The insertion of a link from Google search suggest list in the search box directly to a website has been on then off then on again and quickly off again. I took a screen shot and lost it but one day in early November while being lazy and going to Google to get to Webmaster Tools, I noted when I got as far as “Webm” I was offered a direct link to “Web MD” in the search suggest box. This was switched off before the end of the day I believe and life went on as normal though I was surprised the normally US-only site was coming up. I later learned Boots had partnered with Web MD so that would be a huge bonus to Boots.
The screen shot I took and the reason it stood out to me was because of the implications here for paid search. No longer was I even completing my search phrase before being offered a URL link to go directly to my destination (in this case, the wrong one). If a searcher doesn’t even see the search results, how are they going to be exposed to advertising? How will affiliates work in a space with direct-to-URL search suggestions? While it seemed to be only for a few searches, it was not just brand searches which were getting suggestions.
This is, of course, nothing new to those folks using Google.com and in fact, a test with Google.com shows what this might look like in the UK if it is ever rolled out for good (or longer than a few hours). Danny Sullivan back in December 2008, a full year before we saw this here in the UK, found it in the US with not just URL suggestions but news and paid search ads. At the moment, it seems to only work for clearly intentional brand searches like Godiva but not Ghirardelli (which is just plain wrong – Ghirardelli chocolate is clearly deserving as it is yummy chocolate). This could be as a result of testing and the same concerns I have which I assume are shared by some of the engineers – or at least sales.
I maintain now, as I did last year, that this is a game changing move if it proceeds as it was. It would strengthen known brands, harm affiliates and new brands, and make life generally more difficult. By directing people away from the SERPs, it stops all sorts of brand exposure for smaller players.
While it does not seem to direct searchers away from the SERPs yet, a possible alternative to this implementation would be, as was demonstrated to Danny, paid results in search suggest. How to establish the authoritative paid search result, the cost and the demand for this by brands and non-brands alike would be difficult to manage. I’m excited by the ever-changing nature of the SERPs – their chocolate SERPs need work though