On 4/21, Google announced a change that will allow merchants to sell on Google for free, regardless of whether they advertise on Google. The change is expected to take effect before the end of April, but what does it really mean for merchants?
First off, this change is for products found on the Google Shopping Tab only. This is significant, since the majority of clicks to shopping ads — about 95% — happen in the primary Search Results rather than the Shopping tab.
Paid listings will still be displayed in the shopping tab and will take priority. Although the shopping tab should consist of mostly free listings, these listings will come after the paid listings.
How do you qualify?
If you already have a Merchant Center account and shopping ads set up, all you have to do is make sure you’ve opted into the surfaces across Google program.
If you are a new merchant, you will need to sign up for a Google Merchant Center account and set up a product feed.
What does this change really mean?
As with most of their updates, Google is vague when it comes to the details. I suspect this change is fairly insignificant. Since it affects only the people who visit the Shopping Tab, I expect the impact to be minimal.
If you already have shopping ads in place, there is nothing to change at this point.
If you are new to Google shopping, an optimized product feed will be critical to your success. This helps to ensure that Google will select the right products for relevant user searches, and a better optimized feed should lead to increased visibility of your products, whether they are free or paid for clicks.
Although this is good news for merchants looking to offer their products through Google Shopping, don’t expect an influx of traffic due to this change. This was a great marketing stunt by Google when retailers are struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Google is clearly trying to take advantage of the struggles Amazon has experienced recently fulfilling orders, and is trying to lure customers back to Google. Getting more merchants to sign up for its shopping service could help Google overtake Amazon as the leader in product search, which the tech giant lost to Amazon in 2018.
In the short term you may be able to capitalize on some free clicks, but if you are new to Google you will soon discover that if you want any meaningful traffic through Google Shopping, you’ll need to be willing to pay for clicks. Unfortunately, changes by Google (especially Google Ads) have one goal: increase ad clicks and ad revenue. But investing marketing spend in Google shopping and paying for clicks can be very beneficial for any business not already doing so.
A few different perspectives from our team
In many ways, it’s too little, too late. Google can’t open up considerable real estate to free listings without eating into ad revenue, but if they don’t then it’s unclear what the value proposition is to companies that aren’t already invested in Google Shopping. This makes it unlikely to meaningfully increase SKU count and strengthen Google’s position relative to Amazon. It may have a positive, albeit modest, impact on advertisers who’ve invested in feed quality, but I’m much more skeptical about whether it will support Google’s larger strategy.
Dan Pietrucha, VP, Digital Advertising
As more businesses opt into unpaid Shopping listings, there may be ancillary effects on the Organic channel. Retailers that are new to Shopping might have to set up product feeds for the first time, or otherwise take a closer look at their product data with Shopping results in mind. Any businesses that audit and optimize their product data will stand to benefit in Google’s Organic results over time, especially against competitors who have data quality issues and don’t take the initiative to improve. This development is a good opportunity for businesses to ensure their product data is well optimized for search, even if they don’t plan to participate in Shopping.
Dan Ciardi, Director, Search Marketing & Analytics
This represents a fresh opportunity for feed optimization vendors and agencies with extensive shopping experience. Product feed generation, maintenance, and optimization can be daunting to the uninitiated; vendors and agencies with shopping expertise have a role to play in helping these businesses navigate the challenges of Google Merchant Center.
Ross Sterland, Senior SEM Analyst
Google faces a significant challenge in getting more users to start their searches on their shopping platform. By offering shopping listings for free, Google hopes to chip away at Amazon’s market share by enticing more advertisers (and products) to their platform.
Cooper Gay, Senior SEM Analyst
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