Google Site-Specific Search-Within-Search Tool–Why is Everyone So Worked Up About This?

By Eric Goldman

On Monday, Bob Tedeschi at the NYT published an article entitled “A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites” about Google’s recently launched site-specific search-within-search box. When I first saw the feature, I really didn’t think about it very much because I already use Google to search within a site and bypass the site’s internal search function. In fact, I routinely use Google to locate items in my own website and blog instead of my own search tool (blog.ericgoldman.org is the #1 site in my Google Web History).

As a result, I didn’t think the tool or the article was particularly blog-worthy. However, I’ve now gotten at least 4 emails from people wanting to chat about this tool. So, by popular demand, some thoughts:

From a trademark law standpoint, I don’t think the tool changes the analysis. In theory, Google is gaining more insights into the searcher’s intentions; instead of knowing just X (the first search term), it now knows X+Y, which increases the odds that we might intuit the searcher’s intent well enough to assess if the searcher is being “diverted” by alternative options. However, (1) even with the additional information, Google still doesn’t know searcher intent, so it will still be improper to make any conclusions of “diversion,” (2) in practice, this really isn’t any different than if the searcher initially puts in X+Y into the search box, so Google already faces this liability, and (3) in all cases, Google may lack the requisite use in commerce to be liable for trademark infringement regardless of how deep it goes into the consumer search process.

Irrespective of the legal analysis, I think it’s interesting that some publishers are revolting against Google, which forces Google to think carefully about how it can maintain good publisher relations. Even more interesting is if Google is cutting special deals with some publishers to remove the site-specific search. I don’t think that Google can realistically support treating different sites differently, so I assume that Google ultimately will be pressured to give all sites an opt-out option (or take down the tool entirely).

One last thought–I wonder just how many searchers are using this new search option? It wouldn’t surprise me if usage is modest, in which case this could all be a tempest in a teapot.

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