Q and A With New Shopping Search Engine Become.com, Part 1

I love shopping search engines. Even though I love the offline shopping experience, online shopping can save so much time and expense. If I’m researching a high-priced product, for example, I want to do a lot of research before I make the final purchase. And if I need something quickly, I don’t have to leave my home or office to make a purchase.

That is the main reason I like Become.com. It makes online shopping easier by separating researchers from buyers. Senior Director for Product Search Jon Glick, formerly senior manager of Web search at Yahoo, talks about Become.com in a two-part interview.

ST: How long has Become.com been in the beta stage? How long will it continue to be in the beta stage? What developments will we see before its full release?

JG: The publicly accessible beta of Become.com’s research results has been up since mid-February of this year. On July 19, we launched our comparison-shopping service, which completes the integrated research/shopping experience for our users. We plan to come fully out of beta in a few weeks but will be adding new features on a continual basis; this is just the beginning.

ST: Explain the differences between Become.com and other shopping search sites, such as Shopping.com and Froogle. What are the main benefits of using Become.com?

JG: Unlike other comparison-shopping sites, Become.com provides users with a fully integrated research and shopping experience. We help people conduct Web research to help determine the right products for their needs. We then let them easily move between looking at Web resources like buying guides and expert reviews, and traditional comparison shopping.

For example, if someone was looking for a new digital camera, they probably want to figure out what features meet their needs and which models have been well reviewed before they are ready to look at specific products. Become.com provides them with access to those excellent resources. Later when they have narrowed down to a particular camera, Become.com helps them find specific Web pages on that camera in addition to finding stores that sell it.

ST: In layman’s terms, will you please explain Affinity Index Ranking (AIR) and how it consistently produces higher quality results than other search engines?

JG: AIR technology is the next generation of link analysis beyond the PageRank-esque systems used by Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Those other connectivity algorithms just look at in links and count all in links, regardless of context.

In contrast, AIR technology looks at both in links and out links. In links from other sites with similar content count more that off-topic in links, and out links to sites that are off-topic will actually reduce a site’s ranking (linking to known spam sites will also greatly reduce a site’s ranking). This helps us to promote high-quality content and foils the link exchanges and link farms that have been used to distort search results on many of the other engines.

ST: Become.com’s “Suggestions” feature is pretty cool. If a searcher types in a keyword such as “sweater,” sweater-related keyword phrases appear underneath the search box. Where do these suggested keyword phrases come from? Do you plan on having a more comprehensive keyword research tool in the future?

JG: These are multi-word phrases that are extracted using linguistic analysis as part of our Web crawl. We then look at the popularity of the words (both frequency of the words and the connectivity of the pages that they appear on) and recognize known brands to provide relevant, product-focused search suggestions.

From a user interface standpoint, we’ve made sure that we don’t push search results down the page. It’s our aim to provide tools to the user when they will have the most benefit and avoid cluttering the page.

ST: Suppose I want to purchase a mountain bike. How does Become.com differentiate an e-commerce site’s product page from a buyer’s guide to mountain bikes? Are all types of shopping-related pages grouped in the same search result?

JG: Become.com’s crawler seeks out shopping-related pages, so there is a first level of filtration that happens there. We then look at both the keyword content and connectivity clues on the page to select and promote items like user reviews and buying guides in our rankings. We currently index product pages but have tuned the algorithm to look for content-based pages as opposed to transactional ones.

ST: As a bona fide shopaholic and a seasoned Web searcher, I know what I want when I shop online. I don’t necessarily want product reviews. Basically, I want pricing and availability. How can I refine my searches on Become.com to get these specific types of results?

JG: Become.com offers two types of information to users: Web research and comparison shopping. Correspondingly, we give users two buttons next to the search box so that they can select the experience they want to have. In this case, you would click on the shop button and bypass the research information and go right to the comparison shopping. The nice part is that even in the “Shop” mode you are only one click away from doing research on any of the products, since every product listed comes with a link to research it in Become.com’s 3.2 billion page index.

Conversely, if you wanted to do research, we have shopping results available on the right-hand side of the page. We know that people move back and forth between research and shopping when deciding on a purchase, and we designed our site to make it easy. A lot of shopping engines seem to be pushing people toward the merchants, whereas our goal is to make sure people get all of the information that they need to make the best decisions about how to spend their money.

ST: Right now, Web site owners cannot submit their e-commerce site URLs to Become.com. Do you have any tips or guidelines for Web site owners who want to be in Become.com’s index?

JG: The BecomeBot crawler automatically gathers over 3 billion URLs during our weekly Web crawls. At present, there’s no direct URL submission, but if your site has product-focused content and some reasonable level of link connectivity, it will almost certainly be included in the crawl.

An in link from a site currently in the Become.com index will usually be enough. That covers inclusion. As far as showing up highly in the results, the key is having good product information. A commerce site that incorporates guides and reviews will always outperform one that simply offers the ability to transact.

For merchants looking to submit data feeds of their products for inclusion into Become.com’s comparison shopping, we have a merchant center where they can quickly sign up. Merchants can also contact our account management team at merchant[at]become.com. We accept data feeds in multiple formats, including delimited files and XML, and can integrate feeds designed either to our spec or for other shopping engines, like Shopzilla or Shopping.com.

ST: What information is displayed in Become.com’s SERPs (define)?

JG: For each research result we show a title (up to the first 80 characters of the page’s title tag) and description (up to 200 characters taken from the pages description meta tag and body text).

For the description, we select snippets based on relevance to the user’s search terms and bold those terms in both the title and description. Below the description we show the URL of the page and a link to a cached version from Become.com’s latest crawl.

ST: If we suspect someone is spamming Become.com, how do we report it?

JG: At the bottom of every SERP is a Rate This Search feature. It can be used to indicate that spam was found in the search results and automatically lets us know on which query the spam was found. Users who find spam are encouraged to report it. Just tell us which results you feel are spam and why, and we’ll look into it.

ST: Does Become.com currently show up (or is planned to show up) in any partner sites?

JG: Currently, Become’s research and shopping are available exclusively at www.become.com. We do have plans to syndicate both shopping and research results to other sites in the future.

ST: Which service are you using for sponsored links (search engine advertising)? Will one be able to pay for advertising solely on Become.com, and at a different bid rate?

JG: There are two ways to advertise on Become.com. We presently show AdSense at the bottom of many pages. Merchants are also able to advertise their product listings in our “Shop” results, which appear on the right-hand side of the SERPs.

In Part 2: Becoming a Become.com merchant and how to optimize your site for this search engine.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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