Google's search results page has come a long way from the original plain ten blue links. Over the years these ten links have been joined by a wide range of other kinds of information. Google has stated that their goal is to answer searchers' questions faster and with more relevance, so the results page has become more informative and the content displayed more diverse. Video links, image search results, news or updates and map information are just a few  examples of the kinds of information Google has begun to show in their universal search results. This trend is not limited to just Google, as both Bing and Yahoo! have been adding additional content types too. As a result, search engines are becoming more of a destination in their own right, and the search engine results page is more like an algorithmically generated portal page than a simple directory.

Google has stated that their goal is to provide more relevant information to the user faster. Over the last few years, Google has implemented a number of innovations in pursuit of this goal:

  • Displaying more information from the sites they spider
  • Including relevant information from other Google products
  • Making page previews available on the results page
  • Rolling out Google Instant search


These changes have been made using Google's rich snippets, other markup standards like and services like Google Places and YouTube. With tags for products, events, travel and business details accessible to Google's spiders and information added to Google Places and YouTube created with tags, descriptions and other information included, it is easier than ever to present the right information to a user as a part of the normal organic site listings.

Since Google first started two years ago to read and use semantic markup like rich snippets from the pages they spider, their search results have displayed more information in their organic listings. Movie times, product listings, flights, review scores and other kinds of information are now a part of the organic results, along with results from other Google search products, like news and images. Paid listings such as Google AdWords can also include more than just a link and some text. Ads displayed in the top spots immediately above the organic search results can include a number of different content extensions. These include click to call, sitelink extensions, locations and products.

With more types of content being displayed by Google and larger listings for some of it, the number of organic site listings visible in the first pageview has decreased. As more information is added to Google’s search results page, competition to be seen in the first pageview is increasingly limited to the top few results for most users.

Getting visibility in search with just a plain website is becoming harder. Getting visibility in the organic listings is no longer a matter of competing with other websites. Potentially, a site listed in number one for a query is in competition with paid AdWords listings, listings from Google Places, video results from YouTube and photos from Google's image search.

Search optimisation is becoming about more than just the site and it is no longer viable to work only on rankings. This trend towards a more portal-like search experience is not going to end anytime soon, and search strategies need to adapt. Content created for YouTube or Google Places, implementing the appropriate markup on the site, news search and social media sharing all matter. Traditional SEO still matters, and a lot of best practices for search also help meet user experience and information architecture goals, but it is no longer the only thing. Just as personalised search makes social media shares more important, Google's universal results page make diverse content matter.

As Google tries to 'provide the most relevant answers as quickly as possible' and Bing seeks to 'find and organise the answers you need,' getting the information your customers want on the results page is more complicated than simply links and H1 tags. Generating content both on your own site and through other channels is more important than ever to ensure visibility in Google.