Goodbye Froogle; Hello Google Product Results In Web Search

Froogle, Google's shopping search engine that launched with big hopes back in 2002, is to be deemphasized in place of product listings integrated into regular Google search results.

The news has come out through Google's participation at the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance Summit last week in San Francisco. IDG has coverage of it here, saying:

A Google official shared the news with attendees at the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA) Summit in San Francisco this week, according to people at the conference.

When people search for products on Google.com, the system will present them with another search box so that they can refine their query, wrote Bear Stearns analysts in a note published on Friday.

After people refine their query, Google takes them to a second page populated with product results from the Google Base listings service, wrote the analysts, who attended the Google official's presentation.

The association with the eBay sellers group and product results "powered" by Google Base is causing some confusion, in my view, about eBay "killer" Google Base "replacing" Froogle. Let's back up.

  • Froogle used to have its own feed mechanism to allow merchants to submit products. This system predated the system for sending material into Google Base.
     
  • In June, the Froogle submission system went away, replaced by submission to Google Base (and see also here). If Froogle was being "replaced" by Google Base, this is the time it happened.
     
  • Google Base has never been designed as a standalone service for searchers. The user interface there hasn't been that appealing, nor have searchers been seriously directed to it. In fact, the search box on the Google Base home page was just dropped, not something you do for a service designed for searchers. It is something you do, however, to help Google Base's mission of being a centralized submission tool for Google.
     
  • Google has been testing ways to flow customized results from Google Base into regular Google, to help deal with the invisible tabs issue I've long written about. My Google Real Estate? It's Google Base Again, Google's Vertical Play from earlier this year explains this integration in more depth.
     
  • Putting product results into regular Google results makes sense, just as it does for any type of vertical or custom results that Google does. This has mainly been through OneBox results, but the new Google Base-style placements allow for the search box on results pages to contain more options, ones helpful to narrowing for product or other type of vertical searching.

Froogle as a brand and destination set for demotion was pretty clear when it was dropped from the Google home page last month, a position it held since 2004. That placement never helped Froogle much, in part because many people simply ignore the little links above the search box entirely. In addition, in my view, Froogle is a cutesy name that never explain what Froogle was -- a shopping search engine. If it had been called Google Shopping, take-up might have been better.

Given this, "deemphasizing" Froogle as a destination isn't hard given that few seem to think of it as a destination anyway. Back in July, Hitwise found it ranked ninth among Google top 29 properties -- and sharewise, not that far behind Google Video (0.45 percent of all visitors to the top 20 Google sites went to Froogle versus 0.47 percent going to Google Video).

Google Video's move on to the home page helped that service and hurt Froogle, as Hitwise later notes. But again, sharewise, it was hardly noticeable. Froogle dropped to the 0.02 percent range, while Google Video rose to the 0.06 percent range. In other words, practically no one was going to either service compared to things like Google web search overall.

That's why better integration of all vertical search results into listings will be coming at Google, as well as other search engines. But I hope we will see a renamed Google Shopping service still survive, with a custom home page and URL. Shopping search is important enough that it deserves a standalone brand.