Google’s new Search within a Search offering seems to be getting a fair amount of attention, but not necessarily for the right reasons The New York Times piece this week: A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites touches on some issues that should be of concern to retailers. A recent blog by Alan Rimm-Kaufman: Google To Vegetarians: Eat The Damn Hamburger was a little more blunt

In my mind the best outcome from this is that it gets people thinking more about site search. It highlights the difference in the quality of Google’s search within a site compared with the site’s own search. I’m always amazed at how many sites have terrible search (this is why we’re in business). For these sites the new Google offering could be a benefit by making it possible for people to use Google to search their site. Although there are concerns about competitors ads showing on these results. However for those sites that have a good quality site search it will be vastly superior to the Google site restricted search and this feature will not be very useful. In essence, the new Google search-within-a-search takes control away from the retailer (or publisher, or whatever entity’s site is being searchedHere are the drawbacks that I see

  1. The Google-provided search results will not have the visual appeal that other quality site search offerings provide – e.g. they don’t include images or other visually appealing elements
  2. Because Google doesn’t understand the structure of the data on a company’s site, the search won’t allow for things like merchandising, sorting, refinements or promotional copy
  3. Google does not index every page of every site, and they often don’t have recently launched or added products, so a user might use the Google site search feature and be misled into thinking the site doesn’t have the item they seek, when it could just be that Google’s indexer is not up-to-date
  4. Relevance of the search results is key – if the user does type a term into the search box, how relevant are the results that come back? They could actually lead the user away from the retailer’s site, and cause the company to miss out on a conversion that their real site search solution would have generated

The other major issue is that it will likely backfire with Google’s advertisers. By increasing their control over users who have done a brand query for ‘Best Buy’ or ‘REI’ and then showing ads for those companies’ competitors on subsequent Google search-within-a-search results pages, Google is now directly competing with their retailing advertisers (and other sites) and diluting the brands of these sites. And, they’re potentially leading the user to a competitor’s site via their ad. In my view, this is not good practice – it doesn’t benefit the user and it certainly doesn’t benefit the retailer.

Ideally Google will allow the site owner to control whether or not this box appears for them. They could do this through the webmaster tools. An even more useful feature would be to allow the site owners to specify the search form – so they could send people to their own site search. It would be interesting to see if Google would allow this – because it would remove the opportunity for them to make revenue from the ads on these pages.

If nothing else, I hope this prompts site owners to look at the quality of their site search – they should make sure its delivering relevant results that are well presented. Whether people search their site through Google or on the site directly, companies need to make sure people have an easy path to finding the items they seek. Usability experts back up what we’ve been saying for years – ‘if they can’t find it, they can’t buy it.’