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.