Google’s Desktop Search Could Change SEM Forever

Google was first to market a desktop search utility. Well, actually, others were first, but Google’s the one everyone noticed. That matters.

The tool is surprisingly good. I installed it and instantly became fascinated with the marketing implications. Desktop search will eventually increase the volume of Web searches without requiring an increase in Internet users. This profoundly benefits search engine marketing (SEM).

Google’s desktop search is so good it will change the way I use my computer. In time, it will change the way everyone uses her computer. Desktop search is a trend worth watching.

PC users will opt to use desktop search, as opposed to directory navigation, and kids just starting to use computers will be taught to use desktop search from the outset. The utility will lead to more search hours per computer user. That will lead to more sophisticated searchers, spawning mega trends that will ultimately affect SEM.

Quality Desktop Search Will Grow Multiphrase Searches

I’m surprised at how many people still search the Web using single- and two-word phrases. Though research continually shows multiword searches are growing in popularity, one- and two-word searches still drive a surprising amount of traffic to our clients’ sites. I’m convinced a majority of people who still search use single-word queries are either new to Internet search or searching single-word brand names.

Prediction: Desktop search will quickly replace hard-drive directory navigation. This will lead to more search hours for the average computer user, never mind the Internet user. As search hours and search experience increase, more searchers will use longer search phrases when they use a major search engine. That has significant SEM implications:

  • Multiword searches mean more possible keyword combinations to target. Search engine marketers will find themselves targeting longer and longer lists of keyword terms in both paid and natural SEM.
  • When most search engine users search keyword phrases of three or more words (one- and two-word searches still compose roughly half of all searches), SEM campaigns’ keyword target universe will evolve more quickly. Marketers will have to check for changes in keyword phrase construction more frequently during campaigns.
  • The trend toward longer, multiword phrase searches, combined with search becoming more habitual, will result in more possible keyword combinations paired with more total searches. That, in turn, will result in more total keyword inventory available for search advertisers. Best of all, it means higher conversion rates for SEM campaigns. Data from our search engine bidding agent (iSEBA) have already proven the longer the keyword phrase, the higher the conversion rate. Everyone wins.

Natural Search Result Rankings More Important

If you downloaded Google’s desktop search utility, you’ll notice results from every search you perform on Google (not just with the tool itself) is topped with content found on your hard drive — including links to sites you previously visited using Internet Explorer.

So long as your Web cache is searched and included in search results, any site you visit can appear on top of natural search results, and not just when you search your hard drive. Previously viewed sites (perhaps found during an earlier search) are displayed above the actual organic search results. Any Web page you previously visited is accorded a top ranking, without having to earn it by appealing to Google’s algorithm.

In much the same way Google and other search engines preempt search results with local content, shopping results, and relevant news (what Danny Sullivan calls content from “invisible tabs“), Google Desktop Search will preempt Web search results with any content, files, or previously visited Web sites still in the user’s cache, above the natural search results (unless that option is deselected, which it usually won’t be). Search engine watchers consider this a type of personalized search result. The ranking and marketing implications are extremely significant.

Predication: Companies that achieve top rankings will gain rapidly accelerating momentum. Cached pages beat high-ranking pages. The longer people use a desktop search utility, the bigger their stored page cache grows. Some implications:

  • SEM firms could demonstrate added value from top rankings when pixel tracking can identify clicks from cached versions of pages stored on desktop search users’ hard drives. SEM vendors may have to develop metrics to demonstrate how many clicks come from desktop search users with cached versions of clients’ pages on their hard drives.
  • As desktop search adoption grows, unscrupulous marketers may reactivate the practice of pop-under Web pages for the express purpose of creating keyword-rich cached content that will be presented above new Web search results. Yes, I tested it. Pop-up and -under ads, even if not viewed, appear above search results under the desktop search tab in Google.

Final Thoughts

Search is headed to the desktop. It’s intuitive. Use Google Desktop Search once, and you’re a believer. I first predicted Google would launch a desktop search interface back in September 2003. It needs the utility to compete with Microsoft, which is likely to integrate search into Longhorn, the long-awaited new operating system.

At the time, I didn’t realize how good desktop search could be, nor how important a development it would become in the search engine wars. At that time, I thought it would a purely defensive move. Now, I believe it will be one of the most important developments in the search engine wars.

For search engines, the stakes are high. He who owns the desktop will eventually own the searcher.

Microsoft could still have a trick or two up its sleeve, like changing the file structure in a way that would make any third-party tool incapable of searching the hard drive. So stay tuned.

If you haven’t downloaded Google Desktop Search, it’s time to. Take a peek at the future of SEM.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Related reading

Brand Top Level Domains