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Google has a new revenue stream, the New York Times reports today – charging online stores to be included in search results.

It’s part of a revamp of Google Shopping, the part of Google’s search engine that kicks in when you search for a product (here’s an example) and shows prices from various stores in a box at the top of your results. Google used to include entries considered the best from the online stores that its Web crawlers had explored, but now only includes stores that have paid Google to be considered. A disclosure statement accessed by clicking an information icon explains that:

“Google may be compensated by some of these providers.”

How much a store must pay to get a shot at appearing in the box is unknown, but it is clear that this is something of a policy change for Google. The company used to be firmly against the idea of charging sites for a chance at ranking in search results. As Search Engine Land noted back in May, Google’s original filing to go public in 2004 even explicitly said paid shopping results were a bad idea:

Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle [the original name for Google Shopping], our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.

Figures quoted by the New York Times suggest why Google feels the need to change how its product search works. More shoppers are bypassing Google and starting their search for shopping on Amazon’s site instead:

In 2009, nearly a quarter of shoppers started research for an online purchase on a search engine like Google and 18 percent started on Amazon, according to a Forrester Research study. By last year, almost a third started on Amazon and just 13 percent on a search engine.

Charging retailers may help change that by increasing the quality of Google’s shopping results, since it will likely weed out smaller stores less preferred by online shoppers. The new fees appear to have also served to irk Google’s rival for shopping searches - items sold on Amazon no longer appear in Google Shopping results.

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