Why You Should Be Like Everyone Else (Optimizing for Google Similar Items)

Jen Saunders

It used to be that optimizing products to differentiate themselves as being better than competitor offerings granted a golden ticket to attracting web traffic that converts. Now we have Google Similar Items, and the game has a rule change.  When it comes to making SEO predictions, Google Similar Items seems to be an egress to something bigger to come. This article will explain when Similar Items is, how to optimize for it, and will offer a playful attempt at predicting the future of Google Search relative to this new search results feature. 

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What is Google Similar Items?

Offered from a mobile and Android Search app, Google Similar Items is a feature that locates other products similar to those consumers are searching for, and presents them side-by-side as a way to enhance the user experience. As of now, only sunglasses, handbags and shoes are presented, but in due time Google will be adding more products. Google Similar Items relies on machine vision technology–a method that engages automatic image-based inspections. Since Google RankBrain relies on machine learning to scan textual content for improving search results, using a similar technology for visuals comes at no surprise.

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Schema Product Meta Data Keeps it Fresh

By adding Schema markup to your product pages Google can crawl detailed information in the rich search results and pair the product type, brand, size, price, availability and review ratings smack in the Similar Items search results. Be sure to markup the individual product and NOT the category. For optimizing images a URL is required and the image must be clear. Google announced that it prefers images with a white background, so you may need to get cracking on Photoshop if your images are too dark. When you have completed Schema markup be sure to useGoogle’s Structured Data Testing Toolto ensure there are no errors.

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Why was Google Similar Items Introduced?

From day one Google’s primary mission has been to provide the best answers to search queries, and nothing has changed. Thousands of surveys focused on understanding consumer needs all agree on one thing: people want to pay the lowest prices, on the right products, from reputable companies that offer great customer service. In addition, more people shop on mobile devices, and demand speedy answers to any questions resting on their minds. Google Similar Items does this, and more: it gives consumers more power with choice while adding pressure on retailers to offer the lowest prices while providing excellent customer service (star ratings play in here).

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Predictions for Google Similar Items

Theories and Google predictions are a dime a dozen. Yet if SEO experts didn’t make them, we wouldn’t be doing our job. My predictions are based on facts surrounding the search engine; it’s the best I have to offer. But I feel confident looking into my Google crystal ball because I’ve been doing SEO at a high level for more than 15 years, and virtually every prediction I’ve made has become a reality. Here are the facts I consider in forecasting best guesses:

  • In 2012 Google rolled out the Penguin Update (and more to follow) that penalized admins buying links to spam the search results.
  • 4 years later, Google announced Penguin runs in real time as part of its core algorithm
  • In 2011 the Panda Update rolled out to prevent sites with poor quality content from ranking in the search results.
  • 4 Years later Panda was baked into Google’s core ranking signals
  • In 2013 Google Hummingbird was in which it sought value in reading context within high-level content. Many sites with generic text took huge hits.
  • In 2016 Google RankBrain was in full swing–the third most important ranking signal that uses machine learning and AI to understand search intent and self-educate as it crawls sites.
  • Mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches in most industries
  • Google has continued to improve mobile search experience and even favors sites with content that plays nice with organic voice search.
  • Auto manufacturers are already creating internal technologies allowing their navigation systems to pair with Google search abilities.

What story do these facts tell? If we think about the various milestones in Google’s evolution with our focus to the future,  certain destinies seem to carve a path. Really, Google wants its search results to empower the users, and its updates have all rolled out in the name of giving people better options, more options, and faster answers to their questions. Consumer power comes from having multiple buying options, and Google Similar Things offers this, while granting instant gratification. So how else can people get faster information? When are they at their most impulsive moments? I predict that “the next big thing” will come through the power of local search behind the wheel of your car using voice (Google has already started rewarding sites that use voice search-friendly optimization). Also, the relationship between images and text will likely grow tighter and perhaps someday overlap into that which is read by a new algorithm.

Aw hell, it’s fun to make predictions. And it seems that Similar Items is the launch pad for bigger things to come that will transform the way we look for information. But for now, Google is enriching and growing its newest feature by adding more products to Similar Items, and if you aren’t next to your competitor being just like them while giving buyers an incentive to buy your ugly Prada bag over theirs, you can predict a drop in engagement, sales, and (likely) ranking.
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Jen Saunders is the Director of SEO for WEBITMD bringing more than 15 years of search marketing experience. She spent 13 years in Europe earning her PhD while looking at lots of old neat stuff. Jen enjoys simple things, like trees, sunrises, and the delicate lull of a 16th century harpsichord. Jen enjoys meditating and studies Buddhism. She is a certified master scuba diver, dolls make her nervous, and she enjoys craft beer. Jen has two cats, Chairman Thaddeus Whiskers and Lord Joffrey Gaius Pitty-Paws. They are her heirs.

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