Monday I came across this CNET article and thought no big deal. Google Suggest sounded a lot like what Yahoo rolled out 13 months ago and their market share since dropped 3%. Besides this offering has been available behind the scenes since roughly 2004 so the coming out party didn’t seem that newsworthy.

Today Google Suggest is officially up and running as the default Google home page. While it is similar to what Yahoo offers, I noticed HUGE and interesting differences. In addition to providing the number of returns for each suggestion (isn’t it always a numbers game), it relies heavily on the power of the first word in a search. This feature ignores many popular searches and encourages first word centric searches. Instantly I noticed these differences were influencing my traditional search habits and most likely many others. I’m beginning to question if these changes are for the better. As it is introduced into the mainstream, I am paying close attention to how my search habits and others begin to change. Have you noticed anything different? Is it better?

While its goals include “helping to formulate queries, reduce spelling errors, and saving users keystrokes,” I’m concerned that relevancy is being sacrificed for instant gratification. Default searching has swayed audiences for years because the attention span of the average users doesn’t go much beyond the first page. Now we have to worry about the expanded power of default suggestions which may not get our content past the search box. As marketers will our messages become buried, ignored, or outranked? Let’s dig in, compare, and see how search is being redefined.

For instance, if I’m on a mission to research XYZ, at first pass, I’m happy that all things beginning XYZ will be proposed. However if I’m searching more broadly for XYZ, my attention will not be brought to many other relevant key word searches where XYZ may be the second of third word in the search. Sounds like a great way to keep the SEO experts employed.

Using the same scenario, let’s make “search engines” the object of our research and start with the word “search” on Yahoo and Google Suggest.

Yahoo auto suggested: google search, people search, google search engine, job search, and search the web, in that order.

Google’s first five suggestions were: search engines (70.5 million results), search engine (259 million results), searching for bigfoot (158,000 results), and search engine optimization (27 million results), and search rapidshare (31.4 million results).

My search is now heavily influenced by the options in front of me.

On Yahoo, I ironically gravitated toward a name brand like Google and moved my search down the road of “google search engine.” The top result returned was Google.

On Google, I was so attracted to the immense results that “search engine” yielded that I abandoned the plural for the singular. Dogpile a search site I’ve never heard of before was surprisingly in the coveted #1 spot. I’m totally impressed that it beat out Google on a Google search.

Clearly, the algorithms of searching are so complex that the search engines aren’t even returning themselves as the best or highest search result. If “Everybody’s doing It” and the currency of the web is backed by the mantra “In Google We Trust,” then this new Google feature can not be ignored. Instead it adds to the already numerous variables in play for grabbing the attention of users online.

Today I learned the subtle yet powerful influences a first word and huge Google results yield. As we continue to compete for relevancy, we now also need to compete for suggestion. Maybe it’s time to switch careers and get into SEO.

What do you think of Google’s switch? Was it so subtle you didn’t even notice it? Do you currently factor online marketing and search results into your Public Relations campaigns? If not, will you in the future?