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Google Commerce Continues to Ramp Up for Holiday Shopping

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the past month (even the past week!), Google has made lots of Commerce related updates/announcement that retailers might have missed, so I thought I’d sum them up really quickly.

1.  Google Merchant Center (GMC) updated its data feed specifications, significantly cutting the list of attributes.  As far as SingleFeed knows, all attributes which were formerly listed are still supported, but Google Product Search might not be highlighting those attributes for refinement purposes.

2.  Google Checkout is accepting holiday promotions!  While Geckout is no longer footing the bill for these types of promotions, this is still a great opportunity for merchants.  From the blog post: “Last holiday season, merchants who ran a Checkout promotion increased their Google Checkout sales by an average of 209%, compared to a 25% increase for merchants who did not participate.”  Merchants who set up a holiday promotion will benefit from a special badge and what sounds like a ton of promotion from Google: Google will market the promotion through AdWords ads, emails to buyers, and social networking posts…Social Networking Posts???

If you participate, we’ll change your standard Google Checkout button on your website to the special promotional Checkout button that features an orange starburst labeled with the promotion discount. When the minimum cart requirement is met, the discount will automatically appear for buyers when they shop with Google Checkout from November 23, 2010 at 4:00 PM Pacific to December 16, 2010, at 4:00 PM Pacific.

Additionally, if you are an AdWords advertiser, Google will change the standard Checkout badge appearing on your Google.com AdWords ads to a new badge that features the promotion discount. These badges have been introduced to enable shoppers who search on Google.com to easily identify and take advantage of promotional offers.

3.  Data Feeds now influence your SEO listings.  While I’ve talked for years about the opportunity to mine your data feed for keywords for SEO and PPC, Google one upped me by putting the GMC feed content in organic results.  This is the Rich Snippets program (microformats).  For you non-webmasters, I’m not talking about the OneBox listings, I’m talking about rich product information within merchant organic listings. Check out the highlighted sections below for Amazon, HSN, and Williams-Sonoma rich snippet info garnered from the data feed.

Merchants can take advantage of this as follows: 1) providing a data feed and specifying rel=canonical (merchants need a lot more info on rel=canonical…way too many unanswered questions) on product pages, 2) providing markup to your site, and 3) through the Product Reviews program.  Read the Rich Snippets for Shopping blog post to find out more.

4.  Google Boost – Advertise your local business in San Francisco, Houston, and Chicago.  Local store information (location, hours, coupons, etc.) is going to become more and more critical as Google continues to help offline merchants make more money through local and mobile applications.  Assuming you’ve claimed your free Google Places listings (for any city – this is a must), it’s now time to test advertising through Boost.

Boost enables business owners to easily create online search ads from directly within their Google Places account. No ongoing management is needed after the initial set up, and this beta is currently available to select local businesses in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago.

And with Google’s recent Android updates for Maps, this local information will be even more critical for the holidays.

5.  Product Ads.  In case you feel behind the ball in understanding Product Ads, don’t worry, there are more changes.  Google has hardened up its Product Ads attributes for the GMC data feed (stop using that prefer_for_query attribute!).  And Google is giving merchants more control of Product Ads through GMC (no data feed changes required).

Google To Launch Deals Site?

August 6, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been pushing the shopping engines, including Google Shopping, to talk about deals for years.  The economy stinks and shopping engines can easily push bargains and savings.  And many have done so.  Yahoo! Shopping did this really early on.  Become, Pronto, PriceGrabber, and the rest followed.  But Google is still a holdout in that they don’t allow a merchant to submit a Sale Price in addition to a Regular Price, and thus allow a consumer to see a 10% off, 20% off, or 25% off sticker/star.

Deals.  You hear about a hot new daily deal site every day. It’s hard to keep track.  I used DailyCandy back in the day…and today the company launched DailyCandy Stylish alerts for Android (only for NYC).  I’ve used Woot off and on for years…and now that it’s an Amazon company, expect to see Woot leverage Amazon’s relationship with millions of sellers (and buyers, of course).  Twitter is experimenting with @earlybird. Groupon and the hundreds (is it thousands?) of clones around the country and around the world are the darlings of the media and the talk of the town.  And for a good reason.  Groupon is an incredible business making a boatload of money.

Deals.  Everyone wants them.  Online or offline, we want deals, steals, free shipping, bargains, and more.  Check out Google Trends for Daily Deals or Coupons.  Just as Amazon will move into a category that’s performing well, Google will look at what people are searching for and make sure they can provide the right answer and monetize the result.  Why do you think they’re gearing up for games? The growth of Facebook gaming sites like playdom and zynga is incredible.  Google sees this and makes a move or 2.

If Google’s goal is to organize the worlds information, they’re kinda letting us all down on deals.  Sure, I can search for ‘deals’ on Google, but I get 1000s of so-so coupon sites that Google has already dinged on Google AdWords for basically being duplicate content.  And there’s no specific deal information for the 20M uniques who use Google Shopping each month.  It’s only a matter of time until Google gets into the game itself.  Just as they’ve entered shopping or health or finance or travel, Google will jump on the bandwagon and offer a deals site…maybe they’ll buy one as well, but I’m sure they can easily do it themselves.  Google already has relationships with 100s of 1000s of online and offline business.  I’m going to table the discussion of Google launching a Groupon clone for now and just concentrate on an online daily deal site like a Woot, but on sterioids.

Google Merchant Center recently introduce the Featured Product attribute.  The Google Merchant Center Featured Product Attribute is “Used to indicate that this item is a special, featured product; for instances, items on promotion or featured in a sale or circular,” according to Google.

I estimate that there are about 60K-90K active merchants submitting data feeds to Google Merchant Center (Google doesn’t publish this number, so this is a guestimation).  Imagine if Google starts tapping into this merchant base for deals, or as they call them, featured products.   They’ll have to start classifying these Featured Products better – sale, coupon available, rebate available, in-store special, etc. – but it’s easy to see an extremely powerful deal site start to develop without much work on Google’s part.  Merchants are already providing Google Merchant Center with a lot of structured data (UPCs, titles, descriptions, images, prices, etc.) that most daily deal sites or coupon sites would kill to have or currently beg to have through the affiliate networks  like CJ and Linkshare (super-affiliates need to work with data feeds from merchants as opposed to banners, buttons, and basic links).  Google Shopping already has all this data.  Just as they’ve started to publish merchant offers and take a cut of the transaction through Product Listing Ads, they can do the same for deals.

Google Deals.  Has a nice ring to it.

But for Google, especially with commerce related activites, it’s not about a new property, it’s about leveraging structured data to enhance Search, AdWords,  Mobile, Checkout, etc.  So expect featured products to show up on Google Deals, but also on Google Shopping, attached to Google AdWords ads, and sprinkled everywhere else.   If I worked at Google, I’d start pusing Google Deals OneBox results for searches like ‘Xbox coupon’ or ‘digital camera deal’ just in time for the holiday shopping season.

The Many Forms of Google OneBox Shopping Results

Back in 2006, I wrote about Google OneBox results as part of a 4 part series that also looked at Yahoo! Shortcuts, Ask Smart Answers, and Microsoft’s Instant Answers.  Google’s OneBox results as they pertain to shopping search have mushroomed over the years and Google currently has a number of OneBox shopping results.  Here are the most common:

Basic 5-Pack:

The 5-Pack Normalized (multiple stores selling the same product):

The 5-Pack Normalized with Ratings:

Basic 3-Pack:

The 3-Pack Normalized (multiple stores selling the same product):

The 3-Pack Normalized with Ratings:

And the rare 4-Pack Normalized with Reviews

These OneBox shopping results are all obviously variations on a theme.  A OneBox result starts with a picture, title, and price, but can be supplemented with normalized listings and reviews.

The most common question I get is how a merchant gets listed in Google’s OneBox shopping results.  The easy answer is that the merchant has to submit a high quality data feed to Google Merchant Center.  What is a high quality data feed?  It starts with meeting Google Merchant Center’s basic data feed requirements, but the merchant has to go much further, improving the quality of the data and adding more relevant data to the data feed.  Think of it this way, if you submit the basic minimum data feed requirements to Google Merchant Center, you’re probably in the 50th percentile in terms of the quality of the data feed.  To move up to the 60th, 70th, or even 90th percentile, you have to add recommended attributes, optional attributes, custom attributes and improve the quality of the values of each attribute.  You also need to pay attention to settings like Tax and Shipping, you have to submit bigger, higher quality images, and you have to submit fresh product data whenever there are changes in your data feed.

And in general, a merchant has to take data feed optimization (DFO) just as seriously as they would SEO.  If you’re interested in improving the quality of your data feed, check out LoveYourFeed and start running tests on the amount of data you’re submitting and the quality of that data.

Google Product Extension Ads Tests

As the Rimm Kaufman Group (RKG) pointed out a while back, when Google displayed Extension Ads at the top of the page (above organic listings), Google usually used the advertiser name next to the plus box.  When the Extension Ad was on the side of the page, Google usually referred to the advertiser as just an advertiser.

From the RKG blog:

When the keyword has a lower click volume, then the keyword can move to the right panel and the message will change to “Show products from this advertiser”.  While that data is difficult to tease out on a query by query basis, we are generalizing that lower click volume keywords are often appearing on the right panel, as compared to those analyzed in the “top 50” group defined above.

For the first time I’m seeing Google refer to the advertiser as the site/brand name on the side bar.  In the image below, you’ll see that Target gets their name and ACityDiscount.com gets plain old ‘advertiser’ next to the plus box.

Stephanie Tilenius’ Keynote at Internet Retailer – Google Commerce is about Mobile, Social, Personalization and Local

June 10, 2010 3 comments

Here are my notes on Stephanie Tilenius’ second public speaking event as VP of eCommerce at Google titled Betting on Disruption.  Over 30 minutes, Stephanie shared pretty commonly known information, but in a much more clear 10K foot view than we’ve previously heard from Google.  As with all live blogging, some of the information that follows is paraphrased.

There are 4 key areas that are important to Google’s eCommerce initiatives: Mobile, Social, Personalization, and Local.  These are trends that will change commerce in powerful ways.

Mobile phone adoption is growing at fast pace.  4.6 billion people have mobile phones.  Today 1 in 5 people in the US have a smart phone.  Last year it was 1 in 10 people.   Android is now growing faster than iPhone platform.  Half of all internet connections are from mobile devices.  Consumers are accessing websites through mobile devices.  We believe that the mobile web is going to be bigger than the PC web.  The mobile web is accelerating 8x faster than PC web.

What are people doing with their phones?  Searching (has grown 5x in last 2yrs) and Shopping.

Shopping.  Half of consumers this past holiday shopping season said they used their phones for shopping – to research products of find coupons.  Google has seen a 30x growth in mobile shopping queries.  Mobile internet usage is elevated during the weekends (and there’s a correlated drop in PC based internet usage).  Look at Japan, during commute time and lunch time, mobile usage increases (with correlated drop in PC based internet usage).  Google is betting on mobile first.  It will be bigger than the PC web.

Google Goggles.  Allows you to scan products.  Translates a picture of a book cover or barcode into a query on the web. We’re getting better at soft goods (shoes for example). You can take a picture of something you want, walk down the street, and be able to find it in a store.

Social. We see a rise of social sites.  1 out of every 6 minutes online is social.  1 out of every X (might have been 20, but I’m not sure) tweets is about products.

Personalization. Mentioned and showed the SuperBowl ad called Parisian Love.  We enabled consumers to create their own ads.  We had 100K videos within 2 weeks.  Highlighted Polyvore, which features user generated content (UGC), basically enabling consumers to create their own designs and have others buy them.  Empowering users to drive commerce is a big trend.

Local. You can get info on a local provider in search, mobile, or on the PC.  1 in 5 desktop searches are local.  1 in 3 mobile searches are local.  Near Me Now button just released.  Shows everything around you.  80% of people using Near Me Now are undecided about what they want to do.

What about these trends?  What does it mean for you?  Three pieces of advice: Be Found, Make Your Ads Useful, and Create a Seamless Shopping Experience Online and Offline.

Be found

Ad for Denny’s during SuperBowl highlighted the need to be in search as viewers searched for Denny’s because of the TV ad.  You need to be in search.  Stephanie showed the Google Shopping product page that has developed over the last year to include nearby stores, video reviews, tech specs, prices, etc.  We’re taking product feeds and putting the information out there.  Discussed the partnership with BazaarVoice.  Best Buy and Sony Style are some early adopters.  Talked about mobile shopping with local availability, the Blue Dots, which highlights inventory that’s available right now in the store.  Best Buy, Williams Sonoma, and Sears are 3 of over a dozen retailers participating.

Make your ads useful

We’ve improve the format for text ads.  What should we do for commercial information?  We’ve added 5 or 6 different formats:

-Site links (merchant decides what to promote, what links to display).  S

-Store locator

-Product listings (ads) – We’ve taken the product feed and put the information (price, picture, title) right in the ad.  Using the feed the merchant has already sent us.

-Product extension ads – We let the merchants decide which products to promote, how to run campaigns.

-Click to call ads

Across all these ad formats, we’ve see an increase of 10-30% CTR.

-Remarketing. Showed IHG (Intercontinental Hotels) example.  Retargeting enables retailers to target promos to consumers who have left their site.

Create a seamless shopping experience – offline and online.  93% of sales is still in the stores.  We launched a product called Google Shopper.  We have over 700K downloads.  We’re encouraging you to think about blending offline and online.

Data on how this is all coming together:

-Macys: every $1 online drives $6 in stores within 10 days

-Best Buy: 80% of customers who come in the door went online to bestbuy.com first

Notion is that today’s retail experience will get richer and richer.  Html5 and mobile web – you need to innovate.  It’s time for websites and mobile commerce to start innovating.  87% of consumers search before they buy.

Google Product Extensions Explained

June 2, 2010 1 comment

In November of 2009, Google made Product Extensions available to all US merchants.

…product extensions are a way for you to enrich your existing AdWords ads with more relevant and specific information. Product extensions allow you to use your existing Google Merchant Center account to highlight your products directly in your search ads. When your AdWords text ad appears, and your Google Merchant Center account contains products that are relevant to the searcher’s query, product extensions show the images, titles, and prices of your products in a plusbox under your ad.

There are two formats for Product Extensions, depending on the placement

Format 1: Top placement.  See it in action.

Format 2: Side placement.  See it in action.

This is a great opportunity for all merchants and Google as data  from Google and Rimm Kaufman Group has shown that Product Extensions increase click through rate (CTR).  With this new ad format, Google gets more clicks, which makes them more money, and the merchant gets more click throughs, which means more sales (assuming on site conversion remains constant – and no one has said anything to the contrary).

Product Extensions is an AdWords product which means that merchants are charged on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis, as they would be for their normal AdWords ad.  A merchant is only charged when a searcher clicks through on a listing, not when a searcher clicks the + or – sign.

To get started with Product Extension ads, a merchants need to connect their AdWords and Google Merchant Center accounts.  This is done within Google Merchant Center.  Just click on Settings > AdWords and enter your AdWords Customer ID:

It might take 24hrs for the hookup to take effect.

What most merchants don’t realize, though, is that there are important ways to control and target the Extension ads

What’s more, product extensions give you the option to prefer which products are displayed when a user’s query triggers your ads. For example, you may sell dozens of laptop computers but you want to promote the newest or best selling inventory using product extensions when a user searches for ‘laptop computer’ on Google.com. By making a simple addition to your Merchant Center account, you can easily control the products that display for certain queries. Of course, you can always use automatic targeting, and let AdWords determine the most relevant products in your account to a user’s query.

This targeting takes place by adding attributes to the Google Merchant Center data feed.  We strongly encourage you to read the directions here.  Here are the accepted attributes:

-adwords_queryparam

-adwords_prefer_for_query

-adwords_redirect

The adwords_prefer_for_query is especially powerful as it allows a merchant to target the exact offer for a specific query.

Product Extensions, like Product Listing Ads, are part of Google’s Ad Formats initiative (video or text).

Google Product Listing Ads Explained

June 1, 2010 2 comments

Google Product Listings AdIn November of 2009, Google started testing a new ad format called Google Product Lising Ads.  I will refer to the ad format as Product Listing Ads or just Product Listings.  While Product Listings was announced on the Google AdWords blog and is called a new feature of Adwords in this Google Ad Innovations video, it’s easier to consider this a Google Affiliate Network product as the merchant pays on a Cost Per Acquisition/Action (CPA) basis.

Regardless of which unit within Google owns this product at this point, here are the important details:

•Google Product Listing Ads work on CPA basis
•Google decides when to show, what to show, etc.
•The ads are powered by a Google Merchant Center data feed
Here’s what is going on.  Google has been cleaning up affiliate AdWords ads for a long time, cutting down on the riff-raff in the affiliate space that arguably doesn’t add a lot of value and imposing restrictions on affiliates who have the same top level domain as other advertisers.  However, Google knows that affiliate listings can be extremely valuable.  And with Product Listings, Google is becoming the affiliate of the merchant (the publisher, in affiliate speak) and displaying advertiser listing when and where it wants.
Google has the infrastrucutre to charge on a CPA basis (because of the Google Affiliate Network) and it has the data from the merchant (because of the Google Merchant Center data feed – yes, another example of the power of the data feed!) to display whatever types of listings can drive the most value.

Stephanie Tilenius, VP Google eCommerce Speaking at Internet Retailer

June 1, 2010 2 comments

Update: Read my blog post on Stephanie Tilenius’ keynote at Internet Retailer.

Even though Google has been active in ecommerce for about 8 years, Stephanie Tilenius will give an address at Internet Retailer entitled Google enters the commerce arena.  Maybe that means that Google Product Search is finally ready to come out of Beta!  ;)

Stephanie Tilenius joined Google as VP of eCommerce joined Google from eBay back in February.   According to this NYTimes article, and in typical Google fashion, Google said little about her exact role.

This will be Stephanie’s second official talk as VP of eCommerce for Google.  Last month Stephanie gave a presentation at ChannelAdvisor’s Catalyst conference.

Froogle

According to this SearchEngineWatch.com article by Chris Sherman, Google launched Froogle as a free shopping engine back in December of 2002.

Froogle is organized as a directory, with 15 different product categories.  These categories include Apparel & Accessories, Arts & Entertainment, Auto & Vehicles, Baby, Books, Music & Video, Computers, Electronics, Flowers, Food & Gourmet, Health & Personal Care, Home & Garden, Office, Sports & Outdoors and Toys & Games.

“Froogle shines particularly well with some of the more esoteric queries,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, Google Vice President of Product Management. This is because Google has tried to build a one of the most extensive product search tools available on the web, going for both breadth and depth of coverage.

Results are determined by an algorithm that’s similar to Google’s PageRank method used for determining ordinary web search results.  There’s no paid inclusion or any other way for merchants to influence the way their products are presented in results, says Rosenberg.

“Data in Froogle comes from two sources,” said Rosenberg. “Merchant feeds, and the rest is a crawl of web pages that identifies product offers.”

Froogle was an early ecommerce move for Google, working with merchants like Overstock to understand retail.  Froogle really didn’t take off like many of Google’s services.   Many reporters therefore called Froogle a failure.  I wouldn’t call Froogle a failure, I’d call Froogle a test.  A really slow, long test.  As far as I know, this was the first time Google took in data feeds from merchants for any purpose.  That’s a big change.

So why didn’t Froogle ‘take off’ as some would expect?  The main rumor I heard throughout the years was that one of the two Google founders liked the idea of Froogle while the other founder didn’t.  Without unanimous support, there wasn’t really a serious effort to improve the service.

I interviewed a PR rep about Froogle in September 2005.  They were definitely very closed way back when.

But by the holiday shopping season of 2005, while reporters were still not sold on Froogle, the shopping site was starting to drive traffic for merchants.  As one merchant commented on ComparisonEngines in January 2006:

I work for a large online consumer electronics retailer. If our experience this holiday season is typical, then your recommendation to focus on other Shopping Engines over Froogle is SUICIDE!

Shopping engines raised their price by 67% over the last year. They are driving significantly more traffic, but the quality of their traffic is SIGNIFICANTLY worse.

In fact, our shopping engine conversion rate was down by 35% and the average order is almost $40 lower than last year. So our costs doubled and sales declined!

Compare this to Froogle, where traffic was up 40%, conversion was up 10% and sales were up 55%.

And the great thing was that Froogle was free, a complete departure from the other shopping engines on the web.  I was starting to see the light…along with many other merchants on the web.

Froogle was both the way to submit products as well as the shopping engine.  In November 2005, Google launched Google Base to accept data feeds which would be used to power Froogle (as well as other types of vertical searches on Google Base). If you’re getting confused, you’re not alone.  Everyone was confused.  You can read Google’s first newsletter to merchants about Google Base over at ComparisonEngines.com.

While the name of the official submission method changed, what’s more important is that Google started to change the way merchants thought about their data.  They started to talk a lot about attributes.  And what’s really cool is that Google started to allow some flexibility of attributes, basically admitting that it didn’t know everything about every product.  The merchant was the expert.  None of the established shopping engines (NexTag, Shopping.com, PriceGrabber, etc.) allowed for this type of data feed customization.

We’ve also expanded our product feed format to include some new standard fields (now called attributes). You can specify everything from quantity and unit price to accepted forms of payment and even define your own attributes. If you have product information that doesn’t fit into one of our defined attributes.

I was critical of Froogle and Google Base back in December of 2005, writing a series of posts: Froogle Spam, Froogle Leftover Spam, and Cleaning up Froogle – One Post at a Time.  But Froogle kept moving in the right direction.

In 2007, Google ditched the name Froogle and replaced it with Google Product Search.  Google was getting smarter about branding.   While Froogle was a cute name, Google Product Search aligned the shopping site’s name with many other Google services.  And it was around this time that Google started to commit resources to further developing its shopping site.

Googlezon to Google Merchant Center

May 31, 2010 2 comments

Whenever analysts ask me about Google’s commerce ambitions, I tell them to watch Epic 2014 or 2015.  Not all of Epic’s predictions have panned out and many aren’t applicable to ecommerce, but it’s a thought provoking starting point for this blog.

Go ahead, click on the pic below.  You might have seen the video before, but it’s an important 8min reminder of Google’s potential in many areas.

Googlezon from Epic 2014

Googlezon as imagined in Epic 2014

Epic 2015′s focus isn’t commerce, but 4:36 into the video, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson imagine the creation of Googlezon:

Google and Amazon join forces forming Googlezon.  Google supplies the Google Grid and unparralleled search technology.  Amazon supplies the social recommendation engine and its huge commercial infrastructure.  Together they use their detailed knowledge of every user’s social network, demographics, buying habits, and reading interests to provide total customization of content and advertising.

What Robin and Matt didn’t imagine is that Google itself would create its own commercial infrastructure, Googe Checkout.  In June of 2006, Google Checkout launched in the US.  This provides Google with all it needs to provide an end to end commerce experience imagined in Epic 2015.  Google has the search technology, social recommendation engine (think Google Product Reviews program), commercial infrastructure (think Google App Engine and Google Checkout), and detailed knowledge of every user’s social network (think Facebook Connect), demographics (think Google Analytics), and buying habits (think Google Checkout).

The key is tying all of these pieces together to provide “total customization of content and advertising.”  You can see Google starting to do this with Google Merchant Center and the Google Merchant Center data feed.  While not the lynchpin of Google’s commerce efforts, the Google Merchant Center data feed is damn close.

The Google Merchant Center data feed powers Google Shopping (aka Google Product Search), Extension Ads (a Google AdWords product), Google Product Ads (a Google Affiliate Network product), Google Commerce Search, Google Mobile Shopping (Blue dots!), and it’s easy to make the leap to believe that the Google Merchant Center data feed will also power Google Places, Google’s updated version of Local Business Center (it is now powered by a separate Business Feed).  I  joked early on that SingleFeed’s tag line should be ‘One Feed to Rule them All’ and it seems it would be an equally appropriate tag line for Google Merchant Center.  With GMC’s (yes, it’s time for an acronym) hooks into other Google produts, you can start to picture of all the ways Google could power or enable commerce for merchants.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain all of these pieces in more detail and give plenty of examples.  That is in fact the point of this blog!

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