Random Tuesday thought: eBay is a better search engine than Google

Tuesday’s random thought: once you’ve worked up close and personal with Google for a while – particularly if you’re interested in trying to frig the rankings in your favour – you start to really appreciate the flaw with Google as a model in itself.

Firstly, it was built as a scientific tool: hence its historic reliance on links. Scientific papers reference each other as citations and thus the link became a proxy for citation in Google. A scientific paper that is referenced a lot is clearly important and thus, theoretically, so is a website or domain.

As we all know, that model fell down the second that people realised that Google rankings were monetisable. Hence, we are in year 14 of the link building wars.

But, browsing eBay for Christmas shopping at the weekend really brought home to me flawed Google is in other ways.

  1. eBay stock is categorised by its sellers when it is added to the site. Thus, there is no need for them to try and reverse-engineer a gimcrack categorisation system after the fact and try to force advertisers to enact some abstruse, incomplete technical standard.
  2. eBay search can be organised in several useful ways that Google doesn’t particularly have an analogue for:
    1. Cheapest product first – self explanatory
    2. Cheapest product including delivery – equally self explanatory
    3. Distance to seller
    4. ‘Buy it now’ prices
    5. Time remaining on auctions
    6. Most reliable/top-rated sellers

Combining your search term with these things make it a relative breeze to find the right thing on eBay. Better yet, it’s all done within one interface. If you click 10 results on Google, you will find yourself faced with 10 different sites, with different logos, navigation systems etc etc. We all know that even for relatively sophisticated web users it can be a nightmare finding your way around an unfamiliar site.

eBay is also truly a level playing field because there is no algorithm trying to assign weight to all this stuff – it’s just some relatively simple database querying. If you are the cheapest, you can be found by those motivated by price. If you are the best in terms of customer service, you can be found by those who want the security of reviews. If you are selling locally then someone nearby can find you.

By trying to build algorithmic proxies for these things into what was originally built as a citation engine, Google has gotten just plain bad at an awful lot of stuff because it is trying to imply structure on a web that is fundamentally unstructured.

I’ve averred before that I would never now go back to Google to book a hotel now that I’ve got a great app to hand (although I might use it for ancillary information about the location of the hotel in relation to nearby attractions). It’s also fairly obvious that you might use Google as a conduit to finding insurance prices, but that the actual action will ultimately happen on a price comparison engine and once they’ve captured your details, will you really go back to Google to start again next time?

Should you build a website to sell online?

My sister in law was asking me recently about getting a website built for her to sell her handmade jewellery. I told her not to bother, because the cost of having a site built would be one thing, but actually getting it turn up in Google and thus generate business would be another story entirely.

An eBay store would effectively cost her a fraction of the price – most of which would only be paid after the fact on actual sales. She could also compete fairly on reputation and price and not through buying into some bullshit link building scheme that she wouldn’t even understand (and shouldn’t have to) and that could burn her business to the ground at some point even if it was successful in the medium term.

More seriously and pertinently to my own interests, if you search on Google for used cars of various makes, you’ll increasingly see the likes of Friday Ad and Gumtree cropping up. With the best of intentions, unless you’re actually know something about cars, the very last place you should buy one would be from some Tom Noddy on Friday Ad or Gumtree. Yet – and on the basis of domain strength or brand or somesuch nonsense, Google are happy to serve up those sites up.

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6 thoughts on “Random Tuesday thought: eBay is a better search engine than Google

  1. Excellent piece there Paul, you are absolutely right of course. I’ve never been particulary enamered with googles ranking by association, initially it was a fantastic antidote to the spam filled engines that came before it but the web has evolved massively in the mean time. It’s now a money game either via paid advertising or some form of link building and getting near the top for common search terms is a near impossible task, no matter how good your site and content. I have long advised people not to bother unless they have something unique and even then getting to front page of lists is a difficult exercise.

    1. It is – you’re just fighting for one slot of ten for a particular set of words, which can cost untold thousands to achieve and can be snatched away in a heartbeat. In a way, I find myself drifting away from Google for generic shopping searches. Once I’ve found a site I like (admittedly using Google in the first place) I can’t see much reason to go back. Quite a thorny problem for them.

  2. I am a massive fan of ebay stores as well for the early stages of e-commerce. Amazon and Ebay have been monetising e-commerce for a while…Google’s brand association is ‘free’. I think big G need some more shock and awe in the ‘free’ B2B innovations area before they successfully monetise Google Shopping…funny that Amazon snubbed it.

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