When You Go Shopping, Who Do You Trust?
In the late 90s, my sister called, telling me that she and my brother-in-law, and my parents were going to shop for large screen projection TVs. I suggested that she do some searching around on usenet for information and complaints about popular recent models.
Calling a couple of days later, she described what happened at one of the stores on their TV shopping trip. The salesman showed them a model they all liked, and then dragged them over to a more expensive model. My sister innocently asked why they should want the pricier model over the earlier one, and the salesman started answering her as if she were a dumb blonde.
She told me she smiled, and then explained to him why they weren’t interested in the newer model – the company that had been producing it had been purchased by another company which cut costs by switching from three internal projectors to one, and raised the prices of that model in addition. The first model was a higher quality television at a lower price. She said that his jaw dropped a few inches, and he quickly stopped extolling the virtues of that model while ushering them back to the television that they liked.
Usenet isn’t always helpful in finding information about consumer products, but sometimes it’s a goldmine.
The Problems with Recommendations and Reviews
Yesterday, I wrote about The Growing Power of Online Reviews, and how mainstream media is recognizing the ability of review sites and customer reviews to have an impact upon the success of a business found through those sites or on a local search from a major search engine.
I received a couple of excellent comments in response to the post which mentioned the possibility that sabotage of reviews through false or misleading reviewers, possibly from competitors, could be harmful to businesses with good reputations. That is a possibility, especially with sites that allow anonymous reviews.
Should Search Engines Provide Reviews of Sites Found in Organic and Paid Search?
I’m going to set up a couple of scenerios to illustrate a process that might help people make decisions on how reliable they might find about businesses online – a process described in a new patent filing from Google.
Scenerio One – Legitimate Search Results
You go to a search engine and perform a search by entering a query, and receiving a set of results in response. The links to pages include page title, a snippet of text about the pages, a link to a cached copy of the page, another link to “similar pages,” and a something that you can hover over which shows “legitimacy information” about the site.
That information would include things like how long the site has been online, and review information from previous visitors to the site. It also allows you to find out about other domains which may offer similar services or goods or information, and a legitimacy score for those.
Scenerio Two – Advertising through Paid Search with Legitimacy Ratings
You set up an account to advertise your goods or services online. You choose keywords to advertise with, create ads, and build quality-filled persuasive landing pages. You get the account started, and your ads begin showing in search results. Underneath your ad is a link for people to get a “legitimacy score for this web site.”
They can click on it, and find out information about you, possibly how much you’ve been spending on advertising online, and for how long, what other people think of your site and your business, and comparison information about other businesses that are bidding on the same or similar keywords.
Google’s Patent Application on Legitimacy Through History and Transaction Volume
I started this post with the story about my sister’s shopping experience because there was something about the following patent application that reminded me of her shopping experience. The salesman had more incentive to sell an inferior product because he made more money from the transaction. In this patent filing, it appears that a site that has a longer spending relationship, and spends more money on advertising would have a higher legitimacy score that one with a lesser history and smaller account.
Providing history and transaction volume information of a content source to users
Invented by Johnny Chen and Mohit Aron
Assigned to Google, Inc.
US Patent Application 20060200445
Published September 7, 2006
Filed on March 3, 2005
A computer-implemented system and method for providing a legitimacy rating of a content source are provided. A request for a document is received. An electronic document associated with a content source is passed by a document provider in response to the request. A legitimacy rating of the content source is passed. Examples of legitimacy rating information include, for example, a history rating of the content source based on the length of time the document provider has published documents associated with the content source and a transaction volume rating of the content source based on the number of electronic documents associated with the content source that are passed by the document provider.
Here’s a list of some of the legitimacy information that may be provided to a searcher when confronted with the chance to see that information for a paid search result:
(1) Advertiser’s transaction volume compared to the transaction volume of comparison advertisers (e.g., advertisers in the same industry, or who bid on the same or similar keywords);
(2) Advertiser’s transaction volume compared to all advertisers (or all content sources of a particular type);
(3) How often a user has selected the document;
(4) How many times a user purchased from the advertiser after choosing the document;
(5) The ratio of user clicks / user purchases;
(6) A comparison of that ratio compared to similar advertisers;
(7) Average buyer purchases;
(8) Total value of goods purchased from the advertiser from people who selected the advertisement;
(9) Amount paid by the advertiser to the ad distributor who passed the advertisement to users;
(10) Start date of the ad, or any ad from the advertiser and how long the advertiser has been advertising;
(11) A score based upon that length of time compared to similar advertisers, or all advertisers;
(12) When the advertisement, or the advertiser’s advertisements, were selected a certain number of times;
(13) Number of rating users;
(14) User approval score – perhaps based upon a percentage of rating users who approve of the advertiser within a certain period of time;
(15) Advertiser’s industry, or other identifying information such as an identification of the keywords bid;
(16) The industries for which users have approved the advertiser;
(17) Geographical areas associated with the advertiser (geographic locations where the ad has been published, or the location of the advertiser’s headquarters;
(18) Number or percentage of user complaints;
(19) Appropriateness ratings along a variety of criteria.
I understand the impetus behind this patent application – people engaging in phishing and other illegal activities are growing more sophisticated, and it’s getting more difficult to recognize a potential scam because of that. Helpful and legitimate review organizations like Consumer Reports can only do so much while the web has been increasing dramatically in size. There’s also no telling who penned anonymous reviews on review sites.
The search engine is at the center of much ecommerce, and may be in an idea place to provide information about a business, like the legitimacy information described in the patent.
But, using criteria that benefits long term advertisers over new ones, and rates bigger spenders higher than businesses with smaller advertising budgets seems like it could place the search engine in a conflict of interest situation, where the consumer is the one who ends up being harmed.