Friday, March 28, 2008

Did Google’s Secondary Search Create Some Waves?

To this day my mom loves to remind me about her experience with greed: “Any time I have gotten just a little tiny bit greedy, it always backfires on me in the end.” Her point is that she has never and will never profit from greed, and neither will I. Maybe Google should have had a conversation with my Mom before rolling out their latest feature.

Recently Google introduced a new feature to their search results page called the “Secondary Search Box”. When you do a search on a trademark term for sites that have a large presence (i.e. New York Times, Best Buy, YouTube, National Geographic, etc.) you will notice that a “secondary” search box appears underneath the website’s organic listing which encourages you to enter another keyword to help narrow your search.

Like every new feature Google rolls out, the secondary search box was supposedly introduced to enhance the search experience and generate a more relevant search result for the searcher. In the past I have always felt that most new features that Google has introduced have delivered on that promise of enhancing the search experience, and therefore improving the experience for the advertiser as well. Lately, though, the features that have been rolled out have caused me to sense a very slight hint of desperation or maybe some greed from our friends at Google. On their Blog, Google provided the following explanation for the roll out of the Secondary Search Box:

"Through experimentation, we found that presenting users with a search box as part of the result increases their likelihood of finding the exact page they are looking for. So over the past few days we have been testing, and today we have fully rolled out, a search box that appears within some of the search results themselves. This feature will now occur when we detect a high probability that a user wants more refined search results within a specific site. Like the rest of our snippets, the sites that display the site search box are chosen algorithmically based on metrics that measure how useful the search box is to users."

Okay, sure, I could have been on board with this initial explanation. This new feature could have the potential to help narrow a searcher’s results which may lead to a better organic conversion rate. But, all of these benefits were quickly minimized by the fact that the secondary search resulted in a whole selection of paid ads associated with the secondary search term, diverting the searcher from the organic listing or the single paid listing owned by the brand.

So, let’s say you searched on New York Times because you were looking for real estate listings. The secondary search box appears so you enter the keyword “real estate”. Earlier this week if you had done this search, you would see organic results for the query “real estate”, as well as paid listings generated by the general term “real estate”. This was horrible news for sites that had these secondary search boxes associated with their trademarked terms. Before that secondary search box was introduced, the searcher was probably going to do one of two things when they searched a trademark term - click on the organic listing, or click on the one paid ad which was probably the ad of the trademark owner. But now, with the secondary search in play, the searcher is presented with a whole array of paid ads which are very likely to distract the searcher from clicking through to the site associated with that original trademark search.

Anyone who manages a PPC campaign knows how profitable those trademark terms are; especially for large, well-known brands. That’s one of the reasons why we go through the effort of submitting trademark letters - to prevent competitors from bidding on our trademarked terms. If you do a search on any trademark term owned by these large sites, you will probably only see at most two paid ads – the ad owned by the brand, and occasionally an affiliate. This is because these large brands have a trademark letter in place with Google. But the secondary search box was encouraging users to perform an additional search so that the trademark letter could essentially be bypassed, providing a chance for the searcher to click through on an ad associated with a more generic, higher cost keyword. Most likely a competitor’s ad. It seems to me that Google was utilizing the massive search volume associated with these “big brand” keywords, then converting those searches into more “general” searches, therefore driving clicks to higher CPC ads.

So, just today as I was doing some research together for my blog posting/rant about Google “using” the popularity of these huge brands to make money, I noticed something very interesting. All of the paid ads that used to show up as a result of that secondary search, are now gone. Now the secondary search only results in organic listings for the site associated with the searched trademark.

Another interesting thing I noticed – The Secondary Search Box associated with the trademark term “WalMart” is now gone! I am 100% sure it was there earlier this week.

So, the question is, did Google recognize their subtle greediness and “do the right thing” on their own, or could there have been a behind the scenes uprising from the big brands that forced them to make the change?

Post written by: Alison Ganz, Director of Marketing at Hawkeye Search - PPC Experts


  1. I couldn't agree more. I think your intuition is correct in that NY Times had to have said something to Google directly to have them stop. I'm surprised Best Buy hasn't done the same. Typing "Nintendo Wii" into the secondary search for Best Buy yeilds tons of more generic (definitely more expensive) paid ads. Good read!

  2. I couldn't agree more. I think your intuition is correct in that NY Times had to have said something to Google directly to have them stop. I'm surprised Best Buy hasn't done the same. Typing "Nintendo Wii" into the secondary search for Best Buy yeilds tons of more generic (definitely more expensive) paid ads. Good read!

  3. Great post! Great sleuthing! It does read that Google's trying to find new ways to serve ads -- not necessarily help the search experience. You're probably right about the NYT experience. I'll keep my eyes open for this.

  4. Great research and commentary! Seriously, they are looking for ways to bring in more money. I'm surprised there hasn't been more of a public uproar from these companies that are some of Google's biggest advertisers. It just seems like a sneaky way to get around trademark issues.


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