In April 2020 – Google announced that they were bringing forward their plans “to make it free for merchants to sell on Google”. In this post, I’ll look into what this really means, some possible reasons for this decision and its implications for merchants and shoppers.
Isn’t it Already Free For Merchants to Appear on Google?
Going back to the basics: the listings on the Google search results page are split between “paid” advertising listings – that work on a cost per click model, and organic or “free” listings. Technically, a merchant’s website can already appear – for free, in the organic search results. However, there is currently a cost involved for clicks on all “Google Shopping” listings. (Google Shopping listings are distinguished by showing an image of a product, its price, and the name of the merchant).
Will the Free Listings – Appear in the Main Search Results Page?
This is a really important point – at the time of writing, there are no announcements that the free listings will show on the main search results page. Instead, they will only appear in the Google Shopping Tab. Currently, the Google Shopping Tab is only used by a small minority of Google users – compared to the people who click through on Shopping Listings on the main search page (a very rough estimate is that over 80% of clicks on Google Shopping listings are from the main results page – and less than 20% are from clicks from the Shopping Tab.)
A Search for “BBQ” in the Main Search Results Page
A Search for “BBQ” in the Google Shopping Tab
If the Free Listings Aren’t Appearing in The Main Search Page – is it Worth Setting up?
In our view, it is definitely worthwhile setting up the free listings. At the moment, it seems like there are no downsides to appearing for free in a listing – and gaining free, relevant traffic. Although Shopping Ads within the shopping tab may represent a relatively low share of Google’s clicks, the volumes here are still substantial. It’s also worth noting that Shopping Ads, on average, have a much higher click-through rate than other paid results (such as Google Search Ads).
The free listings could also become significantly more important if Google subsequently decides for them to appear on the main search results page. If this happens, merchants who opted in at the start of this programme – would be in an especially good position.
Do I Need to Set up a Paid Campaign – to be Eligible For the Free Listings
No – you won’t need to set up any paid campaigns (e.g. a Google Search Campaign) – to be eligible for the Free Shopping Listings.
Are the Listings Complex to Set Up?
If a merchant is already using Google Shopping – it is very straightforward to set up the free listings, the merchant would just need to “opt-in” to the “Surfaces across Google” program.
If a merchant is not already registered, then they will need to upload a product feed in the Merchant Centre. (For more information on how eComOne set up and manage product feeds – please see https://www.ecomone.com/google-shopping/feed-management)
How Can we See The Effectiveness of The Free Listings?
Within the Merchant Centre – there is some basic reporting on performance. (We will update this section when more information become available)
Screenshot showing the merchant centre overview screen
Why is Google Introducing Free Listings?
Part of the reason for introducing free listings in the shopping tab may be to emulate the success of Amazon’s product search. Amazon is currently a very effective “destination” for researching, comparing and purchasing products. In my view, one of the reasons Amazon is well trusted is because it skews towards organic product listings. Amongst customers – there can be an inherent mistrust of “ads” compared to organic listings – to illustrate this, a report from Search Engine Land from 2019 – shows that click-through rates on Paid Listings were under 10% for paid results, compared to 30 – 60% click through rates for organic. https://searchengineland.com/data-google-organic-search-ctrs-decline-on-desktop-see-big-drop-on-phones-310916
Through adding organic listings, Google may aim to make the Shopping Tab more of a “destination” in its own right – to challenge Amazon’s dominance.
Although the decision to introduce the free listings, may in part be a tactical response to Amazon’s success, it also aligns with Google overall Mission Statement “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Has the Timing of the Free Listing “Roll-out” Been Impacted by Recent Events?
Google has stated they are accelerating the roll-out of the free listings; to help the retail sector in light of the specific challenges it’s facing with Coronavirus.
Could Opening up Free Listings – Actually Lead to More Merchants Using PPC?
A benefit Google could find – is that they may attract new merchants, who weren’t previously using Google Shopping. Once these merchants have started using the free Shopping listings, they are more likely to “dip their toe” into Paid Shopping listings as well (as much of the technical Shopping ads set-up will already be complete by this point)
When Will the Free Shopping Listings be Available?
The Shopping Ads listings are already available in the U.S, and Google has announced that they “aim to expand this globally” by the end of the year. At a recent webinar hosted by the Institute of eCommerce, Anthony Jones (Head of eCommerce, Mid-Market Sales UKI at Google) suggested it was likely that the Free Listings would be available in the UK in the third quarter of 2020.
So, Is the Announcement on Free Google Shopping Listings As Good As it Sounds?
In my view – the announcement isn’t quite as impressive as the “headline” might suggest. That said, as a merchant, it definitely seems worthwhile to opt into the programme; and there are likely to be “early mover advantages” to opting-in as soon as the program is available in the UK.
For Google’s full announcement – please see:
THIS BLOG POST WILL BE UPDATED AS MORE INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE
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