With physical stores closed during the coronavirus pandemic, e-commerce has become a lifeline for retailers who otherwise previously relied on foot traffic. While digital commerce presents an opportunity for struggling businesses to reconnect with consumers, many can’t afford to do so at scale.
To this, and for the first time in almost a decade – Google has demonetized the shopping results portion of the companies search engine. Previously shopping listings were sponsored (paid) listings and with this announcement, Google has returned to its original free approach to shopping listings.
“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. With hundreds of millions of shopping searches on Google each day, we know that many retailers have the items people need in stock and ready to ship but are less discoverable online.”
Previously, the cost of pay-per-click listings of products in Google’s shopping result and the competition from large online retailers saw many small businesses relying on other platforms. With the current crisis, Amazon has seen limited stock and delays in shipping, making it harder for small businesses to sell their products. A great opportunity exists for small businesses with Google moving to prioritize free shopping results.
“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. 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. If you’re an existing user of Merchant Center and Shopping ads, you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the free listings, and for new users of Merchant Center, we’ll continue working to streamline the onboarding process over the coming weeks and months.”
Changes to Shopping are expected to take effect before the end of April and include a partnership with PayPal to allow merchants to link accounts for easy online payment processing. With Most major e-commerce platforms already supporting direct integrations to Google’s Merchant center platform, it’s easier than ever for small businesses to take advantage of this free opportunity to sell products online through the largest search engine at no cost.
What E-Commerce businesses need to do to prepare for Free Google Shopping Listings.
For advertisers who already utilize Google’s Merchant Center and Shopping ads who have opted in to the “Surfaces Across Google program” no changes will be needed and may already be eligible to show products in what Google previously described as the “unpaid experience”.
“For new users of its Merchant Center, it says it’s aiming to ramp up the onboarding process “over the coming weeks and months.” But presumably, there may be some delay in getting access.”
Get your product feed ready for deployment
Preparing for shopping listing searches can be a difficult process, and ensuring that you are prepared and have the correct information set in advance will help guide the success of your products in shopping results.
Get your merchant center account
- If you haven’t already, the first step is to create a Google Merchant center account, include your business details and verify your website.
- Visit google.com/merchants and sign up if you haven’t already.
Know the capabilities of your e-commerce platform.
- Most major e-commerce solutions have already developed integrated connections to Google, smaller platforms, or WordPress sites that may be able to utilize one of many pre-built e-commerce plugins.
- Custom-built sites can leverage spreadsheet upload of products, and Google supplies detail on how to create them and ensure they are properly set for upload.
Make Sure your products have the needed details for Google.
- Not having the right details or enough of them will prevent your products from showing in shopping results.
- More importantly, is ensuring that Google receives these in the needed way and with the correct naming conventions.
- This is where pre-built integrations and plugins will help, ensuring that your e-commerce sites’ internal product details match the required attribute naming conventions in Google Merchant Center.
- Ensure as much detail is filled out as possible, often missing UPC, MPN and SKU data prevent products from showing in search results
Optimize your titles and descriptions
- Still, the oldest and best way to show in shopping results is to ensure your product name, product type, brand, size, and color all appear in the title of your product.
- This is often missed as to how your product’s desired appearance on your site may not be the same as you would need or want it to appear in the shopping listings for the best search results.
- Make sure your descriptions are unique and contain potential search terms to help users find your product
- Don’t rely solely on the manufacturer’s default description for your product. By customizing you can include additional features and terms that might make your listing stand out amongst other listings.
Understand Parent and Child product relationships in your product.
- Most accounting and inventory tools do a great job of splitting product SKUs, and your product feed is no different.
- If for example, your site only sells t-shirts, your product names may not include product type (t-shirt), sizes, or colors. For your feed – each size, color, and style will need to be an individual product.
- A single “parent” product like a shoe can have several “child” variations for each color or style
Continuing Paid Shopping Listings – Is anything really Free?
While details thus far are limited, what we do know about the previous “unpaid shopping experience” from Google was that it came with direct sales and direct checkout on the Google platform.
Usually, this meant without the user transitioning to your business website. So while these free listings can and should be considered, for those already running paid shopping listings this opportunity should be considered an accompaniment to current paid strategies, at least in its initial stages.
For larger e-commerce brands this can mean a few things;
- Paid shopping ads will continue to get priority appearing at the top and bottom of the page on the Google Shopping tab, just as they do on the main search results tab.
- Free listings will appear under the “shopping” tab of search results
- Free listings may increase drops in direct site traffic, while paid listings will continue to direct traffic to your site and brand messaging.
- Reduced site traffic from free listings can reduce audiences sizes for remarketing and additional touchpoints through your marketing funnel
- Offsite purchases come with potential additional fees from payment services above your current processing fees
- Offsite purchases can limit add-on and upsell opportunities within your own product base.
While additional free listings sound promising and we suggest companies take advantage of the opportunities available, it’s also important to consider the long term investments you have spent in building your brand and site traffic and how you can maintain brand awareness and site traffic without sacrificing sales to other retailers.