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Google bolsters Sitelinks with new search tool

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 — by

Google have rolled out what is essentially an “in-search” search engine, if that makes any sense at all. While it’s a novel approach to extending search functionality, who’s really benefiting?

Arnold Zafra of Search Engine Land first brought Google’s “in-search” search option to my attention last week.

As far as I can see, this really only works for brand name searches of the kind that usually bring up Sitelinks. Plus, the search is simply an alias to their own website search tool.

On the face of it, it seems like a great idea — Google has added in a search field for the website you’re searching for.

Searching for clues — beyond Sitelinks

However, how else might we interpret this new feature?

The example that Arnold offers up is for Wikipedia. Now, it’s already common knowledge that Google have set their sights on Wikipedia with their in-development competitor, Knol.

So while it’s easy to think that Google are doffing their formidable search cap towards Wikipedia — by acknowledging the value of their content, trusting them enough to promote their own search engine — might this also be a sign of Google’s impending de-emphasized indexing of Wikipedia content in favour of their own Knol product?

For websites like Wikipedia and Microsoft, their web properties are vast. Colossal, in fact. So could this new search feature be Google’s attempt to hand off the indexing duties to those properties?

Unlikely. To do that would effectively restrict search results for search terms specific to the Wikipedia, Microsoft et al to the superficial, like “Wikipedia”, “Microsoft”, “Xbox” et cetera.

As you’ll see from the placement of the search tool, it’s often underneath the Sitelinks, which are in and of themselves, probably some indication of trust:

“Gaining a Sitelink isn’t exactly an endorsement of someone’s web design and SEO skills. Instead, it’s more an acknowledgment of those websites and ‘blogs by way of trust based on their age.”

So I suspect what Google are really saying is: “Look, you were looking for Microsoft, and we think that if you’re looking for something else of theirs, you’re best off using their own search engine.”

One thing I’d like to know is, how would the the use of this new search tool present itself in the web traffic statistics for those websites it’s available for?

I’d like to think I could filter for those visits in my Google Analytics profiles.

Competition being uSERPed?

When a website gets itself Sitelinks, it’s pretty much in control of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for that specific search term.

In most instances, not only does the website clinch the top spot with Sitelinks, but they’re usually in control on the follow 3-5 places, as well.

Thinking again about Microsoft, in addition to their Sitelinks and their new-found search option, they have a Stock Quote tool, too — which is collapsed by default.

But with all of these searchified widgets and gizmos in place, their dominance on the search results page is irresistible.

OK, so Microsoft are a bad example. There is no one else on the first page of Google for the search term: “Microsoft”, unless you look to the “Sponsored Links”, and even there, they’re commanding the top 3 spots.

But you get the idea, right?

I understand that Google are trying to preemptively deliver useful data & information to their visitors, but how much screen real estate is too much?

Surely for more generic terms, some checks & balances must be put in place to prevent one company vacuuming up almost the top third of the search results page?

I hope so.

Playing to your strengths

Like any business, Google are always on the look-out for innovative ways of improving their services. Look no further than Google’s attempt to meld the democratic voting trappings of Social Media with search.

As an addition to their search results, I really think that one feature alone would have probably killed off a whole herd of social media search start-ups, most of which are likely to be eating Google’s lunch over the next 3-5 years.

But then again, Google doesn’t get Social Media.

So maybe Google’s new search tool is a misguided attempt to hand more power to the people? I don’t think so.

In the end, Google are just trying to make things better for people. And by handing more search control to their visitors, Google are playing to their strengths — search begets more search. And those multi-million visitors searching for brand named companies or high-traffic services get an extra tool to play with.

In a broader context, I get the feeling that Google are experiencing growing pains, and Route 1 out of that bad place is often innovation.

And sometimes, innovative thinking is an iterative thing…

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