Guide to Google's 'Universal Search'

You see Universal Search at work with every search query

Google search engine page with search results displayed on a computer monitor
Oleksiy Maksymenko / Getty Images

Google's Universal Search is the search results format you see whenever you enter a search term into Google. In the early days, Google's search result lists consisted of 10 organic hits that were the 10 websites that best match the search query. Beginning in 2007, Google began using Universal Search and has modified it several times in the years since then. In Universal Search, the original organic hits still appear, but they are accompanied by many other components that are visible on the search results page.

Universal Search draws from multiple specialized searches whose results appear within the main Google Web search results. Google's stated goal for Universal Search is to deliver to the searcher the most relevant information as quickly as possible, and it offers search results that attempt to do just that.

Components of Universal Search

Universal Search began by adding images and videos to organic search results, and as years went by, it was modified to also display maps, news, knowledge graphs, direct answers, shopping and app components, which can generate other related organic content. Usually, these features appear grouped in sections intermingled with the organic search results. One section may be filled with relevant images, another section with questions that other searchers have asked on the search topic, and so on.

These components can be filtered using the links at the top of the results screen. The links include the default "All" along with individual tabs for "Images," "Shopping," "Videos," "News," "Maps," "Books", and "Flights."

One example of the changes Universal Search delivered is the routine addition of maps in search results. Now, search results for almost any physical location are accompanied by interactive maps that give the searcher additional information.

Thumbnails of images, maps, videos, and news attract the attention of users. As a result, the original 10 organic results have reduced to about seven websites on the first page of results to make way for the other attention grabbers. 

Universal Search Varies by Device

Universal Search tailors search results to a searcher's device. There are obvious differences in the search results as displayed on smartphones and computers due to format, but it goes beyond that. For example, a search on an Android phone might include a link to an Android app at Google Play, while on a computer or iOS phone, the link would not be included.