Online Shopping with Google's Froogle

Google has launched a beta version of a new shopping search tool called "Froogle" that the company claims is the most comprehensive product search engine available on the web.

Froogle is organized as a directory, with 15 different product categories. These categories include Apparel & Accessories, Arts & Entertainment, Auto & Vehicles, Baby, Books, Music & Video, Computers, Electronics, Flowers, Food & Gourmet, Health & Personal Care, Home & Garden, Office, Sports & Outdoors and Toys & Games.

Much like the Google Directory, you can look for products either by using a keyword search or by drilling down through a particular category and its subcategories. You can also limit your search to a specific category.

Search results are limited to one product per store. Each result displays a thumbnail image of the product to the left, with the product's name, price and description listed to the right of the thumbnail. The store where the product is available is also listed, along with a link to see all results related to your keyword that are available at that particular merchant.

Froogle's emphasis is on helping users find products, rather than providing product information, reviews, and other associated information found on other shopping search services.

"Froogle shines particularly well with some of the more esoteric queries," said Jonathan Rosenberg, Google Vice President of Product Management. This is because Google has tried to build a one of the most extensive product search tools available on the web, going for both breadth and depth of coverage.

Results are determined by an algorithm that's similar to Google's PageRank method used for determining ordinary web search results. There's no paid inclusion or any other way for merchants to influence the way their products are presented in results, says Rosenberg.

"Data in Froogle comes from two sources," said Rosenberg. "Merchant feeds, and the rest is a crawl of web pages that identifies product offers."

Merchants provide product information to Froogle via FTP. Rosenberg says that Google encourages merchants to send updates frequently, to keep the information as fresh as possible.

Rosenberg says that unlike other shopping search services, Google has no plans to charge merchants to include their products in Froogle. Merchants can sign up to be included in Froogle by using the "Information for Merchants" link below. Email Google with details of your site, and they'll send you specific instructions for submitting a data feed in the required format.

Though it's similar to Google Catalogs search, Froogle is a completely different project that uses different technologies, and the company has no plans to integrate the two services at this point.

The Froogle beta is available both as a stand alone site, and as a link from the advanced search page.

Google has also added two new services to Google Labs, Google Webquotes and the Google Viewer.

Google Webquotes, offers multiple viewpoints and descriptions of a single web site from third party sources. These descriptions can be quite different from the descriptions in ordinary search results. Google generates search results by extracting text from a web page, a description that's essentially using the page author's own words.

By contrast, Web Quotes describes what others think of a particular page. Web Quotes are generated from pages that point to a particular page, and the text is extracted from anchor (link) text and nearby words.

The Google Viewer allows you to view results as a slide show. The Google Viewer displays the pages found as a result of your Google search as a continuous scrolling slide show. You can view your search results without using your keyboard or mouse and you can adjust the speed with which the images move across your screen.

Each image of a page's contents is accompanied by a short "snippet" describing that page. Essentially, it's a quick way to scan all of the underlying pages in a search result without leaving Google. Though similar to similar "preview" capabilities offered by search engines like Vivisimo and Wisenut, it's a bit easier to use due to its automatic action.

Google's beta launch of its product search tool.

Froogle Information for Merchants
To have your store included in Froogle, follow these guidelines to submit a data feed to Google. Doing so will ensure that your entire product catalog is included in Froogle, and it will also allow you to control the freshness and accuracy of your product information.

Google Launches Catalog Search
Details about Google's other product search services, which allows you to search through the contents of mail order catalogs from over 5,000 companies.

Google WebQuotes
Google WebQuotes annotates the results of your Google search with comments from other websites.

Google Viewer
View search results as scrolling web page images.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.