Is Google Related a bombshell for e-commerce?

Make no mistake about it Google’s new toolbar extension is intended to revolutionise how users browse the internet, and it has some quite significant implications at both the user level and company level. But let’s focus this post on the impact on business.

Google has spent years telling you to provide information for visitors, and not just to sell to them. Things like user reviews, multiple product images, installation guides etc; anything a customer needs to make a decision. Google Related could tear this apart.

Once a customer has that scent of a purchase, and you’ve got all of your awesome-selling-points (ASPs) pushing them to that final transaction, you do not want a Related pop-up telling them there’s another site out there selling it for less with the same ASPs. If I lose customers to a cheaper competitor who is benefitting from my website providing all the product information, what is that going to lead me to do?

Drop prices? Lose the revenue which allows me to invest into the very things that help me optimise my site this well? You’re looking at a drop in both website quality and user satisfaction. This directly ties in to the following problem of brand strength, and is a major concern if Related becomes popular.

Google Related’s impact on brand preferences

There is a quite-possible risk that Google Related will create a ’rich get richer‘ scenario in the ecommerce environment. Loosely speaking, most internet consumers prefer to buy from well known brands as they offer security, reliable service etc, i.e. the behemoths like Amazon. With free delivery, a comprehensive selection of nearly every product on the planet and secure card processing, it’s quite frankly an amazing company.

But its size is a drawback when you need information. Take my sector, printer cartridges. On my website you will find printer compatibility listings, capacity and page yield information, and an explanation of industry terms etc, all helping the customer with an important (but small) purchase.

On Amazon, product information is flawed, the user reviews are often completely unrelated to the products, and there is no capacity information and limited compatibility listings. But Amazon is cheaper, with economies-of-scale I can only dream of.

At present, a customer has to actively leave my site and find Amazon manually to shop with them instead, and that’s an innate brand preference no amount of web design can get past.

But if you don’t have this brand preference, and you’re in my store with all of the product specific information we have available, and then a toolbar pops up saying, “this exact item is cheaper at Amazon”, what reasonable consumer would not take that step? I know I would.

The strong-brands will be able to monopolise price-conscious consumers merely by having a product page related to the same product as mine. With their ability to cross-sell any related items the customer may need, the niche retailers will really suffer.

Google Related’s impact on local listings

If Google Related rolls out over mobile search, Local Listings competition will go through the roof. Once you get the click from local results, you still have an awful lot of work to do to convert that customer.

The customer will be one click away from both the location and contact details of all your competitors. On a user sense this is terrific, but getting those customers to your door just got much harder.

Google Related’s impact on Google

Google Related is going to draw a huge amount of attention to the results Google provides. Moving on from the traditional results you get from searching on Google, you now get results on Related pages. Any nonsense suggestions or bias to certain brands is going to be heavily investigated, not to mention the issue of spam which is so prevalent in certain industries.

A quick look at nearly any search results page shows you websites that simply should not be there, and if these start being pulled into Related then an awful lot of damage could be done to the user’s experience.

Additionally, you mustn’t ignore the benefit Google will receive from the boost in user data this will provide. Its search engine specialists will literally have a mountain of user-data gold. Data such as:

  • Clickstream data – what websites people typically click off to after a suggestion from Related
  • User data and query satisfaction – where do customers finally convert after an initial search engine query.

These are just two of the data points that will be invaluable pointers for Google to implement into their ranking algorithms.

Google Related is a potential game changer

Ultimately, Google Related is a massive statement by Google in how it sees use of the internet evolving. Personally, I think customers should be encouraged to re-visit search engines, and to broaden their ability to research and analyse results themselves, instead of being spoon-fed Related websites.

It may be a little more effort, but I think overall you’ll feel much better about your internet experience, instead of being tunnelled down a route laid by Google, constructed from what others have done.

Matthew Bird is the product researcher for Stinky Ink, an online superstore for printer consumables. He graduated in business finance from Durham University, is a member of Mensa and the author of numerous articles on several small business Web sites. Matt mixes a keen interest in technology and business operations with sporting and club commitments outside work.

  • If someone’s likely to buy from Amazon, they may be looking at your site purely to get information anyway. The main barrier to Google related is having to install yet another browser plugin – I can see how if you sell something that others might sell more cheaply it might be a minor problem but for my site, I’m seeing links to tutorial videos etc which is fine.