Search Within a Search: Where’s it Leading?

The American economy could be better. Historically, economic downturns force bizarre changes in otherwise healthy businesses as companies try to calm nervous investors panicked by our fear-mongering media.

Whether motivated by fear, or just a drive to create a better product, we’ve witnessed several interesting changes in the search world. One day Ask is becoming a search destination for women, the next it isn’t. A single report from comScore was twisted eight ways from Sunday in a feigned attempt to prove that search was taking a nosedive.

As is often the case with misinterpreting data or looking for answers where they don’t exist, the real story behind change is probably far more interesting than the headlines.

The Search Double Rifle

Last week, we reviewed the changes occurring in blended search and the impact they’re having on search results pages. Search results pages are changing from direct response mechanisms to interim destinations with (among other things) new technologies that allow searchers to view news, video, and product results in their search results.

Another big change is starting to get some attention (in the New York Times and elsewhere): Google’s “search within a search” is being deployed for large sites with loads of content. In short, instead of directional listings appearing in the search box, users have a new choice within editorial or natural search results. Another search box appears in the search results so searchers can search only that site.

This feature is really just an expansion of the “keyword or phrase +” shortcut, e.g. “laptop computer site:” This new search feature assumes that site search features can’t make the connection on a Web site and Google can find your content easier or better.

Turn It Off

Naturally, most of the hype surrounding the search within search feature is concerned with Google placing ads alongside site search features, which of course is easily remedied, and missing the mark.

The real buzz should surround the continued evolution of turning the search results page into a destination. Time and time again, research in the enterprise search sector indicates that users search repeatedly and don’t find what they seek.

A report from enterprise search firm Vivisimo from about this time last year highlights research from Forrester that indicates nearly half of sites don’t provide adequate site search utilities.

Google’s motivation? Perhaps more ad inventory. Yet it is more likely that Google feels it’s far better at finding stuff on your site than you are. But again, there’s a bit more going on here.

The Googlevinci Code

As I’ve noted many times before, our stormy economy really doesn’t have to drive changes in search. As the scientific axiom goes, correlation does not imply causation. In other words, one imposing factor may not have anything to do with another, so drawing a line between two unrelated items should be left to the Dan Browns of the world.

Blended search (i.e. search multiplicity), or search within search (a.k.a. enhanced site search) represents a far more significant move in creating a search result destination. Yahoo’s shortcuts and upgrades like linked editorial in Buzz features do the same thing, but in a different way.

Google is coming to terms with its identity as a media company. Yahoo has yet to come to terms with its share price and Ask may or may not be transgendered. Microsoft continues to uncover new ways to build ad revenue with targeting and each of these companies is trying on new forms of search to stay competitive.

Tricking users into spending more time on the search result page isn’t the way to get the job done, but it sure seems like every search site is having a go at this practice.

In the end, experimenting is important. Without experimental accidents, we wouldn’t have the joys of alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, we wouldn’t have the atom bomb either. The real trick in search and connected ad revenue lies in finding the right mix of vermouth, vodka, and olive juice without blowing the whole darn thing up.

Related reading

mojeek: alternative to google
youtube and child safety: is the service doing enough?
Google / YouTube and brand safety: What's next?
lessons learned from launching 100+ campaigns