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Google Adds Personalization to Toolbar Upgrade

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Google Adds Personalization to Toolbar Upgrade

Google Adds Personalization to Toolbar Upgrade

Google went live tonight with version 4 of its toolbar for IE (Firefox version coming soon I’m told). You can take a look at the laundry list of features and upgrades here.

Worth noting from my point of view are the following:

* Bookmarks (the ability to add any page or custom search to the toolbar; it’s the return of bookmarks to a degree)
* Custom buttons (Google has created a bunch of custom buttons and an API to allow third parties to create them [a la “widgets”])
* Send to (ability to share Web sites through email, SMS or publish on blogger). Yahoo! currently offers a comparable feature
* Account sign-in (from the toolbar; creates another incentive to sign up for an account/Gmail)

Google also enables users to put Local, Froogle, Image Search, Video, News and Gmail (as mentioned) into the toolbar. Will this impact usage of these services? It could well boost their visibility and, ultimately, their usage.

For example, I rarely use Froogle (except when I’m comparing it to other services for my work). But with the button always there, it’s very easy to click over and use Froogle to do a quick product search, etc. No need to go to Shopzilla or Shopping.com or eBay for these sorts of casual lookups. Just click the button and execute the search. (It removes a step.) Same thing for local: click the button, do the search; it’s more “elegant” than conducting a local search on Google.com and clicking the compass icon after the fact.

The previously much criticized “Autolink” feature does some interesting things with Local, displaying all the addresses that appear on a map (e.g., “wine shops, Oakland, CA”‘) as a pull-down menu. That enables the user to quickly select a location if s/he knows it (“I want to one on Main,” etc.).

Google has a new marketing (and to some degree branding) vehicle to build awareness for these various services (Local, Video, Froogle) through their (opt-in) presence on the toolbar. And the Google Pack “Updater” will notify users of changes and updates, etc. How about a Google Music or Google Travel button in the future?

We previously wrote about toolbars (in an ILM Client Advisory) as a driver of search market share and how they will become more strategic over time. Yahoo had the greatest toolbar share according to comScore (July ’05: 51 percent of all toolbar searches). About 12 percent of all US searches were executed through toolbars in July, an 8 percent increase over 2004, according to comScore.

I’m sure I haven’t captured all the tricks the new toolbar can and will be able to do. But the thing that is most intriguing to me is the way in which the toolbar can house alerts/dynamic searches and could potentially become an RSS reader.

Third parties can create buttons (think blogs: “add to Google Toolbar”‘) or users can effectively plug feeds into the bookmarks feature. Therefore it’s possible to use the toolbar for all your feeds — something which the “ordinary user” won’t think about or discover in the near term.

But what that “ordinary” person might well do is set up a Google Alert for some term (e.g., “Kelsey Group”) and plug that dynamic search result into his/her bookmarks. This is something that A9 now permits.

Imagine third parties creating buttons or feeds (as more sites are doing) for specials/deals/offers that can become buttons or persistent searches in the toolbar. It creates some very interesting possibilities.

Despite the 1,000,001 toolbars out there Google and Yahoo! are the dominant toolbars in terms of market share. They each offered somewhat different features and were thus complementary. Among a couple of other things, one of the advantages of the Yahoo! toolbar over Google’s (until now) was the custom buttons (Yahoo! gave you two). The new Google toolbar offers almost unlimited customization possibilities through buttons and bookmarks.

Yahoo!’s toolbar also has “anti-spy,” a feature that the new Google toolbar doesn’t offer (which I use to delete tracking cookies every day). Indeed, Google hasn’t duplicated all the features on the Yahoo! toolbar, but it has eliminated the “customization gap” that existed, and created a broader range of potential personalization opportunities.

In addition, the Google toolbar ties in to Google’s personalized homepage (for those registered and signed in) and to your “search history.” In this way we start to see how the “Fusion” strategy might start to knit together some of these disparate elements (personalized home, sidebar, desktop search, toolbar).

Google right now has a “many doors” approach, in that users can access Google and search through any number of tools and utilities (personalized home, Sidebar, toolbar, desktop search, etc.). Over time it will start to be clear to Google how users are predominantly tapping into its features and services and the company will place emphasis accordingly.

Toolbars have been important but we expect that over time they will become even more strategic. Yahoo! will not likely leave this development unanswered (at the very least I’d anticipate more custom buttons to be introduced).

So expect more competition and increasing levels of functionality on the “toolbar front” in the future.

Greg Sterling is managing editor of The Kelsey Group. He also leads The Kelsey Group’s the Interactive Local Media program, focusing on local search. Greg came to The Kelsey Group from TechTV’s “Working the Web,” the first national television show dedicated to e-business and the Internet.

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