Google recently introduced a secondary search box into their search results. This means that when a user searches for a retailer or other information Google displays a secondary search box that is meant to help the user experience by providing a site specific search box for the site in question.
An example can be seen here:
That secondary box is actually a search query that is not always used as a first approach; “site:walmart.com” would yield the same thing as the secondary search box.
So what does this mean for Search Engine Marketing?
According to the NYTimes
The problem, for some in the industry, is that when someone enters a term into that secondary search box, Google will display ads for competing sites, thereby profiting from ads it sells against the brand. The feature also keeps users searching on Google pages and not pages of the destination Web site.
This is all true but there are a few other things to consider.
1. User confusion
This is always a place to start when looking at a new search feature. As the article above points out there could be some confusion on the part of a user that thinks that a site specific search result with paid ads showing up shows an endorsement for that site.
2. Inflated Impressions
If a company is running a paid search campaign, including their branded name, they may see users using the secondary search box. This is great news for Google, but bad news for the paid campaign. Forcing users into a “second search” is a kind of holy grail for an engine, but will lead to a more specialized search on the users part that will without a doubt yield more specific ads.
Let’s go through an example to be clear. Let’s say that a user is looking to buy a 50″ LCD TV from Wal-Mart. As a shortcut, they may begin at the search box at Google, querying the same search as displayed above:
A keen onlooker will notice the query string in Google is simply the typical site specific search function that has been available for quite some time: “50″ LCD TV site:walmart.com”
This “new result” actually shows specific results from WalMart.com, but now as you can see it also shows multiple competitor ads that are targeted specifically towards the secondary search query that occurred.
As you can see the search on WalMart.com yielded paid SEM ads for Dell, Panasonic, NewEgg, as well as NexTag. This will most likely result in a user clicking through to a WalMart result as they are now 100% of the results, but they may in fact stray to another SEM result.
This of course is the goal of the secondary search, getting users exactly what they want.
Displaying both the “branded” result in the sponsored results, then again displaying the “generic” result in the secondary search result would result in inflated impressions for the advertiser. If someone were bidding on competitor terms they could also experience inflated impressions.
3. Decreased paid clicks
Using the same example above – giving someone the choice to search the site directly from Google – a user may not click on the “branded” term and subsequently choose a competitor result upon the secondary search. There would no doubt be a more detailed long tail term in the secondary search, thus giving way to another advertiser being able to target that query better.
4. Increased contextual relevance in ads
The goal for the advertisers, in this case the SEM’s, would be towards making the ads more clear and specific. Creating a sponsored result that is geared towards the specific secondary search would result in a higher action rate (hopefully). This directly goes against #3 above – but in this case different advertisers could also benefit. The bottom line is that both the advertiser showing the second search box, as well as the “competitor” would be charged with coming up with more relevant and clear ads to try to sway the user towards the sponsored click.
5. More user interaction with a search box (and subsequently on Google)
As users become more aware of the power of search – and site specific search – we may see them using search more. It has been said that a large majority of Internet activity originates at the search box, and this just reinforces this behavior.
This is the part that becomes an excellent move for Google. By being advertiser agnostic and always keeping the user experience first, they have actually improved their search service.
This move will also force paid advertisers to come up with new strategies to make sure their calls to action are being followed. In a way this innovation introduces a new level of competition for SEM firms, making them work harder for their customers.
The net net result is a benefit to the end advertiser, with a short term loss there will be a long term gain.
As a reminder, these opinions are mine and mine alone and not that of my employer. I am a professional Search Engine Marketer, Search Engine Optimizer, and Social Media Marketer, and these opinions are based on my initial reactions to this feature and could change over time.