The keyword phrase “shopping search” is music to my ears. It’s my favorite type of search because, basically, I love to shop. And bless my family and friends who don’t like to shop and ask me to do it for them. So when a major shopping search engine makes improvements to its interface and improves its relevancy, I’m probably one of the first to notice.
Last time I interviewed Jon Glick, senior director of product search and comparison shopping at Become.com, the shopping search engine was still in beta. Now, over a year later, I’m thrilled with the newly updated interface.
So it didn’t surprise me to learn people genuinely preferred Become.com’s shopping experience over Google’s, according to a recent study by Cascade Strategies. In light of the results from this new survey, Founder and CEO Michael Yang discusses about Become.com’s new interface in this two-part interview.
Shari Thurow: Become.com certainly made some major changes this week, let alone over the past year. The home page looks completely different, specifically, the search and shop suggestions (keyword tool) and the addition of thumbnail photos. What are the three major changes made to the home page, and why did Become.com make these changes?
Michael Yang:The first and most visible change to our home page is the product thumbnail images and the mouse-over feature that displays both research and shop results on the home page without even going to the search result page.
The second is the dynamic suggestion feature that suggests related keywords that might be of interest as the user types the query. Both of these features are enabled by our core search, index, and AJAX technology.
Third, we added the Shopping tag below Become.com logo to highlight that Become is a unique shopping search engine that provides both research and shopping in one convenient place. Finally, we introduced some new colors and elements to create a more consumer-friendly, visual environment. Our previous look had a more stripped down, search engine feel.
ST: The appearance of Become,com’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have also changed considerably since the beta stage. What new types of information are displayed in Become.com’s SERPs?
MY: We present both Web research results and comparison shopping results on one page, which highlights our uniquely integrated approach to search and shopping. Users can find relevant product reviews and buying information in the Research section and products, stores and prices in the Shop section.
Also, we recently launched our Search Zoom feature. It’s right at the top of research section to make it easy for people to find exactly the type of information they prefer, such as product reviews, buying guides, or discussion forums for a particular item. They can sort results by these information types or they can quickly identify result types as we tag many of our results with icons indicating information type. This helps users find what they want faster, rather than having to flip through many Web pages.
We also launched our local shopping feature called Nearby Stores that shows locations of retailers that sell the product in the user’s Zip Code. For example, if you are shopping for a new Ipod Nano and live in New York City, then we find local stores like J&R Electronics and the Apple Store in Manhattan that carry the product.
ST: You just mentioned Become’s “Search Zoom” feature which I noticed awhile back, where you offer additional search refinement tools such as product reviews and buying guides. I see that it has also been added to the home page. Why did Become.com initially create the “Search Zoom” feature, and do searchers genuinely use this feature?
MY: One of the problems we hear from search engine users is that they don’t like searching through dozens of pages to get to the information they are looking for. We wanted to allow the user to quickly narrow down search results by helpful categories such as reviews and buying guides. This feature is possible in a vertical search engine like Become.com because we understand the intent of the user query. But making it work requires very sophisticated technology. Our engineers developed a state-of-the-art machine learning and semantic understanding technology to implement this Search Zoom feature.
ST: I am thrilled with the ability to refine my product searches by price, brand, store, and category. What are other benefits of using Become.com compared to those of other shopping sites?
MY: One of the features that I really like is our My Favorites feature. Users can easily and quickly add any items they are interested in to their My Favorites area. For example, recently I was shopping for a new camcorder. I added several different camcorders I was interested in to My Favorites for a side-by-side comparison including; research, reviews and prices. It was a great way to get all the information I needed in one place.
ST: The recently released survey results showed that searchers genuinely preferred the Become.com shopping experience over the Google shopping experience by a 55 to 45 percent margin. What are the specific items that survey respondents preferred?
MY: Users really liked how they could quickly access relevant reviews, buying guides, articles, product pictures, prices, brands, price comparison, etcetera, and many commented on their frustration with the voluminous and often irrelevant results that frequently came up on Google. For example, if you search for “iPod” we won’t give you the Wikipedia entry, we’ll give you great product information.
We try really hard to deliver the best shopping search experience using our core search technology and our commitment to creating the best shopping experience online and we are making great progress.
And finally, because shopping is, fundamentally, a very visual process, people loved seeing many different selections of products and our easy navigation to quickly get to whatever product or information they wanted in one place. We’re really excited with the changes to the site and the continued progress we are making in delivering the best online shopping experience for consumers.
In Part 2: Become.com’s improved search algorithms and interface, and how to optimize your site for this shopping search engine.
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