensure that you have your physical address, business category and key attributes of your company, plus photos in GMB. Remember to verify your location and make sure you respond to all reviews, good and bad.

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Video

What terms are your competitors ranking for and why? When videos are used on a site, they should have a transcript. Videos have a lot of content and search engines cannot read the video, but they can crawl the text under it. Make sure the video is above the fold and make it the focus on the page (instead of putting it under the fold, hoping your user scrolls down to view it).

It is also important to have a custom thumbnail that is clear, shows the content of the video and will encourage people to click through to it. As with images, titles play a key role as well as the description.

John Mueller recently explained how Google rank videos and images. If people show a preference for an image, then Google will show that. But clearly in the context of this next part of his answer, relevance means what the user is actually looking for (e.g. An answer, an image, a video, etc).

Mueller makes it clear that if people show preference for images, that’s what Google is going to show. And that act of showing people what they want to see, that’s the context of his use of the word, relevance.

Also, of interest is how all these different algorithms are working independently on answering the query and then labeling them with a relevance score which is used to determine where on the search result page to show these different kinds of results.

Shopping

Google Product Search started off as Froogle back in December 2002. For nearly 10 years, there was no charge to be in the shopping search engine. Merchants could have their listings crawled by submitting a product feed in their Google Merchant Center account. However, this all changed in May 2012 when Google announced that they would be moving to a paid model in late 2012. The name also changed from Product Search to Google Shopping and it was meant to enhance the user experience. This move was seen as unprecedented as they had never never eliminated a search product that had free listings and moved to a paid model. They had also been completely against this before and even wrote in their IPO that “Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle, our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.”

Perhaps Google had a change of heart earlier this year as in April 2020, Google opened up Google Shopping to free listings for US merchants. Then at the end of September, it announced it was expanding Google shopping listings globally and making it free from mid October. Google Shopping has come full circle in its 18 years, from free, to paid to free again. One thing is for certain, anyone with an ecommerce site should ensure they have their product listing to give them the best possible chance of appearing high in the Shopping Results.

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