Google plans product search boost in Q4

Google plans to extend the product search capabilities on its main Google.com Web search engine in the fourth quarter, in time for the holiday shopping season.

A Google official shared the news with attendees of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA) Summit in San Francisco last week, according to people at the conference.

When people search for products on Google.com, the system will present them with another search box so that they can refine their query, wrote Bear Stearns & Co. analysts in a note published Friday.

After people refine their query, Google takes them to a second page populated with product results from the Google Base listings service, wrote the analysts, who attended Google official's presentation.

"Ranking will be determined by the attributes that the sellers listed for the product as well as by relevancy," the analysts wrote.

Currently, Google has no plans to monetize this product-search capability with display ads or listing fees, but that could change, they wrote.

The plan also involves de-emphasizing Froogle as a destination Web site and moving its comparison-shopping capabilities to Google.com, because, as the Google official explained, most product searches happen on Google.com, according to the note.

Google.com can already detect if someone is looking for real estate to buy, and asks users to refine their queries before delivering listings from Google Base. Thus, the plan outlined at the PESA conference would apparently be a significant extension of this existing feature toward multiple product categories.

Jonathan Garriss, PESA's executive director, got very excited after learning at the conference of Google's plans. "Anything that improves product search and helps shoppers find what they want is always positive for a merchant like me," said Garriss, chief executive officer of Gotham City Online, an apparel store on eBay that also has its own site.

Garriss already feeds product information from his store to Google Base. But after talking to Google officials at the conference, he plans to improve it. "It will make it a it smarter search. Google is giving us an opportunity to do that," Garriss said.

PESA groups about 600 large eBay sellers that collectively generate over 70 million eBay transactions and US$1 billion in eBay gross merchandise volume annually.

Google Base was introduced last November as a service for individuals and organizations to post content to the Google search index, including products for sale.

From the beginning, Google said that Base isn't meant as a destination Web site, but more like a database to feed information to Google search sites, like Google.com. To stress this point, Google recently removed the search box from the Google Base site.

The Bear Stearns analysts didn't immediately reply to requests for comment.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment, saying only that Google has integrated content from Google Base, and from other Google products, into Google.com search results for some time.

A recent sign that Google was working on its product search was the removal of the link to Froogle on Google.com, said analyst Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence.

"Everyone was surprised and Froogle's traffic immediately suffered, but Google wouldn't opt out of the shopping search space," Sterling said.

Presenting product listings via Google.com is another move by Google to integrate vertical search services on its main search engine, which is by far its most popular site, Sterling said. In addition to real estate listings, Google.com also detects searches for topics like movies and recording artists, and treats them with special results.

"Google has a fire hose of traffic through Google.com and less success directing people to other Google domains," Sterling said. "For this reason, Google has always been ambivalent about having different destinations."

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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