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Google Site Search Controversy a Storm in a Teacup




I really don’t know what to say about the New York Times’ “A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites” article. Has news been that slow this weekend?

So, you’ll recall that Google’s testing a feature that allows you to search within a site, from the normal Google search results. Well, apparently some advertisers are super peeved that the new feature might cause potential visitors to shop elsewhere.

Here’s the gist of it…

Take, for instance, a situation last week, when users of Google searched The Washington Post and were given a secondary search box. Those who typed “jobs” into that second box saw related results for The Post’s employment pages, but the results were bordered by ads for competing employment sites like CareerBuilder or Monster.com.

Shock, awe, horror! How can Google possibly get away with this?

Oh, wait. You can just ask Google to turn the feature off…

According to a Google spokeswoman, the company has honored such requests from “a couple” of unnamed businesses. These companies, however, may not be able to reverse their decisions.

“So we ask them to try it out and see if they want it removed,” the spokeswoman said. “We think it could be a really useful feature.”

End of drama!

So why the heck even write about it in the first place? Besides, knowing Google’s efforts to give better control of search results to web site owners–via Google Webmaster Central–I fully suspect all web sites to be offered the option to opt-out.

In the meantime, for those complaining consider this. If I search for YOUR COMPANY and then decide to shop elsewhere–after using a site search for YOUR SITE and seeing an AdWords ad–how strong was my relationship with you in the first place???

  • http://prosperitywriter.com/ Prosperity Writer

    we can search within a site by using the site: tag,
    for example typing site:domain.com “keyword” in the google search box

  • http://www.altogetherdigital.com Ciaran

    Andy

    Not everything’s about reputation. If I have a protected brand which normally means AdWords can’t be shown against searches for the brand, it seems obvious that the same rules should apply on the new site search.

    I happen to think that this is a very cheeky move on the part of Google, and for more reasons than just the issue of ads.

    Cheers

    Ciaran

  • http://www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com Search Engine Optimization Journal

    Ah, interesting! Didn’t hear of this until now. Providing you have the option to turn the feature off, I suppose one cannot complain but it definitely is a bold move to say the least.

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  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    Andy I think you summed it all up with:

    “If I search for YOUR COMPANY and then decide to shop elsewhere–after using a site search for YOUR SITE and seeing an AdWords ad–how strong was my relationship with you in the first place???”

    Showing the ads does seem a little shady, but you’re right if someone goes elsewhere what was the likelihood they were looking to buy specifically from you in the first place.

  • rishil

    Andy – its more of raising an awareness and – as Ciaran points out – about protecting your brand.
    At the moment you cant just turn off the feature – you have to request it – but the fact is its just an option to show alternate ads on a protected brand – which to be honest isnt 100% fair.

    Again you are right in pointing out that the brands relationship isnt as strong as it should be if searchers get turned away – but look at it from a brands point of view – they wouldnt want that option.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @ciaran & rishil – yeah it’s certainly something Google should let you opt-in to, but then again Google has always been about opting out.

    Also, what are you thoughts on other brands showing up in the main Google SERP? If I search for “Dell” there are 404 million other pages Google will show you–they’re not all owned by Dell.

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  • http://www.altogetherdigital.com Ciaran

    If I search for Dell, it’s a pretty fair bet I want to buy a Dell – and it doesn’t really matter where I buy it from, Dell get paid. I think this comparison is more akin to the site search one…

    If I go into a bookstore and ask for Radically Transparent how would you feel if another author had hijacked your slot on the shelves with lots of material directing me to buy their book instead, and had done so in such a way as to imply they’d done so with the permission of you/the bookshop?

    Yeah – not so much eh?

    ;)

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Ciaran – nice analogy, but it would be more akin to this:

    I ask the bookstore to show me all titles named “Radically Transparent.” They take me to the shelf.

    While I’m flicking through the book, I see that there are other books on sale–all placed around Radically Transparent.

    If I really wanted to buy Radically Transparent, I’d still buy it. If I’m so distracted by the other books, then perhaps I wasn’t that interested in Radically Transparent to start with.

    :-)

  • http://www.altogetherdigital.com Ciaran

    OK, you win the analogy game!

    I still disagree though, because of my feelings about user intent. When someone searches for a brand, that’s generally what they want. And anything else is just getting in the way of that.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Ciaran – when we can hold a discussion that gets us thinking, we both win! :-)

    I don’t disagree with the intent argument. I just believe that it’s not a big deal to show AdWords ads alongside site search results. Heck, it’s hard enough to get searchers to click on ads as it is. :-)

  • http://www.altogetherdigital.com Ciaran

    Everyone’s a winner? I like that.

    However it is a big deal if it’s protected term, surely? That strikes me as a straight-out break of Google’s own T&Cs and a law-suit in the making. Do they want their share price to go down more?!

    ;)

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

    So where do we turn it off at? Would be nice to turn it off in GWT tools. Is their a way to get a hold of Gooogle to turn this off if we want to?

  • rishil

    @Andy – I havent got ciarans great knack of words – but I still think that my original argument holds – if you cant advertise on Google using brand terms, why is it OK to allow SiS to show ads from competitors?

    Or has google changed the rules and the brand protection doesnt count for anything now?

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @rishil – I don’t do a whole lot with AdWords but aren’t you permitted to bid on a trademark term, you’re just not allowed to use it in your ad creative. Anyone care to confirm/correct?

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

    Andy that is the way I understand it.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Jaan – thanks.

    So @rishil, while still unfair, Google is consistent in its handling of trademark terms.

  • rishil

    You arent allowed to bid on brand terms – not just use it on copy – hence you wouldnt see any paid ads when you type in virgin holidays – while you are allowed to bid on holidays – you cant bid on “virgin” and “holidays”

    I am 100% positive on this – as I run a HUGE adwords account and brand search is one of our biggest converting factors.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @rishil & @jaan – you’re both correct:

    http://www.google.com/tm_complaint_adwords.html

    @Rishil – I’m assuming you are outside the USA–there’s a different policy (can’t bid on trademark keywords) compared to those inside the USA (who can bid, but can’t show in ad creative). :-)

  • rishil

    ahh that makes sense – though unfair on the USA? ;) thanks Andy – so in relation to the UK, treatment of trademarks is different…

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @rishil – it would appear to be the case. Not sure why, maybe there was a court ruling or maybe trademark laws are tougher outside the US.

  • http://www.bracingyourbrand.com Robert Kingston

    I doubt many people would search through the site search boxes on SERPs anyway.

    What I’d like to see is how much more likely it is for people to click on your link in SERPs as long as you have the Site Search displayed beneath. That way, it could actually be doing them a favour, far more than it might be costing them in lost traffic.

  • http://www.bracingyourbrand.com Robert Kingston

    Sorry for the spammy double posting, but I just realised – Will Google show Ad-free Site Search to businesses that pay for the privilege?

    That way, companies stick out in the results, their brand won’t be competing against AdWords and Google gets a cut of some money.

    Surely they will at least provide the option for that in the future…

  • rishil

    @ Robert : Will Google show Ad-free Site Search to businesses that pay for the privilege?

    I am assuming you are referring to using google search on your own site?

    There is an enterprise version you can use – http://www.google.com/coop/cse/compare – which is actually their CSE meant to be used on multiple sites – but its ad free which means you can use it to search your own.

  • http://www.bracingyourbrand.com Robert Kingston

    That’s exactly it, Rishil.

    If Google offered to display Site Search results without ads for customers of the Enterprise CSE, I bet that would certainly pay off the $100+/year cost, in terms of how much more attention they get from visitors in SERPs.

  • http://chasinggoogle.blogspot.com Mobile guy

    I think somebody is trying to play with GOOG stocks publishing such articles.

  • http://www.altogetherdigital.com Ciaran

    @mobile guy – really?!

    Google does something that is, in many ways, stepping on the toes of publishers & retailers in the name of ‘user interests’ (did anyone ask the user?) and which also, in the UK at least, goes against its own T&Cs.

    Are people not meant to report this because it might hurt Google’s share price? Since when was that the NYT’s, or anyone else’s other than Google’s, problem?

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