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What’s NEXT for Merchant Center?

what's next for merchant center blog post image

Article Author
Andrew Birkitt

If you work in Digital Marketing, you get used to changes happening from Google on a regular basis, and, every now and then they come along with one that is a major change.

One such change earlier this year was the announcement at Google Marketing Live 2023 that by 2024 Google Merchant Center will be replaced by Merchant Center Next. Google are touting this as a simplified version of Merchant Center, but what does this mean for agencies and businesses that currently use Merchant Center on a regular basis.

The rollout of GMCN is currently underway for anyone setting up a new Merchant account, however, although you have the option to opt-in it is worth noting that there are currently a considerable number of features not available in the current classic Merchant Center offering. All existing Merchant Center’s are scheduled for transition to the new GMCN over the coming months, with completion expected in 2024.

What is it?

If you are a smaller merchant with limited resources GMCN is being pushed as a significant step in making the ecommerce experience simpler. One major upgrade to the newer platform is its ability to crawl your websites and automatically detect data from your products such as product title, description, price, product images and size then pulling that data into GMCN automatically. This means that there is less technicality involved in building and maintaining a feed than in the current version.

It is also worth mentioning here that as smart a function as this may appear it may not provide for fully optimised shopping campaigns as this option may not meet all of Google’s stringent listing requirements and best practices. The good news here is that these listings can be edited, and you can even turn off this option if you so wish. On a side note, you may be seeing some of the features mentioned creeping into the classic Merchant Center before there is a full migration for all your accounts.

Google Merchant Center Next vs Merchant Center Classic

Nobody really likes change; even if it is sold to us as being for the better, and when there is change we like to know what we are getting into, so just what are the differences between GMCN and Classic MC?

As we have already mentioned the new GMCN is rolling out slowly and not all of the new features have been fully introduced and some aspects appear to be missing from the classic version (more on those later). However, patience is important at this stage of the rollout as there is still some uncertainty about what will end up in the final version. With that said let’s take a look into the main differences with Merchant Center Next and Merchant Center Classic.

Simpler Interface

When you first access Merchant Center Next, you will immediately notice that it boasts a much simpler and cleaner looking interface. These changes are similar to the Google Ads interface updates over the years and are designed to make it easier for new adopters to navigate their way around the platform. 

The new simplified Merchant Center Next interface

Product Diagnostics are Streamlined

In the Classic Merchant Center, this was displayed as a timeline diagram showing product diagnostics and how they had changed over time. In Merchant Center Next this has been changed to show a concise overview of the current status. This includes what’s approved or not approved, what is under review and what is limited within the account.

A pie chart replaces the bar graph in Merchant Center Next | Source: Smarter Ecommerce (smec)

This slightly different wording is meant to make things clearer for users (with ‘expiring items’ no longer used).

Multiple paths to importing your data

With the advent of Google Merchant Center Next there are now five distinct routes to importing your product data, each one Google says has been tailored to suit the needs of the business and their technical ability.

Add a Data Source in Google Merchant Center Next
  • Automatically from your Online Store – Using this method allows you to import your products automatically from your ecommerce platform. Common platforms such as BigCommerce, Shopify and WooCommerce offer integration with Merchant Center seamlessly through APIs that also ensure your data is continually synced and updated from your site.
  • Utilising 3rd Party Platforms – For those of us that prefer the familiarity of an existing product feed or are using 3rd party tools such as DataFeedWatch to optimise their feed then Merchant Center Next supports syncing your data from an XML feed. Which will also ensure your product data remains up to date.
  • Google Sheets – for those merchants who want to remain hands on, there is a manual method via Google Sheets. This involves populating a template within a spreadsheet with all of your product data and then manually uploading this to Merchant Center Next. While this method does offer a degree of control it does require that you do manual updates to the file whenever any of your product data changes.
  • via Website URL – One of the new features of Merchant Center Next allows you to add your website url from which Google will crawl and pull your product data automatically into Merchant Center Next. This approach while simplifying the process and making it more accessible to smaller businesses will only pull a nominal amount of data which may not be fully optimised for a Merchant Feed.
  • Manually – You can still add products manually to the feed directly in Merchant Center Next, however, this is a time consuming method and would only be recommended for those businesses with a very limited catalogue.

Editable Products within Merchant Center

This is a feature that has been around for a little while in the classic Merchant Center as I am sure some of you are already familiar. This has been refined somewhat for the new MCN, click on any product and then click the ‘Edit product’ button to make changes to your product attributes directly. 

This is quite a big change from the Merchant Center many of us are used to and does come in really useful if you are allowing Google to scrape product information by crawling your website. The other big change currently on the products tab is that there are fewer filters available.

Editable Products within Merchant Center

This is a feature that has been around for a little while in the classic Merchant Center as I am sure some of you are already familiar. This has been refined somewhat for the new MCN, click on any product and then click the ‘Edit product’ button to make changes to your product attributes directly. 

This is quite a big change from the Merchant Center many of us are used to and does come in really useful if you are allowing Google to scrape product information by crawling your website. The other big change currently on the products tab is that there are fewer filters available.

Merchant Center Next All Products View
Modify a product directly in Google Merchant Center Next

Product Feed

As of the time of writing you can’t currently view the product feed or it’s raw data within Merchant Center Next (although this may be remedied). Although the feeds tab we normally see in classic Merchant Center has been removed you can still check the source you are currently connected to. 

Go to “Products” > Select “All Products” > Click the Item Title, and then on the lower right corner, you’ll find the “Source”.

Click Potential

This is another new item that some users may already be seeing in their current classic version of Merchant Center. “Click Potential” is a new metric available to Merchant Center users that analyses an accounts historical data in order to estimate the likely number of clicks from users on your product listing ads. This new metric is designed to assist account users optimise products with low click potential and is calculated by comparing your products performance with others in your Merchant Center Next account.

The new Click Potential metric

Tab Movements

With the new layout there have been several changes around the usual tabs available in the classic Merchant Center, some have just moved, and others have (for now) been removed.

Growth Tab – this familiar tab is currently missing from Merchant Center Next. Within the classic interface this tab shows opportunities where feed and campaigns can be improved, providing information to essentially improve delivery and drive more traffic. This area also housed the price competitiveness reports, best sellers report and ‘manage programs’ features so those are currently unavailable in GMCN and it is unclear as of yet whether these features have been retired for good or haven’t been rolled out yet.

Business Details – this feature still exists but has been moved from the main settings down on to the left-hand side of the screen. So, this is where you would go to edit any of your business or online store details.

Your Business details

Performance and Promotion – these functionalities from the classic Merchant Center have been retained with the only real difference being that you are unable to modify the date range while viewing performance as you can currently in the classic version.

Product Studio

Currently rolling out in the US and we assume to follow elsewhere over the coming months is Product Studio, a new tool from Google that allows Shopping merchants to edit and customise the images of their products utilising generative AI. This new tool will be hosted within the new Merchant Center Next interface and has been designed to help sellers make their images stand out against those of their competitors.

It’s no Photoshop, but it can utilise text prompts to make quick visual adjustments to product images such as creating a seasonal background. It can also instantly remove existing backgrounds from images to give a clean backdrop to the product and increase the quality of small or low-res images.

Google says that its Product Studio can be used by businesses of all sizes but it is arguably of greater use to smaller businesses that don’t have the budget for large expensive photoshoots.

Googles Product Studio coming to a Merchant Center near you

Insights in the Performance Tab

Google has moved all of the insight reports under the performance tab so that retailers can get easy access to their performance data within GMCN.

Under this section, merchants will be able to gain insights into such things as how their products are selling, who they are competing against. They will also have the ability to see how their customers are interacting with their store on Google Search and Maps.

Other new insights will be available, some of these will include information on the benefits of fixing feed errors making it simpler for merchants to prioritise and fix issues moving forwards.

Merchant Center Next Insights

Merchant Center Next Limitations

As with all things that have been around for many years when there are major changes like this, there are invariably limitations, and while it looks cleaner and more simplified Google Merchant Center Next is no exception. As mentioned previously these limitations may be subject to change but here a few worthy of mention to be mindful of.

Solely focused on Google Products

As with the classic Merchant Center GMCN is solely focused on Google Products, it may look all new and fresh but it is still limited for advertisers using their feed on platforms such as social media and marketplace.

Lacks Optimisation Facilities

Although we have mentioned that you can now edit and optimise your products directly within the GMCN interface, this can only be done on an individual basis. This is a slow and manual process and is only really suited to minor changes or catalogues with a small number of products. 

For larger catalogues we would still recommend utilising an agency or third-party feed optimisation tools.

Missing Features

As mentioned throughout this article there are several features, we have all become accustomed to that are missing from Google Merchant Center Next. This will undoubtedly mean a period of adjustment as we learn to live without them, unless these are rolled out later as has happened with features in GA4.

  • Growth tab
  • Feed tab
  • Merchant Center Programs
  • Ability to create supplementary feeds
  • Product diagnostics timeline
  • Product performance date range

Lacking Diagnostics

In Merchant Center Next Google have chosen to simplify diagnostics which when compared to the classic Merchant Center we consider this a limitation.

The current version is pretty comprehensive, diagnosing and providing issue reporting across the account, feeds and individual items. Product eligibility, data warnings and insights into the setup of the account, policy violations and data quality make for valuable information into providing the best quality feed you can.

Under Merchant Center Next advertisers will need to visit the much slimmed down “Needs attention” section and this is one area we hope that Google will address.

Merchant Center Next Diagnostics

Final Thoughts

Google Merchant Center Next is coming, there is no avoiding it. It will undoubtedly appeal to many who are venturing into this area for the first time or for smaller businesses due to its simpler, more intuitive interface.

However, if you are a business that really cares about achieving maximum results from your product data then feed optimisation will most certainly be the primary means of achieving this.

If you want to know more about what we can do to assist you in getting the best results from your shopping Ads and Feed Optimisation why not get in touch.

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