Google (GOOG) started testing its search within a search feature more than a month ago. As I said in my initial post, the important things to note about the new functionality were 1) the Google Shopping link and, 2) the ever-present Google Adwords listings.
On March 24, Bob Tedeschi’s New York Times article, went with this shocker of a headline: "A New Tool From Google Alarms Sites." In the article, industry pundits like Alan Rimm-Kaufmann expressed concern over the feature. Ice.com’s ever-present VP of Marketing, Pinny Gniwisch said “Google’s new feature did not appear when users searched for Ice.com, but he said he would object if it did.” And the article pretty much stated that Amazon (AMZN) had requested that Google remove the Amazon search within a search feature.
When the feature first launched, Borders (BGP), BestBuy (BBY), and OfficeMax (OMX) were the other large retailers discovered to have the feature active. BestBuy is the only retailer that still seems to have the functionality live.
The main point I picked up from Bob Tedeschi’s article was that the basic problem publishers/retailers had with the new functionality was that Google is selling Adwords ads against brand names. This is a big no-no in the eyes of so many.
But the most important line in the article is Alan Rimm-Kaufmann’s quotation where he said:
Some of our retail clients have pretty horrible site search. So for them, this will be a benefit.
Well, I’ll go a step further and say that this will be an extremely popular and well accepted program for thousands of retailers. Why? Because it’s not only that some retailers have horrible site search, it’s that tens of thousands of retailers have a long way to go to providing a smart shopping experience. When sites don’t have proper site search, proper categorization, and don’t provide a logical UI, consumers can’t find anything or at least give up fairly quickly.
There are a lot of factors which contribute to a low conversion rate for retailers, but with Google search within a search, tens of thousands of poorly thought-out sites can benefit because Google will bring consumers directly to product pages.
And while I agree that the crème de la crème of the brand name retailers will not put up with Google Adwords ads featuring competitors next to their precious content, the crème de la crème might represent less than 1% of all internet retailers (there are only 400 IR top 400 retailers out of about 300,000 online merchants).
Some portion of the other 299,600 merchants on the web are going to be fine seeing competitor product listings right next to their own. In fact, thousands are already are used to it. Amazon might not want Google to display competitor listings in Adwords ads next to Amazon search within a search content, but Amazon enables a similar ability on Amazon.com through its Marketplace and Product Ads programs.
Buy.com features competing retailer listings right next to its own (example) even if the prices of competitors are better. Etronics goes a step further and not only features competing retailer listings, (example), but also features Google Adsense ads featuring competitors (scroll to the bottom of this page for an example). NewEgg is rolling out it’s own marketplace effort (hat tip to Ina Steiner).
Additionally, sophisticated retailers which have editorialized their content and put forth a strong merchandising effort might not love search within a search because it dilutes the experience they are going for, but if a merchant has editorialized or merchandised effectively, it shouldn’t matter what product page a consumer lands on.
There are definitely many starting points that would make no sense for a consumer, but Google should allow merchants to tell it not to send consumers to a particular page. Actually, I’d assume Google didn’t index pages for search within a search that had the do not follow meta tag to block Google’s crawler (or if Google’s using a feed, then the merchant could have just exclude pages).
As for the merchants that might not be at the pinnacle of the retailing elite, but are smart marketers adding great content to their product pages (customer reviews, product ratings, up-sells, cross-sells, blogs, video reviews, better descriptions, etc.), they should applaud this program.
Just as I think Google Checkout is a dangerous program for some retailers to adopt, there are some downsides to Google search within a search. Bob Tedeschi did a good job of surfacing this information. I just wanted to play devil’s advocate for a second.
Disclosure: SingleFeed is a Google Product Search Partner.