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March 26, 2008

Google Can Keep Its Site Search To Itself

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Barry Schwartz commented on a thread from WebmasterWorld that shows at least one site owner is happy about Google’s new search box within the search results idea. According to the WMW member, once Google began displaying a search box next to his SERP listing traffic doubled overnight.

First of all, really? Maybe I’m overly skeptical (or have just read too many forum threads), but I don’t see how that one change would cause a traffic spike of that magnitude unless we’re talking about some highly competitive keyword (or traffic jumped from three visitors to six) and the addition of the search box pushed everyone else below the fold. It just seems…extreme. Who knows? Anything is possible in search.

Regardless of the real story, I think it’s far too early to be posting any sort of definitive "results" based on the new Google "feature". It hasn’t been around long enough for people to know the true impact and we haven’t heard from nearly enough site owners. Declaring anything now is both a waste of time and misleading.

Personally, I’m not a fan of adding a search box to the SERP. I think it put site owners in a really bad situation and decreases their ability to help users.

First of all, I think it will make sites harder to use and force more users to go away frustrated, without the information they were looking for. The site search Google is offering up isn’t going to be anywhere near as strong as the one you have on your site. Why? No Advanced Search features. Chances are you allow users to search only certain parts of your site (blog vs. whole site) or based on select criteria (by product, date, color, price, etc,), Google’s site search doesn’t allow such fancy features, features that help improve the navigability of your Web site. Basically, Google is helping you to look less helpful.

You know how you’re also going to look less helpful? When users search for products and can’t find them because you listened to Google and noindex’d certain product pages to avoid duplicate content. Google can’t return pages it doesn’t know about, right? Awesome.

I’m also not thrilled about what this does for your ability to mine keywords. One tip we give those who attend our SEO training class is to keep an eye on what users are typing into their site search. This often helps clue you in to the topics visitors to your site are interested in, where they’re getting lost, where you need more content, new products you should be offering, etc. By allowing users to search on Google, instead of your site, you lose out on all of these opportunities. Another chance to appear useful to customers gone. Google, FTW!

I could go on but I won’t. Mostly because there are only 24 hours in a day and listening my many objections would take too much time. Clearly, I’m not a fan.

I don’t think it’s cool that Google not so long ago decided it wasn’t okay for your site search results to show up in their SERPS (which I totally agreed with, BTW) and are now throwing in their own. It takes your ability to earn revenue off a CPM model and shifts it over to them. Way to declare yourself King. Any way you look at that, it’s not okay.

Truthfully, I think it’s Google’s job to help you find the best sites relevant to your query and then get out of the way.

Google, you’ve gotten me to the page I need. This is me politely asking you to get out of the way. [I wouldn't mind the site search so much if it gave me better results. I want it to be more 'I'm Feeling Lucky' implementation. I don't want yet another page of search results. I want the answer.--Susan] I hear you, but I still don’t think it’s Google’s job to give you "the answer" past the SERP. It’s the site’s job. Go there. Google, thanks for getting me this far but get out of the way!

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One response to “Google Can Keep Its Site Search To Itself”

  1. rishil writes:

    I have been following the whole site search (which I fondly dubbed SiS)ever since I posted my critique of it on Ann Smarty’s blog.

    I have had quite a few people email me along the lines “google helping you search your site is a good thing cause whatever search you have cant be better”

    Well as you rightly pointed out that this isnt the right attitude – most sites have custom built search engines performing a particular role that google isnt designed to do – convert a searcher in to a sale. I strongly contend that E-Comm sites would have searches that are specific, targetted and business focussed – by allowing the SiS box – there is a huge potential for an unsatisfied search experience.

    No wonder Amazon has had theirs removed.



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