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Where is ecommerce headed in Google's SERP's

     
9:25 am on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Here's some observations, that I find intriguing about Google's future moves around e-commerce listings.

1. Meta search threat to Google. In the recently leaked FTC report [webmasterworld.com...] Google is evidenced to be manipulating ecommerce areas , in particular those involving Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon.

Somewhere in the report, Google is quoted as saying that it considers meta search sites, a business threat. The report is now old, but nothing's changed. Presumably Google's concern is because it undermine's Google's ability to show what the customer really wants, since a user's real preference would not support advertising e.g. the lowest product price.

2. Google search results with white-list manipulation. What is not covered by default in the FTC probe, is the strong inference that Google manipulates results according to it's own quality guidelines, by invoking either editorially driven whitelists ahead of it's algorithm, aside from the issue of promoting it's own assets ahead of others in anti competitive behaviour.

3. Identical content in a mature market. Recently, I have seen a major e-commerce company, with blanket high SERP rankings, acquire some leading shopping portals which dominate their market segment. [ It's a result of a mature market and the commoditization that eventually occurs - many will have witnessed this ].

The content is now identical. At this stage all three brand names still dominate the SERP's. Will Google implement Panda on two of these sites, or will they be maintained? - time will tell.

4. The pack of 6-8 is really a bad user experience because a user does not want their choice limited to such a small number, say in a big city

5. Google has lost it's reputation as the go to place to compare deals. It may never have really had it, but I think the polarization around limited brand placements may have cemented it further.

In taking a balanced view of Google's needs as a business and equally a "go to place" for e-commerce users, is Google's place as a relevant search engine for large e-commerce plays timing out? Any thoughts out there on how Google will need to evolve and still be in control of e-commerce SERP listing's?
11:41 am on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Last week, for the first time in my 25+ years working with computers, i bought computer equipment from brick and mortar and not online. This realization hit me as i was leaving the store with 2 boxes in hand that it was my first time.

I made a couple of attempts online and then gave up. The purchase was actually enjoyable, especially compared to the online frustration.
12:42 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I find a lot of interesting things on the ecommerce side.

1. In my sector not one of the sites in the top 10 that actually sell the product are mobile friendly.

2. Both of the sites that used to be at the top and hit by one of Google's algorithms are mobile friendly.

3. Many products are listed but unavailable in the top sites.

4. Site that uses structured data is on page 2.

5. I find it very strange and slow how this structured data is being absorbed by Google. People talk about being de-indexed and I have believed for a long time there is some truth to this. I have 9-10K products all with structured data yet only 4K are listed having it. It appears that only 40% is truly indexed by that and that is about the way the SERPS look. Goes in strange intervals too. At time 10 pages a day, sometimes 100 pages. At the current rate it could take 6 months to a year to be crawled. People say content, content, content. It is there, its tested. Google is not crawling.

6. The top site is not using Adwords.

7. I suspect the mobile algorithm update will be more of a penalty producing device instead of an improvement of the SERPS. It will be a technique to force the current top sites to use Adwords. Junk, scraped sites, news sites and blogs, Amazon and Ebay will rise to the top.
3:27 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It seems to me that, for Google, organic e-commerce search is a necessary headache at best. It probably isn't what Larry Page and Sergey Brin had in mind when they came up with their mission statement about organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful.

For Google, a product like Google Shopping is a win-win on many levels: It's easy for consumers to use, it's a source of revenue, it's easier to control (since advertisers are identifiable and accountable), it isn't susceptible to SEO spam, and it heads off complaints by competitors who think their ads and search results should be in Google's organic search results.

Google Shopping and AdWords are the Web's counterpart to the Yellow Pages. If Google can get users into the habit of relying on these and other advertising products (in the same way that Yellow Pages publishers got users into the habit of relying on Yellow Pages ads), "transactional queries" may simply lead to pages of relevant, useful ads.
5:10 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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For Google, a product like Google Shopping is a win-win on many levels: It's easy for consumers to use, it's a source of revenue, it's easier to control (since advertisers are identifiable and accountable), it isn't susceptible to SEO spam, and it heads off complaints by competitors who think their ads and search results should be in Google's organic search results.


Many of these issues do exist in Google shopping.

>>advertisers are identifiable and accountable

Well, in the same way that any Adwords advertiser is, which is to say, not really...other than a form that you submit to, and never hear back.

>>isn't susceptible to SEO spam

Not SEO spam, but there is a real problem with keyword stuffing, and vendors who list the same product over and over with different names, trying to capture every possible user search term. Google doesn't do much to reign it in.

>>heads off complaints by competitors who think their ads and search results should be in Google's organic search results

Heh. There are plenty of complaints. There is a search order within Google shopping, and it's not like adwords...you can't necessarily bid your way to the top. As with organic search, the signals used to decide sort order aren't public.
5:17 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google Shopping and AdWords are the Web's counterpart to the Yellow Pages. 


are you saying the goog is headed towards the same irelevany as the yellow pages?

edit: actually the yellow pages might be making a come back. The last 2 sub-contractors i hired came from the yellow pages. Why bother with a serp full of incomplete directories?
6:45 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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are you saying the goog is headed towards the same irelevany as the yellow pages?


The Yellow Pages certainly weren't irrelevant in the pre-search era. (Note that I used the past tense in my reference.)
6:57 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Comparing Google's offerings to the Yellow pages is a flawed analogy at best.

People got the yellow pages by virtue of it appearing on their front porch. Back then, businesses had other reasonable options to get in front of people, since most purchases were done locally. Newspapers, mailers, those door-hanger ad bundles, roadside signage, radio, on-site signage, etc.

In the online world, things are different. By virtue of their market share, and other factors, like ownership of the android platform, it's more like Google controls the front porch of potential customers, as well as the roads to and from businesses. Not 100%, but not that far away from it either.

That's not a perfect analogy either, but it's no more imperfect than saying Google is the Yellow pages of today.
7:22 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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OK, if you don't like the Yellow Pages analogy, ignore it. My point was (and is) that Google may not need to display organic results for transactional queries indefinitely.
7:30 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google may not need to display organic results for transactional queries indefinitely


That is why I provided the alternative analogy. I think you're right, in that they may not need to display organic results for products. If there aren't enough ad buyers to satisfy the queries today, shutting off organics would certainly produce new buyers.

To me, though, it really pushes the boundaries of what's good for consumers. It isn't Google fault that this new medium isn't as open as front porches, yellow pages, roads to businesses, etc...that's just how it played out. But, it seems like a bad idea to have one, for-profit entity have almost exclusive control over such a large part of the buy/sell economy.
7:54 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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With knowledge graph and other factors negatively impacting the profit margins of my information sites, I am working on new e-commerce projects. The knowledge graph can answer questions but it can't get real products to the customer.

E-commerce also helps me diversify away from Google because I can sell via email, affiliates, Amazon marketplace etc. Nothing is perfect and there are pros and cons for each situation but hopefully with some diversity I will be able to sustain over the long term.
8:26 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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For Google, a product like Google Shopping is a win-win on many levels


@EditorialGuy, spot on. Maybe that's why they've recently changed the navigation to display the Shopping link next to the Web link. At least here in the UK.

It used to be: Web | Images | News (or Maps) | Shopping
and now it's: Web | Shopping | Images | News

From personal experience with ecommerce websites I can say the main challenge at the moment is the big brands not Google itself. Big brands with terrible customer service, inferior product offering and "borrowed-from-manufacturer" product descriptions easily outrank smaller shops with great products and hand-crafted content. It makes you wonder how the big brands are immune to Panda.

There are two ways around this for small online retailers and I see those being used more often.

One is capitalising on the so-called "browsing traffic" by putting out great content, using squeeze pages to capture emails and then selling products to the list. The second one is mobile apps. If you've got these two channels covered, you don't really care how greedy Google gets with its ecommerce queries.
9:41 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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My point was (and is) that Google may not need to display organic results for transactional queries indefinitely.

With just about everything above the fold now being paid ads, I'd say Google is about 50% of the way there already.
10:20 pm on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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With just about everything above the fold now being paid ads, I'd say Google is about 50% of the way there already.


Sure, and consumers are responding by clicking AdWords and Google Shopping ads. And why not, if the ads meet their needs? Direct-response ads were popular with shoppers long before PPC ads on SERPs came along. (Think of classified ads in newspapers, Yellow Pages ads, or the 100+ pages of mail-order ads that filled a typical issue of PC Magazine back in the '80s.)
1:58 am on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Think of classified ads in newspapers, Yellow Pages ads, or the 100+ pages of mail-order ads that filled a typical issue of PC Magazine back in the '80s.


Like that, if you assume one business owns 75% of all magazines, yellow pages, and newspapers, as well as 75% of the display racks where they are sold.
2:20 am on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Like that, if you assume one business owns 75% of all magazines, yellow pages, and newspapers, as well as 75% of the display racks where they are sold.


Actually, monopolies were much stronger in the heyday of print than Google's supposed monopoly is today. In the U.S., local "IDs" (Independent Distributors) controlled which magazines and paperback books were sold on newsstands, in supermarkets and drugstores, etc. Even the guys who drove the trucks had an incredible amount of power, because they stocked the display racks in most cases. And in the U.S. newspaper business, most major markets haven't had more than one or two papers (usually one) for decades.

But that's really beside the point. We aren't talking about which search engine has the most market share, we're speculating on "Google's future moves around e-commerce listings." The OP asked:

In taking a balanced view of Google's needs as a business and equally a "go to place" for e-commerce users, is Google's place as a relevant search engine for large e-commerce plays timing out? Any thoughts out there on how Google will need to evolve and still be in control of e-commerce SERP listing's?


Of course Google will need to evolve (most businesses need to evolve). Google has been evolving in both the transactional and informational search realms for quite some time, and it will continue to evolve. We just don't know how.
3:41 am on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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But that's really beside the point. We aren't talking about which search engine has the most market share, we're speculating on "Google's future moves around e-commerce listings."


Right. It's just difficult not to respond to flippant analogies that dismiss the potential detrimental effects to consumers. Throwing those out there, then telling anyone that challenges them that they are dragging the thread off topic is disingenuous.

As you requested, though, I'll get back on topic..

is Google's place as a relevant search engine for large e-commerce plays timing out?

They certainly wouldn't be the first business to suffer, over the long run, from overusing their ability to stuff ads down the consumer's throats. I think Netflix, for example, is having success pulling viewers away from traditional network TV for exactly the same reason.

Unfortunately, the barrier of entry for a new player in search is really high, so they will continue to ride the wave for quite a while.
7:21 am on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@rish3 - I wonder if the gaps can be exploited if the money is there. Also I just wonder how Google is plugging that gap. Desktop search on e-commerce hadn't evolved much at all in the last 4-5 years. We're just about to see mobility maybe mature, and new forms of devices split the field and size of organic listings decrease.

The algorithmn isn't as huge in e-commerce where white listed brands are the norm as we once believed,

Entry may not be so difficult. And defence strategies may be weaker for Google to hold onto all its fortresses. Although Google buys the best brains I'm just leaving open some questioning here . .....
2:06 pm on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Desktop search on e-commerce hadn't evolved much at all in the last 4-5 years. We're just about to see mobility maybe mature, and new forms of devices split the field and size of organic listings decrease.


Sure, but the topic of "Where is ecommerce headed in Google's SERPs" goes beyond Google's organic search results. From the POV of site owners who want traffic in the organic results, those organic results matter, but it's worth remembering that, for Google, the "10 blue links" (or the 6 to 8 blue links, in some cases) are just one part of the user interface.
3:03 pm on Apr 2, 2015 (gmt 0)

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it's worth remembering that, for Google, the "10 blue links" (or the 6 to 8 blue links, in some cases) are just one part of the user interface


The passage from you quoted from @Whitey makes it painfully obvious that he's already aware of that.
12:53 am on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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it's worth remembering that, for Google, the "10 blue links" (or the 6 to 8 blue links, in some cases) are just one part of the user interface.

@EditorialGuy - I can't see value for the user per my OP remarks on this part of my observations, but I have to accept that Google and others may see this differently. Do you see a future for the pack of 6/8 or 10 given what I said earlier?
1:06 am on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Do you see a future for the pack of 6/8 or 10 given what I said earlier?


Beats me. However, I do think organic results have value to the user when the user feels like digging, and for queries where the user's needs aren't as likely to be met by advertising. (Think handmade Queen Elsa-themed dachshund dresses or artisanal cheeses from Gary's goat farm, as opposed to items like name-brand blue jeans, cameras, and PC accessories that are readily available from major retailers who advertise.)
2:16 am on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Beats me. However, I do think organic results have value to the user when the user feels like digging, and for queries where the user's needs aren't as likely to be met by advertising.

@EditorialGuy - Are the limited options in the pack of 6/8/10 a waste of page real estate space, in your view, versus what you are saying adds value? If so, why do you suppose Google hangs on to the pack?
@Brett_Tabke - That actually proves my point that they use Raters to rate search results. aka: it *is* operated manually in many (how high?) cases. There is a growing body of consensus that a major portion of Googles current "algo" consists of thousands of raters that score results for ranking purposes. The "algorithm" by machine, on the majority of results seen by a high percentage of people, is almost non-existent.

Remember a few years ago when Google try to peddle, "Google news is machine generated". That was a complete fabrication. Humans wrote the code, told the code what sites to visit, told the code how to score results, and everything else there is to know about "Google news". eg: it's humans stupid - it is simply code carrying out criteria set by Google. [webmasterworld.com...] .

fyi - there is an EU probe as well covered by [webmasterworld.com...]

I wonder how the pressure being applied to Google will play out in the future of organic ecommerce. This is just the tip of the iceberg IMO

[edited by: aakk9999 at 9:47 am (utc) on Apr 3, 2015]
[edit reason] Fixed closing quote and merged subsequent message [/edit]

3:00 am on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Are the limited options in the pack of 6/8/10 a waste of page real estate space, in your view, versus what you are saying adds value? If so, why do you suppose Google hangs on to the pack?


The organic options aren't that limited: They continue beyond page 1 of the SERPs, after all. If a searcher isn't satisfied with the ads and the top 6/8/10 organic results, he or she can go to the next page.

As far as the EU complaint is concerned, one of the big beefs of Google's competitors--such as Foundem, a member of the "FairSearch" lobbying consortium--seems to be that their price-comparison ads aren't being included or being ranked high enough in Google's organic results. Google argues, quite rightly, that searchers don't want to see search results leading to search results [especially search results disguised as advertising, IMHO]. Maybe the only workable solution will be for Google to get out of the organic shopping results business altogether, replacing organic shopping results with paid ads.
3:29 am on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Maybe the only workable solution will be for Google to get out of the organic shopping results business altogether, replacing organic shopping results with paid ads.

Though I do well in the search engines, most of my new customers arrive at my website from other sources. If Google went closed tomorrow, I would still be in business and would be doing just fine.

In my view, Google is on a path to irrelevancy when it comes to products. Not only is adwords overpriced, but Google ignores their own rules regarding arbitrage. If Google were to only display paid ads, many of which are questionable or poorly targeted, it would push even more shoppers to other sources where I already have a strong presence at.

Many of the products in Google shopping are overpriced in what I would assume is a way for the merchants to recover what they are dishing out in over-priced ads. The bottom line is that Google provides a poor organic and paid platform for shopping. I'll gladly spend my money elsewhere and get higher quality traffic at a fraction of Google's inflated cost.
10:54 am on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In my view, Google is on a path to irrelevancy when it comes to products. 


See my first post in this thread.

when brick and mortar is cheaper and the service is better than online, then online will lose. It may take a while but the current course is headed backwards.

The biggest offering online had, that appealed to everyone, was pricing, then convenience. Lose that and online becomes just a product comparison venue, although that aspect is diminishing rapidly.

the internet is broken.

edit: for clarification, i have numerous first page rankings and continue to make good money off the net, so this is not sour grapes
2:57 pm on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The biggest offering online had, that appealed to everyone, was pricing, then convenience. Lose that and online becomes just a product comparison venue, although that aspect is diminishing rapidly.


Very true. Recently I needed a product immediately.

It was pointed out that Amazon had it and shipping was free if I wanted it in a week. I wanted in now or at least in a day. That shipping cost more than the product.

Got the same thing at Walmart same day for a gallon of gas.

It's a no brainer - brick & mortar - sometimes.
4:25 pm on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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when brick and mortar is cheaper and the service is better than online, then online will lose.


Depends on who how eager you are to hop in a car or on public transit when you need to buy something, and on how much time you're willing to spend browsing in a store and standing in line at the checkout.

Also, "when brick and mortar is cheaper and the service is better than online" sounds like a pipe dream, at least in the city where I live.
6:31 am on Apr 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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when brick and mortar is cheaper and the service is better than online, then online will lose. It may take a while but the current course is headed backwards.

The biggest offering online had, that appealed to everyone, was pricing, then convenience. Lose that and online becomes just a product comparison venue, although that aspect is diminishing rapidly.

@toidi - excellent points leading on from your post, but I think that depending on the segment and location you are in, the balance may move back and forth between online and bricks and mortar. For example, in a retail department store, I imagine some folks stand and check the prices of competitors online to justify their local purchase. On the other hand, enhanced online offerings and experiences can lure you into the store.

Services and some niche products may be a little different. Take travel, travel research, unique products not available locally, restaurants, products and services where the supply chain is way more efficient online ( cost, delivery, quality etc ). It looks like a battle either way. Just not sure how much of it needs to go via Google search though, and I take your points about personal success yet not being reliant on the SERP's.
12:55 pm on Apr 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Depends on who how eager you are to hop in a car or on public transit when you need to buy something, and on how much time you're willing to spend browsing in a store and standing in line at the checkout.


I don't see B2B going back to that in the foreseeable future.
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