Google to start charging companies for listings

June 1, 2012 12:16 am

By Richard Waters in San Francisco

Google is to start charging companies for listing their products in a core part of its search service, the first time it has converted a free section of its giant online index into a purely commercial venture.

The change to Google Product Search will mean that many merchants that have relied on the search engine to lure potential customers online will face higher costs, according to analysts.

The move also raises the prospect that Google will eventually replace other parts of its free listings with adverts, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land. “It represents an attitude that they’re no longer going to go out and gather stuff up for free,” he said.

Google said it was making the switch to enable it to show users higher quality results when they are looking for products online. It also said the service would be relabelled as a “sponsored” venture to show it was now based on advertising.

The change in direction brings an end to a 10-year-old experiment in which Google tried to filter information about products from the Web and make it available through a separate panel on its results pages. When it launched the service, first known as Froogle, the company said that not charging merchants to list items would give internet users “confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased”.

On Thursday, however, Google said that after a transitional period, only merchants who pay will be able to have their products appear in the service, now called Google Shopping. Its algorithms will sort through commercial listings and select which to show using a formula based on relevance and the amount of money the advertisers are prepared to pay.

Google sought to depict product search as separate from typical web search and as an area that could be improved by making it commercial. Information about many products is not available on the web and is often supplied directly by merchants, requiring “deeper relationships” with them, Sameer Samat, product manager for Google Shopping, wrote in a blog post announcing the news.

“We believe that having a commercial relationship with merchants will encourage them to keep their product information fresh and up to date,” he added.

Similar arguments could be made about other areas of information that Google presently indexes free of charge, raising the possibility that more parts of its service will eventually be replaced by advertising, Mr Sullivan said. These include Google Places, the company’s local listings service, which relies partly on information supplied by restaurants, stores and other providers of local services. Google refused to comment on its future plans.


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