Shopping Free Once Again!

In a piece last July, I explored how Google was returning to an old system through its Comparison Shopping Services platform. Those with a few years of digital experience will likely see the striking resemblance between European CSS click-throughs and the lost world of bridging pages between Google and merchant websites. Now, Google seems to be making a return to 2012 with the return of free shopping listings – not seen on the platform in 8 years. 

Fred Maude

Free shopping listings will come into effect in the US on 27th April and are expected to be rolled out across the world within months. As marketers get ready for this new type of listing, there’s one question that hangs in the air. Why now?

The Timing

It’s a secret to absolutely no-one that the meteoric rise of Amazon as a Shopping destination over the last few years has taken a significant share of the market away from Google – and it’s easy to see why.  Amazon’s wide-reaching product selection is a huge plus for users, and their ranking model – which sees products ranked purely based on certain attributes rather than bids – is reflective of what drew users to Google’s core product in the first place.

With advertisers slashing budgets left and right in response to the current pandemic, we’re seeing fewer and fewer listings on the Google Shopping tab as you can’t be listed without spending. It seems that in response, Google has naturally sped up their timeframes for launching free shopping listings for fear of falling any further behind Amazon as the go-to starting point for a consumer’s shopping journey.

There have also been some reports that, after the initial boom, Amazon is now struggling with its listings and fulfilment for some of it’s largest sellers. Perhaps Google believes that by creating a Marketplace with a low barrier to entry, they can create a larger pool of products than Amazon can at this time. Hopefully, by bringing consumers over now and building a habit, customers will stick with you afterwards. 

The benefits for Google and consumers are numerous, but what about the impact on merchants? How will this change the way we run our paid campaigns; from 3rd-party tracking to measuring performance across both organic and paid shopping. What will this mean for the relatively young CSS program in Europe? In short, how will we have to adapt?

Preparing for Success

If you’ve already opted into the Surfaces Across Google program, you’ll automatically be opted into Organic Shopping. When it comes to measuring performance here, it’s important to note that organic ads will only be appearing within the Shopping Tab, which means they’re going to have a relatively small impact on volumes. Estimates suggest that the volumes coming through the Shopping Tab make up between 5-10% of totals, which is still enough to have an impact on your campaigns.

The actual volumes could be even smaller than that, as current communications say the shopping tab will be “mostly” free. The specifics of this are anyone’s guess, however, I think is more than likely that it will follow the format of the traditional SERP with ads remaining at the top and bottom. Regardless, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that the impact of this new product listing is measured properly.

To ensure you’re accurately measuring your performance, we recommend that you apply your Google and Adobe tracking parameters to your Merchant Center so you can continue to monitor volumes across all shopping types within your analytics platform. We also recommend that you place an additional level of parameters so you can differentiate between the two sources of traffic; which should mean you can measure the impact of organic shopping on your performance. 

We will also be taking snapshots of the Shopping Tab results on some of our key terms, so we can monitor how changes have affected the results within the tab. This will be a key step in learning how we can influence the shopping tab going forward.

Over time, it will be important to closely monitor your CPCs. Whilst most merchants are already listed in shopping, any new entrants to the space as well as fewer spots to compete for may cause CPC inflation – leading to increased costs within the SERP. Yes, counterintuitively Google’s free Shopping could lead to you spending more overall.

What about the CSS Program in Europe?

While we don’t know specifically when the new system will be coming to Europe, we do know that it will become significantly more complicated. Currently, CSS providers have the opportunity to appear within the shopping tab if they wish to, but this is without the benefit of the 20% discount incentive. Moving forward, there are two main options for how this might work.

Firstly, and most unlikely, CSSs may still appear for their merchants within the Shopping Tab, with the listing that has the best-tuned feed being the one that gets priority. Considering the complications that 3rd-party tracking would cause, this seems like the least likely option. However, it may still be worth testing 3rd party tracking within the Ads redirect column (on a limited product set)  to see if you get any traction.

Instead, I believe that it will mean that all CSSs without the meta tag activated within the Merchant Center will be excluded from Organic Shopping results. This will mean a reduction in traffic from CSS providers that do not operate out of the main client accounts. This would be a fair enough step in my view; after all, we don’t let Google bid within our Shopping Tab.

Who Wins Out?

If Google are ranking listings based on all the same criteria as before, without the bid coming into play, then those with the best feeds will have the best chance of winning in this space. Running an audit to understand your current feed, and optimising based on the findings, will give you a strong basis here. You can find some tips on getting the best out of your feed in our recent webinar.

There is also a chance that Google will take a more handheld approach to the new world; perhaps using some of the more well-known SEO drivers, such as authority, relevance and credibility to decide who will show. Over time I am sure that the ability to checkout within the Tab will earn you brownie points as well. However, both these points could make it more difficult for smaller brands to appear within the Shopping Tab in the future. To help prepare for this, find ways for your paid teams to work more closely with the SEO team to ensure your feeds are optimised for the right terms and phrases that people are searching for. 

Ultimately, we don’t know what the real impacts and results of changes will be until Organic Shopping is rolled out. All we can do is set up to measure impacts and plan for every eventuality. The only constant is change in our industry, and I for one welcome it as an exciting opportunity to demonstrate our adaptability.

We will be analysing the impact closely in the US, so stay tuned for the results.

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