In what is good news for eCommerce retailers everywhere, Google has announced that they are opening up free Google Shopping product listings to allow more businesses that sell products online to list their inventory through the platform.
While Google say they have been working on these changes for some time, the global Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked their plans. Bill Ready, President of Commerce at Google, said:
The retail sector has faced many threats over the years, which have only intensified during the coronavirus pandemic. In light of these challenges, we’re advancing our plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google. Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google.
What does this mean for online retailers?
Since 2012, Shopping has worked purely on a paid model, meaning that it’s been more of a ‘closed shop’, with only retailers prepared to pay having their products listed in the Google Shopping tab. For many eCommerce businesses it’s been a staple part of their digital marketing strategy.
It’s a sales channel we use at Kanuka Digital to great effect to help our clients increase online revenue. In 2020 we’ve seen an average Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) of 900% on Google Shopping campaigns that we manage across many different sectors, from DIY to Beds and Car Accessories.
Now the free Google Shopping product listings opens up new opportunities for all online retailers and will also have an impact on shoppers and advertisers alike:
- For retailers, this means free exposure to millions of people who use Google every day for their shopping needs.
- For shoppers, this means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab.
- For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can be supplemented with free listings.
As Bill Ready said, a significant driver in this decision is the unprecedented times we find ourselves living in. Opening this up to all merchants will enhance Google’s offering and its appeal to both sellers and consumers.
And then there’s Amazon. By limiting the universe of products available in Google Shopping results to only those retailers who are willing to pay, this puts Google at a significant disadvantage compared to Amazon and other marketplaces.
How will the new free Google Shopping listings work?
One of the first questions Google faced was understandably about the distribution of paid product ads v free listings.
Paid shopping ads will appear at the top and bottom of the page on the Google Shopping tab, just like they do currently on the main search results tab. The main Google Search page is not changing, and the carousels of product listing ads (PLAs) will continue to consist of ads only.
Merchants that want to ensure continued prominent visibility in the search results, which will of course be more competitive with more products eligible to show, will continue to pay for ads.
We expect that there may well be layout experiments in the future. For example, see how Amazon already sprinkles sponsored products ads throughout its search results pages.
How to become eligible
All retailers can show their products across Google for free. To become eligible, you must follow the required policies to show products on surfaces across Google, and meet one of two criteria:
- If you have structured data markup on your website, you will automatically have your products shown on surfaces across Google without directly participating in the programme. You can opt out at any time.
- If you submit a feed through Google Merchant Center, you can participate in surfaces across Google by selecting the corresponding programme in Merchant Center.
How do I list my products on Google Shopping?
You don’t need a Google Ads campaign to participate, but you do need to create a Google Merchant Center account and upload a product data feed. Sellers must opt-in to “surfaces across Google” to be eligible for organic visibility.
A product data feed is simply a spreadsheet of data information about your products that Google uses to create your listing and match it to relevant searcher’s queries. Each product in your feed will need to have at least the following standard attributes:
- ID: An alphanumeric ID that is unique for each item you sell.
- Title: Your product’s name, which will serve as the main link text from your listing.
- Description: Up to 5,000 characters to describe your product, what makes it unique, helps match your product to a user’s specific search.
- Link: Your product landing page.
- Image link: The URL of your product’s main image.
- Price: Your product’s price as listed on your landing page.
- Brand: The brand name of your product
- GTIN: Your product’s Global Trade Item Number, used by manufacturers to identify their products across retailers. Google can help you find your item’s GTIN if you’re unsure.
Current retailers with their products already in Google Merchant Centre can opt their products into these free Google Shopping listings by selecting “Surfaces across Google” and can view the performance of these free listings within Google Merchant Centre under the “Performance” tab.
How will my product listings be displayed?
Below are some examples of how your product listings will be displayed on various Google surfaces including Google images, search and shopping.
Integrations with eCommerce providers
Google have promised to continue working to streamline the onboarding process over the coming weeks and months. This will include a new partnership with PayPal to allow merchants to link their accounts.
Google also pledged to continue working closely with their eCommerce partners, like WooCommerce, Magento and Shopify, to help merchants:
a) better manage their products and inventory
b) make digital commerce more accessible for businesses of all sizes.
What’s the wider impact on search marketing?
It’s definitely worth noting for eCommerce marketers how this change will add a new layer – and opportunity – to organic product search engine optimisation efforts.
For retailers that rely heavily on Shopping campaigns, and haven’t been prioritising SEO, now is the time to start revising that strategy. This will bring PPC and SEO teams even closer together and building ‘one’ view of search means, regardless of whether things are paid for or organic, will mean you’re ready for the changes that Google consistently throws our way, from algorithm changes to updates.
There are still of some unknown factors. If these are truly organic results, how will they be ranked? That remains to be seen but overall, with the right search engine marketing strategy in place, this is a good opportunity for eCommerce retailers.