Google as a “Discovery Engine”…and How to Protect Yourself

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Jun 30, 2008
More Articles by Kaitlyn

A recent article from Media Post’s Search Insider talks about search intent and how well (or not) search engines are able to deliver results that match the path searchers use to find their information.

Gord Hotchkiss writes:

“…when we seek information, we fit into one of three categories: we know what we’re looking for and where to find it, we know what we’re looking for but don’t know where to find it, or we don’t know what we’re looking for or where to find it.”

The article maintains that in general search engines do a good job of delivering results based on the first two categories of search type. But when we don’t know either what we’re looking for or where to find it, the engines struggle. In short, search engines are not yet ideal for pure browsing.

For the most part, searchers have become savvier in the past few years about how to browse on an engine. By using engines so much, they have become better at predicting which keywords will yield what kind of results. And even if they don’t know what exactly they’re looking for, they may be able to navigate themselves effectively by searching for something close to what they need. (This week, Search Insider will delve more deeply into exactly how we forage for information online).

Nevertheless, Hotchkiss notes that search engines are trying to become better “discovery engines.” I can see Google’s attempt at this in its expanded broad match feature. Under expanded match, Google tries its hand at matching search queries with ads based on what it perceives to be synonyms.

Here at Search Mojo, Tad Miller has written before about the challenges from an advertiser’s perspective of trying to reach targeted consumers with the broad match type. For example, you can tell something has been lost in translation when a search engine decides that by advertising on the phrase “men’s grooming products,” you actually want to find searchers in the market for equestrian hoof picks.

For this reason, it is essential for AdWords managers to regularly monitor the Search Query Report which lists the actual search queries people typed into the engine in order to reach your ad. By reviewing this report, you can weed out bad expanded matches and specify negative keywords in the necessary campaigns and ad groups.

And to be fair, sometimes (although much less often than not) Google will have done a good job and you will find a useful keyword in the report to add to your account.

Another interesting feature you will see in the Search Query Report is the field entry “other search query.” That’s right- Google does not provide complete search query data for all your registered clicks. There is a whole set of data that remains invisible, presumably allowing Google to test out new expanded matches without full disclosure of the results. (If you are interested, it is possible to bypass this keyword data block with some Analytics maneuvering).

But the bottom line is that Google is very much in the experimental phases of becoming a true “discovery engine.” And although the search experience will undoubtedly improve if engines are successful at providing accurate results to browsers, they’re just not there yet.

In the meantime, advertisers who want to conserve budget and maintain conversion rate should absolutely monitor their Search Query Reports if using the broad match type.

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