Blog Post

How Google can unlock a trillion-dollar opportunity while improving search relevance

It’s every searcher’s dream to get actual answers to their search queries, instead of search results. Google can give us these “answers” now for a set of keywords called “buying keywords.” Here’s an explanation of how this change will improve the user experience and create a level playing field for product merchants in the search ecosystem. 

Keyword types

The keywords typed into [company]Google[/company] can be broadly classified into two categories:

  1. Browsing keywords (for example, “coffee maker”)
  2. Buying keywords (for example, “best coffee makers,” “coffee maker reviews,” “Cuisinart DCC-1200,” etc.

A person’s intent cannot be clearly defined when he searches using a browsing keyword. When he types “coffee maker” into Google, we can’t know for certain whether he is in casual browsing mode, researching mode or buying mode.

However, when the person submits a buying keyword to the search, he is at the near end of the purchase funnel. People who search using a buying keyword are more likely to conduct a transaction, and the person’s intent can be clearly defined. When a person types in “best coffee maker” or “coffee maker reviews,” he is more likely to conduct a transaction than somebody searching with a standard browsing keyword.

Currently, when a person searches using a buying keyword on Google, a significant gap exists between what he wants and what the actual search results are.

Problems with current Google search results

Let’s examine the scenario for the buying keyword “best coffee makers.”

The problem with ads

coffee maker screenshot
Search for “best coffee makers” and this is your first result (if your ad blocker is turned off).

The products promoted on Google’s front page are determined by which companies were the highest bidder for the advertisement space. Major retailers like Target and Walmart are able to artificially boost the relevance of their products by purchasing ads. But that doesn’t mean those products are inherently superior to those from smaller retailers.

The problem with organic search results

Similarly, SEO techniques can be used to obtain high positions in the organic search results, which puts smaller businesses at a disadvantage, regardless of the quality of their goods or services. This reveals two critical issues:

  1. We have to comb through at least a few of these organic links to get what we are looking for.
  2. These organic properties have an incentive to sell not the best product, but the product that makes them the most money

What the searcher actually expects from his buying keywords

For the query “best coffee makers,” user experience can be improved leaps and bounds if the user is shown a page where he can have a look at a range of coffee makers in the market ranked based on reviews from multiple sources.

For the query “maid service NYC,” user experience can be improved by showing a listings page where the person can browse a list of companies offering maid services in New York. The user should be able to filter these results by, for example, prices and reviews.

For the query “dentist reviews,” the user is looking for the dentists 5-20 miles around him, sorted based on reviews.

Google can bypass the traditional search results page for buying keywords

Since the intent can be defined clearly for buying keywords, individual pages with product listings can be built for each keyword to give people exactly what they are looking for (e.g., google.com/best-coffee-makers, google.com/maid-service-newyork, google.com/dentist-reviews-94102).

For the buying keyword “best wifi routers,” Google could build a page similar to Amazon’s page for Wi-Fi routers and host it at google.com/best-wifi-routers. As soon as the person is done typing in the keyword “best wifi routers,” he would be redirected (bypassing the traditional search results) to google.com/best-wifi-routers, which would contain a list of Wi-Fi routers that could be filtered by brand, features, reviews and so on.

These changes will improve the search experience for the end user:

  1. Bypassing the traditional search results improves the search experience, because the user doesn’t have to comb through so many links to find what he is looking for. It will also be one less click for the user as he will be automatically redirected to the target.
  2. On the page the user gets redirected to, merchants could list their products for free. This would create a level playing field for merchants irrespective of their marketing budgets, and would also give the end user unbiased product listings unfiltered by advertising.

Google can still make money

Now that the action can be clearly defined, Google can take a cut out of every coffee maker sold, every TV sold, every flight ticket booked, every insurance lead generated, every credit card applied for, every mutual fund lead generated, every book sold, every hotel room booked, every mortgage quote applied, every dentist appointment booked, every car dealership dialed…practically any transaction.

A few examples of how this model could work:

  • For the keyword “canon eos rebel t4i,” the user is redirected to google.com/canon-Rebel-T4i-18mp-dslr, where he can not only go through the product features and reviews but also purchase the camera.
  • For the keyword “best coffee maker,” the user is redirected to google.com/bestcoffeemaker. There, he selects the coffee maker best suited to his needs and places an order for it. Google takes a cut of the payment and pass the rest to the product company. The coffee maker company handles the shipping.
  • For the keyword “moving services,” the user is redirected to google.com/moving-services-94102. On the page shown, the person will be asked to fill in the details of his move. Based on the information provided, he will be shown the list of moving services that can assist him, including their reviews and pricing options. After the person has chosen a particular company, Google charges the moving services company a flat fee.

If Google took these steps, it would evolve from a cost-per-click to a cost-per-action engine. This would not only turn the search ecosystem upside down but also gives middlemen like Amazon a serious run for their money.

Narendra Reddy is the chief product officer for the enterprise collaboration software maker Synovel. He previously wrote about how Google can improve its search relevance for long-tail queries for Gigaom. Follow him on twitter @naren.

4 Responses to “How Google can unlock a trillion-dollar opportunity while improving search relevance”

  1. It’s a two way sword. People may actually get out of Google, if Google makes the decision of what they want, which in other words means the user will not find what he wants. And secondly, the idea of buying something on the Google server would be a restriction of choices for the user. A prime example – Policy Bazar. Com will never display a quote from ICICI, as they are not a participient there. But you will invariably find a lower quote from ICICI than the best quote from PolicyBazar.

  2. In theory this concept that ratio of positive reviews versus negative reviews should determine ranking is certainly proper, but unfortunately idealistic.

    In practice it is doomed to failure. Companies like Bizarre Voice already have thousands of workers trolling the internet on behalf of huge corporations who paid Bizzarre to post overwhelmingly large amounts of “positive reviews” for their products.

    As always,the media is too easily manipulated.

    • Narendra R

      To deal with this exact problem..Amazon makes use of “Verified Purchase” to validate reviews. The problem of companies ‘Hiring masses of people who would write positive product reviews’ is a simple challenge which can easily be solved!

  3. My experience has been that too often the choices I get on-line include too many irrelevant items that do NOT match my search criteria (OR the search reports that the item is not found when I know a store carries such items). This applies to practically every search engine at every marketer’s site. They have a lot to learn to enable potential buyers to find what they want – and to make a sale.