Google, makers of one of the most popular browser-add on features available, has updated its toolbar to feature a new "Browse By Name" functionality. The idea behind Browse By Name is that users of the toolbar will be able to type a Web site name, or even keyword into their address bar and immediately be taken to the site deemed most relevant by the Google algorithm. When Google feels that there is no site that is more relevant than others, it will default to a Google search results page.

The new feature will start to appear over the new few days as Google launches automatic updates to the Google toolbar. Curious users that want to see the new tool working immediately can head to the Google site and download the latest version of the toolbar. (Make certain that you select the option to set Google as your default search engine.)

According to Google's Web site, the idea is to allow users to "save time by typing names instead of URLs into the Internet Explorer address bar." One might debate how much longer it takes to type rather than simply Google, but Google does point out that the feature is handy for sites like that of the Ford Explorer which is found at the not-so-obvious address:

The idea harkens back to the days of Microsoft's Real Names, which aimed to sell certain keywords to the highest bidder on the thought that when users typed keywords into the address bar, they would be directed to the advertisers' Web site. The problem with the program was that no one typed keywords into the address bar.

So what makes the idea different this time around that will make the feature work for Google? Nothing. But in the run-up to a very public IPO, there's certainly nothing wrong with adding little bits of functionality that will result in multitudes of free press. In a matter of a single day, there are already nearly two dozen news stories listed on Google news that cover the launch.

The feature is pretty much identical to the "I'm feeling lucky" box available on the Google search page. That feature simply takes the searcher to the first listing in the search results without bothering to display what those results are. A Google project manager attempted to explain the difference to Search Engine Watch's Chris Sherman by explaining "I'm feeling lucky will always send you to the same result. Browse by name will only send you to the site it recognizes that the user wants to go to."

I, for one am not sure how Google knows exactly which site I want to go to, but then, Google does seem to be quite a bit smarter than I am. A few attempts by yours truly to generate results that I didn't want left Google looking pretty good. I started off by entering "Martha Stewart," expecting Google to send me to the Martha Stewart Living Web site, when in reality; I was looking for news on her indictment. Google nailed it and served up search results instead of a Web site. A search for "George Bush" produced the same results, though a search for "White House" did lead me directly to the White House site.

Though I must admit that thus far, the feature seems to work pretty well, the question of whether or not people will use Browse By Name once the novelty wears off remains. After all, does it really take that much longer to enter a search phrase in the Google window of the toolbar and select a site from the list of options provided by Google?

Google has stated that they have no plans to monetize the feature and that the results will continue to be dictated by their own algorithms rather than by advertising dollars.
July 16, 2004

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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