Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

Fresh & New(er) header image 2

Google Teleportation / Google’s ‘search within search’

March 27th, 2008 by Seb Chan

Google’s ‘search within search’ or as they call it ‘teleporting‘ has hit the Powerhouse Museum.

I’m not sure whether this is a compliment or not, but as the New York Times reports, this is a very interesting development which raises many issues for content-rich sites with vested interests in their own internal search.

As you can see in the screenshot below, a search for ‘powerhouse museum‘ now not only shows the main home page link, and the ‘selected’ 8 results (automatically picked by Google – probably a mix of popular pages and ‘relevant’ pages by title), it also shows a secondary search box.

Searching in this second box returns a site-specific search result, but still on Google, and depending upon the search term, filled with term-sensitive search advertising. Here’s an example of the effect of entering a term like ‘travel‘ into the secondary search box.

Worse still, try this one – ‘venue hire’.

It is going to be interesting to watch the effect of this on user behaviour. For Google it allows them to keep users on their search site for a longer period of time (and tempts them with advertising), and, if I look at this with a positive spin, it also hopefully delivers users to exactly what they want on our site by the time they get to it,

Either way though, this is another nail in the coffin of traditional web metrics and measurement. Where previously visitors wanting to find your organisation by a brand name search would start their visit to your site at the home page (after being delivered to there by Google), now they are more likely to exhibit similar behaviour to content-seekers, and start their visit deep in your site. This has significant implications for site design and navigation if users do actually start using the ‘search within search’.

Have any other museums found their site is now affected this way? (I notice that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – ABC is another Australian site that is)

Tags: 8 Comments

  • I wouldn’t see this as a huge threat. In some ways it’s a logical development – users trust the Google search far more than they trust the search functions within sites (and generally with good reason).

    One downside is that if a user searches your site within Google rather than your own search function, you don’t get access to the search logs, which can give you a great insight into what users are looking for. However, Google might give you access to the search terms via something like Google Webmaster Tools.

    As for the advertising – well you have weigh this up against the benefits that the search feature might give to your users.

    I’d be surprised if Google don’t introduce an opt-out for this feeature at some point though. You can always opt-out of the Google index after all.

  • Hi Frankie

    Yeah I think the real problem is with the in-site search being presented alongside (potentially) competitive search advertising. (see the venue hire example above – does the Powerhouse really want those who search for ‘venue hire’ on its site to be presented with ‘alternatives’?)

    Also, given that no major museum has competitive advertising on their own websites, that Google presents advertising alongside internal results opens an interesting can-o-worms.

  • You could always try and balance it out by advertising your venue hire on Google yourself? Who knows, you might even appear as a result on a site-search for a competitor’s site… :-)

  • Here in the UK, this ‘search within a search’ box has appeared for museums such as the Imperial War Museum, the Natural History Museum, the V & A, and probably more. Oddly enough it does not appear for the Science Museum or the British Museum.

    Could it be that it only appears for websites that have implemented Google Custom Search?

  • Elizabeth, it has nothing to do with whether you’ve implemented a Google Custom Search or not.

    Google claim to be displaying it based upon an algorithm which picks out websites where Google detects a ‘high probability that a user wants more refined search results within a specific site. Quite how this works is a mystery, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the numbers of people who search for a museum, and then ‘refine’ their search by adding additional terms.

  • Mia

    I thought it might depend on how confident Google was that they were presenting the right search result first.

    I’ve had a play but couldn’t get it to work for us. The words Museum and London are possibly a bit too generic, though it was also interesting watching the way the presentation of results changed.

  • At the risk of Frankie telling me I’m talking arse, it could be due to the scale of those sites and their ‘brand approach’. They are all content rich and monolithic (most content on the came domain). I always made sure we kept the ‘bbc approach’ to site names when at the NHM. Sci Mus on the other hand is quite ‘chandelier’ in construction – lost of rich content but on quite a number of domains, and the main site is not so huge. Google doesn’t let us add domains into a single ‘view’ of our stuff, so it could be looking at depth. I’d bet its never quite that simple with Google though.