On Tuesday, April 21st Google’s President Commerce Bill Ready made the big announcement in his blog post. Google is going to shift its Shopping Search service to mostly free listings.
Free product listings are brought to the Google Shopping Tab. The feature is going to be available in the U.S as of April 27th. The global expansion is promised to happen gradually, over the course of the next several months.
Online retailers will be able to get their share of free advertising space regardless of whether they hold a Google Ads account or not. Having said that, Google isn’t turning away from charging advertisers for top placements as promoted listings.
As free listings are still feed-driven, feed optimization gains in importance. In order to improve visibility in organic search, it’s essential to upload a healthy feed to your Merchant Center Account.
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Reasons behind free product listing on Google Shopping
As struggling businesses cannot afford Google Shopping listings at this time, the company faced declining ad revenue as marketers were forced to suspend or delay ad spendings. Rolling out this significant change is surely influenced by the Coronavirus outbreak.
When brick and mortar stores are closed or with restricted access and millions of people stuck at home - it naturally imposes a shift in consumers’ behaviors. Let’s put two and two together and there is no surprise that online shopping has seen a huge boost.
Although the covid-19 crisis sped up the launch of free listings, that step was on Google’s roadmap for a while and it’s a part o long-term strategy. The giant aims to better compete in product searches against Amazon. This is the reason why free product listing will be permanent and fall into the goal of enhancing Google’s role in eCommerce.
Benefits of free Google Shopping listings
“It’s now free to sell on Google”, wrote Bill Ready, the President, Commerce at Google in his blog post.
He explains: “For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. Additionally, for shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”
This announcement can also be interpreted as another indicator that Google is investing in transforming its properties into a more reliable consumer-friendly environment. As it matures, it becomes a more attractive place for both advertisers and consumers.
What free product listings mean for retailers
Up until now limiting the products available in Google Shopping results only to those retailers who were willing to pay has put Google’s search power at a downside.
To understand what exactly free product listings mean we need to catch on the widest possible perspective. This change means much more than only “free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs”.
Homebound shoppers using apps and websites and continuously ordering products for delivery and pick up are a titbit.
The free product listings may provide a lifeline especially for those brick-and-mortar retailers whose sales have been devastated by the pandemic.
For the first time, retailers who are focusing primarily on the organic search can add Google Shopping to their advertising toolkit.
Unpaid Product Listings are likely to influx more retailers on board. When we put two and two together we can assume that it means more competition. Wise and mindful decision of which product retailers want to highlight together with more attention to optimizing their feed data are the best strategies to leverage listing performance.
Alex Harmon, senior director of partnerships at Adlucent, said in emailed statements to Mobile Marketer that: “This is a positive development for retailers in the short term, as they can expect to see a lift in volume of [about] 4% from their Google Shopping channel. Any support during COVID-19 is welcome for retailers.”
How free product listing works
Where ads and free listings are going to appear on the search result page?
First of all, the main Google Search results page remains the same. And the carousel still is eligible exclusively for paid listings.
Paid shopping ads receive prominent placement and will appear at the top and bottom of the page.
Nevertheless, Google states that Google Shopping will consist mainly of free listings. As said above free listing will be placed in the Shopping tab and it is rather safe to state that other placement for shopping ads, such as gmail, will likely to be reserved for paid listings.
What you need to start
A Merchant Center account is essential for publishing free product listings.
Existing Merchant Center & Shopping Ads users: if you’ve previously opted into the ‘surfaces across Google’ (during your Merchant Center sign-up process) and you have a product feed provided in your Merchant account, you can start benefiting from the free listings.
In case you haven’t opted in yet, you may do it by going to “Growth”, then “Manage programs” in the left navigation menu and selecting the “surfaces across Google” card. Voila!
Retailers new to Merchant Center: can join today and Google Ads account is not required. The process is seamless and includes a few steps:
- setting up the Merchant Center account,
- opting into the ‘surfaces across Google’ program (during Merchant account creation or anytime after)
- providing Google with your product feed
To help get things going Google also decided to start cooperation with PayPal. According to Google’s statement, allowing merchants to link their Paypal accounts to Google Shopping will help speed up the onboarding process.
Show your product on surfaces across Google
Retailers can opt into surfaces across Google during the Merchant Center sign up process and start creating their product feed.
This program allows the audience to see product results from merchants on various Google surfaces, like Google Images, Shopping tab, Google Lens, and Search.
To become eligible, you must follow the required policies and meet one of two criteria:
- having structured data markup on your website
Then products will be automatically shown on surfaces across Google. There is no need to manually opting into the program. Opt-out is available at any time.
- submitting a feed through Google Merchant Center
In such a case you can opt into surfaces across Google by selecting the corresponding program in Merchant Center.
Importance of healthy & optimized product feed
All listings in Google Shopping are dependent on product feeds uploaded to Merchant Center.
And as Josh Brisco, VP of Growth Media at Tinuiti, put it: “As bid is no longer a factor in the serving of these product listing ads, the primary point of consideration now becomes how relevant the data found in a product feed is to the actual search itself. There is now no reason for any online retailer to not be sending a fully optimized feed to the Merchant Center, regardless of whether or not they are investing in paid Google Shopping.”
Providing Google with high-quality information that ensures shoppers will have a positive customer experience. There’s a range of ways you can do this. For example, you can link your account with a third-party solution like DataFeedWatch.
The zero-cost listings should be powered by an optimized product feed in order to improve your organic performance.
If you’re new to Google Merchant Center and would like a smooth roll-out, take a closer look at how to avoid the most common Merchant Center feed mistakes.
You can view your unpaid clicks in the new performance report for surfaces across Google in Merchant Center by selecting “Performance” and then “Dashboard” in the left navigation.
This important shift should make Google Shopping more accessible at a time when businesses around the world have been forced to transit brick-and-mortar retail to online.
Free product listings will help the sellers with better connecting with the customers as Google has been paying more attention to Shopping recently.
Google understood that to truly compete with Amazon, it needs to be open to more retailers. Now, in uncertain times for retailers and advertisers, the pay-to-play route may not work that well anymore.