Is your brand being fleeced?

Posted on Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEM, SEO

In recent weeks and months Google has introduced a variety of new features that provide alternatives to the specific search query a visitor inputs.  Here is an example of a search I did for “chocolate”:

The first feature that grabbed my attention is called “Something Different” on the new left hand navigation.  The choices here make a lot of sense for someone doing an informational search on this term.  As do the “searches related to chocolate” on the bottom of the page.  When it comes to upper funnel or broad keywords that are informational in nature, these are quite helpful.

However, the big miss here is that these types of features are not “one size fits all” and that is where I believe Google and their engineers are stepping into unfriendly waters.  When I do a lower funnel search for a brand term, I think these features are less relevant, distracting, and in some cases inappropriate.  Here is a brand search I did on the term Nike:

As a brand marketer the results are incredibly shocking to say the least.  If I am Nike and I spend hundreds of millions of dollars building up my brand and then when a consumer does a search for my brand, Google displays all of my core competitors on the page, I am questioning the logic.  The beauty of search is access to information based on a stated intent.  If I ask for Nike, I am pretty far down the search funnel; in other words, I am not doing a general information search for shoes or athletic apparel and I am not looking to compare brands of running shoes.  I am very specifically honed in on a brand and not looking for something different.  Put another way, I raised my hand and said, “I want to see Nike” and don’t expect to see Reebok, Adidas, New Balance, Puma and Converse.  Taken one step further and applying logic, the list of searches related to Nike at the bottom of the page should really include Converse and not Adidas because Nike now owns Converse so they are related.

Another new feature is called “Pages similar to” which is based on the root URL of the search term and shows up at the bottom of the SERP.  Let’s take Honda for example:

Honda is similar to Acura, Ford, Nissan and Toyota?  Well I will give you Acura, which is owned by Honda, so that is similar.  The rest sell cars, but the similarities really end there.  Remember, I searched for Honda, so I was already focused on a brand.  A lot of marketing dollars were spent to get me to enter that into Google.  I was not looking for Toyota at that point and if I was I might have included a term like “companies like Honda”.

What is even more interesting to me is this feature does not show up on all car manufacturers.  When I searched for BMW, Mercedes, and Saab, this feature did not appear.  I am sure if you gave brand advertisers the choice, they would opt out of this and all comparison features on their brand term.

This is just one example of where a brand is getting pitted against their competitors, the same is true of GAP, Ford, Polo, Tide, Gillette, and the list goes on.  Now these features are suggestive in nature and meant to be helpful, but if I am spending millions of dollars building my brand, the last thing I want to see on my search results is my competition.

So what is going on here?  Is this a good user experience?  What should brand advertisers, who have helped fund the growth of Google over the past decade, do about these new features?  These are all good questions that Google will need to answer for advertisers who want a clean search results page that is devoid of competitors.  For now, advertisers have to play ball with Google because that is where the volume of traffic is.  As other options become more viable, I do believe Google is playing with fire.

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3 Responses to “Is your brand being fleeced?”

  1. Alec Green says:

    Great article Mike. I understand that Google is trying to help users refine their search, but they also seem intent on “expanding their horizons.” Is that in the best interest of users, or advertisers?
    When I go to Starbucks and order a Latte, they usually doesn’t ask if I’d like to try “something different” like a cappuccino or iced tea. They may suggest I try a new flavor of latte, or suggest I try something related to lattes like a pastry. But I’d pretty annoyed if they wasted my time trying to change my order.
    At a minimum, I’d like to see Google swap the positioning of “searches related to” and “something different.” If I have gone through their entire page of results on “Nike” and not found what I’m looking for, perhaps I’d be interested in searching for something different. But placing competitor brands in the upper left-hand column doesn’t seem to be a good user experience.

  2. Bradd Libby says:

    Mike says: “f I ask for Nike, I am pretty far down the search funnel; in other words, I am not doing a general information search for shoes or athletic apparel and I am not looking to compare brands of running shoes. I am very specifically honed in on a brand and not looking for something different.”

    I’m not certain I agree with that. I saw an article in this month’s Wired Magazine about Fisker Karma. Who or what is ‘Fisker Karma’? Well, do a Google search and you’ll find that it’s an electric sports car. In the ‘Something Different’ bar, you also might see listings for ‘tesla roadster’, ‘chevy volt’, and ‘lotus evora’ (The first two are also electric cars, though the Lotus is not).

    So, just because I’ve done a search for ‘Fisker Karma’, does not mean that I’m on the verge of buying a $100,000 car.

    I think the ‘Something Different’ and ‘Related Searches’ might have two big impacts – both of which will likely benefit users, but might help or harm advertisers.

    1. Serendipity. Name the last cool product, idea, company, movement, etc. that you heard about through a search engine. Now name the last cool product, idea, etc. you heard about from a magazine, TV show, blog, close friend, book, etc. You didn’t hear about the iPhone 4 form a Google search – you heard about it from blogs, news sites, people talking about it, etc. Search engines are great at delivering information about a specific concept that you type in – but they have not traditionally been great ways to get ‘a whack on the side of the head’ and be exposed to something new. These features seem to be an attempt by Google to address that.

    2. Trimming the Long Tail. One of the biggest benefits and drawbacks about a search engine is that you can type anything you want into the search bar. A say ‘drawback’ because it means that marketers spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about choosing keywords to cover appropriate ranges of queries, misspellings and so forth. By offering search suggestions, Google is essentially channeling users into performing the same searches as each other. For a marketer, a bigger head and narrower tail might make it easier to see which terms are working and which are not (thus making data analysis simpler). On the other hand, it might also make it more difficult to find very profitable long-tail terms, since people won’t be searching for those queries as often.

    The main point I’m making it: As a marketer, you don’t control the SERP. The search engine does. And they will generally manipulate the SERPs to serve the best interests of the users, not the advertisers.

  3. Hey Mike great post. As we all know, the real estate on the page that you are referring to is the natural or organic search spots and is not paid for by the advertisers. Google controls this space and since you are in their index, they can do whatever they want to do in order to make things more efficient and easier for their users.

    With that said, the real problem I see is that Google does not have any healthy competition as of yet, to make them think twice before making decisions that affect everyone. An example would be the abrupt changes with the latest May Day update.

    I think if by some chance, BingHoo can give Google more of a run for their money in the near future, they wouldn’t be so quick to make changes that negatively affect everyone without a thought or consideration.

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