Become.com, a shopping research site, has added integrated comparison shopping and several additional features designed to simplify and expedite your online shopping experience.
Become.com launched in April 2005 with an index of more than 3.2 billion pages of shopping related information from more than 40 million web sites. Unlike many other shopping search services that rely on feeds and sponsored listings, Become.com is uses crawler-based technology designed to focus exclusively on shopping related information, such as buying guides, reviews, forums, articles and so on.
The key difference between Become.com and most other shopping search services is the ability to research products using Become.com's web search index, gather useful information and then seamlessly switch to a comparison shopping tool. Most other shopping search services focus primarily on the comparison aspect of shopping, offering a limited set of reviews or other product information.
In practice, this means that most people use several search tools for shopping. You might start your search by reading a review on a shopping search engine, then switch over to a general-purpose search engine to gather more information, and then finally use a comparison shopping search engine to find the merchant that appeals to you. Become.com aims to simplify that process by allowing you to complete all of the research and comparison tasks involved with shopping on a single site.
"What we're delivering is integrated search and comparison shopping to make it very easy for people to get information and compare prices," said Michael Yang, Become.com's CEO and founder.
It's easy to either research or comparison shop—simply click the "research" or "shop" button next to the search form. Research results look like standard web search results, with sponsored listings appearing as images to the right. Each sponsored result has a link to either research the product or click through to the merchant advertising the product—a nice touch.
Shop results feature images of products and a short description, with links to retailers selling the product and a research link to dive deeper into getting information about the specific product. You can also add products to a list of "my favorites," which are saved as images of a product, if its available. This makes it easy to do visual comparisons. You can also use my favorites to see if different products complement one another—a pair of pants and a shirt, for example.
Other new features include shopping-related news headlines and a dynamic search term suggestion tool. News headlines are drawn from a variety of sources, and are analyzed for shopping related content. Typically you'll see such things as new product announcements or special offers related to your search terms. But the news headlines can also include things like product recall notices—helpful, up-to-date information that might have a significant influence on your purchasing decision.
The dynamic suggestion tool is similar to the Google suggest tool and the dynamic search term suggestion tool offered by Snap. As you type, search terms matching the letters you've entered are displayed, allowing you to easily narrow your query to a very specific product. For example, type "canon eos" and the drop-down menu beneath your query will include suggestions for a number of different models, including "canon eos digital rebel," "canon eos 350d" and so on.
Also new is a product-focus spelling correction feature, which can be really helpful when you're searching for information on a creatively-spelled brand.
I've played around with the new version of Become.com enough to find it really useful—moreso, at least on initial impressions, than shopping search services that focus more heavily on comparison shopping features than product information, reviews and other information. It's worth giving a try, particularly if you're just starting to shop for a product and are looking for both information as well as good deals.
Getting Listed on Become.com
Because Become.com offers users both crawler-based search results and product listings from feeds, it's an attractive source for gaining more traffic for most merchants.
Currently, Become.com doesn't provide a mechanism to submit URLs for its crawl of the web, but if your web site is listed in the other major search engines or the Yahoo or DMOZ directories its crawler will likely find your site.
You can tell whether Become.com's crawler has visited your site by examining your logs. BecomeBot uses the IP range 220.127.116.11 through 18.104.22.168, and when the product was in initial development also used the IP address 22.214.171.124.
Although you can't submit your site, you can control the rate at which your site is crawled. The Crawl-Delay feature allows you to specify the number of seconds between visits to your site. Simply add the following lines to your robots.txt file:
Substitute the "X" above with the number of seconds between visits. Note that it may take quite a long time to crawl a site if there are many pages and the Crawl-Delay is set high.
Submitting a Product Feed
Become.com works both directly and indirectly with merchants wanting to be included in its comparison shopping results. Become.com accepts a variety of feed formats, including delimited files and XML. There are several options for submitting feeds.
You can ftp feeds directly to Become.com's servers (the company creates a folder for each merchant). Alternately, you can request that Become.com download feeds directly from your server via a supplied URL from automatically from your ftp server.
Become.com has its own feed specification, but can also accept feeds formatted for all other comparison shopping engines. The feed is flexible: Items such as CPC bid price, tax, and shipping can be specified in the feed on a SKU-by-SKU basis.
Don't want to go to all of that trouble? Become.com also offers a Merchant Dashboard to provide overall information
(e.g. bids by category, states they charge tax in, shipping schedules and so on).
As part of the launch, Become.com has announced half-priced clicks—at the end of August, merchants will be credited 50% of the CPC value of clicks generated since the launch of the service.
For more information, including a product feed spec, answers to frequently asked questions and sign-up forms, visit www.become.com/merchant or contact Become.com's account management team at firstname.lastname@example.org.