Google reinventing itself: Implications for eCommerce?

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In the past few days, Google has made some interesting announcements, the most interesting of which in my opinion are real-time search and the personalised search results. I was wondering whether these changes have any implications on eCommerce and would like to share these thoughts here.

Let’s recapitulate: at the Google Search Event last Monday, the company has presented its new real-time search. In a box titled “Latest results”, new items appear in the search results as they become available – the SERPs are being updated in real-time. Partnerships with Twitter for instance make it possible to integrate the respective data. In the future, also services such as Facebook and MySpace will be included. Real-time search is only available in English locales at this stage, but will be accessible in many other languages in Q1 2010 according to the Q&A session. (Further information on Searchengineland)

Far more-reaching but yet almost unnoticed was Google’s announcement on Friday to personalise search results even if one is not signed into one’s Google account. A cookie that lives for 180 days makes sure that Google can track the users’ search behaviour and alter the SERPs accordingly. By default, users are opted in to make use of this feature, however Google also provides a way of opting out.

The interesting question now is, will these two changes affect the way in which companys organise their retail business online? You bet!

Let’s take the real-time search first: Imagine a potential customer using Google to find about a product or a manufacturer. If the term he is looking for is a popular one, the real-time box will appear and – even more – attract attention because it’s constantly updating. If the items in the latest results are not particularly favourable, the customer might search for something else. (In this regard, those following the IT-related news in Germany might remember the recent PR-desaster for Jack Wolfskin.) As a result, retailers need to watch their actions closely – somebody out there is bound to write something the PR-department would not approve of. There used to be ways of getting pages into the Google SERPs in order to push nasty items further down (= proactive online reputation management), but this has become disproportionately harder. (On a side note: these recent developments make Twitter much more interesting for spammers, and I’m really curious how Google’s webspam team will create filters based on 140 characters of information.)

What about personalised search? Since Google will adapt to the users’ behaviour and rank items higher that have been clicked more often, this will also affect online retailers. The key here is the “returning customer”: the more the respective webstore focuses on added value for returning customers, ie. updated content, interesting campaigns, the better it will benefit from Google’s latest move. Controlling, however, becomes much harder. In effect, the retailer might see different SERPs compared to those of his SEO agency compared to those of his customers.

At the end of the day, Google reinforces what it has been saying all along: Build good websites for people. If their content is good, retailers do not need to be afraid of real-time news-streams or personalised search results.

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