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Google may getting a little too big for it’s boots. If I type something into the search box and hit enter then shouldn’t I at least be given the courtesy of being shown results for what I’ve typed – the words I carefully considered for purpose? If I didn’t want to put a term in my query then I’d have left it out.

Google maybe thinks not, and has been playing a sneaky game. A search for “cheap holiday cottages in Scotland” brings back selected natural results (with a large sprinkling of PPC adverts). All looks fine. However when continuing through the results I was greeted with this message at the bottom of page two:

These results do not include the word "cheap"

So basically Google has decided on my behalf that I don’t want cheap accommodation – is this something they’re in the position to decide? What next? A search for “men’s shoes” returning just results for “shoes”?

Why would they do this?

To me it seems like a very underhand way of ensuring more pay-per-click adverts are shown for any given search.  We commonly use “cheap” as a negative keyword for clients who clearly do not have a cheap or low price offering – why should we waste money on people who are price sensitive rather than those that are looking for something more refined?

However, with this little ‘improvement’ from Google our adverts will still show despite the searcher intention. Suddenly as advertisers or search users we have no choice in the matter. A quick review of this shows there to be 11 adverts on the page when Google ignores “cheap” and 8 adverts shown when I force “cheap” to be used as part of the query. Potentially, and possibly most importantly, they must have lower bids as they only appear on the right-hand side, which means lower revenue-per-click for Google.

Without “cheap” in the search phrase (Google default)

With “cheap” in the search phrase (with + modifier in search term)

Google Suggest – now it’s Google Decide?

This is clearly manipulation of the search results in a hidden way by not even telling me they had omitted my search term until the bottom of the second page. With searches considered to be a probable mis-type Google will sometimes show results for the ‘corrected’ term, but they will make this quite obvious at the top of the first page of results.

I want to be able to search for what I want, and expect Google to at the very least respect my wishes (it’s not like I’m looking for something worth censoring!).

Impacts upon PPC and SEO

We’ll keep an eye on this but if it becomes more commonplace it could have repercussions both in the worth of pay-per-click and search engine optimisation. If Google direct traffic away from 4–5 word ‘long-tail’ search phrases towards shorter terms it pushes more advertisers into a smaller space. For PPC this results in increased competition in the bid auction and thus increased costs, and for SEO it’s the same without the direct bidding. Things get even worse if Google starts to choose whether or not your PPC negative keywords are worth looking at!

Has anyone else found any examples of this practice?

This post featured some random input from @Attacat_Joel

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