Google Search Suggest May Be Win/Win/Lose/Lose

Google Search Suggest is a new assist that many keyword searchers are now seeing when they do Google searches.  If you have questions, then there is even a FAQ page that will answer most of them.  Here is how Google Suggest is described:

What is Google Suggest?
As you type into the search box, Google Suggest guesses what you’re typing and offers suggestions in real time. This is similar to Google’s "Did you mean?" feature that offers alternative spellings for your query after you search, except that it works in real time. For example, if you type "bass," Google Suggest might offer a list of refinements that include "bass fishing" or "bass guitar." Similarly, if you type in only part of a word, like "prog," Google Suggest might offer you refinements like "programming," "programming languages," "progesterone," or "progressive." You can choose one by scrolling up or down the list with the arrow keys or mouse.

One interesting feature of Google Suggest is that items appear with a green number next to them representing the approximate number of results that would return for the suggested query.  So if you like what the rest of the crowd was looking for when they typed your phrase, then you can select one of these popular choices.

The selection shown is clearly determined by some algorithm.  Sometimes the choices shown are not at all obvious.  For example in searching for my user name, bwelford, after typing ‘bwel’ I got the following results:

google search suggest

In this case, the algorithm seems to be assuming that this is a typo.  The choices offered are reasonable, but the order they are presented seems to have no logic.  It is not in order of the number of searches done with that expression.  Does the algorithm throw in a random ordering to spread keyword choices among the possible contenders?  That is a mystery for the moment.

As with any change, there are winners and losers.  One clear winner would seem to be the searcher.  If and only if they choose to do so, they can more quickly get to the item they had in mind provided it is on the list. 

An even bigger winner is probably Google itself.  This mechanism is likely to funnel visitors towards a more restricted set of choices of keyword search pages.  Given that such search pages have Adword ads on them, this funneling could well mean that AdWords advertisers are automatically competing on more restricted options.  This could therefore mean higher Pay Per Click revenues to Google.  If this theory is correct, this could have a significant improvement for Google’s bottom line.

… and who are the losers?  If Google is making more money on AdWords, then this means that AdWords advertisers are losers here.  They must pay out more for each click on these more visited web pages, given that they are now competing with more AdWords advertisers wishing to appear for these more attractive keyword phrases.

The other losers may well be owners of web pages that have always ranked well for long tail searches. As others have suggested, Google Suggest may well influence the traffic coming to any given web page.  This funneling of searchers’ choices might sound like a small change but it can have a big effect on traffic.  If most of that traffic was coming through a long-tail search, where someone typed in a fairly long phrase, they may now cease to do that.  Such a searcher may choose the closest concept among the items presented.  Unless the searcher is persistent and insists on typing out their long-tail search query, they will now never come to that particular web page.

Since the winners for this move vastly outnumber the losers, and Google is among the winners, it seems unlikely that this added feature will disappear. We must all learn to live with it.  Search Engine Optimization was already proving to be a challenge with other Google changes and Google Suggest now raises the stakes considerably.

FREE from Chris Anderson

Your Time Is Important To Us

I find Chris Anderson often has very thought-provoking ideas. He is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More”. That Long Tail concept helps explain why so many surprising Internet businesses work. He honed the ideas for many months before the book came out through his Long Tail blog.

He now is following the same path for his next book which will be FREE. You can learn more about it in an ITConversation on FREE: The Economics of Abundance and the Price of Zero. Here is some of the introductory text:

From free scoops of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to the business model where razors are given away to sell the blades, there’s a whole gift economy at work that competes with the commercial economy. We think of free as scary and radical but this economy has always existed. Previously not dignified as an economy, its currency is not money: It is reputation, attention, respect, fame, fun or money from a superior service after giving away something inferior for free.

You can build whole businesses around giving stuff away for free. He puts his money where his mouth is. He’s giving away the audio version of his upcoming book, “Free: the Economics of Giving Stuff Away”.

He homes in on an important piece of the puzzle in a recent post on The big lie about free. The key is towards the end:

In a recent post, we listed dozens of business model built on free. All of them are based on the notion that free stuff does have value and the way we measure that is in the time people spend with them. Do I actually need to remind Wall Street analysts that time is money?

Time is an important currency. If we give someone minutes of our time, we give them something of great value. We only have each minute once. If an advertiser tries to grab that minute, then we may well be offended. If on the other hand we are so intrigued by that advertiser’s YouTube video, that we watch from start to finish, then we freely give those minutes. The advertiser has earned those minutes and had a real opportunity to communicate with us. I think once more Chris Anderson is on to a winner.

Related: Time is Critical

Related Books by Chris Anderson:

Why The Average Joe Doesn't Blog

Tom, Dick and Joe may not blog but many others do.

Victor Keegan in the Guardian today says To the average Joe, blogs aren’t cutting it. His article is somewhat downbeat about the state of the blogosphere. He acknowledges that there’s quite a bit of activity.

This month’s state of the blogosphere survey by Technorati, the monitoring service, was greeted as if it were the online equivalent of the President’s State of the Union address. It undoubtedly reveals a fascinating array of statistics and confirms that blogging – the writing of online journals – is continuing to expand, albeit more slowly than before, and is still a force to be reckoned with.

According to Technorati, the number of weblogs has risen to 70m compared with 35m some 320 days ago. But interestingly, only a third of these are English-language blogs. This is a great tribute to the way other languages have populated the space, led by the Japanese with an astonishing 37% of all blogs.

Nevertheless Mr. Keegan feels it shows only a small fraction of the English-speaking world is actually writing blogs, even if they may be reading them. It’s all a somewhat ‘Glass Half-Empty’ kind of view. Perhaps it’s not surprising coming from a newspaper journalist.

For the ‘Glass Half-Full’ view, you should turn to the author of that Technorati Survey, Dave Sifry, as reflected in a blog post, The State of the Live Web, April 2007. There’s much to marvel at in what he writes but here’s a small taste:

Technorati is now tracking over 70 million weblogs, and we’re seeing about 120,000 new weblogs being created worldwide each day. That’s about 1.4 blogs created every second of every day.

So why such a difference in viewpoint. One key factor is that long tail nature of the Web. We’re not talking Mass markets here. Most people don’t blog so neither does the average Joe. But even a tiny percentage of people in a micro-niche of a market can make connections and interrelate in a meaningful and self-sustaining way. That tiny percentage when applied to a huge population perhaps spread over several continents can still amount to a sizeable audience. There’s the attraction in blogging. It works and that’s why it will continue to grow, particularly as it expands into the Mobile web opened up by that huge population of cellphones.

Slogging For The Long Tail

Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Wired magazine, introduced the notion of the Long Tail in a book that appeared last year.

He suggested that most markets were not mass markets where customers largely had similar tastes. In a mass market, if you did a distribution pattern of customer preferences, you would find them all grouped together in those bell curves that sociologists love to talk about. Instead he suggested that many markets had consumers whose tastes varied widely with no clear groupings. He likened this to the long tail of a statistical distribution as shown below.

Another way of thinking about this is that the market is made up of very many micro-markets, each with different tastes. The way microbrewers survive and grow by supplying their own specific niches is often quoted as an example of this.
Long Tail

Anyone who has looked at the visitor traffic to most business websites can confirm this long tail phenomenon. Visitors coming via search engines are looking for all kinds of keyword variants. It is often said that Google is particularly useful in helping all these different visitors in the long tail to find exactly what they’re looking for. Indeed there’s even a variant of the Google search engine that is specifically designed to help these long tail searches.

If you’re selling something where your prospects are on the long tail, how can you ensure your website gets on to their radar screens. One important tool here is a business blog. As Lee Odden has pointed out, there are many SEO (search engine optimization) benefits with blogs. The nature of a blog, which creates many inter-related web pages, is particularly visible for these long tail searches.

One way is to make that blog a seamless and integral part of your website in what has been called a Slog. If you’re looking for those rare customers that are to be found out on that long tail, then slogging may well be your best approach.

Related: Slogging For Luxury Villas

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