MSN, Yahoo or Google?
Back in 2004, Jakob Nielsen expressed concern that Search Engines were becoming Answer Engines. As a Pew Internet Report at the time confirmed, Internet users are very happy with their experiences searching the Internet, but many are naïve about how they search and the results they find. Nielsen was concerned that people would merely use the output from the search engines and not go back to the original sources of information.
Search Engines Or Selling Engines?
As we enter 2008, the world has moved on from the picture that Nielsen was seeing. You might almost feel that Search Engines have evolved to become Selling Engines. No longer does a search engine provide the most relevant information about products. By a series of small and not so small changes, the search engines have almost become like storefronts. The information provided to you will present the products on which they make money first in what they display.
If you doubt that, just check out the results you get if you are looking for say the Nokia 6131 cell phone. A search with MSN (or Live as they sometimes label it) shows the following:
First you have three sponsored ads. Then you see the results from MSN Shopping. Any other results are almost pushed off the bottom of the screen.
Yahoo! and Google have very similar layouts of information, but they are a little more subtle about it. The Yahoo! display looks like this:
Apart from the light blue color behind the first two items, you might almost think that all four items are responses to the search query. This effect has been heightened by Yahoo’s recent decision to no longer number the entries in its keyword search reports. As you might expect, the first two entries are sponsored ads. The third entry is a link to Yahoo! shopping. Only when you get to the fourth item are you getting outside of the Yahoo! space.
The Google display adopts a middle position between the MSN and Yahoo! versions.
In this case Google is showing two sponsored ads, which may or may not include the phone we are searching for. We then have a series of links to products in the Google Products Index. If this isn’t enough to entice you, they even give a link to products listed with Google Checkout. It’s only after you’ve passed through all of this Google (selling) space, that you can get to links from outsiders.
Searching or Shopping
If you were searching for information on the Nokia 6131 cell phone, you might be somewhat put out that these search engines are trying to sell you so hard. However some people like to shop. If you want to shop with Yahoo!, then shopping.yahoo.com shows you all that the Yahoo! store has to offer.
Equally if you want to shop with MSN, then shopping.msn.com brings you into the MSN store.
You can go shopping with Google at shopping.google.com, but surprisingly it still looks like a product search engine rather than a store.
It probably is only a matter of time before Google decides it should have a pleasing store front like the others. After all, if your mission is to sell products then you should do it the best way you can.
The Bottom Line for Suppliers
If you are trying to sell products on the Internet, what does this change mean for you. Search engines are widely used by prospects as they check out what is available. If the search engines are now behaving like storefronts, then you may need to pay their fees to get exposure on their “shelves”. It just means that organic or natural SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is now an even greater challenge than it ever was.
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