Lee Odden blogged about Google Categories yesterday. I wasn’t able to duplicate the categories look, but it did get me thinking about the ramifications to online competition if categories in search become commonplace. As well as how categories might influence our SEO strategies as business owners.
Competing in the non-online marketplace has been a focus of research, and resulted in various competitive philosophies put forth by some of the most respected academic business minds in the world. Michael Porter of Harvard fame is one who has essentially dedicated his entire academic life to the concepts of competitiveness, and is seen my many (including myself) as the foremost expert in traditional competitive strategic analysis. But it is interesting to note, competing online is a different animal, and requires a different approach many traditional marketers aren’t quite comfortable with. Let’s take the shoe industry for example. Locally I can think of maybe a couple dozen places I could go and buy shoes, depending on what type of shoe I was looking for. So these local shoe resellers now compete against one another to attract my business. They buy newspaper and radio ads, do mailings, maybe rent a billboard, but they each attempt to get their message out to us, to keep us coming to them, and hopefully staying away from their competitors. But they now also need to keep our attention away from online shoe retailers, which is quite a different task, but important as more potential clients find online shopping appealing. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I bought shoes from a local brick and mortar store. I usually buy from Zappos.com… because I love the huge selection, the customer reviews, the free overnight shipping, and the free shipping on returns. It is a fabulous, no hassle system. Not to mention I don’t have to drive to the mall, deal with the crowds, or with my 2 year old daughter demanding to ride the “wee” (her term for slide) at the mall’s germ ridden treehouse (playground). It is a cesspool of all things icky (bless my wife for always having some Purell on hand to keep me sane).
So as more brick and mortar shops finally decide they also need to have an online presence, they will quickly determine the online competitive environment is very different, and can be intimidating. Not only are there far more competitors, as the geographical bounds are erased, but there are also non-retail sites competing for the same precious keywords. For example, if you type in “running shoes” in Google, you will see both online shoes stores, but also sites which review running shoes listed in the SERPs. So online retailers have to not only compete against more than just other retailers for keywords, but against information sites as well, as they attempt to squeeze onto the first SERP.
I have mentioned in previous posts that we use SEO techniques to improve our sites, so they perform better than our competitors sites. We pay little attention to other sites competing for the same keywords, who aren’t selling the same products, or are just informational sites. For example, we personally don’t care if Wikipedia ranks higher than our site for a particular keyword(s), since a potential customer can’t buy the products we sell from Wiki. We don’t consider Wikiesque sites an important aspect to our competitor focused SEO efforts. But how would Google’s Categories SERP influence competitive SEO efforts? In the Google screen shot in Lee’s post, we can see the categories listed as Comparison Shopping, Reviews, Stores, References and Others. I would be interested to know how these categories were decided upon, and if these will be the only categories for every search return, or will the search categories change based on the term searched? Is the order of the categories consistent, or will it change based on the keyword searched? We will need answers to these questions to properly prepare our SEO strategies. Obviously Google will need to be aware of those which will attempt to game the system and get their site listed in the top category, or in as many categories as possible, without regard to which category they should properly be placed within. I would imagine Google will only allow any given domain to be included in one category, period, or will have some protocol in place to best deal with these issues and how to police the system to hopefully be as efficient and relevant as possible.
Despite all the potential headaches Google might face, I like the idea of searches organized by category. And what I like most as a business person is through a search engine category system, the online competitive environment would more closely mirror the non-online competitive world. Now retailers could compete to be included in the Stores section of a SERP, and Wikipedia and others will be relegated to the References or Reviews sections where they belong. Also, as a searcher out to buy a product, hopefully it would be possible to set my preferences to drop the sites in the Reviews, References and Others sections, so I would just get a page full of retailers for me to peruse, perfect! Then, if we also throw the whole concept of Local search into the discussion, all of a sudden I could see the same couple dozen local shoes stores mentioned earlier listed on a locally-based, shoe oriented SERP. That would be pretty cool, I still won’t buy from them, but it would be pretty cool. 😉 As they now would compete against one another, as they have been doing in the “real world” for quite some time. Pretty interesting stuff.