Search universe analysis: A deep dive


Effective SEO now requires a cross-channel, “search everywhere” strategy as search behaviors expand across platforms. Conducting a search universe analysis (SUA) across platforms like Google, YouTube, TikTok and Reddit is vital to benchmark competitors, identify trends, and optimize content.

Brands that embrace an expanded search universe and execute integrated multi-platform strategies will gain a competitive edge. They forge meaningful connections with target users and capture more share of search.

This article will explore when an SUA is relevant, outline the analysis process, and demonstrate how to leverage the insights to inform a unified cross-channel search strategy.

What is a search universe analysis?

A search universe analysis is a strategic audit designed to unravel the roles various platforms play in a search journey, while thoroughly looking at your brand, the overall industry, and your main competitors. 

This approach analyzes content types and optimization strategies across platforms to enhance online visibility, identify current standings, and uncover growth opportunities. This enables brands to develop a “search everywhere” strategy and grow their share of search.

When is a search universe analysis relevant?

For brands looking to develop communities of audiences, especially those favoring Gen Z and Millennials, search marketing is already no longer confined to traditional platforms like Google.

TikTok and Reddit now play crucial roles in users’ search journeys, marking the era of “search everywhere.” This shift has turned the user journey into a multi-touchpoint process, where content shapes decisions across various platforms. This makes an SUA essential for brands right away.

Let’s consider an example: 

  • A user realizes they have a problem and conducts a Google search to understand potential solutions, searching out a pain/need/want/desire.
  • Their journey continues, exploring a potential solution visually through a TikTok review by one of their favorite content creators. 
  • Due to its virality and content creator coverage on TikTok, the product/service gains exposure and is featured in a national press article the user reads. This reinforces brand awareness and reminds the user of their pain/need/want/desire.
  • The user goes to Reddit for in-depth discussions on the product, aiming to enhance their understanding of its viability, shortcomings, and positives as a solution.
  • The user, influenced again by content creators on Instagram, rediscovers the product and is now ready to make a purchase decision.
  • The user concludes with a transactional, branded query on Google and then purchases on the brand’s landing page on Amazon.

This is why an SUA is necessary. The more you know where users turn for each touchpoint, the more effective your activations can be, ultimately enabling you to better create value for your brands.

Dig deeper: 5 SEO content strategy considerations for 2024 and beyond

Why should you conduct a search universe analysis?

Conducting an SUA provides key benefits for brands.

Looking beyond Google 

This analysis informs not just search marketing but also impacts broader areas such as social strategy, influencer marketing, partnerships, product development, customer engagement, digital PR efforts, and overall brand positioning.

You can then align your wider marketing strategies with real user behavior to ensure your brand is present and persuasive at every step of the customer journey.

Such an analysis aligns multiple activations as you develop a holistic approach to content marketing with “search” at its core.

Data-driven insights 

Using data and analytics from diverse platforms is important. This approach monitors current trends and preferences and predicts future shifts in user behavior, enabling both reactive and proactive strategy development. 

Tip: Utilize first-party and multiple third-party tools on various platforms for data-driven insights.

Demographic diversification 

Different target audiences exhibit distinct preferences for search platforms. 

An SUA helps tailor your approach to resonate with each audience effectively, making sure no potential customer touchpoint is overlooked. 

This audit will enable the development of persona-specific search journeys instead of the “one-size-fits-all” approach you often see executed.

Dig deeper: Search, social and retail: The future of digital brand experiences

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Effectively inform search strategy

Perhaps most obviously, by developing an SUA, you can leverage the insights and data discovered to better gain support for and develop a holistic search everywhere strategy.

The search universe analysis process

To effectively carry out an SUA, it is recommended that you understand the following before carrying out the audit. 

  • Key competitors
    • Leverage your key Google competitors in terms of “share of search” to understand their potential impact across the search universe.
    • Other competitors (i.e., content creators) may emerge as you conduct this audit, but this key competitor set will provide an effective starting point. 
  • Platforms for analysis
    • Understanding which platforms you can realistically influence and/or create content on will enable you to decide which platforms become the focus for your SUA.
    • Ultimately, you need to analyze the platforms on which your audience actively spends their time or conducts their searches.
    • Multiple reports highlight top-level analysis of where specific demographics spend their time; use these if don’t know where to start.
  • Key pillar themes
    • Depending on the scale of your SEO strategy, you can focus on key themes of particular importance to your brand.
    • For example, a bank brand may wish to focus specifically on the key theme of “mortgages” as the center of their SUA.
    • You can further assess key keyword terms, although this isn’t essential.

I recommend executing your SUA as a combination of a PowerPoint slide deck with an Excel spreadsheet housing the supporting data.

Below are the steps for conducting a search universe analysis.

1. Platform overviews and introductions

Start with an overview section introducing and providing background on each platform in your analysis. Discuss their emergence and evolution within the search marketing landscape.

Further explore the platform’s core functionality, discussing typical search functions that users engage with and the features that enhance the search offering of the platform.

Explore the platform’s unique selling proposition compared to similar solutions to understand audience preferences. For example: 

  • On Google SERPs, you’ll find features like People Also Ask and rich snippets. 
  • TikTok has introduced a SERP feature-inspired function.

Here, you can identify these features and provide a description.

This can then lay the foundation for exploring more specific technical details, such as algorithm considerations, user interface nuances and a look at how content is prioritized on the platform.

At this stage, you can also emphasize any features within the platform that enhance the search marketing landscape more broadly. 

2. Platform role within your industry search journey

Upon understanding these basic factors, your attention can be turned to digging deeper and exploring the platform’s role within the search journey of your brand and industry.

Here, your focus should be on identifying and justifying at which stages of the search journey the platform will likely see engagement (based on how audiences are already using and experiencing the platform). 

This should be supported by exploring the typical search intents catered to by the platform and where touchpoints are likely to occur.

My recommendation would be to hone this analysis to your particular industry instead of leveraging a “one-size-fits-all” approach to each platform. The best way to do this? Go and embed yourself into the search journey on a platform and experience it manually.

Time invested in manually assessing this on the platforms for vital terms or topics in your industry will begin to uncover where the platform is currently leveraged. At the same time, you could also provide recommendations on how you anticipate this evolving.

Ultimately, this will allow you to begin suggesting actionable ways to utilize the platform effectively within your industry, so take note of what you see.

3. Competitive landscaping

Within a competitive landscape section, you are looking to create key examples of:

  • Existing search activations from within your competitor group.
  • Key content creators or user-generated content within your industry space.
  • Those influencer creators working with brand partners.

This will enable you to better understand any strategic activations undertaken by your competitors as you further understand the landscape and the expected battle for visibility on the platform.

This is an opportunity to benchmark the activations alongside the competitor group to assess content gaps and strategic opportunities the brand can leverage.

At this stage, you can also add a top-level “share of search” analysis to understand which competitors are leveraging the platforms most effectively or being discussed the most on a platform and, therefore, have the larger share of search. 

As you explore social search platforms, you will learn that trending topics, current news and reactivity are key to search marketing. So, examine current trends, emerging trends and what has worked historically. 

Look for any obvious patterns in content creation or user behavior and explore what gains traction on the platform and, ultimately, how.

You can provide insights into how the platform’s search landscape may evolve and what that could mean for your own activations and strategies.

Tip: Google Trends, partnered with Glimpse, is an effective way to explore trends and allows you to look across platforms.

5. Explore platform-specific content strategies

After developing an understanding of the platform’s functionality and how audiences engage with search marketing features, it is time to delve specifically into the types of content that perform and gain traction on the platform. (For example, what factors contribute to the success of short-form videos on TikTok.)

Here, you need to assess who has had success with their activations.

  • Is the channel a brand-led conversation? (As you see on a Google SERP.) 
  • Do content creators drive the search content? (As you would anticipate on platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts.)

At this time, you can also explore third-party tools to assess the performance of vital keywords to your competitive landscape and begin understanding the potential of any activation strategies you carry out.

This information can then begin to form a foundation to enable you to explore content optimization requirements for the platform. 

By understanding which content appears for search marketing purposes on a platform, you can explore potential ranking factors, optimization requirements, key visual elements required, hashtags, and keywords. 

6. ‘Search everywhere’ as a holistic strategy: Considerations 

This wouldn’t be an effective “search everywhere” strategy without exploring potential cross-platform synergies and repurpose opportunities. 

Dedicate a section to exploring how the insights from this platform can inform strategies upon another. 

Complete this section after the previous steps for multiple platforms. This allows you to emphasize a unified approach that leverages each platform’s uniqueness while ensuring consistency and efficiency across your search journey and touchpoints.

In the last two years, I’ve focused on maximizing the value of my content activations through a comprehensive search everywhere approach. To achieve this efficiently, it’s crucial to have clear strategies for repurposing content across platforms. 

In this section, emphasize the methodology for potential adaptations, check if competitors are doing the same, and explore ways to enhance your repurposing and optimization efforts.

7. How you can align a platform with your wider strategy

All of your foundational work is now complete; great work!

Now, piece the puzzle together by using the insights you’ve gathered to understand the platform’s potential role in your strategy. It’s time to be strategic. 

Explore aligning your content strategy with the user journey, connecting it to observations from your previous analysis. This will result in a summary of key takeaways, observations, and highlighted competitor examples for future strategy development.

You must begin to join the dots of your search journey, exploring ways to combine the efforts and activations of one platform with another. Are there content repurposing opportunities that can take place on similar platforms? 

For example, can you repurpose content created for YouTube and leverage this for a similar role within a TikTok SERP or Instagram SERP? Such understanding will allow you to develop truly holistic content strategies.

I recommend taking a published content example from your brand and assessing how this piece could be optimized/developed/repurposed as part of your search everywhere approach (based on the previous analysis). This can make the process real for internal stakeholders and begin to gain trust and build belief in your brand’s strategy. 

Taking this forward to a strategy 

After finishing this deck, you should confidently have a “map” to guide senior stakeholders and strategy creators in developing a comprehensive search marketing strategy. 

The deck will likely reveal key considerations, examples, and takeaways that can serve as the foundation for a strategy aligned with key business objectives and goals.

Always create a short summary section at the end of the deck that provides this key information in the following format: 

  • Platform takeaways
  • Platform examples
  • Next steps / key actions

This ensures the SUA is adding actionable tips and value to your brand’s “search everywhere” strategy development. 

Embracing the expanding search universe

As SEOs, we must hone in on a holistic strategy, especially in an era where platforms like Google, TikTok, YouTube, and Reddit shape diverse search journeys. 

Look beyond traditional search, explore various platforms, dissect competitive landscapes, and craft content strategies across mediums through the SUA process. 

Conducting an SUA enables brands to actively shape narratives in the search universe, seizing opportunities on social search platforms to build connections and brand communities.

This analysis isn’t a one-time task but an ongoing process of adaptation. Staying agile and responsive to evolving search behaviors and emerging platforms is crucial. 

In preparing for the audit and crafting a “search everywhere” strategy, the goal is to increase visibility and establish lasting, meaningful connections with the audience. 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.