Just four months after announcing the Google Base project, Google is already working to integrate the content into it's traditional search results. Just recently, reports have started to show up in blogs about searches that lead to a results page with a Google Base search prompt for refining the original search. While this is likely Google's way of testing the waters of further expansion, thus far, I'm not personally a big fan of what I'm seeing.

When it launched, Google described Google Base as follows:

Google Base enables content owners to easily make their information searchable online. Anyone, from large companies to website owners and individuals, can use it to submit their content in the form of data items. We'll host the items and make them searchable for free.

Google Base users could upload anything from their favorite recipe to their kid's little league stats. Users could also post classified style ads to list cars, houses and pretty much anything else they wanted to sell. It was pretty clear at the time that Google likely had bigger plans for Google Base than simply acting as an online depository for people's data, but no one knew quite how they would work to integrate it into their traditional search functions.

The two big examples I can find for Google adding Google Base to the mix are the queries "house for sale" and "cars for sale." On each of these queries, Google adds a new set of search boxes BELOW the pay per click ads, but above the organic search results. The boxes are preceeded by a note that says "Refine your search for [insert query here]."

I gave it a quick whirl earlier today on both the house front and the car front, just to see what type of data it pulled. Thus far, I'm intrigued, but not impressed. The first problem I see is that it gives three query boxes for refining the search. The first box is fairly self explanatory with the label "location."

The problem is that the next two boxes, "listing type" and "property type" seem a little ambiguous to me. Sure, it makes sense to use the prefilled "for sale" and "house" options, and I can even speculate that I might be able to change it up to "for rent" or "condo" but just how many options can I type in? If there's a limit, wouldn't it be easier to use a drop-down box? This is what Google does in response to the "car for sale" query...I'm asked for a location, then select a "make" and "condition" from drop down boxes before launching my search.

The other issue I see with the way the search is refined is that it's just plain confusing to have a new set of query boxes popping up in a totally different location from where I'm used to searching. It would seem to me that the option needs to show up where the original search box is, or that it might make even more sense to simply offer a link option to "search for used cars listed in Google Base" or something similar. I know Google is simply experimenting with this placement, but it leaves me feeling a little uneasy. I'm also not sure I like the idea of pushing the organic listings even further down the page.

The results pages that Google offers up once a user does refine their search is also interesting. The right side of the screen features a Google Map of the area with those now-familiar red balloons marking the location of each listing. The left side of the screen features a search results style listing of the cars or houses that Google returned from the search. It includes a quick overview of the car type, location, condition, price and date posted along with giving a link to find more information. Clicking on one of the balloons on the map will cause a searcher to jump to that item's listing on the left side of the list.

My biggest issue here is that Google obviously failed usability 101 when designing the interface. I spent a good two or three minutes waiting for the scroll bar to load on the page so that I could look at more than just the first two listings. When it never showed up, I hit reload. Still no scroll bar. It was only then that I noticed that Google was using a "frame" to show the item listings and that the scroll bar was to the right of the listings, but to the left of the map.

Google also offers the ability to fine tune Google Base searches once you get to the first results page. I'd selected "used" and "Mazda" from the drop down box on the orginal search results page and was met with the option to further narrow my choices by model, price, color and distance from my search location.

While I can see the value of Google making this type of information easy to find, I'm just not sure I'm a fan of how they are trying to integrate it. It will be interesting to see what the general public thinks of it and what other variations Google might try.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 23, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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