Search giant Google on Monday added five new ways to find information on the Web, providing paid listings customers with huge potential new opportunities for marketing themselves.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which is on the cusp of filing an IPO, said its new search technologies are short cuts to useful information such as area codes, Universal Product Codes (UPC), flight tracking information, Vehicle ID (VIN) numbers, and U.S. Postal Service tracking numbers.
Previously, inquiring minds would have to enter through several Web sites and then drill down into the related databases. The features are available now in English, with international versions coming in a few months, the company said.
The new features are the latest among many Google has developed. The company said its goal is to make the search engine a one-stop-shop for information either through its main page, Google toolbar or Google desk bar. Of course, along with the regular search results come paid listings, known as AdWords, which have become Google’s bread and butter revenue stream.
Forrester research analyst Charlene Li told internetnews.com UPC numbers in particular offer a new way for Google to make money and for customers to get targeted results. In Google’s published example, users can find more information about a specific product by entering its UPC code (the number on the bottom of a bar code typically displayed on product packaging).
“When you type in the UPC code, it comes out with a link to Upcdatabase.com but some other information as well,” Li said. “It’s mining the information that Google has in its example but also information about the product as well. If I’m either the product manufacturer or a competitor, I could go to Google and buy my UPC number.”
Google syndicates its listings to publisher sites where they appear on search results pages and on content pages, via its AdSense program. The listings served are geared either to match the search phrase on search results pages, or the subjects covered on the content pages. Such paid listings have become incredibly popular with advertisers and marketers.
Google director of consumer Web products Marissa Mayer said the company hadn’t considered the implications that the new features would have on their paid listings strategy and insists it is using the new technologies as yet another way of getting people closer to their destination.
“We’re not trying to invent a new search engine syntax. We’re really trying to simplify things by recognizing search patterns and linking to the appropriate databases,” Mayer told internetnews.com. “Not every user remembers everything so we want them to be able to type in a few things or even a question and have specific results to refer to.”
In the case of airline travel information, the results are based on popular flight terms, which then pre-fill a query in a specific carriers’ database. Google said it has held casual talks with some of the companies impacted by the new search functions but has not established a formal relationship.
Li said there are already people who buy up generic names of carriers and their numbers. Her recommendation to search engine marketers is to refine their keyword selections.
“Going with just the name of the airline and the flight number messes things up a bit for travelers because they are looking for the flight not the tickets to buy,” she said. “Some companies I’ve talked with want ads served after the carrier names, but not if there are numbers after it. Although, if you have a healthy click rate and you don’t get kicked off you could just pay the extra price.”
The new batch of shortcuts adds the U.S. Postal Service to Google’s arsenal of package tracking resources. The company said it also selectively traces parcels from UPS and FedEx with more to come in the future.
The two other features include area codes, which creates a map of that geographic region at the top of the results page, and Vehicle ID numbers that link to a page with more information about the year, make and model of a specific car.
Li said Google has the momentum, but its rivals like MSN and Yahoo can’t be far behind. (In fact, Yahoo last week launched a similar feature for flight tracking.)
“It’s still up in the air considering that Yahoo and MSN have the largest number of traffic,” Li said. “Big companies do really well at these things like getting people up to speed on how to optimize their Web searches.”
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