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Search Within a Search – How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site

This post is courtesy of my fellow Mozzer – Rishil

search in search Search Within a Search   How This Could Mean Bad News for Your SiteLast week Google revealed search within search (officially called teleportation) although it’s come as a surprise to quite a few people, its been in the test mode since 2006. The purpose is to enhance user experience and the “ikelihood of finding the exact page they are looking for“. Great stuff.

However

This may have issues for those who heavily invest in their brand by protecting them via trademarks etc. How? Well observe the scenario below:

  • I want to book a holiday, and in particular I want to go to Florida, and I want to go in March.
  • I have seen huge amounts of advertising, both off line and online about great offers that Virgin Holidays have planned for March.
  • I am from the “google generation” and believe in using Google for any site that I want to get to.

So off I go to Google to search for “Virgin Holidays“:

virgin holidays brand search result highlighted Search Within a Search   How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site

Notice the highlighted Results:

  1. The exact term “Virgin Holidays“ I used.
  2. Right hand “PPC by Virgin” only their result as the key phrase is trademarked.
  3. Notice the site link Florida which is actually my main intention.
  4. The search in search box – where I have typed in my intended long tail “Florida March”.

All the above points 1-3 are great results for a brand.

No. 4 is the worry – but before I take you there – see where I would have landed had I clicked on the first result – the main site URL:

virgin holidays home page search box Search Within a Search   How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site

The green highlighted section is the main target area, where I would refine my search – with the exact dates and requirements.

Great for converting business.

What if I had clicked on the site link “Florida“? :

virgin holidays florida landing page Search Within a Search   How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site

Once again – great content, and excellent for conversion.

But what if I had used the Search in Search?

Using my target long tail “Florida March“:

virgin holidays search in search results highlighted Search Within a Search   How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site

This is what I see:

Yellow Highlights –

  • First three results – not relevant.
  • Fourth result – too old.

Now here’s the crux, apart from seeing non relevant results, I also see Paid Adverts on the right hand side (green highlights), none of which are Virgin Holidays. The highlighted PPC listings are actually eye catching because of the use of target keywords and the use of keywords such as “bargains”, “Cheap” etc.

I was tempted to click on those results and scout around to see if they would indeed secure me a better offer.

For a brand owner, this means that using the Site in Site journey, I as a consumer, was put off the Brands subsequent results, while simultaneously turned on to competitors.

I don’t want to issue a series of points to counter or balance this activity – just wanted to look at it from a consumer journey in relation to a Brand and the effect the teleportation effect may have on the Brands conversion.

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 Search Within a Search   How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site

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  1. 46 Responses to “Search Within a Search – How This Could Mean Bad News for Your Site”

  2. Nice observations. That is, indeed, a bad bad thing for brands. The question is whether the brands will even notice, as you did.

    If so, the major brands could raise a big stink. Would be interesting to see what Google’s reaction would be to that kind of outrage (again, if there even was an outrage).

    By DazzlinDonna on Mar 12, 2008

  3. Great post, and good awareness piece… I wonder if sites that get awarded the “teleportation” search bar under the sitelinks would have the option to opt out within Google Webmaster. Sitelinks might be good enough for some websites.

    By Ricardo Figueiredo on Mar 12, 2008

  4. Good catch, Ann.

    It’s funny you bring this up. At my full time, we offer services to the hospitality industry. We have a number of clients with enough authority to have sitelinks all over the place, and a few with search in search boxes. It’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out.

    By Josh Garner on Mar 12, 2008

  5. @ DazzlinDonna – you are absolutely right, in so far as I could make out, its the big brands that will get site in site results first, as the google blog refers to making consecutive search easier.

    This means that they are the most at risk.

    @Josh – with your clients, it may be worth investigating which ones use google analystics, or have google search installed, I have a suspicion that these are two methods that google uses to judge whether consecutive search is going on.

    @all – as demonstrated in the Virgin example, it may be worth making sure that basic SEO is in play – the result that shows 2007/6 offer should have been replaced with 2008 content to encourage conversion – timed offers which are expired should not sit within sites.

    By rishil on Mar 12, 2008

  6. Ann, I agree with you… and I don’t think this is the only problem. I tried it because I wanted to do a search on citysearch. And I naively believed it was going to allow me to pull back citysearch results. So, I typed the business type and city; got some really wonky result.

    I ended up using the back button a couple of times and entered the site as I normally would. Good post!

    By Local Hound on Mar 12, 2008

  7. Yes, Google can be very good, but not always.
    One of my sites has over 10,000 pages and they have great trouble putting people on the right page.
    I don’t think it is an important enough site to merit site-targeting like that, but I hope they don’t as my internal site search is much better than theirs (I used to have Google site search there) so they would be doing my visitors no service by adding it.
    I hope they add something to webmaster tools as they have with sitelinks (although on/off is the only obvious setting I can think of… maybe pages they should lead to?)

    By Lea de Groot on Mar 12, 2008

  8. Excellent obervations.

    I wonder if site owners have any right of reply over the search in search box – i.e. if they can request that the search in search does not appear for their brand?

    I’d assume the biggest concern for brands is that whilst in the first search (i.e. for the brand) they are the solus PPC result, in subsequent searches their competitors appear. I would not be a happy bunny if I was at Virgin right now…

    By HannahS on Mar 13, 2008

  9. @HannahS – thats exactky the reason for this post, is to highlight to brands the potential danger of the search box.

    The socnd learning brands should take away is that they should run this exercise for all their major long tail phrases and make sure that the internal navigation (PR) boosts the right results – a page that is 2 years old is not really a good result.

    By rishil on Mar 13, 2008

  10. @Ricardo Figueiredo: the ability to opt out would definitely solve the problem… So who will call Matt? :)

    @Rishil: Many thanks for the post and for answering all the comments here and at Sphinn…

    @everyone: thank you for the enjoyable conversation!

    By Ann Smarty on Mar 13, 2008

  11. Opt-out seems the ideal answer – I think it is brand dependant – for sites with less granular areas, such as department stores and supermarkets, a site search benefits greatly, where the standard Google SiteLinks only take the user on to less specific areas of the site.

    An excellent post Rishil, I enjoyed it immensely and have linked to it, since I do not think I could have found a better suited example.

    http://blog.lbi-netrank.co.uk/google-sitelinks-search-boxes/

    By Manley on Mar 13, 2008

  12. @Ann Smarty and @Manley: Great, who had Matt’s phone number? I’ll call but tell him Ann Smarty told me to. :P

    By Ricardo Figueiredo on Mar 13, 2008

  13. Ricardo Figueiredo: sneaky sneaky :)

    @Manley: thanks for the link!

    By Ann Smarty on Mar 13, 2008

  14. Great observation. We now see what Google had in mind when creating this feature, more Adwords revenue.

    By Justin Palmer on Mar 13, 2008

  15. “Great observation. We now see what Google had in mind when creating this feature, more Adwords revenue.”
    By Justin Palmer on Mar 13, 2008

    I don’t think that this has much if anything to do with Adwords.

    This feature pretty much existed in 2 other previous forms but they were not really “searcher” friendly or well used.

    http://www.marketposition.com/blog/archives/2008/03/google_extra_se.html
    Previously they had this search through the “advanced” search option or very similarly, some listings have a “more from XXX” option. When I search on this:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=best+buy+mp3+player
    The second best buy listing has a link to this search:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=+site%3Awww.bestbuy.com+best+buy+mp3+player

    So I think it is simply making these existing features more useful, and more used.

    You may have noticed that at the same time, they’ve given advanced search a face lift.

    By Scott Goodyear on Mar 13, 2008

  16. It may be bad for sites designed to sell you something, but it’s good for sites that just provide information… which is most of them

    By Jim Robert on Mar 13, 2008

  17. I am now seeing no paid ads, when searching within the box.

    By John W Ellis on Mar 13, 2008

  18. @ John W Ellis paid ads are still showing for search within a search in the UK…

    By HannahS on Mar 14, 2008

  19. I can still see paid adds on my end too:
    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=florida+march&oi=navquery_searchbox&sa=X&as_sitesearch=virginholidays.co.uk

    By rishil on Mar 14, 2008

  20. Cool article.. I have noticed that somewhere in other blog.
    Good point rishil!

    – Wakish -

    By Wakish on Mar 15, 2008

  21. I think this is very bad for the retail sites. I just did the Best Buy search on Google, and then used the site search box for ‘creative mp3 player’. I ended up with ads above the bestbuy.com results (a ringtone ad and a dell.com ad) and ads on the right side, just like a normal search page. The pages returned in the search from bestbuy were not even the best (the top result was a 404 page). For a retailer this is likely to drive traffic away from the site, and I’m sure is really only intended to earn additional revenue for Google. However, if my results are common, I think users will learn it’s best to just go to the retailer directly, and use of the box will diminish (let’s hope).

    By WD on Mar 23, 2008

  22. Ann – Congrats on New York Times quote today!

    sphunn here:

    http://sphinn.com/story/36384

    best,

    Kevin Heisler
    Executive Editor
    Search Engine Watch

    By Kevin Heisler on Mar 24, 2008

  23. @Kevin – thanks a bunch for congrats :) They made my day!

    By Ann Smarty on Mar 24, 2008

  24. well-deserved, Ann. Let me know when you’d like to guest blog on blog.searchenginewatch.com or write an article for SearchDay (http.searchenginewatch.com)

    By Kevin Heisler on Mar 24, 2008

  25. Annie – I think this was a great result and I am SO pleased that the post got picked up by NY Times. We deinately should do a follow up – I picked up some bits from that NY article that were interesting new developments.

    By rishil on Mar 24, 2008

  26. @rishil – you know where to find me, the best guest blogger ever ;)

    By Ann Smarty on Mar 24, 2008

  27. lol – done. I do expect a big bunch of flowers… lol.

    By rishil on Mar 24, 2008

  28. wait, wait, wait. hold your horses, mr. alarmist. we need some usability experts here, not marketing experts. because you forgot number 5:

    “i am looking for a very, very specific thing.”

    you’ve already invested the research time into virgin holidays and march. none of those ads on the side have anything to do with march or virgin holidays — they are just seen as spam at this point. they are not advancing you to success in your current task. you are not just “casting about” looking for anything.

    the very first search result however, looks perfect. much, much better than 1) “completely starting over” with your first screenshot and 2) “basically starting over” with your second.

    and, most importantly, look at the crap that shows up when you search for “florida march” on the virginholidays.co.uk site: http://www.virginholidays.co.uk/info/important/search_results/?search_query=florida%20march

    so. i would bet — literally place money on it — that if you actually measured it, the conversion rates for someone on _that specific_ of search quest is going to be tremendously higher than just dumping them off on the homepage of some retail site with terrible search.

    m3mnoch.

    By m3mnoch on Mar 24, 2008

  29. @m3mnoch from a usability point of view – I totally agree that SiS has its uses – absolutely. But from a commercial aspect (which was the only intention) it still bears issues.
    Result 1 isnt perfect – infact its all about attractions and purchase of advance tickets.

    The ideal result from a brand AND user perspecive, would have been the sitelink Florida. Which as you notice is missing.

    As a fickle purchaser, and a bargain hunter – I was attracted to paid results.

    Agreed that the erosion to the brand would be low – but the fact that the SiS allows this erosion would be huge.

    re:“i am looking for a very, very specific thing.”
    Again – you are on the money here – BUT – thats a specific search – my intention from the example was to show how brands can inadvertedly benefit others riding on it – I indicated : “have seen huge amounts of advertising, both off line and online about great offers that Virgin Holidays have planned for March.”

    So while I was looking for my specific search, I was also alerted to others which I was unaware of.

    By rishil on Mar 24, 2008

  30. “The ideal result from a brand AND user perspecive, would have been the sitelink Florida. Which as you notice is missing.”

    i, of course, disagree with that. if you’re looking for march deals, this is a better link ( http://www.virginholidays.co.uk/promotions/attractionticketsbooknow ) than just dropping them off to fill out a form that starts the booking process. you’re looking for promotions, not booking the trip.

    and, of course, i and hci experts disagree with your second assessment also. the results go like this: google specific brand. execute specific query for a specific brand. evaluate specific query for a specific brand. none of that involves other brands. by executing that second query, you have already chosen your target brand. randomly taking a side track to some other brand breaks your task-based approach and obliterates your chance for success.

    it has nothing to do with “other options.” at this point, you’re not looking for other options. you don’t care about other options. you need data on the target option first. you need a success first.

    in other words, you are past the point of flailing about.

    now, if you land on the page google directs you to and deem the search over, then, you are interested in other options.

    all of that is proven by years of task-based success metrics. the only anecdotal part of it is “i think the promotions page is a better landing page than the general looking for florida page.”

    m3mnoch.

    By m3mnoch on Mar 24, 2008

  31. I want to go to Florida, and I want to go in March. – See the originating paragraph of the post – In my example – I havent made a decision that I want to travel via Virgin – I have made the assertion that I want to TRAVEL to Florida – and saw some promos off and on line to the fact that Virgin have some good offers. I am interested in travelling to not within Florida. The first result is about booking tickets within Florida.

    So in essence – I havent decided my Brand – I have decided to see what it offers – I am still flailing about.

    But again – maybe I am looking at it from a completely diff point of view? I would love to know what others think about the discussion from m3mnoch’s point of view?

    I am no usability expert.

    By rishil on Mar 24, 2008

  32. Am I missing the point? The post was meant not to compare where the usability is better – the website internal usability and conversion rates are its own business. Google is not entitled to enhance it. What Google obviously means to do is to enhance a surfer’s experience – and by showing him external ads along with the in-site results is not enhancing the surfer’s experience – that’s distractive and irrelevant.

    @m3mnoch – or am I misinterpreting your point?

    By Ann Smarty on Mar 24, 2008

  33. “…and, most importantly, look at the crap that shows up when you search for “florida march” on the virginholidays.co.uk site…”

    @m3mnoch – You’re missing the point of this article, which is that Google is exploiting Search In Search to serve up additional, more relevant competitive paid ads that could be detrimental to the first SERP position which, as statistics tell us, is the most likely place a person will click.

    Let’s not kid ourselves – any time Google can keep someone within Google – especially serving up another page view with highly relevant ads, they are doing so for one reason and one reason only. I can assure you, it’s not because they’re being Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy – it’s so they can sell more Adsense.

    Otherwise, why not just limit the SIS results to a SERP that is limited to that particular site’s content while leaving off other URL’s and Adsense?

    By Sean Maguire on Mar 24, 2008

  34. @rishil
    i thought you were interested in the great offers, not just booking travel: “I have seen huge amounts of advertising, both off line and online about great offers that Virgin Holidays have planned for March.” your goal then, presumably, would be to find offers before booking travel. if not, then why would you search instead of clicking the link that says “Manage My Booking” or even “Florida?” otherwise, that’s a second step once you’ve navigated the offers. and that piece falls squarely in the conversion space of the site itself.

    maybe the example is flawed and not representative of actual use?

    as a better example (and, as someone who uses the “site:” command in google’s search frequently), maybe consider this:
    1) i’m looking for a wii.
    2) i heard best buy has them in stock.
    3) i search for “best buy.”
    4) i type in “wii” into the second search box.
    5) i get perfect search results.
    6) i am not interested in the other ads because i know nobody else has them because it’s out-of-stock everywhere else. in other words, they are wrong and i view them as spam.

    or:
    1) i am trying to find a comment i posted on seosmarty.
    2) i have completely lost any links.
    3) the thing living in the standard spot for a search box is actually a subscribe box.
    4) after an accidental subscribe query for just “m3mnoch”, i turn to google.
    5) http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=site%3Aseosmarty.com+m3mnoch&btnG=Search
    6) i find my comment. (presuming, of course, that google has indexed it already)

    @everyone else
    okay. so, to address the confusion for folks getting focused on the usability piece: i know the article is not about usability. i am using usability studies to show that there are 3 important things going on for the user at the time of the second query:

    1) the user has already picked a brand.
    2) the user is only interested in information on that site — otherwise, they wouldn’t search “on that site.”
    3) the user is dedicated enough to the task (per usability studies) that they will not deviate to find some other offer once they’ve begun the process.

    that means, the brand who is represented by the query has no worry at “losing conversions.” in fact, it only reinforces the brand because if someone is making a specific query to their site through google, the distractions of the text ads on the side only act as unwanted information — in other words: spam.

    i agree that google should remove these extra ads. not for your reasons of brand dilution or conversion loss, but to have fewer distractions for such a dedicated task.

    in addition, brands should be excited about this because, as everyone knows, their site’s search sucks. period. google’s search is the foundation of what they do. you, mr. brand, your core-competency is assumably NOT search. therefore, anything that helps your customers to better find whatever it is they may be looking for — especially if it’s someone who has already committed to your brand and has an exact idea on what they are looking for — is good.

    let’s not kid ourselves – any time google can help your customers find exactly what they want on your site, it’s a win for you.

    m3mnoch.

    By m3mnoch on Mar 24, 2008

  35. “…that means, the brand who is represented by the query has no worry at “losing conversions.”

    @m3mnoch – you have to be kidding me. The very reason Google serves these ads is for more ad revenue and I can assure you that if there were no additional ad revenue to be had, they wouldn’t be providing SIS. This is about as transparent as marketing gets.

    “…i agree that google should remove these extra ads.”

    Yes, you’re right – but they won’t. Google is in business to provide slightly better search results than their competitors because they have to balance good organic search results and winning traffic share with a bigger desire to have surfers click ads – not organic results.

    “…not for your reasons of brand dilution or conversion loss, but to have fewer distractions for such a dedicated task.”

    You clearly don’t get it.

    By Sean Maguire on Mar 24, 2008

  36. @m3mnoch re:maybe the example is flawed and not representative of actual use?

    I disagree – read my pointed supposition in the example:

    I want to book a holiday, and in particular I want to go to Florida, and I want to go in March.

    Its clear what my intent is – I want to go to Florida and I am looking for a good price to get me there. I saw Virgin offering good rates henced I searched fo Virgin first. The fact that the SiS results didnt immediately show me what I want encouraged me to look at the paid results.

    By rishil on Mar 24, 2008

  37. @sean
    “You clearly don’t get it.”

    i’m pretty sure i’m not the one who doesn’t get it. they’ve apparently already removed the ads:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=florida+march&btnGNS=Search+virginholidays.co.uk&oi=navquery_searchbox&sa=X&as_sitesearch=virginholidays.co.uk&hl=en

    your line of “reasoning” kinda reminds me of a napoleon quote:
    “Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.”

    m3mnoch.

    p.s. props to ann and rishil for pushing this through. despite us not agreeing on the “why,” we all agreed it was a bad idea.

    By m3mnoch on Mar 24, 2008

  38. Hi Ann — Great ink, what fun! Congrats. May I link over to my “hamburger” post on this?

    http://www.rimmkaufman.com/rkgblog/2008/03/15/google-hamburger/

    I bet Google will back down on this pretty soon.

    The clicks and dollars involved are really small, but the attitude annoyed many advertisers.

    Cheers —

    Alan

    http://www.rkgblog.com

    By Alan Rimm-Kaufman on Mar 24, 2008

  39. I think you discussed about very good point. I liked your way of presentation.

    By SEO Services on May 6, 2010

  40. Excellent post i have learn more than enough from this post

    By faizitech on May 16, 2010

  41. I’m glad this went away almost as ‘quickly’ as it was thought up. It’s a decent enough idea, just annoying as hell.

    By San Diego SEO Consultant on Aug 4, 2010

  42. Search within search was confusing… One thing a web surfer hates is confustion. I am glad they got rid of it, personally.

    By Small Business SEO on Dec 18, 2010

  43. The clicks and dollars involved are really small, but the attitude annoyed many advertisers.

    By MBT Shoes on Mar 8, 2011

  44. I never get the results I want from “Search Within a Site”, to me this seems like wasted effort. Either website developers are not incorporating the code correctly, or I just don’t understand how to use it! It seems I always get mixed results. Anyway, nice blog.

    By Chris Quinn on Mar 28, 2011

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