No. 1 in Google may not be enough

The search giant's new teleportation, search-in-search, feature is something that site owners need to be aware of. Suddenly, being No. 1 may bring about additional challenges.

Brian R. Brown
Brian Brown is a Consultant & Natural Search Marketing Strategist for Netconcepts. Brian assists with leading retail clients on their natural search needs, analyzing their sites for creative optimization and link building opportunities to maximize the value of their natural search program. Prior to entering the online world, Brian served in various sales, product management, and new product development roles within divisions of Newell Rubbermaid. He made the dramatic shift from consumer packaged goods with the launch of his own web presence development company, where he served diverse clients, from small startups to large corporate divisions. He brings not only strong SEO skills to client engagements, but a technical background in standards based web design, including table-less XHTML & CSS. Disclosure.
Brian R. Brown
5 min read

Google's new teleportation, its search-within-search function, is getting mixed responses, at least from some site owners, who may be remembering occasions when teleportation in the Star Trek transporter went wrong. Earlier in the month, Google introduced the teleportation functionality as a way to better help searchers find information within a site by providing a search box below the snippet of the top listing, which performs a "site:" search on the domain of that listing using the additional search terms the searcher added in.

The "site:" advanced query is quite familiar to those within the search industry, but much less so to the average searcher. So bringing this functionality front and center for the searcher should be a well-received addition.

When I first saw this, I thought it was interesting--once I was able to get it to show up. It doesn't come up for every site, mainly big-name sites, nor does it come up for every search. One that it did come up for was searching for Amazon.com. After playing around with the teleportation search, I also began wondering how these big-name retailers would react and thought that some might not care for this new functionality. Why would they object?

Let me show you--except I can't use Amazon to do it anymore. According to the New York Times, Amazon is one such retailer that has already objected and asked Google to turn off this functionality for its site. It seems that most of the talk so far, like that happening at Search Engine Land (here and here), has been more about acknowledgment than anything else, but Rishi Lakhani's post at SEO Smarty shows that others have had similar thoughts as I.

Now, before we go much further, understand that I'm not suggesting ulterior motives here on Google's part or that this is even a good or a bad thing. For regular users, I think this will be well received, and Google pays a lot of attention to delivering the best user experience it can--but that isn't to say that there isn't going to be a potential upside for the PPC program as well.

So let's take a look at some examples of how this may impact results and get a feel for why some site owners may be less than thrilled with this functionality. Let's use national retailer Target as an example while we still can since its site is powered by Amazon. We'll try this on searches for plasma TVs.

Below we see the results that someone might see doing a search in Google just for "plasma tv" which includes eight paid search ads.

Google search for "plasma tv."

Below we see the results that someone might see doing a search in Google for "target plasma tv." Notice how there are no paid search results showing up, and not surprising, Target shows up in the top organic listing.

Google search results for "target plasma tv."

Then let's see what happens if someone searches just on "target." No surprise that Target.com shows up No. 1 again in organic results and still no paid search ads. What is different is the appearance of the teleportation, search-within-search, box showing up below the sitelinks in the Target result, labeled as "Search target.com."

Google search results for "target."

Then when we do a teleportation search for "plasma tv," we get the following search results. Notice that this creates the advanced search query "plasma tv site:target.com." Now the searcher gets Target.com specific search results in the organic area, hopefully relevant to the search, but also eight paid listings that Target is now competing with.

Google teleportation search results for "plasma tv" within Target.com.

This isn't all as cut-and-dried as this example may seem. The appearance of ads can vary widely from none to many. But for now it does serve as an example of at least one scenario that site owners need to be aware of.

So what does teleportation mean for the various players? Well hopefully, for the searchers, it does get them to what they are looking for faster and easier, but this can really vary as well and may or may not be more helpful than getting directly to the site.

For Google, it means that searchers will have performed at least one more search on Google, instead of clicking through to Target.com immediately. And it may mean that it has gained an opportunity to serve up more targeted (no pun intended) search ads that otherwise may not have been served up (as we can see from the other Target focused searches which yielded no ads). Even more subtle here is the fact that many advertisers may not have bid against a big brand name to begin with. Currently, advertisers can use a trademarked brand as a trigger word as long as they don't use it in the ad itself. As much of the legislation in this area continues to be formed and reformed, who knows whether this will always be the case--but it would seem that teleportation search may provide an additional means to serve up ads around another brand without even needing the advertiser to use that brand as a trigger word.

But how might Target feel about this? Well, if it does help get searchers to their destination, then it might be happy with this. But it also might mean that its natural results are competing against paid-listings that it may not have been competing against under the other Target related searches. It also means that it may not be able to cull additional search information from its own site-search. While the quality of on-site search may vary from excellent to completely worthless, some sites invest heavily in their on-site search to not only deliver good results, but also to serve as insight into what their visitors are looking for. Being able to follow the search path, which they may be losing because of teleportation, may help improve the site experience.

Needless to say, Target might prefer to get people directly to its site and have people search on-site, which at least in this example allows it to serve up a richer experience.

Target.com on-site search for "plasma tv."

Good, bad or otherwise, what this means to site owners is that SEO may be more important than ever. Now, getting to the top listing may not be enough. Defending your brand may not be enough. Securing multiple listings through blended search may not be enough. What happens to the site that has excellent search, but terrible indexation in Google? Now more than ever, site owners need to focus on creating the most search-friendly site as they can to make sure that Google and other search engines can spider and index the site as completely as possible. For some sites, this is a huge challenge, trying to overcome legacy CMS and e-commerce systems. Fortunately, there are solutions like Netconcepts' own GravityStream proxy optimization that can help many sites overcome these obstacles, but GravityStream isn't for everyone.

One thing this clearly means is that site optimization is more important than ever. Optimization will help to make sure that the teleportation results for your site are highly relevant and speak to the searcher, hopefully gaining the click-through from the searcher. If you are like Target and experience millions of searches a year just on your brand name, then you don't want to leave your optimization to chance when it comes to teleportation.