A Search Engine is a Terrible Thing to Waste

At the risk of offending my SEO/SEM friends, I have a bone to pick with the state of search.

Last night my daughter and I invested a solid hour searching online (on two separate computers) for a resource selling “down fill” for a winter jacket she is making. We began with the obvious search terms:

Down Fill
Down Filler
Goose Down
Goose Down Fill
Goose Down Filling

Almost immediately we noticed two trends. First, we were not finding what we were looking for. Second, the same web sites kept appearing in the paid ads and sponsored links sections of the results page. These usual subjects included www.target.com, www.NexTag.com, shopping.yahoo.com, overstock.com and shopzilla.com.

Naturally, we clicked on these links because the ad copy indicated that they sold goose down fill. But guess what? None of them sold it or had links to other sites that sold it. It was a ruse… a deception… a lie.

So we continued our journey, carefully refining and rethinking our search. We asked ourselves, “What exactly are we looking for?” And the answer was “goose or synthetic down fill to stuff into a jacket.” Our new search terms included:

Loose Goose Down
Loose Goose Down Fill
Synthetic Goose Down
Synthetic Goose Down Fill
Goose Down Retailers
Goose Down Suppliers
Synthetic Down Manufacturers
Where to Buy Goose Down Fill

And we got lots of results for pillows and bedding and comforters and sleeping bags and furniture. And new paid advertisers showed up – Amazon.com, SmartBargains.com, ShopDownLite.com, www.local.com…

We tried new permutations:

Fill for Pillows
Down Used in Comforters
Pillow Stuffings

And we got Walmart.com and www.unitedpillows.com, www.cuddledown.com, JCPenney.com and ebay.com. But none of these ads or sponsored links took us to what we were looking for. Instead, they drove us to a home page to conduct another search on their sites, where we quickly learned that none of them sold down fill.

About this time, we began swearing openly… frickin’ frackin’ companies, smurfin’ smarfin’ search engines, rizzle frazzle pillow stores. I was frustrating as all get out.

So, what are Target and WalMart and JCPenney thinking? And what are Overstock and NexTag and Shopzilla thinking? Aren’t they the least bit worried about damaging their brand by leading consumers down a dead end path? And who is telling them that this is a good idea? Is it their marketing people or their search engine people or their IT people? And where is Google in the middle of all this? Doesn’t Google want to protect its reputation by not allowing organizations to buy search terms and phrases that lead people in the wrong direction?

As consumers, my daughter and I were pissed with all of these brands for wasting our time and pretending to be something that they were not. And by far, Target is the worst offender, presenting themselves as the purveyor of all things. You did not help us and you damaged your reputation in the process. Congratulations on that achievement.

As a marketing and public relations professional, I believe Google and the industry-at-large (including you search engine marketing pros) need to take a long, hard look at the search process as it exists today. You can only get away with successfully selling ads and sponsorships for so long if you aren’t providing consumers a valuable service. Search engines are designed for the express purpose of helping consumers find things… not for getting lost.

As for the goose down fill, our search for “loose goose down fill” finally revealed a resource: www.sevenwondersdown.com.

Finally, this experience also revealed an interesting insight. For all the public worries that the Internet may eventually cause diminished communications skills, consider the talent required to know how to look for all those things you look for on the worldwide web.

Jim Sweeney

Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.