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).
So how do searchers fare in finding out what they’re looking for?
Superbowl start time
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.
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).
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!
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.
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 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 has substantially better results for the query [superbowl 2009].
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.
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 has an odder Instant Answer for the second hottest query (according to Google Trends, pulling in details from “Holiday Origins”.
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.)