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Is Google Selling Out? Froogle to Transition to Paid Product Listings

June 2, 2012 by Larry Dozier divider image

Back in the day – when I was a fledgling web designer launching and managing my first website from a WebTV – Yahoo was God. I had built a nice little HTML tutorial site known as HTML 4 Rookies. Somehow, I managed to get included in the Yahoo Directory. My site went immediately from 25 visitors per day to 500 visitors per day.

Yahoo simply had that type of power.

Yahoo has a phenomenal story behind its success. The website was started in 1994 by two college students. It was originally called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”. It was, very simply, a page of recommended links. As it grew in size, the Yahoo Directory was trusted because every site included had been personally reviewed by a human editor. If you wanted a quality site, you browsed the Yahoo Directory.

Eventually, commercialization caught up with Yahoo. They began to charge commercial websites $299.00 just for the chance to be listed. That bought you a review, but no guarantee of inclusion. Business owners forked it over because they had no choice. If you were going to make it on the web, you had to pay. Inclusion in the directory was crucial because Yahoo search gave preference to sites within their own directory.

A funny thing happened, though. Eventually, the directory became irrelevant. In my opinion, it became irrelevant because it became a money-grubbing machine which abandoned the idea for including the best and embraced a course of only including the sites which could afford to pay. Credibility suffered, as did relevancy.

Yesterday, Google announced that they will be transitioning Google Product Search (Froogle) “to a purely commercial model built on Product Listing Ads”. In other words, Google has abandoned the idea of including the best in favor of including only those who can pay. Sure, this is only one little part of Google, but one wonders if this might be a harbinger of things to come. Danny Sullivan seems to hint that it might. The veteran search engine watcher is quoted as saying:

“If Google can turn one search product to an all-paid basis, nothing really prevents it from doing the same for others. Could Google News only carry listings from publishers that want to pay? Will Google Places, already just transformed into a part of the Google+ social network, be changed to a pay-or-don’t play yellow pages-style model? Even web search could be threatened. All the arguments about wanting to get better data and filter out noise are just as applicable to web search.”

While I’m no Danny Sullivan, I’ve been watching this game a long time, and my sense is that this is the beginning of the end for Google. Laugh if you will, but Google enjoyed its massive success because it was a “clean” search engine, untainted by the stain of commercial prejudice – a friend we could rely upon to give us only the best. There seems to be a shift of philosophy going on at Google, and I’m guessing this won’t end well.

Will Google go the way of Yahoo Directory? Only time will tell, but I’m betting yes.

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