Gary Price pointed out something new
to me on Google, the ability to filter product search results from merchants
using Google Checkout. But more important, Google’s promoting this new feature
right within its main search results. That move, along with just having dropped
map links to competitors and in the wake of last month’s tips fiasco, rings
alarm bells that Google’s not thinking clearly about the best way to balance
promoting its own products and the trust of users.
Here’s what you get at the top of results for a search for
sd cards 128mb:
Note, Jan 17: Ionut Alex notes he’s seen this happen back in November, so it might not be new but more widely showing now. I asked Google about it being new right after the story posted and haven’t heard back. I’d never seen it before nor found written references to it when I searched before posting.
Notice how that search generates a
OneBox display of product results from
Google’s Froogle shopping search engine.
Showing a OneBox is not new. Google’s done that for
ages. But see the line at the bottom of it:
See sd cards 128mb results available through Google Checkout
That is new. I see these showing up for any query that generates a shopping
OneBox. And frankly, it’s worrying.
First, there’s the issue of comprehensiveness. Click on that link, and you’ll
these 280 matches. Click on the regular link:
And you get
these 11,681 matches. What’s the advantage for me to have fewer matches?
There isn’t one, not if Google’s doing its job. I should be getting the most
comprehensive and relevant listings that it can provide, not a promotion
designed to up the usage of its Google Checkout service.
That leads to the second worrying point. This type of promotion is indeed
going to make more merchants feel like they should use Google Checkout and that
they are somehow going to be penalized if they don’t. And in fact, they now are.
Don’t use Google Checkout and you risk being left out of the results people get
if they click on that prominent link
with the Google Checkout icon.
Why does this promotion need to be in the main Google search results? What benefit is
it providing Google searchers? Wouldn’t it be better if Google were to instead
promote seeing results available from 4 star merchants or from one of those
organizations that works to certify the safety of online merchants. I see
nothing in that line that’s seriously designed to help the search experience. I
see only Google self-interest in doing it.
If narrowing results to Google Checkout merchants is so important, why don’t
I see an option for it on Froogle’s advanced search
page? Or an option right on the home page? I do get that option coming up
after I do a search on Froogle, something
added back in September. And I have less of a problem with it being there as
an option among many. But
shoving the option into Google’s main search results seems a step too far.
I didn’t have a problem with Google doing the entire tips thing last month,
as I wrote about,
because I felt those tips were outside the traditional search results area and
that Google is allowed to promote its own products. But it’s another thing
entirely to be doing that within the search results section that’s supposed to
This comes at the same time Google’s
dropped links to
competing map services that it has traditionally carried, another self-interest
move. On its own, that move doesn’t worry me so much. If Google has
its own maps program, it makes sense to be pointing people toward that, if it
honestly considers it best of breed.
However, a Google hallmark has been referring people to content beyond its own.
Now what’s next to be dropped, links to other financial services that you get
when doing a search on stock price like
goog? [Google sort of seems to say no]
Outcry over the tips issue got Google to
drop them. Clearly
it heard the concerns over trust and reacted. But clearly it also didn’t learn
anything from that. Google failed to have an official discussion or mention of
the concerns via its blog. Now we’ve got Google Checkout shoved at us
and map links dropped, both moves that someone should have realized would raise new
concerns about Google’s self interest.
If Google’s going to do more of this, the company would be wise to actually
communicate what it’s considering beforehand and gets some feedback from users. That’s
going to help it retain trust or at least some sense that it will listen to
Switch those comments on at the blog, tell us what you’re planning, and let
people weigh in. Even if you decide against the popular opinion, the decision
won’t have been made in a vacuum.
Postscript Barry: Danny wrote an entry that has more on this named Google Checkout Blogs On Recent Promotions.