Google is making some bold moves to bring structured data into the mainstream search box. And in the process, it appears to be running over the top of microformats, the Web community's open standards for structured data. Not to mention the challenge this will ultimately represent to eBay.
According to a PC Advisor report, Google plans to extend the product search capabilities on its main Google.com search engine in the fourth quarter. The main change is in product search, where Google Base will be brought to the fore. When a product search is done on Google.com, users will be presented with another search box to refine their query (like an 'advanced search'). After the user refines their query, Google takes them to a second page populated with product results from the Google Base listings service - i.e. from structured product data. This is already happening with real estate queries, but will be expanded into other product types.
"Ranking will be determined by the attributes that the sellers listed for the product as well as by relevancy," according to analysts at the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA) Summit in San Francisco this week (where the news broke).
Google has no plans to monetise this product-search capability with display ads or listing fees - but that could change.
Beyond Froogle: shopping in the search box
Danny Sullivan thinks Google will still need a standalone shopping search brand.The plan also involves de-emphasizing Froogle as a destination website and moving its comparison-shopping capabilities to Google.com, because most product searches happen on Google.com. Although
PC Advisor summarized:
"From the beginning, Google said that Base isn't meant as a destination website, 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."
Google Base as a database of structured data has had the potential to be disruptive to Google search ever since it was released. If what was reported from the eBay conference is on the mark, then this will be a significant upgrade to Google Search (or perhaps enhancement is the better term).
Like Steve Rubel, I wonder if this is putting Google on a collision course with eBay. But then I never underestimate the power of a centralized and focused community like eBay (as edgeio is finding out).
Implications for marketers
Fergus Burns of Nooked and John Battelle have both discussed Google Base recently. From the Nooked blog:
"To push the envelope out a bit, people should pay attention to what Google are up to.
“Through that integration, the overall Google experience will become much more structured, much more refined, and much more precise. It’s a real improvement in end-user quality.”
As Fergus summarized, marketers will need to offer feeds on a per product/brand/category basis and support additional attributes from google base and microformats.
Where to for microformats?
The big question in all this is how microformats (the industry standard for structured data) will play alongside Google Base structured data. Right now it seems like Google is going its own route, so where does that leave microformats?