Brand Manipulation by Google Instant

by Adam Alter on November 4, 2010

Some people’s biggest fear is Google favoring their competition unfairly. What if it happened, could you do anything against such a massive giant who what they say goes? Now, with Google Instant, some feel as though they’re seeing their fears materialize.

Say you go to search for “pizza delivery”, you’re slow at typing and enter “pi”, Google immediately gives you search results as well as the suggestion for “Pizza Hut”. Why would they do this? According to Google it’s because they’re using a few factors such as search volume and your location, they’re determining what you are likely looking for and giving it to you before you even search for it!

That’s great right? You wanted pizza delivery and Google handed you Pizza Hut which takes care of your need even though it wasn’t what you had intended to look for. Well, seems fine, but if you actually type the full search you’ll see Papa Johns and Domino’s are actually #1 and #2 for those terms. Now unless you ignore Google and continue your search, Papa Johns and Domino’s have no chance of getting in your face via organic results.

Here’s another example where Staples gets completely put out because of their name:

You search for “office supplies” and type in the “of”. Google gives you the search results for “Office Depot” and a 2nd suggestion of “Office Max”. Not listed is “Staples” who is actually #1 for the phrase “Office supplies” but consumers may never see that because they were just handed a brand that will serve their needs.

…and yet again, Lowes getting hosed:

Search “hom” for “home improvement” and Google gives you “Home Depot”. Lowes is #1 organically but completely loses out.

Now granted, many may not stop their search if they type fast and want to complete the query. Also, for all the people who search using a Google toolbar or an affiliate, they won’t get instant results. Still though, the potential is there and is surely affecting their traffic in some way already in the above and other similar situations.

Is Google expected to do anything about it? Unlikely, what could they do besides completely rework their instant search system to avoid potential brand problems?

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