June 6, 2008, 12:00 AM

Google adds merchandising features to its site search tool

Retailers can specify which products appear first in a site search and which related products are displayed. The updated Google product also permits users to refine searches by parameters the retailer sets, such as price, brand or style.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

Retailers can specify which products appear first in a site search and which related products should be displayed. The updated Google product also permits users to refine searches by parameters the retailer sets, such as price, brand or style. And it costs as little as $100 per year.

Google has given a new name to its site search tool and added features that give online retailers greater control over which products appear when customers search. What has not changed is the low price-the service starts at just $100 per year.

The search engine powerhouse called the service Google Custom Search Business Edition when it introduced it a year ago, a name that “didn’t resonate with the market,” concedes Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for enterprise search at Google. The new name is more to the point: Google Site Search.

But the more important changes, Mangtani says, are the features that give web site operators more control over search results. Whereas before the service would return the results in the same way that Google would in its search engine, now an online retailer or other site operator can choose which products appear and in what order. “If I’m selling cameras from Canon, Sony and HP, I can say I want to show results first from the Canon catalogue,” Mangtani says.

The retailer also can specify the order in which products appear, making it possible to promote high-margin items or best sellers. It can also provide Google with a dictionary of synonyms to take into account the misspellings and variety of terms consumers might use in common searches. For instance, a retailer might want Blu-ray DVD players displayed when a visitor types in “blue ray.”

E-retailers also can offer ways for visitors to refine a search, such as by price, brand or style. And it can ensure that Google will include in its site search results pages that the search engine would not normally index. To do this, the site operator must transmit a site map so that Google can find the additional pages.

Google Site Search is an on-demand product that Google hosts, which reduces the IT burden on retailers that use it. And Google is still charging only $100 per year for sites with up to 5,000 pages. The price increases with the number of pages indexed, reaching $2,250 annually for a site with 300,000 pages. Thousands of web sites use the Google service, Mangtani says, but he would not provide a more exact figure.

When Google introduced its site search product last year e-commerce experts largely dismissed it as lacking the kind of sophisticated merchandising tools that vendors like Mercado and Endeca Technologies provide, which enable online retailers to display search results based on a wide variety of rules and customer behaviors. While still not as advanced as those products, Google Site Search “gives an online retailer a way to control a little more the search experience customers have,” says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of technology consulting firm Nucleus Research.

“For folks that may not be prepared to make the investment for an Endeca this is a cost-effective option,” Wettemann says. “And we’ll see Google continue to evolve to more of the sophisticated functionality and control that folks like Endeca have.”

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