Comparison snippets – bad news for affiliates and Amazon5 min well spent

I recently set out to buy a webcam, as most of us are going to work from home in the foreseeable future. In the fashion of the classic user journey, I started with a query like “best webcam”, checked a few sites, and narrowed my set of suitable products down to 2-3.

When I looked for a site that compares two specific products I wanted (because the site I was on didn’t provide enough of that), I found a new comparison snippet.

As you see in the screenshot above, it’s pretty gnarly. Gnarly as in I-don’t-need-to-click-on-any-other-result-on-this-SERP-gnarly. The snippet is so big, it certainly attracts all attention on the SERP.

Not much better on mobile either, if you were wondering (see below).

When you click on the expand arrow below the comparison featured snippet, you get a view with more products to compare (see below).

There is no CTA, yet. You can only click on the product titles and thumbnails, which brings you to another search for just the product name (see below).

On that product search SERP, you do see more organic and video results but also a big fat review panel on the right side. And guess where it’s placed on mobile… Right, at the very top.

Amazon and product comparison

If that reminds you of Amazon, you’re not alone. In fact, I see Google’s push into comparisons as a direct attack on Amazon and on affiliates.

First, Amazon gets a lot of traffic from Google and a big chunk of that is people looking to buy or explore products. Google capping that traffic off and keeping it on the search results will certainly harm Amazon.

Second, an interesting point that most are not aware of is that Amazon doesn’t rank for comparison keywords (see below).

They don’t have page templates that compare products, with rare exceptions for their own products like the Kindle.

That made product comparison the opportunity for many affiliates for decades. Mega affiliates like Buzzfeed or The Wirecutter took that to the next level. In 2019, Buzzfeed made over $400M through affiliate marketing alone (source).

Then, Amazon decided to slash its affiliate commissions in the middle of the COVID crisis. Some categories dropped from 10% down to 3%, for example Beauty. Across the board, the change leaves a span of up to 5% commission fees for affiliates (the webcam I wanted brings 4%).

Google, the mega affiliate

Google is after exactly those 5%. Unless people visit an affiliate directly, which might be the case for a Wirecutter or Buzzfeed, Google now catches users before they get to websites. Why would they click through if they can get the comparison right in the search results? All that’s left to do is selecting a store and buying.

You find links to the store in the comparison box that I highlighted in red. They point at googleadservices.com, meaning stores pay for those through Google Ads.

As long as Google still sends traffic to retailers and sellers, the complaint about that new feature will probably be limited to Amazon and affiliates. Sellers actually pay for those link clicks, whereas clicks on their organic results just a couple pixels further left/down would be free. Each Google comparison link click is one click less to an affiliate who would get a commission if a reader bought the product after reading the comparison on their site. But whether a seller prefers to pay an affiliate commission or for Google ads is yet to be answered.

You could argue that Google provides a better experience for users in the search results, or you could argue that Google cuts out the middle man and pockets the commission fee.

As I wrote before, Google is a victim of its success and pressured to drive more growth.