Designing The Best Telecommuting and Remote Work Environment

There’s only a handful of subjects I would consider myself an expert in, without first having to look around the around the room and see who else is in attendance. For over 6 years I’ve been working from home, so I have logged my +10,000 hours to become an expert, and I can say there are some specifics needed to make working from home truly successful.

Recently, remote working, or working from home, or telecommuting, has been less fashionable than it was a few years ago. Marissa Mayer yanked the leash at Yahoo to reverse course and have everyone work within the office, and rightfully so. Communication, impromptu discussion,  water cooler banter are all important components to a successful team and successful company. Additionally, reviewing log files and confirming that many of your employees are not actually working is a totally different level of productivity. The policy to disallow remote working for Yahoo is justified, considering how things had deteriorated.

However, working from home has a number of distinct advantages to companies, including increasing employee productivity, efficiency, and retention. Whatever the term being used, remote working is here to stay and will continue to make gains as the remote office environment is improved upon and that’s the goal of this article, to provide a template for creating a successful work at home environment.

From my experience, here’s what you need to be successful:

1. Quiet Zone

This refers to not only a lack of audio interference, but also for any other kind of distraction. One of the key advantages to working remote is the chance to focus without being interrupted by the passers-by or neighbors in a typical office. To expand further on this point, a quiet zone not only refers to not having co-workers distracting you, but also avoiding dogs, kids, televisions, and any other intrusion you can imagine. To put it simply, you should be able to sit in your chosen office space for a minimum of one hour without having any type of intrusion. If you can accomplish that, then you have a quiet zone.

2. Ergonomic Office Furniture

Little attention is paid to the quality of office furniture at work, but it becomes much more obvious when you have bought a cheap home office chair with no cushion or back support. Now pull that office chair up to a desk that is not the proper height, has a poorly placed pull out keyboard tray, and will wobble with the slightest bump. Low quality office furniture is easy to find, but attaining furniture where you can actually sit comfortably for hours on end, is much harder to find. I recommend carefully examining office furniture before purchasing to make sure it will stand up over time, and fits with your body. Also, expect to spend some money, because good office furniture is not cheap. If your company will not expense a new purchase, then many times good deals can be found for used office furniture in your area as companies are constantly getting rid of gently used items.  Overall, if you think you can sit on a couch comfortably to work for days on end, then your back will quickly correct you.

3. Reliable and Fast Internet Connectivity

Reliable and fast internet seems like the most obvious item here, but it’s actually the most difficult. If you have used your internet on the weekends and at night with little problem, that’s fine, but using your internet 5 days a week through peak office hours is a different story. Often connections become unreliable during the day, especially when just a few second of outage is needed to drop your conference call and frustrate a key client or executive. If you do find an issue, sometimes connectivity is the most difficult issue to fix. Usually there is only one cable provider for internet per residence, so options are limited. You can find internet through satellite or phone companies, but this will usually not be fast enough to maintain a good office environment. I recommend working with your ISP to either upgrade to the highest internet speed option for your residential account, or pay the extra money for a business account. I have worked in a few cities now during my 6 year tenure, and sometimes there is no good option. Currently I have the fastest level of business tier internet in my area, and even then I’ve had my provider come out to my residence several times in the last year to fix the router, dig up and install a new cable line to the house, and install a new jack. It’s time consuming, but keep in mind, many times you are the IT department, so you need to plan for it.

4. Light

This probably comes as a surprise, but it’s crucial. Offices are generally well lit environments, using windows and bright halogen lights. That’s not a coincidence, because the light reflects a daytime environment and will keep you more alert and active. Without going into brain chemistry here, if you want to test this theory, try turning out all the artificial lights at night in your home, and read a book by candle light. See how quickly you will get drowsy, even if it’s well before your bedtime. The ideal setting is to have multiple light sources, both natural and artificial to keep your senses active, and both your eyes and your mind will thank you.

5. Have A Back-Up

You never know when internet may go down, your electricity may go off, or some other unforeseen situation arises. It’s not only crucial to have your cell phone/PDA available, but also have a temporary office location when needed. The temporary location could be a coffee shop, remote office center, or just a restaurant that will allow you to concentrate and get good wi-fi.

6. Fear

You could also call this motivation, but to be specific, I have been asked numerous times, “How do you get yourself up in the morning and stay focused without anyone else there?” My answer is simple, “A healthy fear of losing my job.”

This is where the Yahoo employees went wrong, and what is needed to succeed when working by yourself. The fear doesn’t have to be of losing a job, however, it could also be a fear of finishing in 2nd place, fear of underachieving, fear of having the company fail. Psychologically people tend to be more motivated by loss than by gain, so that’s where fear comes in handy instead of just wanting to succeed. The fear can come from many places, but the key is there needs to be a motivating factor when there’s not a stimulus coming from other people. Typically there is no one to praise you, or high-five you, or joke with you to keep you going. In short, the motivation and the actuation needs to come from within. Naturally l lean toward being introverted and self reliant, so these are also good traits in a home work environment. However, the overall traits don’t matter, what does matter is that you will not have parents, or teachers, or bosses to keep you directed.

7. Keep A Set Schedule

Finally, without the coming and going of other people, it’s too easy to simply keep on working. That’s right, the biggest problem to solve after making sure motivation is there, is to know when to back-off. Many people use others as a litmus test to know when they have worked enough. If everyone else in the office has gone home, then it’s OK to do the same. However when working remote it’s very easy to work late into the night, and start early in the morning, and over time, this will result in burn-out. By keeping a set schedule and staying focused during that schedule, it becomes easier to walk away, disconnect, and then come back energized for the next day.

Additionally there are some other quick items I would recommend. These are not essential, but to have the best and most successful experience possible, I highly recommend the below.

A. Get Out

Speaking of having a place to go to, make sure to get out of the house. It’s too easy to go days…DAYS…without actually leaving the house. If you have heard the phrase “cabin fever”, then you know what staying inside constantly will do to you. Humans are social animals and we require more interaction than is provided by the internet alone. Usually I don’t enjoy working away from the office because of the distractions (crowded, noisy coffee house with wobbly tables), but I do recognize the advantages in getting out. I recommend at least once every 1-2 weeks to spend a few hours working from a new location or comfortable location outside of your typical office. Having a weekly lunch meet-up with other professionals is a great excuse to get moving, it will force you to leave the house behind.

B. Get a Stand Up Desk

Admittedly, this is the advice I have not taken, but listen to what I say: sitting is the most dangerous thing you will do all day. There are many variations here, including a tread mill desk, a stand up desk, or just plain standing while talking on a conference call. I do the latter, which is every time I am presenting a webinar or conducting a meeting where I don’t need to make an intricate live presentation, I stand up. Not only does this help your overall cardiovascular health, it also creates a more energetic thought and speaking pattern, providing your teammates and clients a better version of you.

C. Use Video Conferencing

Words are powerful, but body language and eye contact are also a key components of human communication. Regardless of how adept you are at using the right words, in the right tone, at the right pace, visual communication also plays a role. However, using video can be tricky for several reasons. Not only are some people uncomfortable being on camera, but many times the camera is in an odd position or everyone can’t be viewed. For example, how many times have you been looking up someone’s nostrils, because they are using their laptop camera? Additionally, when speaking on a conference call, many times only one camera is on where several team members are gathered, so only one of a group can be seen on video. Instead, take advantage of new technology where a camera can be set up to view an entire team, and then individuals located by themselves can opt in on their personal cameras (hopefully at eye level). In terms of hardware, many companies specialize in communication systems including a new offering by Google, but for even less investment, a stand alone webcam (that views the whole room for team meetings) and a projection screen can be set up as well.  For software, there are also many options including GoToMeeting, Microsoft’s Lync, Google Hangout, etc. Overall, this makes for a much more dynamic environment where the disconnect is nearly eliminated between attendees, uniting both audio and visual components.

Overall there are a number of tips and tricks that can be used, but this list should provide a valuable guide to producing the best telecommuting environment possible. In my time working at home, the best people I have seen who eventually go back to the office, went back because they lacked the social stimulus of working in an office with others. Working at home is not for everyone, and it’s a mistake to think anyone can do it. Many times I wonder how I ended up with both the privilege and the burden of my situation, but I’ve found ways to make it a net positive in my professional life. I’ve learned many valuable lessons being on my island, and also had the chance to experience my children’s first steps, first words, and first day leaving for school. Working at home is a unique situation born from modern technology, and with the right structure, it can bear great fruit as well.

 

Mobile Site Optimization Case Study: Yahoo

Let me begin by saying, I love Yahoo. That is why it makes sense to pick on them, they can handle it.

For a few years now, Yahoo’s news content has been excellent, and I’ve been impressed by how Yahoo will consistently pull interesting stories into their Yahoo.com page that are not easily found elsewhere. I’d say I spend an average of 10-15 minutes per day minimum, reading through their articles. Seeing Marissa Meyer’s emphasis on mobile today at CES 2014, reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a critique on Yahoo because their mobile site could be so much more.

It goes without saying that everyone outside of Microsoft has seen the rise of mobile coming for years, and that whether a retailer or a content provider, mobile needs to be top of mind.

Apps, Apps, Apps, and the Mobile Browser

One of the many master strokes by Apple in recent years has been the creation of the App Store, a marketplace leading to a range of apps easily downloaded to your iPhone or iPad (and then imitated by Google for Android). The problem with ingesting mobile content like Yahoo, is do you really want to download an app for every site you are visiting? That will clog up your mobile device pretty quickly.

If you look right now in the Apple App Store, you’ll find several Yahoo apps: Yahoo, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, etc. My point is, I don’t want to download a zillion different apps, I’d rather use my browser to visit. This doesn’t mean a mobile app isn’t valuable, but it does mean that downloading an app for every site and sub-domain of a site you visit doesn’t make sense, and usually the app doesn’t even offer all of the features of the site. So, for this study, I’ve focused on how Yahoo appears in Safari on my iPhone 5, running iOS 7.

Improving the Experience

My main point in detailing my own experience, is that developers and UI designers should regularly use the sites and content they are building. If you do use regularly, as an end user would, then some improvements start becoming obvious as detailed here. Also, since I spend entirely too much time reading about sports (I’d rather read about a game than actually watch it), I have time to be a user experience expert here.

photo_21. Site Layout: Where is My Image?

When scrolling down and then back up again, many times the main images in the Yahoo scroll bar can not be fully seen. This leads to the image being cropped by the search bar, making it difficult to see exactly what the article is about beyond the title of the article, and thus making me less likely to click on the story.

2. Time Sensitive Content

photo_1In this image, the initial score from the Cowboys-Eagles game is displayed. The only problem is, by this point when the image was captured, the game had concluded the day before (24 hours ago).

Some content should be considered immediate relevant, or breaking news, and then the story should be pulled down. Keeping the content up past a short time is just a bad experience and wasted space.

(And yes, I clicked on the Miley Cyrus article. Don’t judge me, this leads to my next point.)

 

3. Improving Served Contentphoto_3

I try to stay positive, but really, I’ve heard enough about the Kardashians.

My issue is, that like millions of others, at some point I clicked on these stories and now I am stuck in a spiral of Kardashian news. To adjust this, Yahoo offers a very hard to find, downward pointing grey arrow to see “fewer like this” option. Press the arrow, and you opt in, or I guess opt out in this case.

That’s great, but I’m not totally sure what ‘like this’ means. Are you picking up my lack of interest in baby gifts, Kardashian stories, holiday pictures, etc.? What is the key element of this story that will be removed in the future from new stories?

You have to trust the algorithm, but my main point is that it’s very difficult to undo what clicking has been down, and remove yourself from a series of articles that don’t interest you. I’ve had stories on the WWE and Brett Favre’s pirate drawings stay stuck on my feed for days.

The way to exclude stories and adjust content should be apparent, and there should be a reference that if a story has appeared, and not been clicked on, then that story gets pushed back eventually, or just disappears.

4. Scrolling Windows and Scrolling Browsers:photo The Awkward Dance

This scrolling issue is especially an problem in the Safari browser, and an off-shoot of everyone working to make things touchscreen sensitive, but not working on things holistically.

The top news bar for Yahoo scrolls left and right, revealing highlighted stories, usually about 35-40 in total. When clicked, the browser goes to the story, but the issue occurs after hitting the back button to return to the Yahoo site.

After the story is viewed, the browser is now ready to forward to the story page with a rightward swipe, but the scroll bar on the top of Yahoo is set to scroll between highlighted news stories. The net result:

  • Scroll exactly horizontal, and you keep scrolling through top stories
  • Scroll slightly diagonal, and you scroll to the page you just navigated from

This turns into a back and forth, trying to not go back to stories you already read, so you can see other primary stories. Many times it ends with me closing the browser window in frustration just to reboot the page later.

5. Load Errors and Never Ending Scrollingphoto_5

I’ve seen many instances where a story doesn’t load, instead of displaying an error page. If this was simply a redirect to an affiliated site, I would understand, but these are Yahoo’s own stories which should be present on their services.

Additionally, I’ve seen errors where content doesn’t load as part of they story page, leading to replicating error and possibly never ending page scroll error. Overall, not especially enjoyable when you are trying to see the details.

Yahoo Mobile Site Scroll from Kevin Packler on Vimeo.

6. photo_12Defaulting To the Wrong Content: Sports Scores

When navigating to the Yahoo Sports page from the main Yahoo.com page, you are immediately shown sports scores. That’s nice, but hardly engaging content. Do newspapers print all scores on the first page? Scores should be a secondary option as it is on the desktop site, but the mobile site goes here first.

Want more reason why scores shouldn’t be the default landing page? Navigate to the NFL section, and you will see scores from the prior Sunday, but do you really need to know that on Wednesday, 3 days later? Nevermind if you accidentally tap to prior week in the season and get trapped in that area.

Instead the most engaging content, is located in the “News” tab, which must be clicked on to get to current sports content. The most engaging and summary content should be first, and the secondary and detailed content should be next in terms of click path.

7. Drill Down Options That Make Sense: Navigating to Sports Pages and Leagues

photo_9Let’s say you want to look at NFL content only. Then you chose from a drill down option at the upper left corner of the page. Sounds simple, unless you want to look at “Other Sports”, where something like UFC is not included as one of the top tier options.

When pressing “Other Sports”, the screen goes…blank.

The reason is because the “Other Sports” menu is shorter than the main navigation menu, so you must know to scroll back up the page, to eventually find the flyout menu tab actually contains the other sports back up on the top of the page.

For several photo_8days, I believed Yahoo had simply taken away the other sports as a glitch, until discovering the secret hiding place at the top of the page.

So looking for additional content, just like here on my site, you need to keep scrolling…

 

 

 

photo_7

And there it is…now I can read about my UFC news, because you know, that Anderson Silva leg break was nasty.

 

 

8. Where’s My Story?

I don’t have a screen shot for this, because it’s not really viewable. When clicking back from a page after viewing a story in the vertical infinite scroll of stories (below the main horizontal scroll bar on the Yahoo main page) many times I saw another story I wanted to read, but the page will refresh, thus reordering and making my secondary preference disappear. The order of the stories in the scroll bar should stay the same, at least in the short term and not reload differently each page visit so I have to research the infinite scroll list. Allow your user to a second chance at the content.

Next, many times I’ve wanted to go back to find and reference a story I read on Yahoo days or even weeks later, and it’s impossible to find with any reference to Yahoo, even via the Yahoo search engine. In Yahoo’s search engine, there should be some type of tag or marker that shows a story has come up on Yahoo, so then it can be found more easily. Otherwise, guess what I do? I use Google to try and find the story instead.

End All and Be All

So this small sample study is based on Yahoo, but the same principles could be used with any mobile content site, including retail. I could have easily discussed CNN and how the James Earl Jones announcement of “This is CNN” playing every time I opened their app caused me to uninstall, because I didn’t need to constantly hear that (yes, you have a cool voice and I know I am looking at CNN). Or, I could also discuss how poor the Amazon drill down options are in their Apple app when compared to their desktop site.

I’ve chosen Yahoo because I have a ton of respect and appreciation for Yahoo has down in the last couple of years. When hearing Marissa Meyer’s emphasis on mobile, it seemed a perfect time to think about this. Mobile site developers, webmasters, designers, and marketers need to spend quality time on their own sites. I know this from experience, it’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers and cool projects coming down the pipeline, but unless you are using something everyday, it’s very easy to miss the trees for the forest, or in this case, the news for the scores.

 

Channel Dollars and Loose Change

For a long time I’ve wondered what to do with ChannelDollars.com, and specifically writing about channel marketing within the shopping engine industry.

This site is/was devoted to comparison shopping engines, but oh, how times have changed. Back when I started this over 5 years ago, I thought shopping engines would proliferate into a group of large scale shopping sites, surrounded by series of smaller-scale, niche shopping engines. Want a textbook? Go to a textbook shopping engine. Want phamaceuticals or health supplements? Go to a supplement shopping engine. In some parallel universe, that could have worked.

CSEvolution

Back in 2008, I wrote about how Google would eventually merge their search engine architecture with shopping engines, and you know, that was pretty accurate, looking at Google Shopping and Google PLA today. However, by the end of 2009 the future for shopping engines was turning ominous, and I wrote a post detailing why  it was time for comparison shopping engines to change, or disappear. You see, Google, Amazon and other players were consolidating the online retail game. Amazon has been at this for a long time, but it wasn’t until the financial crisis in 2008 that Google really began to take online retail seriously, and to make a concerted effort to bridge the gap between consumers and merchants. Amazon was already there, and amazingly many channels still allow Amazon to list and advertise products. Imagine constantly telling a consumer to go to Amazon to see items: over time, why wouldn’t that consumer just go directly to Amazon instead and bypass the channel completely? I’m sure Jeff Bezos secretly smiles at the short sightedness of online companies, in taking the quick dollar instead of the long-term gain.

From 2009 until now at the end of 2013, many shopping engines merged, folded, or just have a propped-up storefront with an outsourced backend system. The list is long and includes former standouts such as Like.com, Cashback, Jellyfish, MSN Shopping, Yahoo Shopping (resurection possible), PriceRunner, Smarter, etc.  So, shopping engines still exist and a few comparison shopping engines are making gains, but most are shrinking, consolidating and becoming more like affiliate networks now, as detailed in a webinar I highly enjoy: Are CSE’s Dead?

Personally, I also hit my own road blocks during this time in writing for ChannelDollars. I found it difficult to write about the industry when my knowledge is directly gained from the clients I represent and the partners I work with. There’s a lot of inherent conflicts there. Couple that with only Google, Amazon, and a select few others showing substantial growth, and it becomes obvious why this site has been stuck in neutral for a long time.

Maturing Industry, New Frontiers

Looking ahead, the shopping engines as they exist now still have challenges, where in a few years we’ll likely only see Amazon, Google, Bing/Yahoo, Shopping/eBay, PriceGrabber and Shopzilla as key players existing in the space.

Mobile use and mobile shopping is continuing to grow at a frenetic pace, while PC purchases and PC use is decline, expected to keep doing down for another 2 years before bottoming out. Digging deeper, on mobile devices, the browser is not the key way to explore and connect. Instead, the browser is just one of many apps used to explore the digital world. Google, as usual, was smart and saw the shifting pattern. Realizing they could be locked out if confined to a browser or PC OS, Google instead invested in Android to capitalize on the mobile evolution. This positions Google nicely to continue to serve consumers with retail ads. Amazon is well positioned as the retailer of the 21st century, and of course has an app which consumers will utilize among other paths such as using an Amazon Kindle tablet directly. Here, shopping engines risk being locked out too, as the inevitable happens and consumers navigate away from heavy browser use on their PC, instead working more inside of apps. Add in the impending dietary restriction of discontinuing cookie use, and browser-based channels look like a poor bet long-term.

What does look promising, is any channel which takes advantage of a new platform. Pinterest for example, is finding ways to integrate images with product information, and becoming a powerful tool to drive traffic to a retailer’s store. Other channels may develop overtime such as Twitter, and the long overdue Facebook retail evolution. The power of next-gen platforms becomes more clear when you consider e-commerce is entering a mature stage.

Look around, all of the key players in online retail have existed for 10-15 years on average. If you are looking to start a new online store today, it’s possible to succeed, but you better have more than just a website up your sleeve. Channels and companies positioned for large scale growth in the coming years will either have an international footprint where markets are still developing, or take advantage of new types of platforms and new services, where consumers can connect with their favorite goods.

Taking it Personal

Where does this leave me, and ChannelDollars.com? Quite frankly, I don’t know.

For a long time I’ve decided it doesn’t make sense to devote space to shopping engines, just like Brian Smith decided a while ago with ComparisonEngines (one of my inspirations). Sometimes, the best way to move on, is to close the current chapter. So, this is my parting shot to focusing on shopping engines and marketplaces. It will require some site restructuring, assorted subject matter, and at least another year commitment to paying my hosting fees. I can’t say for sure what I will write about, but it will probably be where retail, technology, business, and common sense overlap. That’s always been a sweet spot.

sunset

 

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of Shopping Engines

Every once and a while, you see a webinar that makes you think differently about things.

For a while now, comparison engine growth has stagnated, and in some cases reversed, while the rest of the online retail industry has steadily grown at a rate around 15% per year. This webinar addresses what is happening with shopping engines and whether the customer segment they represent is worth going after in light of other resources fighting for budget (the answer is yes, by the way).

If you have been working with CSEs for a while, or just looking to understand their evolution better, I suggest taking a few minutes and check out “Are CSEs Dead? The Evolution of Shopping Comparison Engines”

http://www.mercent.com/webinars/are-cses-dead-the-evolution-of-shopping-comparison-engines

Google Shopping Arrives

This is how years of waiting lead to a few months of scrambling.

A widely held belief among CSE and e-commerce professionals for years has been that Google would eventually convert their Google Product Search service to a paid listing service. I had believed, incorrectly, that Google would focus on their existing Product Listing Ads program and keep Google Product Search, just like there are paid and natural search results now for web search. However, Google took the step of completely converting over Google Product Search to a paid service funneled through Google Adwords, formerly known as Google Product Listing Ads. The new service will be branded Google Shopping, which seems the natural choice ever since ‘Froogle’ was recinded. Danny Sullivan correctly noted this flip from free to paid is the first time Google has rolled back a free service into a paid model. So on both levels, for CSE and Google, this is a defining moment.

From the Google perspective, the move is seen as a way to better refine search results. One of the issues encountered by Google under the free model, is that there were many low quality sellers and listings which muddled the search results and provided a poor user experience. By implementing a paid model, Google then removes a lot of the clutter by limiting listings to merchants will invest in their marketing. With investment then comes control, and that holds for the investor too. The issue of control is what has continued to push product listings into Google Adwords. Once product ads take advantage of the Adwords infrasctructure, then product listings have the most advanced online marketing tools available, including many features foreign to CSEs such negative keyword lists, day-parting, and ad group control. The ripple effect from this change not only changes the way CSE marketers will work, but causes a ripple effect througout the CSE industry. This could signal a collapse for free shopping engines and strong downward pressure on 2nd and 3rd tier comparison engines as budget moves away to Google.

Consumer Facing Impact
From a consumer point of view, the new Google Shopping experience will condense product listings and limit a consumer’s view. In recent times, some type of product image related ad has shown-up all over the Google SERP. By taking this step, Google begins to consolidate the ads into specific sections, with the most important limitation being that the Google Product Search results area will now feature a tighter, 5 listing format avaialable above the fold. Individual listings will still appear in the top and right-hand portions of the page. The product listings will attempt to drive traffic directly to a merchant site typically, but a consumer will still be able to enter a Google Shopping area (also available via ‘Shopping’ link), where all search results are product listings. Over time, Google plans to build greater search functionality into the Google Shopping area, such as better refinded left-hand navigation choices. This sounds like the same approach as Amazon, where there will be product group specific refinement options, likely coming from more advanced product feed processing.

Merging Platforms, Changing Systems
To make all this happen, Google has an ambitious project to merge 2 existing systems to create Google Shopping. Previously the Google Product Search system was developed from the Froogle/GoogleBase lineage, but then a seperate system derived from the GAN (Google Affiliate Network) platform is used for Product Listing Ads. These 2 systems had led to seperate requirements for each service, so for example, a product could be ineligble for Product Search but live on Listing Ads. The unification of the two systems will lead to a single set of requirements. Currently it appears the current product URL for Product Search will be depricated, and the ‘adwords_redirect’ field, aka Adwords Redirect link, will be used for all future traffic. Likely additional data points will continue to roll out, both in new product data points but also Google system specific points used for not only AdWords, but also emerging offerings like Google Catalog and Google’s retargeting program.

Merchant Impact
Any new change creates opportunity just by disruption, so smart merchants will see the opportunity to exploit what should be a massive push by Google during the Holiday Season to route consumer traffic and sales to merchants. The timing of the Fall changeover will lead to chaos, but will also will reward the merchants who become adept and aggressively test the evolving Google infrastructure. Initially during the change, the combined Product Search and Listing Ads conversions will likely decline, and competition in the Listings Ads (aka Google Shopping) will spike. However, the new focus on product traffic will provide a lot of opportunity to make up for the shortfall. The most significant change is that Google will need to be treated more like a normal paid channel, with a careful eye on return when calculating ad spend costs.

The next significant division occurs across company lines, where small business should worry and big business should smile. That type of statement has been too politicized, so to be clear here, Google will focus on what they see as the top businesses in terms of quality to the consumer. So large brands will tpyically benefit here, where Google will continue to move to list the top ~5 merchants on a product result, and overall will lean more toward a large brand based on popularity/history components. The consolidated space means that marketers representing large retailers or retailers with a strong brand in their product space should see significant opportunity. The Google alrorithm will look at product listing relevancy before considering bids, so it’s important to understand that keyword-search-to-product-match is still heavily dependant on the product information being submitted, so optimization is not a strictly monetary one. Businesses worried about rising costs, should carefully consider elements outside of bidding.

One possible opportunity for the small business space revolves around the auction format which makes up the Adwords infrastructure. Currently there are minimum bids in place, but I’m hopeful that Google will one day experiment with an open bid system. This way small merchants could bid $.01 for niche traffic, and still see some good exposure without a heavy financial burden. That’s looking ahead, but curerntly is still one important optiono to help tight margins. Retailers shouldn’t forget about Google’s CPA option. Google Shopping will continue to support both CPC and CPA billing methods. An important aspect of the CPA option, is that Google systems are able to take sales/revenue into account, and that’s important because the traditional CPC option is built to drive traffic as the end conversion point, or goal. Under the CPC format, Google will reward merchants with placements and clicks, but it will still be up to the merchant to manage and define how much to pay and when a click makes business sense. For CPA, Google tracks sales through site installed tracking code, then the likelihood to convert and anticipated order amount are factored in, and thus lead to better refined traffic for purchasing. Aside from intelligent use of promotional messaging and ad grouping, the CPA/CPC option is one of the most significant decisions when structuring Google Shopping campaigns.

Overall, this change should be a significant impact to every merchant with a significant online presence. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an advanced merchant not using Google Product Search, so I would expect the same to hold true for Google Shopping by the end of the year. For small merchants who are doing any type of paid online advertising, budget should be alocated and resources devoted to this change. For large merchants, if the CSE and SEM teams have not been working together yet, the time is at hand. Good management technique will now require both skill sets for Google Shopping, and the pressure will be on for other CSE’s to follow suit.

Google’s Official Announcement for Google Shopping: http://googlecommerce.blogspot.com/2012/05/building-better-shopping-experience.html#!/2012/05/building-better-shopping-experience.html

Danny Sullivan’s Take from SearchEngineLand: http://searchengineland.com/google-product-search-to-become-google-shopping-use-pay-to-play-model-122959

Rimm-Kaufmann’s Take from the RKG Blog: http://www.rimmkaufman.com/blog/google-shopping-no-longer-free/31052012/