- Online Marketing
EBay Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc are developing new Web search engines to better compete against Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing e-commerce market.
As more people shop online, they often end up at the top of a website typing in a product name. If they cannot find what they want quickly, they will likely go to a rival website or venture into a physical store.
“Amazon is on version 8.0 of search,” said Scot Wingo, chief executive of ChannelAdvisor, which helps merchants sell more online. “EBay is at 2.0, but they are thinking about how they make this huge leap to 3.0.”
The stakes are high because e-commerce is a huge, fast-growing market, putting billions of dollars in sales up for grabs. U.S. retail spending online grew 13 percent to $161.5 billion last year, according to comScore. Physical retail sales are much larger, but the sector is struggling to grow and losing share to online operators.
COMING SOON … CASSINI
EBay’s search technology, known as Voyager, dates back to the first dot-com boom a decade ago. After the company appointed Mark Carges as chief technology officer in 2008, he tested eBay’s search engine by typing in “iPod.” A car topped the list of results because the seller noted in the listing title that it came with an iPod adapter.
“Search was clearly broken in 2008,” Carges said.
Since then, eBay has gone on a hiring spree to fix search. The number of employees working in that area has tripled to more than 150. EBay also poached several engineers from Microsoft Corp’s Bing search unit, including Ken Moss, who runs the Seattle office, and Hugh Williams, who oversees eBay’s new search engine, Cassini, to be rolled out in 2013.
“More customers, plus better search, means people buy more stuff,” eBay Chief Executive John Donahoe said in a recent interview.
Cassini will trawl full product descriptions, rather than just the titles of listings, and match search queries to photographs of products, while taking into account information about the seller and the buyer.
By crunching data on what shoppers have bought and browsed on eBay in the past, Cassini search results should be more tailored to their intent. For instance, if a shopper types in “HP,” Cassini will know if the person means horsepower or Hewlett-Packard Co, Williams said.
“Voyager is pretty literal. It takes a query and matches it faithfully against the title of items. It’s not intuitive,” he said. “Cassini will take the user’s query and understand that.”
The search engine project takes time because eBay’s online marketplace has so much variable information from millions of listings that are described differently by each seller – something known as unstructured data in the tech world.
In contrast, Amazon typically starts with a catalog of items it has for sale, including strict product descriptions, which are easier to search.
Threat to Google?
Wal-Mart recently launched a new search engine on its website that was built in less than nine months with 10 to 15 developers, according to Anand Rajaraman, who helps run the discount retailer’s Silicon Valley tech arm @WalmartLabs.
The new search technology focuses on groups of related terms and phrases people use when describing products, rather than matching queries to exact words in listings.
“Wal-Mart’s search knows that a backyard chair is the same as a patio chair or a garden chair,” Rajaraman said. “These product listings will come up on that search too.”
If eBay and Wal-Mart can vastly improve search on their websites, that could eventually threaten Google Inc, the world’s leading Internet search company.
“Google doesn’t want you to go directly to eBay to search for products,” said Oren Etzioni, a search expert at the University of Washington’s computer science department. “A lot of what funds these search efforts are e-commerce ads. If eBay and others stop advertising as much on Google, that would be a problem.”
GitHub: Software description: a software to manage books in the computer (C#). →
Facebook is working on a revamped search engine that users may prefer over Google.
ZoomFacebook already has a search engine. It’s that white search field at the top of the site most of us typically use to find other members. Yet it’s seemingly capable of searching for basically anything thanks to Microsoft’s Bing, producing results within the Facebook blue-and-white environment. It’s a crude tool, and functional to a degree, but it’s no Google to say the least.
Will that change? Probably not in a Google sense, but Facebook hired on former Google engineer Lars Rasmussen to turn Facebook’s search around. Originally he co-founded mapping software company Where 2 Technologies, sold it to Google in 2004, and then helped create Google Maps.
After that, Rasmussen created Google Wave with his brother Jens (who still resides at Google) which soon came to an end thanks to a lack of consumer interest. He jumped off the Google bandwagon and landed in Facebook’s arms in 2010 after a personal pitch from Zuckerberg himself.
Now unnamed sources claim that he’s currently leading a team of about two dozen engineers to overhaul Facebook’s search engine. The goal, as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, is to help users “better sift through the volume of content that members create on the site, such as status updates, and the articles, videos, and other information across the Web that people ‘like’ using Facebook’s omnipresent thumbs-up button.”
There’s no intention of taking Google head on, but as indicated, Facebook is taking a different route to search. A better search engine would mean that Facebook users wouldn’t have to leave its pages at all, or open a different tab and use Google. It would also open the door for Facebook to sell relevant, profitable keyword ads alongside results, just like Google and Microsoft.
“Search is the best form of monetization on the Web by far, and they are leaving that on the table,” says Doug Leeds, chief executive officer of search engine Ask.com. “From a business perspective, you have to think about going into search.”
Remember all that fuss over Google not being able to access Facebook information? This may be why. Instead of crawling across the entire Web and ranking each page, Facebook’s engine would instead crawl through its immense database of user input, from “liking” the best articles, rating recipes, to pointing out shopping deals. Rather than looking outward, Facebook’s search would look inward, relying on user input.
Gil Elbaz, CEO of data-crunching startup Factual and co-creator of the business that became AdSense, sees a treasure trove in Facebook’s pool of user data. “Over time, this will let them build a powerful structured search engine,” he told the paper.
Did the headline catch your eye? I really wanted a teaser headline for this post which would entice people to read and discover the details of a new global search engine — but for that message, a teaser alone just wasn’t credible.
But when I added the word “Apple” to the headline, it completely changed its dynamics — just like Apple does every time it enters a new business area.
So, I must be talking about Siri right? Wrong. I agree actually that Siri is a really important development, but Apple has much more up its sleeve than just Siri.
Chomp is an app search engine where you can find apps using keyword search. Intriguingly, it covers both iPhone and iPad along with Android.
The image below shows how Chomp currently presents listings (that’s rankings right?) for apps giving you their ratings and clearly identifying if they are free are not.
The team which created Chomp is already working at Apple on the company’s plan to replace the current “App Stores” with Chomp or a version of it.
A little testing of Chomp reveals that it is a little more sensitive to keywords than the App Stores themselves – but much needs to be done. Don’t forget, there are now well over half a billion apps which have been downloaded over 25 billion times.
For “apps” read “websites” and for listings read “rankings”, this is big world search and its happening all over again. The app world is now bigger than Google was in the year 2000 when Google had indexed one billion pages — since an app typically has several “pages”.
Apple is already releasing warnings to app developers saying, “You should avoid using services that advertise or guarantee top placement in App Store charts. Even if you are not personally engaged in manipulating App Store chart rankings or user reviews, employing services that do so on your behalf may result in the loss of your Apple Developer Program membership.”
That is such an uncanny parallel of warnings which Google gave to users of analysis and positioning software in the early years including that they would have their websites de-indexed.
Although Chomp’s multilingual capability is currently still sadly lacking (as was Google’s before 2006), the image below suggests that the potential for rolling this out successfully globally is just vast. Don’t forget, Apple already has the apps “indexed”, it just needs to provide greater access to them via a more effective search paradigm.
GitHub: Software description: a software to manage books in the computer (C#). →
ComScore released its latest mobile subscriber market share report for November. What it shows is that Android continued to gain (3.1 share points vs. August). But so did the iPhone, likely powered by sales of the iPhone 4S. All other platforms lost ground.
Android handsets now represent nearly 47 percent of the US smartphone market, while the iPhone is just under 30 percent. The comScore data doesn’t reflect iPod Touch or iPad devices.
The firm also said that 39 percent of the US mobile population owned smartphones. This stands in contrast to Nielsen’s 44 percent estimate, which puts the actual number at more than 100 million people.
What’s perhaps most interesting, however, about the data in the report is the fact that it shows (I believe for the first time) more people used apps than used the mobile browser.
This has been a year where search marketing truly matured. Mobile became one of the largest growth components, with its share of the overall search market now reaching 20 percent.
Looking ahead, expect 2012 to be the year when we push further into the Mobile Semantic Web 3.0, which presents opportunities that will drastically change SEO as we know it.
There will be “Four Horsemen” of an SEO apocalypse in 2012 and they will all be carrying a mobile device.
Quick Response or QR codes in 2012 will be near ubiquitous both online and offline in the U.S. to easily send people with mobile devices to online destinations.
QR codes are increasingly being used on billboards and various signage as nearly 50 percent of U.S. mobile users have a smartphone. Mobile devices themselves are ubiquitous with their users and are used often in tandem with using other media, such as magazines and television.
I envision these pixelized matrix barcodes present in the corner of all televised programs, especially news. Viewers will then be able to receive and share the latest updates on that televised news or programming with their mobile devices online. Television use will also be the medium which will explain how to use QR codes as its being used, so it takes hold in the mainstream understanding.
Ultimately, QR codes will then replace or be in tandem to URLs on all offline advertising and even online. This will cause search engines to rely less on text links and factor in interest from QR code use. Google and Bing can directly acquire this information from mobile users on their operating systems, Android and Windows Phone 7, respectively.
There will be reduced dependency on text for search and logins in 2012, especially on mobile devices.
Voice actions on Android and recently Siri on the iPhone have provided users a more direct way of getting answers and producing actions on their mobile devices. Just as Google used its free 411 service to build the database for voice actions, I feel it will, in turn, use the database from voice actions as a free/paid service to business users for logins and purchasing online by just using your voice.
Another means of logging in for mobile users will be touch-friendly image combinations that can also be used to refine certain search results. Voice capabilities at times avoid the need for search engines and/or present the need to change search tactics.
Search will be further fragmented in 2012 as mobile search is itself already fragmented by device-type to encompass feature phones, smartphones and tablets – with each offering different results not only between one another, but also with desktops.
The current landscape of mobile search to desktop is outlined with data and action items in a recently published Covario mobile SEO white paper. I envision that the search results of the three mobile types, as well desktop, will differ even more in 2012, as consumers’ ultimate search intentions and actions are different based on the device they are using.
A segmented search approach is needed, especially in mobile, as sites will need to be properly designed for each device type and optimized for the device user’s intent.