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Google Loves Brands in a Hard-Coded Way?

I like to burn high quality Japanese incense while I work. It’s relaxing but at the same time I maintain more focus when I burn a stick or two of my favorite incense. It sets a mood, and keeps me on task. But this addiction presents a few problems, because my typical American neighbor does not buy Japanese incense, so the stores don’t carry it. I buy incense online.

And while buying incense online today, I discovered an SEO oddity.

Using IE8 I googled “Japanese incense” and I got a search results set that included just one website (Shoyeido, the defining brand in the marketplace), surrounded by ads, shopping results, and related searches.  Nary a wikipedia page in site. No other sites at all, actually. Just the Big Brand, plus the ads.

I’ll post a screen cap later, if helpful. I saved all of the screens mentioned in this post.

Confused, I checked the settings and no ad blockers, js was on, etc. Everything seemed normal. I don’t use IE much, so no plugins or toolbars in the way. Odd.

I did the same search in Chrome and saw a more typical Google results set. Shoyeido at the top of the organic results, with the ads and shopping results mixed into a typical Universal Search results page. And of course all the exact match domains, a supplier in San Francisco I will investigate later, and Nippon, the company that made Esteban’s incense.

I did the search in Firefox and also saw the more traditional results set, with one exception. No sidebar ads. No ads at all, in fact. Hmmm.

What’s going on here? How did, the defining brand in the incense marketplace,  get into that result set when no other organic search result was able to appear (for whatever reason)?

Was there a glitch in the matrix? Does that glitch suggest that the BigBranded default #1 result is hard-wired somehow into the SERP, separate from the probably temporarily broken way the rest of the organic results get loaded up?

I’m curious.What’s going on here?


  1. aaron wrote:

    I have seen some search result oddities like that a number of times…where only half the result set loads, or where 2 results from a site are not listed together. And then searched again and it was normal.

    When they make billions of search pages a month won’t a few of them come out weird?

    john replies: I hope so (that some queries will come out broken) because that’s when we get to see what’s under the hood. I didn’t have time to study the source code, but it did not appear to be a rendering issue, which confuses me. If I get a properly rendered page in IE that includes only the one result plus the rest of the page (ads, etc) but another browser sees a fullpage, then I’m getting dispatched differently for different headers. That makes sense in the context of the new asynchronous page loading, but also suggests that something in the asynchronous dispatching was broken….revealing some detail of its operation. That detail… that it was able to grab the #1 result, but not “the rest” is intriguing to me. I would expect to see other more competitive SERPs produce 3 or 5 instead of just one (“Japanese incense” is certainly not a competitive query, and Shoyeido is clearly a best-brand selection). It would be cool to know if those “half the set loads” were classifiable (1, 3,5, results?) and if they correlate with competitiveness or otherwise suggest a managed serp.

    Friday, July 31, 2009 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  2. If I understand correctly, what you’re seeing is something that we’ve seen going on a while. In some sectors it is virtually impossible to get listed on a keyword, it’s like they’re all set up.

    For example, I’ve worked on a website that is completely and utterly thematic but simply will not come up in Google for certain keywords. I mean this is a keyword that on every other engine comes up on the first page, there’s relevant keywords in the domain and a very good amount of inbound quality link-pop. Despite all this, it will not appear on the front page of Google, in fact it’s somewhere down around the 400 mark. This in stark contrast to keywords that fall out of the super dooper cometitiveness area for which the site takes a plethora of results. I therefore believe that some keywords are completely off limits. I believe that Google definately does the reverse hard wiring (which goes beyond a penalty) and in terms of hard wiring results into the matrix, I’ve not doubt it’s happening.


    Friday, July 31, 2009 at 4:04 am | Permalink
  3. Peter wrote:

    Saw it here too on a term I was researching. Happened once, when I refreshed I got the results I expected to see. The singular result was the brand that I was searching, and in the normal SERP it’s #1, with Wikipedia as #2 (of course).

    john replies: Peter that single refresh makes me think rendering issue, but not necessarily. Would be good to know either way, or if it is consistent when it happens. For me it was consistent over a half hour or more… but is back to “normal” now.

    Friday, July 31, 2009 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  4. Gregor wrote:

    This is strange but it’s even more strange that the differences are between browsers. We all know that Google does test various algorithm changes but this is the first I’ve heard of them doing different results by browser.

    Have they been doing some social profiling based on the browser type! Maybe they’ve assumed people that use IE are too dumb to cope with more than one result! ;-)

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 1:37 am | Permalink