Yahoo's new product search engine combines the best aspects of the company's existing shopping platform with new advanced search features, including product information gathered from the entire web.
"In the online shopping space, there's been a rise of comparison shopping sites," said Rob Solomon, vice president Yahoo Shopping. "We think the best shopping sites will have advanced features. You have to be comprehensive."
Yahoo Product Search is indeed comprehensive, featuring millions of products from thousands of merchants on the web. Yahoo has also bolstered the site with additional content, such as product reviews, customer ratings of merchants, and a number of powerful enhancements to search functionality.
The back end of the new search engine has three parts. First are product listings from Yahoo's existing database of more than 17,000 merchants and an index of tens of millions of products who are part of the Yahoo Shopping platform. Yahoo has also introduced a new database of merchants and products who have purchased inclusion in Yahoo Product Search. The third component is a new product and merchant database created by Inktomi's crawling capabilities.
On the front end, the user interface has been redesigned to be cleaner and less cluttered. The result is a shopping search engine that is both broad and deep, and yet one that remains very easy to use.
Yahoo product search features all of the functionality you'd expect from a top-notch shopping search portal. You can browse categories, or search for products, across all categories or in one specific area.
Search results feature picture of a product with lowest prices and links to more information. You're also presented with a list of "related searches" links that can help you narrow your search. Depending on your query, these might be major brands or even specific product models. For example, related searches for the query "hp pavilion" include the models HP pavilion a250n, HP pavilion f70, HP pavilion ze5375us, and HP pavilion zd7001us.
Also included in search results are links that will re-run your search according to top brands or most popular products for your query. You also can compare up to ten products at one time, in a side-by-side chart.
Information pages for specific products displays features at a glance, user ratings, and prominent listings from "featured" merchants who are Yahoo advertising partners.
Yahoo has done an excellent job of supplementing product information with additional content that's very useful in helping you make purchasing decisions. User ratings, which can be submitted by anyone but are editorially reviewed before posting, rank products from one to five stars.
Yahoo's merchant rating system gathers feedback from shoppers and assigns a ranking of one to five stars, with five representing excellent service and one denoting poor service. What's more, merchants with a rating of less than two stars are removed from Yahoo Shopping.
Yahoo has also partnered with providers of other helpful information. Clicking the "buying advice" link beneath a product description offers access to detailed reviews from authoritative sources. For example, buying advice for a computer might be a review from PC World or Game Pro for video games.
Consumer Reports is a major partner with Yahoo product search. General product category overviews are available for free. You can also get detailed reviews of individual products. A $19.95 subscription gives you unlimited access to all reports for a year. Or you can purchase individual reports for $2.95.
Enhanced Search Features
Yahoo says that previously sixty to 70% of all users browsed for products. "That's changed pretty dramatically in the past year," says Solomon. Users are increasingly searching for products and information, and that's good news for merchants and advertisers who want targeted exposure to potential buyers.
The new Yahoo product recommender is seriously cool. Say you are looking for a digital camera. The Yahoo product recommender consists of several questions such as "how important is optical zoom" and "how important is brand." Next to each question is a graphical slider that you drag across a scale from "not important" to "most important." Your results are updated instantly, with what Yahoo calls "Your Personalized Top 10 based on the sliders above."
As it happens, I've been researching digital cameras, and the Yahoo product recommender nailed the specific models I've been looking at based on my criteria, and recommended a few others that look intriguing. The best part of these search results is that they zoom in on specific features for each product.
For example, the first result said "Fujifilm FinePix S7000 is full-sized. It is ranked first because it has excellent Resolution within your price range. This camera has better resolution than HP PhotoSmart 945xi shown next." Result #2: "HP PhotoSmart 945xi is full-sized. It is ranked second because it has great Resolution and the best Optical Zoom within your price range. This camera is less expensive and is smaller than HP PhotoSmart 945 shown next."
In my test, resolution and optical zoom were the features I specified as most important and important, respectively. Each result in turn focuses on these specific feature and compares the product with others on the page. It's a terrific tool, one that can quickly simplify the process of researching complex products with multiple features by letting you narrow in on the specific features that are important to you.
The Yahoo product recommender only works with digital cameras, at this point. Yahoo plans to roll out the feature over a number of other product categories over the coming months.
New Paid Inclusion and Placement Programs
Yahoo Shopping has expanded options for advertisers and merchants, offering a new cost-per-click (CPC) lead generation model. The new pricing structure that enables you to pay a cost-per-click price only when a consumer clicks on your product listing. Under the old program, Yahoo Stores and other large retail merchants were charged a revenue share on all orders that originated anywhere on Yahoo. In addition, the new Product Submit program is open to all merchants, regardless of size or whether they have a Yahoo store (now called Yahoo Merchant Solutions customers).
Two program are now available for Yahoo Product Submit: Paid inclusion in product search, where ranking of results is based entirely on relevance, and paid inclusion in Yahoo Shopping Buyers Guides, where merchants have the ability to influence the ranking of their listing.
The Product Submit program uses a self-serve model that works much like other paid inclusion programs.
The Buyer's Guides, also called Comparison Grids, are feature product descriptions, specifications, and a price and a store comparison grid that displays merchants who are selling a particular product. To participate in this program, you need to work through Yahoo's sales department.
Pricing for URLs submitted through the product submit program varies depending on the product category. Unlike bidding-based price-per-click programs offered by Overture, Google and others, Yahoo's prices per click are fixed, ranging from a low of $0.19 per click for categories such as apparel, books and general merchandise, to $1.25 per click for listings in the Flowers, Gifts and Registry > Flowers and Jewelry and Watches > Diamonds categories.
Yahoo has provided detailed Product Submit requirements, including several example feeds to help you structure your own. In addition, Yahoo also requires the following minimum criteria:
- Online Merchant - You must be an online merchant selling fixed-price products that can ship to the United States.
- Product Feed - You must create a data feed of your products and submit the file to Yahoo. This can be uploaded via spreadsheet using Yahoo's web-based tool or via FTP.
- Language - All products submitted must be described in English and listed in US dollars.
- Payment - All payment to Yahoo must be made in US dollars.
- Yahoo ID - In order to manage your account, you will be required to have a Yahoo ID.
To help merchants manage feeds, Yahoo has created a web-based management tool. To change or update any part of your product file you must submit the entire feed again.
Since Yahoo is including both paid inclusion URLs and information it has gathered from crawling the web, is it worth the price to pay to be included? The short answer for most merchants is yes, simply because of the degree of control you gain by submitting via a structured feed.
What about placement of results? According to Yahoo, "The default order of Yahoo Product Search results is determined by matching your search criteria against both the product title and product description. Because the results can match many products equally, Yahoo also takes into account other factors such as popularity of the product, user ratings/reviews and its relationship with the merchant."
This means that a well-optimized title and description for a product is likely to achieve higher rankings in search results. Since feeds can be re-submitted at any time with varying content, this is another compelling reason to participate in the program.
To sign up for the program, take a look at this detailed FAQ, which also has a button to start the sign-up procedure.
Google Goes Local
There's a new addition to Google Labs called Search by Location, which combines keyword search with geographic location. Simply enter your keywords together with a US address, city & state, or zip code, and results include a map highlighting the locations of top results. Clicking on highlighted locations connects users to the local web page.
By coincidence, Overture removed a beta demonstration of its new local search project today.
Danny Sullivan will be taking a closer look at both programs and the current state of local search in the October 7 issue of the Search Engine Report.