In an "experiment" with navigation, Google has added intermediate jump pages to some links on its Google Base service.
Google Base, which allows users to upload and categorize content and links to their own sites, launched in October. At that time, all links from a search results page linked directly to the destination submitted by the user.
This week, Google began diverting traffic to an intermediate page where the user can get more information before clicking on to the destination page. Search results that display Google Base items on Froogle, Google Local and Google will continue to point directly to item URL.
"This change allows us to experiment with how you browse and search on Google Base and see related items," wrote Bindu Reddy, Google Base product manager, in the Google Base blog. "We want to measure how this navigation changes the number of searches and other ways people will use it. In the future we plan to test a number of other navigation changes in order to optimize the Google Base experience."
The item details page shows all the attributes and labels attached to the item and provides links to items with similar labels. There are not presently any AdSense ads on Google Base search results pages or product detail pages, but this potentially gives Google a targeted page to serve ads against in the future.
The move could help users by providing more information without leaving the Google Base site, which is a benefit to Google as well. For content providers, this could impact their overall traffic coming from Google Base listings, but would potentially increase conversions as users clicking on the link demonstrated continued interest after viewing more detailed information.
The move ruffled the feathers of some content owners. Classifieds aggregator Oodle, a potential competitor to Google Base, was quick to jump on the news, touting its adherence to "traditional search engine etiquette" by sending traffic directly to the listing from the results page.
"I hope they switch it back. At the very least, the display URL should change to show exactly where people are going," said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch. "In other words, if everything is to route into Google Base, then show those jump page URLs. It's misleading, otherwise."
The move could end up frustrating Google users who did not expect the jump pages, according to Andy Beal, president and CEO of Fortune Interactive. "They've enjoyed success by guiding searchers directly to the most appropriate content. By adding an additional layer of information, Google runs the risk that users will feel misled by links that appear to point directly to the original content, but in fact direct you to Google-hosted pages," he said.
It also raises questions of legal liability for copyright and trademark infringement, which Google has so far managed to sidestep by arguing that it was merely directing users to relevant content, Beal said.
While the change is unwelcome in some ways, it's not a huge issue, Sullivan wrote in his blog. According to Sullivan, the Google Base site is more of an interface for content submitters than end users, who will find the listings through Google Search, Froogle, or Google Local. Since the change does not affect those sites, it will have an impact on fewer users.
The bigger question to Sullivan is whether this is a harbinger to future changes to other Google services. The potential for direct links to disappear in other services, and the implications once Google begin to integrate Google Base into its search results pages, should be more concerning to content owners, he said.
"What happens when Google starts dealing with deciding which item to list in Web search, the Google Base entry or the actual URL? Will they decide to de-dupe in the 'user interest' and list the Google Base entry?" Sullivan asked. "Overall, it just makes me want to stay far away from Google Base if I've got content that's already being picked up in other ways."
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
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