How Google are Pivoting Brand Searches Into AdWords Profits

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:

  1. The user searches for ‘ASOS’.
  2. Google show the search results page for ASOS.
  3. The user sees the ‘search within asos’ box and types ‘dresses’
  4. 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.

That means:

  • 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.

Additional Examples

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’). I suspect Interflora would not be delighted by this.

Potential Protection

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).

What Would Happen if you Flipped the Scotland #indyref Question?

The Scotland referendum question is worded like this:

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

As a result, the “Independent Scotland” campaigners are called the “Yes” camp, and those who want the UK to stay together are the “No” camp.

I’ve heard it suggested quite a few times that this puts the ‘unionists’ at a fundamental disadvantage: they’re trying to get people to vote for a negative result. I therefore thought it would be interesting to run a survey on the opposite question. Here’s the answer, when asked of 1,000 people within Scotland:

“Should Scotland be part of the United Kingdom?”

In other words: in a poll of 1,000 people in Scotland, when asked the reverse of the independence question, there was most definitely not a strong swing toward keeping the union.

You could ask further questions: “Has months of seeing ‘yes’ vs ‘no’ genuinely moved peoples’ opinions toward ‘yes’?”, would the ‘Yes’ campaign have been successful if they had been campaigning with ‘No’ banners for months, etc, but I think there’s enough here to satisfy the smaller question, and to say that the framing of the question does not appear to directly affect the likelihood of someone flipping their vote.


Appendix: Poll Details

As per previous surveys I’ve carried out, this was carried out via the web. The results are weighted to match the ‘Internet Population’ of Scotland, which is generally thought to trend slightly younger & slightly more urban than the general population.

For full clarity, here’s the breakdown in the group of respondents:


I’ve carried out a series of these polls. You can see two more, with further caveats on the methodology here:

Scotland Poll result: 53.9% Yes

Here are the results of a poll run on a sample of Scottish web users between 7-9 September. The poll reported – when weighted to match the Scottish internet population’s general makeup – a 53.9% ‘Yes’ vote for the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The poll results were from 1,000 people in Scotland (for context, the last YouGov poll was of 1084 poeple). The poll was displayed to web users as they browsed media, mobile, arts & entertainment websites. The question was displayed to 2,873 people, from which 1,000 responded. The “Yes” result was reported with 95% significance (meaning if the same poll were run 100 times, the answer would be “Yes” on at least 95 occasions).

Weighted Results:  “Should Scotland be an independent country?

  • 53.9%  ‘Yes’

  • 46.1% ‘No’


Unweighted Results: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The 1,000-person sample didn’t exactly match the makeup of the Scottish population (by age & gender), and therefore the above ‘weighted’ results have been altered to take that into account. For complete disclosure I’ve included the ‘unweighted’ results below, which actually lean further toward ‘Yes’. By unweighted results, I mean the results below are the ‘raw’ data, ignoring whether or not the age/gender of respondents matched the general internet users of Scotland.

  • 55.1% ‘Yes’
  • 44.9% ‘No’.


Do share this with others if you think they would find it interesting. Feel free to leave any/all comments below.

Appendix: Further Detail:

  • The poll ran & as displayed to a random sample of users within Scotland between 6:36pm on September 7th to 5:31pm on September 9th.
  • There was no “Don’t know” answer displayed.
  • The answers were displayed in the same order each time: ‘Yes’ first, ‘No’ second.
  • The question was worded as per the official question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?
  • There are lots of caveats with data such as this. It is a ‘snapshot’ rather than a ‘prediction’.
  • I have asked the specific ballot question, rather than framing it as “If you were to vote today, would you vote for Scotland to be an independent country?”.
  • I’ve left error bars on the results so that you can see the variability.
  • I included a series of caveats & additional notes on a previous similar poll I ran. You can read those in the ‘caveats’ section of this post.
  • For full clarity, here is the breakdown of respondents, and their bias vs the general ‘Internet Population’ of Scotland

Do share this with others if you think they would find it interesting. Feel free to leave any/all comments below.