Can Searchers Find The Superbowl?

Google Hot Trends can be a fascinating look at what has suddenly peaked the interest of Americans, and today everyone wants to know about the Superbowl. 35 of the 100 spiking searches have the word [superbowl] in them, and another 27 are Superbowl-related (including game-food recipes and team details).

Google Trends: Superbowl

So how do searchers fare in finding out what they’re looking for?

Superbowl start time

Google

Searchers are most interested in knowing what time the game starts and what channel to watch it on. The number one search (and the most descriptive) is [what time does the super bowl start 2009]. I hope those searchers weren’t feeling lucky, because the first web result on Google is for an article about the upcoming 2007 Superbowl. A news result appears before that, and it seems to be matched based on grabbing the words “super bowl” and “2009″ at random (and potentially considering “Star” a synonym to “start”). The second web result does in fact have the answer, albeit a bit incomplete.

Google: Superbowl Time

Yahoo

Yahoo doesn’t fare much better. It lists a page with the 2008 start time as the first result (and that page links to a page about the 2009 start time).

Yahoo: Superbowl Time

The issue doesn’t seem to be a problem with the freshness of the index, because the Google Trends page that shows this is a hot query is right there at number 10!

Microsoft Live

Searchers on Live might miss the game entirely.

Like Google, Live has news results at the top that aren’t in any way related to the Superbowl start time. The first result that appears it might answer the start question is located all the way at position five. And it looks like it could be the only result on the entire page that would answer the question. Live is also the only engine of the three to show ads above the results, and the relevance of “1 Rule to Lose Your Gut” to the query is questionable.

Live Search: Superbowl Time

Where are the official Superbowl sites?

The NBC and NFL sites were nowhere to be found in the top ten of any of the search engines. That’s not entirely the fault of the search engines, as both sites are hiding all of their potential content in Flash (and in the case of the NFL are adding the further obstacle of a 302 redirect from superbowl.com). Since search engines want to provide the best possible results and Adobe wants web developers to keep using Flash, this poor searcher experience just supports the notion that both should continue to improve Flash’s crawlability.

But it also reinforces the advice that site owners have to be aware of the limitations of technologies such as Flash. The fact is that if you want your site’s content to be found by searchers, you have to make sure you’re building it in a search-friendly way. You can’t rely on the search engines to sort things out.

What about [superbowl]?

Do the search engines do better at finding the official sites for a more generic search? We can see by the Google Trends data that searchers aren’t looking for just [superbowl] alone, but let’s give the engines an easy query for comparison.

Google

Google does pretty well, returning the official NFL page as the top result (despite the redirect and the Flash). However, since Google can’t read any text in the Flash and the page doesn’t have a meta description, Google has to resort to the dmoz.org description of the page for the snippet, which doesn’t mention the Superbowl at all, and that makes the result seem less relevant to searchers. It also has a pretty irrelevant ad above the results and that third result (“Arizona Super Bowl”) is another example of Flash and other multimedia causing searchability problems. The snippet is literally the only text Google could find on the page.

Google: Superbowl

Google has substantially better results for the query [superbowl 2009].

Yahoo

Yahoo’s results are far better. The ad is pretty relevant, the Yahoo! Shortcut that shows up at the top of the results provides the game’s date and time (this would have been an ideal result for the previous query), and the first web result is for superbowl.com with a great snippet. (The rest of the top 10 are much more relevant than Google’s as well.) Unlike Google, Yahoo isn’t following the 302 redirect from superbowl.com to nfl.com/superbowl, and on quick glance, I’m not sure where they’re getting the snippet. (Updated to add: they’re pulling it from the Yahoo! Directory.) The Wikipedia result, enhanced with SearchMonkey, also helps the relevance of the results.

Yahoo: Superbowl

Microsoft Live

Live search has the right results, but to be honest, they’re kind of a mess. The ad above the results is completely irrelevant, the first result is an Instant Answer from Encarta that takes up too much room and provides details that are too vague. The first web result is the NFL site, followed by another Instant Answer from Stats Inc. that actually provides a pretty helpful result (the date, time, and teams). This is followed by a set of news results. All in all, there’s a lot going on here, and it’s difficult to sort out what’s a web result and what’s something else.

Live Search: Superbowl

Live search has an odder Instant Answer for the second hottest query (according to Google Trends, pulling in details from “Holiday Origins”.

Live Search: Superbowl 2009

Will searchers find the Superbowl?

Searchers will undoubtedly try a few query variations and scan the result page enough to find what they’re looking for. But it’s clear both that events and questions drive people to search, and that search engines and sites still have a lots of room to improve in order to connect with those searchers.

Happy Superbowl viewing!

(By the way, in case you’re having trouble finding the details in your favorite search engine, the pre-game starts around 4pm Eastern on NBC and the kick-off is around 6:20pm Eastern.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Search & Society: General | Search Features: Shortcuts | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.planetc1.com/ chiropractic

    Excellent summary Vanessa. An amazing day to study search behavior.

    It’s days like today I LOVE Google Universal search and Hot Trends. A bit of research as to what consumers are seeking followed by a detailed post answering some of the most basic questions (like what colors the teams wear and what channel the game is on) can result in terrific traffic stats to review Monday morning.

  • http://blog.oneriot.com tobiaspeggs

    This is a great illustration of why “real time social search” (needs a better term) trumps traditional search when you just want to know “what’s going on right now?” for a particular subject. By virtue of the way their crawlers work to index the web, the traditional search engines are going to have a problem with freshness and generating results with current social resonance. Meanwhile search engines that utilize real-time social signals are going to nail it. Full disclosure – i work at OneRiot, and that’s what we do. But i feel comfortable commenting here to add value: If you want to know what time the super bowls starts check here: http://www.oneriot.com/search?q=what+time+does+the+super+bowl+start+2009

  • http://www.JiansNet.com briteguy

    Be in real-time search improvement or anything, it still seems to me that getting traditional search engines to handle this type of search is a hack.

    To do a better job, it won’t be google or any of the big 3 search engines. Rather, a drastic social based website/search engine should trump that. To me, that’s the trend. Therefore, I am building my own social based search engine JiansNet.com as a test bed for FAQs for Chinese textual content.

  • http://javaunmoradi.com/ javaun

    Excellent post Vanessa. I liked how you took the existing case of Superbowl searches to really demonstrate how the big 3 struggle when the top sites either fail to deliver the content consumers want or use technologies that prevent a crawl.

    I agree with Tobias and Briteguy that this is where real-time social search can step in to provide the answer that many in the crowd are already talking about. I will differ though and say that Google is clearly still best-poised to add this social layer and take search to the next level.

    Whether they engineer it themselves or buy a small startup (like the 2 above), Google is the only one that is going to be able to scale a social solution and integrate it with existing keyword and backlink-based algorithmic based search.

    All of the existing social search solutions eventually hit their own problems, whether that be server scaling or fighting spam. For older, niche content, social search is often fails to deliver the results quality that the big 3 deliver.

  • irldonalb

    Great post Vanessa. I’ve noticed a few times that Google’s results for time specific phrases are poor. I think this is the proof.

    I would have thought they’d have a team monitoring the relevancy of the SERPs for break-out phrases. Obviously not.

    It’s also interesting to see an 8 word long tail phrase appear so high on the list. Does this show the lack of confidence of the SERPs for generic phrases?

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