In May, Google announced that they had begun to roll out “universal search” features, where their search results pages would contain more than just web pages and documents. Additional content would include videos, images, news, maps, books, and even stock quotes.

In a blog post on the subject, Marisa Mayer wrote, “With universal search, we’re attempting to break down the walls that traditionally separated our various search properties and integrate the vast amounts of information available into one simple set of search results.”

This has some small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) concerned. The feeling is that they will have less opportunity to occupy that coveted first page of real estate due to the fact that they could now face competition from additional forms of media. Do their worries hold any merit? Will universal search really have a negative affect on SMBs and if so what should they do about it?

The answer to that question first of all relies on the industry that they are in. It is also relies on the portfolio of digital media their competition might have in their arsenal.

A fan site of world renown rock group, U2, would have a lot more need for concern than lets say a local landscaping company. While much additional content would exist on the band U2 such as videos, blogs, images, news, books and the like, that is probably not as likely with landscaping, especially geared towards a specific geographical region. I would venture to say then that most SMBs will not be affected simply because additional forms of media do not currently exist in their industries.

That is not to say that they should not prepare for the likelihood that it will happen. The day will come where more and more SMBs will have video content, have images that are optimized, have corporate blogs, be listed in Google Local and the like. Those that take advantage now of the various forms of content that Google is indexing and now displaying with universal search might find themselves at a distinctive advantage over those who are sleeping.

Therefore, it is not time to panic for most SMBs. However, a window of opportunity exists for them to be innovative and jump out ahead of their competition. How can they do this?

Optimize What You Already Have

Lets first lay a foundation. Most all web sites have html web pages and graphics, right? And yet so many SMBs have yet to not only properly optimize those sites but conduct the proper keyword research so that they know what to optimize for.

I recently spoke to a group of about 20 business owners and when I polled them as to how many of them were doing any kind of search marketing, only two people raised their hands. Even the vast majority of new SMB clients we take on have never had their sites optimized for organic search visibility.

The first step then is to optimize what you currently have. That means optimizing every page of your site that provides information on who you are and what you have to offer. It means doing it in a strategic manner so that you are targeting key phrases that not only represent what people are searching for but that will bring about a specific action from visitors to your site (i.e. buy a product, sell a service, sign up for membership, etc.).

The second step is to make sure the graphics or images in your site are optimized. This can be accomplished by naming file names in conjunction to what the image actually is. It can include placing descriptive captions under photos or surrounding images with descriptive text. It can include placing descriptive alt attributes within the image tag. If the image is not hyperlinked to another web page, describe the image. If it is, describe the page it is linking to.

The bottom line is to make sure what you already have is properly optimized. This should be done with or without universal search simply because it is the foundation of having good organic search visibility.

Start a Corporate Blog

A site or business of any size should have a blog. A blog provides a way for a business to communicate with the outside world. With comments enabled, it allows the outside world to respond. And with RSS, your blog’s content is easily accessible by feed readers, news aggregators and the like. Keep in mind that it is not good enough to simply have a blog but that you need someone who can first of all write, someone who can find interesting stuff to write about and someone who can write often. It is better to have no blog than to have a dead stagnant blog.

Having a resourceful corporate blog will not only to continually add new content to the site that could show up in search results, it will also help to increase the number of links to your site. Others find your site interesting and link to it or link to specific posts that they want to share with others.

Create a Flickr Account and Submit Your Images

Now this may not apply to everyone, but it could apply to a wide range of businesses. Lets say you have a bridal shop and naturally have photos on your site of the various bridal gowns and accessories you offer. Why not add those images to your Flickr account and in doing so, link back to the original product in the description you add of the image? Yes you can add html hyperlinks to a Flickr image description.

Here is an example of a picture of myself with Rupert Jee of Hello Deli. Rupert is a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman which is why I had my photo taken with him. In the description I linked back to my site as well as the Hello Deli site. How do you add the links? The same way you would in any html document using the “a href” tag, placing the hyperlink within the tag and anchor text between the opening and closing of the tag.

As you properly title your images, add descriptions and even use relevant tagging, your images may show up in the search results. Hyperlinks in your descriptions will not only help your site’s link popularity but could drive actual traffic as well. Even though we are talking about Google in this post, keep in mind that having images in Flickr is also useful for Yahoo! now that they are including Flickr images within their image search.

Create a YouTube Account and Submit Your Videos

Again, this might not apply to everyone, but if you do have video content such as product demos, commercials, interviews, or even interesting viral experiments such as the “Will It Blend” videos done with the Blendtec Blender, submit that content to YouTube as well as other video sharing sites.

Google does frequently include YouTube videos in its search results for some of the more popular queries. If properly optimized, your videos could show up in Google’s search results. You then have the opportunity to drive actual traffic to your site by either providing the URL to your web site in your videos and/or by making sure to include your web site URL in your YouTube profile.

Get Listed on Google Local/Maps

If your business is geographically located meaning that you have an office or some type of brick and mortar storefront, then you should list it on Google Local otherwise referred to as Google Maps. Your business might show up like these Phoenix based swimming pool builders did when I searched for “swimming pool builders phoenix” –

Google SERP

Notice how the first three listings stand out from among all the other results on the page. very likely the vast majority of searchers are going to click on one of these three listings.

Getting listed in Google Local is completely free. Once you add your business, they will send out a postcard via snail mail of which you have to then enter a PIN number before your listing is active.

Final Suggestions

Worrying about something before you have all the facts usually accomplishes nothing. Conduct some searches for phrases related to your business and see what Google displays. Discover if your competitors are showing up with news listings, images, video content or maps. You might find nothing but good old fashioned web pages. If you do find additional content that is taking up first page real estate, then you can develop a strategy to add the same kind of content so you can better compete.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses.

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