A One-Year Status Report on Google Base

In celebration of the one-year anniversary of Google Base, Hugo Guzman takes a look at the service and considers its future. Clever SEO marketers take note: it may not be very big yet, but it could become very useful in time.

Did you know that Google Base turned a year old recently?

Wait a second. Do you even know or remember what Google Base is or what its used for?

For those of you who don’t know or need a refresher, Google Base is a portal that basically allows you to upload “content” (that is Google’s word) for others to view. In layman’s terms, Google Base is basically an eBay clone, except without those pesky listing fees. Essentially, it’s a slightly less commercialized version of the mega-auction site, which Google created under the guise of “organizing the world’s information.”

Incidentally, that’s a great catch phrase! A bit too “Big Brother” for my tastes, but it definitely makes an impression.

Anyhow, the fact that users can create an account and upload tangible items and services (or even web content) without paying a sign up fee or any subsequent listing fees is definitely alluring, but I feel the need to delve deeper into this somewhat mysterious entity that turned a year old on November 15th. My three main questions are as follows:

1) How exactly does it work and is it user friendly?

2) Is it catching on with the mainstream public?

3) Is Google making a profit off its “Base” offering at this point, and is there reason for long-term optimism?

The first question is the easiest to answer. Google Base is fairly user friendly in that it utilizes a simple web form that lets users upload individual items and allows for all sorts of accompanying images and attachments. There is also a more advanced “Bulk Upload” option, which was recently upgraded, but we’ll get back to that later.

Google Base also allows users to describe their items with detailed information tidbits, which Google refers to as “attributes.” These tidbits of information are akin to terms found in a “keyword” meta tag. They essentially tag the item with descriptive terms that will help searchers find said content. A given item can actually have multiple attributes, each with its own accompanying list of descriptive terms.

Each item listing can also be accompanied by 15 attachments, utilizing any of the following file formats: PDF (.pdf), Microsoft Excel (.xls), text (.txt), HTML (.html), Rich Text Format (.rtf), Word Perfect (.wpd), ASCII, Unicode and XML.

Crafty SEO marketers, take note. Once an item is uploaded, Google hosts said item listing for free within Google Base, and interestingly enough, the item can be indexed by Google’s main search index, Froogle, or even Google Maps.

I went ahead and played around with the interface for a while, uploading various obscure items, and I must say that Google did a good job of making this offering very user friendly. Even tech-challenged individuals should have little trouble uploading items of their own. One thing that I did notice while I was in there is that Google actually allows users to create an Adwords listing for individual items. I found this fascinating for two reasons. First of all, it was the first hint of commercialism profit-mindedness I encountered. Second, it gives marketers that don’t have the means to create a proper website a way to pitch their products or services (eBay does the same thing with the e-store option, but Google Base seems like a much simpler avenue for such ventures).

It’s also worth mentioning that Google has included some extremely useful features, such as the Google Base API, in their burgeoning product. This programming tool enables users to integrate Google Base search results within their websites. A fine example is Findaconvertiblecar.com, which enables the user to find convertibles in the USA by selecting attributes such as the make, model or year, and integrates the search results with Google Maps.

 

So great. Google Base is free, easy to use, and has tools for enterprising webmasters. But does anyone know or care about its existence, and is it taking a bite out of eBay’s enormous market share?

The answer is a bit muddled because it is somewhat difficult to get concrete metrics on what is essentially a Google subdomain. One segment of the population that is definitely aware of Google Base is the online auction marketing crowd. eBay sellers are keenly watching the development of this upstart online entity as well as its accompanying payment system, coined Google Checkout.

Their main area of concern centers on verification and security. eBay sellers have reported that fraudsters are copying entire product feeds, with accompanying images and descriptions, and offering them up as their own. In addition, established auction markets worry about how Google Base sellers will be identified, verified, and vetted. This is a crucial aspect for any enterprising auction-style web portal because it allows the buyer to find quality sources and it allows the seller to establish a reputation and leverage that reputation into increased sales.

These user opinions are good for gauging the appeal and feasibility of Google Base within a narrow segment of the population, but it does little to answer questions regarding its ability to challenge eBay and find a large source of traffic with which to promote itself.

But here’s some interesting insight that I came across, which should shed light on both issues. Internet users make roughly 400-500 million local searches per month, and Google captures roughly 40-50 percent of those searches. That’s a lot of people searching on Google, and if Google Base listings show up on Google.com and Froogle, as is the plan, all those searches could end up on a Google Base product listing. That’s a whole lot of traffic, and while it pales in comparison to eBay’s robust search rate of well over 2 billion per month (according to their investor relations data) it’s still a significant piece of the consumer search pie.

And when you consider that Google Base listings may eventually appear on Google’s regular search, it becomes clear that the sky is the limit in terms of reach.

However, according to the folks over at Hitwise, traffic to Google Base has more or less flat-lined. In fact, some analysts believe that Google’s sponsored listings within its search feature are more of a competitive threat to eBay than its Google Base offering.

Still, despite these early doldrums, when Base is properly cultivated, it should become a much more legitimate threat to eBay’s supremacy.

So, yes, the future prospects for Google Base seem extremely rosy. But is Google making any money of this product at the present time?

Once again, this question has a muddled answer at best.

Google does not release specific revenue data on Google Base, but based on its lackluster traffic, free listings, and lack of traction among veteran auctioneers, one can deduce that Base is in the red at this point. But as with most of Google’s pet projects, the idea behind Google Base is not immediate profitability. It is more about helping to make Google an omnipresent force in virtually every facet of the online experience. At this point, any revenue that is generated is likely considered icing on the cake, especially when you consider that the service is still in beta mode.

And beyond that, Google has plenty of reason for optimism, based on, if nothing else, eBay’s immense profitability and revenue making potential. In 2005, eBay generate well over four billion dollars in net revenue, and is expected to approach the six billion dollar mark in 2006. If Google Base can capture just a small percentage of that business, the folks over at Google will have yet another cash cow on their hands.

And if all of this wasn’t enough, now comes word that Google Base could become a PPC-driven entity. Actually, this is more of a rumor, which was vehemently denounced by Google celebrity blogger Matt Cutts, who stated that he doesn’t expect any aspect of Base to go PPC.

Still, some analysts believe that such a move would drive Google’s stock price over $600 a share, and would turn its “Base” offering into a profitable enterprise virtually overnight.

So what does all this mean for the enterprising SEO webmaster?

It’s simple: Google Base is likely here to stay, and will likely become a powerful tool for both e-commerce and general promotion. Remember that this offering allows users to post anything of interest, not just commercial products. That means that a crafty Internet marketer can use it as a promotional tool to bring attention to their website or brick-and-mortar business.

In fact, a quick perusal through the “Services” category of Google Base offers up countless examples of clever individuals that are currently utilizing this interface in this manner. There’s an undergrad pitching babysitting. There’s a freelance business planner. There’s a Realtor, a packaging designer, a mural painter, etc. and so forth.

You get the picture.

Get started now, while Google Base is still in its infancy. Set up an account. Learn how to upload items and personalize your profile. Make yourself well-acquainted now, so that when this feature hits the mainstream, you’ll already be an expert.

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