Announced at the Google Searchology event, and with full national functionality slated for the end of today, the company's goal for universal search is to create "a seamless, integrated experience to get users the best answers," said Marissa Mayer, Google vice president of search products and user experience at Google.
A user that inputs "Italian restaurant in nyc" for example, might find local search listings complete with a Google Map, above a link to breaking news on New York City restaurants, in addition to sponsored and organic links. Users will also be able to play embedded videos from Google Videos or YouTube directly on the page, while a thumbnail will link them to videos hosted by other sites like MetaCafe.
The task of pulling various types of data together, comparing, and ranking them with the speed and accuracy to which users have become accustomed requires new algorithms, software and hardware--part of the new technical infrastructure Google is in the process of installing.
Some industry insiders said the universal search model may pose challenges for both users and marketers. "It takes away from the beautiful uniformity that has made Google so successful," said blogger and competitive Web master John Andrews.
While not a jarring change, as the search giant has been implementing aspects of this capability over the past few months, "on first glance, it seems a bit inconsistent," said Dan Thies, president, SEO Research Labs. "Users may wonder what kinds of results they're going to get when they enter a search term."
For marketers, the new search model's inclusion of media such as video and scanned books puts the onus on them to increase the breadth of their readily accessible digital content. "Advertisers need to have more multimedia available, and it needs to be catalogued and tagged in the right way," said Chris Copeland, senior partner, managing director of GroupM's Outrider. "We have to make sure that they apply the fundamentals of SEO to all of their assets now, not just Web pages."
Asked whether the universal search model would impact the speed or quality of results, Google Vice President of Engineering Udi Manber responded: "We continue to concentrate on improving the quality of search, devoting resources to developing better ranking mechanisms and algorithms."