Google are now offering FREE shopping listings

If you’re relatively new to the paid media industry, it might be that all that you’ve known are paid shopping listings. For people with many years in the industry, you might fondly look back on the days that Google allowed advertisers to list shopping ads for free. This was eventually retired in mid 2012, and ever since then, advertisers have had to furiously bid for the limelight in Google’s Shopping Ads. 

However, amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, Google has offered a helping hand to advertisers by somewhat resurrecting free shopping listings. In the current climate, brick and mortar businesses are turning to online stores as a way of bolstering revenue. Latest trends for ‘Shopify’ related searches support this:

For many of these businesses, it’s very difficult to move into the online space at the scale that they require. To overcome this obstacle, Google is now making it free for all advertisers to list products on their shopping platform. This essentially means that the shopping tab in search results will consist primarily of free shopping listings. The hope is that this change will make advertising more accessible for businesses that are either smaller or that are newer to the process. 

It’s also worth noting that this change should also offer some support to businesses who are currently advertising on Google, as their listings may have the potential to appear for free in the shopping tab too. 

What’s the catch?

On the surface, it’s difficult to see who this change won’t benefit. Advertisers are able to reach consumers and sell their products at a potentially lower cost to them, and shoppers will be presented with more products than ever before. 

Interestingly, though, Google has also added that “paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings”. This suggests that whilst free listings will be available, paid listings will still exist. If we further unpick the wording, Google only refers to the “shopping tab” in their article. The prime real estate at the top of search results isn’t mentioned. The question, then, is are only paid listings eligible to appear in this space? 

If the above is true, then advertisers will still have to optimise for listings to appear at the top of search results to give themselves the best chance of acquiring a customer. 

What does this mean for advertisers, and how can we make the most of this change?

As mentioned above, it’s likely that paid shopping ad campaigns are still going to be essential to give advertisers the best chance of acquiring customers, after all, Google’s ad revenue totalled £134.81bn in 2019. It has previously been reported that in the US, shopping ad revenue accounts for 76% of overall ad revenue for Google in the US, and 82% in the UK. This could put Google’s shopping ads revenue at anywhere upwards of £100bn per year. It’s unlikely that they’d want to jeopardise such a lucrative revenue stream by removing paid listings.

We now, however, have more to consider. With the implementation of free listings, optimising shopping campaigns from a relevance and bids perspective will be crucial. Firstly, under optimal listings are unlikely to appear at the top of search results. 

Secondly, if they do manage to appear and they’re not as relevant, users may be more inclined to explore the shopping tab for a product that best matches their query. This then opens the door for free listings to sweep up the customers that irrelevant paid listings are bidding for. If anything, this means that paid media teams will have to spend more time optimising shopping campaigns. 

To add to this, users will now be confronted with more listings than ever before, which means that they’re at risk of being overwhelmed by results. Due to this, it’s likely that if your product listing doesn’t stand out to a user, it isn’t going to be noticed or clicked. This makes campaign optimisation and differentiation even more important.

Next, we have to consider the results within the shopping tab itself. As the majority of listings will be free and therefore won’t rely on a bidding and auction system to be ranked, the core metrics for sorting these is most likely to be the relevance of product titles and descriptions to the persons search, as well a product/s GTIN (Global Trade Item Number).

We can safely assume that the above will be tied directly to how targeted a product page is, as well as how well it performs in terms of user experience. Paid media teams will already be looking into this. 

However, this process could be further augmented through the input of SEO teams (who have a lot of experience optimising for relevance), making a combined search strategy even more crucial for advertisers as the lines between organic and paid listings continue to blur. CRO teams will also have a part to play,  as they’re sure to bring a lot to the table in terms of user experience and engagement. 

To summarise

All in all, there’s no doubt that this is going to be a positive change for both users and advertisers. It does, however, mean that reaching customers with your shopping listings could become more difficult. 

The market will be saturated with listings, paid spots are about to become a lot more competitive, and free listings will be based on how well you optimise your user experience and relevance of your product pages. Key points that you should be thinking about are:

  • Targeting optimisation
  • Schema markup
  • Site speed
  • Product copy/imagery
  • Pricing

At the moment, this change has been rolled out solely to the US, but they’re anticipating a Global roll out before the end of the year. If you solely advertise in the UK and you’re reading this, you essentially have a bit of a headstart to get things in order before this change comes into place. If you’re completely new to advertising products on Google, then not to worry – they’re currently working on streamlining their onboarding process to make things as simple as possible. To get started, head over to Merchant Center and get your account set up.

Written by Alex Wright

SEO Manager