Fast Facts About Froogle

Froogle is a new “product”-based search engine that Google.com is currently developing and recently launched in beta phase. Froogle attempts to find the most relevant products based on your search terms.

In fact, Froogle does a pretty good job at finding products that match your search. It still has some room for improvement, but for the most part, you’ll at least find the results relevant. The best results are achieved when you search on a brand or model of a product.

Though it’s still in the beta phase, Froogle has enormous potential. As an avid user of Google — yes! I’m a “Googler”! — I am certain that many like myself will soon add “Froogler” to our titles.

How does it work?

Once again, Google has come up with a complex algorithm to retrieve the most relevant results from its Froogle database.

It seems Froogle not only takes feeds from independent online stores, but also that it spiders the Web to actively find products. These Web-sourced results can be less accurate — sometimes these results are just price lists, etc. However, the products derived from submitted feeds seem to be very accurate. You can tell these types of results apart from the rest, as they’re accessible via a link that appears below the results list for that product. The link looks something like this:

» See all results from “Store Name”

The relevance of the search results is increased by Froogle’s advanced search feature, which allows you to narrow your search by price, occurrence of a specific keyword, phrase, and by category. The Froogle guys have also made it easy to browse, by classifying products into a hierarchical directory structure.

I’ll get into the details of submitting a feed a little later, but first, I’ll answer the question on everyone’s mind…

How much does it cost?

I was pretty astounded to find out that it a listing in Froogle is completely free. Ok, I’ll say it one more time, it’s FREE!

Now, I can’t imagine the free model will last forever, but by getting an early start, you might be able to enjoy a first-move advantage and generate some solid sales leads for you store.

What are the requirements to have your data feed accepted?

To have your feed accepted by Froogle, your online shop or site must meet the following criteria:

  1. Located in United States
  2. Content is published in English
  3. Products must be sold directly from your website
  4. Services are not allowed
  5. Products that don’t have fixed prices are not allowed
  6. Your site must be crawlable by their spider googlebot

How can you submit a data feed?

Before you start, you will want to review the Froogle Information for Merchants page located here.

Once you’re certain that you meet the criteria, submission is a fairly simple process. The first step is to sign up via the form located here. In a matter of days (in my case, just two), Froogle will respond with a username and password, and a link through which you can agree to the site’s terms of usage. That is, you’ll get all this if your site’s approved.

Once you agree to the terms of usage, you should receive within about a day or so, an email containing instructions on how to set up and upload your feed. This email will include a PDF with detailed instructions, a sample Excell spreadsheet, and a sample tab delimited text file.

They will accept your feed as a compressed file (such as .zip, .tar, etc.), but the data file itself must be a text file set up in the format Froogle specifies. Although the flat file system seems to be somewhat archaic, I guess this is the easiest and most universal method for them to use.

The formatting is fairly straightforward, including the following tab delimited columns:

Product Url Name Description Price Image Url Category Offer ID

The only columns that may need explanation are Category and offer ID. The Category refers to the category structure you use in your shop, while the Offer ID represents a unique identifier you might use, such as SKU or Product Number.

The service also allows you to add advanced columns to your feed, such as whether the product is in-stock, lowest shipping price, brand name, and more. From the looks of those extended fields, Froogle is probably looking to add more advanced search options in the future.

At the top of the instructions, Froogle provide FTP information to help you upload your data feed once it’s ready. They also require that you upload your feed at least once a month, otherwise it will drop out of the Froogle database.

How can you create your own data feed?

The following is pretty specific to my scenario but I thought it might be insightful and helpful to let you know exactly how I created my data feed.

Creating the data feed is no small task if you aren’t a programmer (and I’m not), however it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. At first, I decided to go into my shop and simply copy and past. We have over 150 products, so after the 10th product I decided there had to be an easier way. Fortunately, there was (or my wife would have divorced me around the 75th product!).

Our site uses a MySQL database, so I probably could have contacted our programmer to write a small application that would automate this process but, as I was anxious to get started, I decided to do it myself. After all, it was Sunday night after 10pm and I wanted to get a jump on the week — always the best time to make rational judgments!

We already had a small PHP application that listed all the products in our shop. The only big problem was that it listed ALL the products, not just the products in stock — and it was missing a few fields. I started tinkering with the application and after a while I got it to list everything I needed. The only two issues were that it was still listing all the products whether or not they were in stock, and it was not in the tab-delimited format I needed. At last I figured out how to at least add a field at the end, to specify whether the product was active.

Next, I decided to tackle the formatting. The application I was using displayed the products in one big HTML table. So I removed all the HTML tags in the application and put in pipes (or “|”) to separate each field. This proved to work quite nicely, and I now had a page displaying a pipe-delimited flat file. The next part was pretty easy. I copied the text out of my browser, dropped it into a text file, and then imported into Excel. Once I had all the data in Excel, I removed all the products that weren’t in stock, and outputted a tab-delimited text file for the data feed.

How can you upload the feed?

Now the easy part: uploading your data feed. Using WS-FTP I uploaded the file the way Froogle specified (as username.txt) and emailed them to tell them the upload was complete. The file wasn’t that big, so I decided not to compress it, and just uploaded the file directly.

I finished all of this around 2:30am and by that afternoon they’d approved my data feed. The email stated that the feed was approved and that it should appear on Froogle within the next few business days. Needless to say, after all that work, I was pretty excited about the potential business this could drive to our site. I kept checking the site periodically, and by late evening our products were listed. That was quick!

I realized after the upload that some of the images in the data feed were dead links. Froogle handled this really well by automatically putting an “Image not Available” graphic in for those dead links. I should also mention that Froogle resample all your product images to 90 x 90 pixels — and they do a great job at it.

All in all, the whole process was quite easy, and I believe Froogle might become the next big thing for ecommerce. If it says anything about Google, it shows they’re innovative and on top of new emerging markets. And, though I have yet to see one single sale derived from Froogle, I remain optimistic. And anyway, the feed only appeared last night!

Good luck to all you future “Frooglers” out there!

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