Google Sandbox Retired

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Just saw this on, where Caffeine was being tested. If someone finds said datacenter before I do, drop me a line (although I’m not 100% sure some of Caffeine hasn’t already been integrated):

We appreciate all the feedback from people who searched on our Caffeine sandbox.

Based on the success we’ve seen, we believe Caffeine is ready for a larger audience. Soon we will activate Caffeine more widely, beginning with one data center. This sandbox is no longer necessary and has been retired, but we appreciate the testing and positive input that webmasters and publishers have given.

Warning: Use Google Commerce Search At Your Own Risk

Google Commerce is a new hosted search product specifically built for retailers. It seems like it’s some sort of bastard child between Google Custom Search, some parts strapped on from Froogle (or Google Products), and who knows what else. You can read the fawning rewrite of a press release over at TechCrunch if you’re so inclined.

The bottom line is that this is really, really bad for any online retailer who uses it.  Let me show you why:

Failure to Optimize

While it seems like a no-brainer to use Google for internal product search, what it really means is that you’re failing at online retail. If you need a hosted search engine to help you improve your sales, then it means you’re not investing enough in your infrastructure and backend. It means you’re not really aware of what your customers are looking for, that you’re not staying on top of seasonal trends, and that you don’t have a half decent IT team who can put together a search function that makes the most sense for what you do. Beyond that, if you’re relying on search to power your user navigation, then you’re screwing up, big time. Customers like to search, but they love to browse, compare, and see what their options are among different categories.

Giving Google Your Data

So Google Commerce Search integrates nicely with Analytics, which integrates very nicely with Adwords. I don’t understand how serious online commerce operations feel comfortable with letting Google have all this data.  Using Google Commerce Search, Google will be able to know even more about your site:

  • Usability issues – are people searching more on your site then your competitors?
  • The products people look for the most on your site.
  • Which searches convert and which searches don’t.
  • What specific attributes people want the most.

Since Commerce will tie in nicely with Analytics, you’re basically giving away all your data to Google. If you’re tracking conversions with AdWords, then what’s to stop Google from cloning your operation?

What’s that you say? Google is an advertising company, not a e-commerce vendor? Don’t forget that Google also owns:

Add their new mortgage lead generation marketplace, and it’s pretty clear where this will be going down the road. Google will  either take over products that make sense (with things like music, books, and lead generation), or let retailers make just enough money to keep competing, by adjusting quality score and bid prices in relation to the data they already have.

Loss of Control

Conversion issues and proprietary data aside, there are fundamental issues that I have with outsourcing your search function:

  1. You can’t control which products show up. You might be more interested to show a product that converts better then what the customer is looking for, and it’s not clear that you can do this  with Commerce.
  2. You can’t tweak it for seasons, for traffic from different sources, for different customer models, and for different parts of your store.
  3. Will customers really trust you if there is a huge search function on your site that says “Powered by Google”?

The bottom line is this:

Online retailers need to stop being lazy. Google traffic is great, both paid and organic – but you need to stop relying on Big G for all your other internal needs and start looking at other solutions.  Otherwise, eventually your whole business will become reliant on Google, from traffic to checkout, and then it’s not really a business anymore, is it?