What if a customer were able to go to one place to:
Surely such an open marketplace puts the customer in a better position to compare products and offerings and to make more informed purchasing decisions. Power to the customer!
In Google’s opinion this place is Google Shopping.
But what does does Google get out of this? Simple. Sellers pay for ‘sponsored’ links to get their offerings positioned more visibly. Also, as Google know the customers preferences, they can charge manufacturers for personalized/targeted ads towards those customers. That’s what I call having your cake and eating it…
Google is already doing this in B2C space. If they can pull off the same trick in B2B, whose business model is really under threat?
Let’s consider how Google might be able to get all the data needed to power such a rich search experience. Many webmasters already recognize “structured markup” as a best practice, but what does that mean exactly? Basically it refers to the use of various syntaxes like RDFa, JSON-LD and HTML5 Microdata to embed machine-readable (meta)data into web pages using standard vocabularies like Schema.org. This embedded data can help a search engine, or any other program reading the page, to better understand what the page is about and provide more accurate search results.
For components this might be used to describe a product model and the available variants along with the key selection parameters for the product. This is the kind of data you would expect the manufacturer to publish on their website. Alongside this a distributor may include structured markup detailing the amount of stock they have of a particular part, it’s price, ordering quantities, delivery methods, and so on. Google (or anyone else reading the data) can then merge these data sources together either using URIs as global identifiers, or some other identifier like a GTIN, to provide a complete picture of the product.
This approach vastly simplifies gathering and indexing of this data amongst many other benefits.
As far as I can see, there isn’t one. OK, it takes a certain amount of work to understand how to apply these vocabularies and include the right markup in the page. The latter can usually be done in the templates used to generate the pages with minimal fuss (hands up who’s still authoring their HTML by hand).
Once the markup is in place anyone with the right tools is able to extract the data from the page and use it. This really puts the ownership and responsibility to maintain the data with the relevant parties and provides open access to the data for anyone with an internet connection.
So, for example, a distributor can access the data from a manufacturer to use on their own website and vice-versa. Plus search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing can access all this great data to provide a better search experience. Also any third party can access the data to build new applications based on business models no-one thought of yet.
The only partial threat I see is to data aggregators who currently gather the information together (often with manual processes), align it and sell it on. Opening up access to the data directly from the relevant sources will render much of the manual data gathering process obsolete. However, this is currently a labor-intensive process that is very prone to mistakes. If this can be automated to be faster and improve data quality whilst reducing costs, great. It also provides a nice incentive for these companies to come up with more innovative services that add real value to the data. After all, who really wants to spend their time re-typing numbers into databases?
Of course this is not all going to happen overnight. For example, it will probably take quite some time for the industry to converge on standard properties for the parametric data. Perhaps this is one area where there is scope for new business models to help accelerate this process?
There will also be a certain amount of fear from manufacturers that opening up access to their product data will allow their products to be compared to the competition more easily and could potentially lead to products just being compared on price. Well guys, that comparison is already happening, so make damn sure you are in control of the data that is being used for that comparison! Being able to articulate why your product is worth the extra few cents is part of the game.
An analogous example is searching for a hotel for your next city trip. Often you’re not just looking for the cheapest room, but for the right facilities and location that meet your requirements and budget. Why should shopping for chips be any different?
Another point to consider is if the customer is kept within the Google experience, how is that going to affect traffic to your own site. One concern is that your website just becomes a data feed for Google. Well what’s the real goal here, hit count or sales? It makes sense to ensure your product information is accurate no matter where the customer finds it in order to improve chances of making the sale.
Of course making sure you get your brand message to the customers is still very important. This is where you need to give customers a reason to visit your site. A couple of ideas:
So what are you waiting for? Get in touch to learn more about adding structured markup to your website.