Rock the Vote: A Petition to Bring Back Google Sets

Google has conducted some major triage on a number of its experimental Google Labs products in recent weeks. One cut in particular really pained me: “Google Sets, one of the first applications in Google Labs, allowed you to automatically create sets of items from a few examples. Sets identified groups of related items on the web and used that information to predict relationships between items.”

To understand the void that Google Sets will leave behind, let’s start by retracing its evolution.

Rise of Google Sets

Originally launched in 2002, Google Sets was truly an innovation in the keyword research tool landscape. Described as “an inside peek at how Google groups keywords by concept,” the initial Google Sets patent filing from April 2003 was the brainchild of two rockstar engineers from the early days at Google.

Simon Tong had pitched in on early iterations of PageRank, AdSense, and Gmail. Jeff Dean was best known for his work on crawling, indexing, and query serving systems.

In their filing, Tong and Dean outlined a system that could field a number of user-generated list items. Adding weight assignments to (presumably) a deep dive into Google’s accumulated search query data, they’d present the user with a much longer list. The product hung around for a while, and then 2009 marked the arrival of Google Squared, a multi-faceted visualization of data that built largely on Google Sets.

Lists and Data. Data and Lists.

If you’ve ever launched a paid search (PPC) marketing program, or conducted a search engine optimization (SEO) audit, or even tried to write site copy in the hopes of it being found on Google, you know how important it is to organize your data into lists.


Here are just a few examples of what Google Sets allowed search marketers to do with ease:

  • Quickly and thoroughly build a competitor keyword list. You type Coke, Pepsi and 7Up, and the system reminds you of Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Sprite, Fanta, Fresca, Mr. Pibb – even digging into the long tail with your occasional Good-O or Inca Kola. How long would it have taken you to come up with that list on your own?
  • Fuel your ad copy brainstorms. One past client of ours was a chain of full-service auto body shops. When asked what they specialize in, the answer was, “We’re the best at everything!” Not helpful when it came time to write ad copy. But Google Sets helped us to populate ads with all kinds of auto parts that break down and require solutions: brake pads, power steering, fan belt, air filter, etc. This not only helped us deliver a more targeted AdWords program, but it also gave us more data points to test for user engagement and conversion.
  • Generate extensive keyword variations. Let’s say you sell furniture, and a popular armchair is available in brown. There are many shades of brown to search for (and monitors often depict them very differently), so you would want to make sure that taupe, chestnut, russet, camel, and sepia are captured in your keyword list as well. The incremental traffic might be small compared to brown, but odds are the cost per click (CPC) would be lower, and the conversion rate might be substantially higher.

Bring Sets Back!

While some of products discontinued before and as part of Google’s announced “fall spring-clean,” will live on embedded within other ongoing projects, it doesn’t appear that Google Sets or Google Squared was so lucky.

In the nine years that Google Sets was available, I never really had a clear sense of whether this product was truly under-the-radar (and/or seasoned search marketers were simply keeping mum on one of their favorite secrets)… or if the SEO & SEM communities failed to find any value in it.

So let’s find out. If enough people from the search marketing made enough noise, we could convince Google would bring it back from the dead.

If you’d like to see Google Sets make a comeback, please leave a note in the comments and let’s rock this vote!

Image credit: Tokyobling’s Blog

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