Questions for Froogle's Mastermind, Part 1

  |  May 24, 2004   |  Comments

How to use Froogle: a two-part interview with Craig Nevill-Manning.

I love Froogle. When I first met Craig Nevill-Manning, Google's director of New York engineering and senior staff research scientist, at a Search Engine Strategies conference last year, those were the three words I blurted out. I've been a Froogle fan ever since I discovered it in Google Labs over a year ago.

Froogle is Google's shopping search engine. As a Web designer who practices usability principles, I'm thoroughly impressed with the user-friendly shopping experience I get at Froogle.

Users can view search results in a list or a grid format. Personally, I prefer the list view because the product photo, product name, price, description, and link are displayed in each search result. For those who prefer to see more product photos on one screen, the grid view appears with only one click.

The sorting features are phenomenal, too. Search results can be sorted from low-to-high or high-to-low prices. Or, if you prefer, you can set a price range. This is online shopping usability at its best.

Enough gushing from me. For this two-part column, I asked Nevill-Manning if he would provide ClickZ readers with some helpful information about Froogle: use, SERPs, and feed preparation.

How to Use Froogle

ST: How long has Froogle been in the beta stage? How long will it continue to be in the beta stage? Can we expect to see any more developments before its full release?

CNM: Froogle launched as a beta product on December 11, 2002. We try to get products out in an early stage in order to get feedback from our users. This drives the features that we develop subsequently. There will be significant new features added to Froogle before we remove the beta label -- stay tuned!

ST: Explain the differences between Froogle and an aggregate shopping search site, such as Shopping.com. What are the main benefits of using Froogle compared to those of other shopping sites?

CNM: Our two overriding aims in developing Froogle are comprehensiveness and ranking quality. This shouldn't come as a surprise; it's what has made Google.com successful. In order to achieve these goals, Froogle uses the same business model as Google -- no money changes hands in order to appear in the results, and we sell clearly marked ads on the side of the page.

Other shopping search engines have a quandary: If they charge merchants to be involved, then they can't be comprehensive. If they include others at no charge, they remove the incentive to pay for inclusion. If they take a middle road -- show the paid results first, then the unpaid results -- then relevancy suffers. With Froogle, we give away lots of valuable traffic to merchants for free but end up with a higher-quality user experience.

Ranking is done using a function that is based on the Google ranking but is tuned especially for Froogle, making use of the structured data that is unique to Froogle: name, description, price, image, etc.

Apart from comprehensiveness and ranking quality, we apply the Google formula of a simple user interface and fast response times.

ST: How are categories determined in Froogle? Can products be placed in more than one category, if applicable? Can you give an example of when a multiple category is appropriate and when it's not?

CNM: Merchants supply us with their own category labels for all of the products. Products must be assigned to a single category only. Within our system, we consider certain categories to be equivalent: for example, Apparel-Shoes-Sports and Sports-Apparel-Shoes.

ST: What are the benefits of viewing by grid and viewing by list?

CNM: The list view includes a description of the product, which is helpful if you're not sure exactly which make and model you're looking for.

However, we observed that people are able to determine the relevance of a product based on its name and image alone. Removing the description and abbreviating some of the other fields gives the grid view option, which allows users to see more products simultaneously. It's easy to switch back and forth between views, and we find that people do based on the kind of product that they're looking for.

ST: Will Froogle always be a free service? Should Google ever go to a paid inclusion route, will Froogle follow as well?

CNM: We have no plans to move either Google or Froogle to a paid inclusion model, for the reasons I outlined above. If you provide users with the best possible experience, it's possible to monetize it with clearly marked, highly relevant ads.

ST: If we suspect someone is spamming Froogle, how do we report it?

CNM: Reports can be submitted to feeds-support[at]google.com.

Search Engine Results Questions

ST: How do the more popular searches on Froogle compare with Google? Difference in search terms? Difference in click-through rates?

CNM: Froogle queries are much more concentrated on popular consumer items: iPods, baby stroller, Ugg boots, Xbox, etc.

People just want to know that you get more product-type searches on Froogle, that's all. If you can give an example of some generic searches, that will help.

ST: Does Froogle currently show up (or will it show up) on any partner sites?

CNM: Froogle in not currently syndicated.

ST: Would adding product reviews as a feature increase relevancy (such as those found in actual shopping search engines)?

CNM: We have a long list of features that we'd like to add to Froogle, but we'd like it to be a surprise.

ST: Are all sponsored links taken from Google AdWords? Will one be able to pay for advertising solely on Froogle, and at a different bid rate?

CNM: Yes, the ads shown on Froogle are Google AdWords. We have no current plans to allow advertisers to target Froogle alone.

ST: Why do some Froogle search results show above Web page matches on Google?

CNM: For a fairly small subset of queries that we strongly believe indicate users are looking to purchase a product, we show three results above the Web results. They are intended to help people get the information they need as quickly as possible -- just as we show results from News or Local Search if we detect that it might be helpful.

In Part 2, Nevill-Manning answers questions about the Froogle feed, and I'll provide tips on preparing a commerce site for shopping search. Stay tuned!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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