Google have been rolling out “Sitelinks Search Boxes” for many sites recently. These have existed for years, but on a very, very limited number of sites, and without any auto-complete functionality. These are useful from a user point of view but – something that has not been spoken about particularly – they also provide a big potential new revenue opportunity for Google. Here’s an example of how Google are using Sitelinks Search Boxes to turn a search for ‘ASOS’ into a potential click on an ad for the much more revenue-friendly term ‘Dresses’: Here’s the user journey there, in case you find that difficult to follow:
- The user searches for ‘ASOS’.
- Google show the search results page for ASOS.
- The user sees the ‘search within asos’ box and types ‘dresses’
- Google takes the user to a search results page where the organic results are all from ASOS’ site, but the ads are all from competitors.
- From Google’s point of view, a search term where they could expect a very small amount of ad spend in the past (brand search cost per click direct to the brand site is usually very low) has suddenly turned into a big revenue opportunity. They of course have the ability to ‘autocomplete’ that search box with any terms they choose, and to populate ads in any way they choose on the page afterward.
- From the main brand’s point of view (ASOS in this case), suddenly their brand search – a page where they’ll have spent lots of time, effort, and money to try and ensure they fully ‘own’ has the potential to drive customers to competitors.
- From the secondary brands’ position (in this case Net-a-Porter & John Lewis), this is an opportunity to ‘steal’ a customer who had been searching specifically for another brand.
On some searches there are no ads at present, on others there are simply sidebar ads, but on some – like the example below found by Mark Pinkerton – competitor ads are placed above the main brand:
And below is perhaps a more controversial example. Interflora fought a long battle with Marks & Spencer, based around Google Adwords, and their perception that M&S were unfairly gaining customers off the back of their brand. I triggered the below by searching Google for ‘Interflora’, then searching for ‘flowers’ in the sitelinks search box (the exact wording on the sitelinks search box is ‘Results from interflora.co.uk’). I suspect Interflora would not be delighted by this.
For brands particularly worried about this, there is some potential protection. As suggested by Peter Wilson, it is possible to set things up so that the sitelinks search box delivers users to your own internal search, rather than to another google results page. Here’s an example of the instructions to achieve that:
Multiply this across the tens of thousands of brands where Google is enabling these Sitelinks Search Boxes, and – assuming users take advantage of them – is likely to be a big revenue driver for Google, a big opportunity for some brands to target their competitors, and a cost for others to protect their own brands.
It will be interesting to see the impacts of this, especially tied with Google recently removing the ability to exactly target particular phrases. Do leave any thoughts below, or share this with others if you think they would find it interesting or useful.
I updated this post to add extra examples from Mark Pinkerton (chelsea boots), Peter Wilson (how to protect), and Geoff Losse (interflora).