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Google Shopping goes from free to fee

Google Shopping goes from free to fee
Thursday February 14 2013

As Google today implements paid Shopping Product Search results, e-commerce expert Seamus Whittingham discusses how retailers trading online can now make the most of Google Shopping

Earlier this week Google set in motion a substantial change in the way that UK retailers use search when it replaced the efficient, effective and free Google Product Search with a new e-commerce service that charges for listings – titled Google Shopping.

Seamus Whittingham, managing director in Europe, Middle East and Africa for e-commerce software provider ChannelAdvisor, spoke exclusively to Retail Technology, about the implications of this change.

Google’s product listing offerings have evolved significantly since the company announced Froogle Beta and Google Base in December 2002, so Whittingham said these changes should perhaps come as no surprise. The initial service was replaced in April 2007 with the rebranded Google Product Search (GPS), which was successfully rolled out internationally and used to great effect by many retailers.

“Now however, Google has ended this free programme and the change is likely to have a huge impact on online retailers who rely on the traffic generated by search,” he explained. “Google Shopping has been live in the US since May 2012 and, at ChannelAdvisor, we have seen first-hand the impact it can have on retailers. 

Plan to optimise presence

Whittingham urged any business reliant on Google Product Search campaigns for traffic to optimise its Google Shopping presence as soon as possible to avoid losing out. “Retailers will begin to notice a shift in traffic in the coming days, so understanding this new programme is vital as, for many retailers, the change of format means action is required in order to participate,” he said. “Unfortunately, many retailers are still unprepared for this change with a considerable number only considering the impact this could have on their business now.”

The cost side of Google Shopping is obviously a major concern, as retailers will have to adjust as free listings are phased out, he continued. “Moving forward, retailers will need to calculate how much budget they have and plan accordingly. There is scope for Google Shopping to be cost effective, as bids can be as low as one pence, so retailers should make the most of any incremental opportunities by setting budgets low and adjusting based on performance. Monitor advert performance, replace unsuccessful ones with better selling products and use minimum bids to your advantage,” Whittingham advised.

More positively, the new service is designed to give retailers greater control over where their ads appear, as well as the opportunity to get more consistent levels of high quality website traffic. “It has the potential to provide a much more engaging user experience, while making it simpler for retailers to promote their entire product line via many Google searches,” he said.

New listing ad format change

But the biggest change that retailers face is the new Product Listing Ads (PLAs) format. “This advertising format will be highly visual and focused on improving the customer experience,” Whittingham said. “Understanding and optimising PLAs is fundamental to a retailer’s success on Google Shopping.” PLAs are essentially search ads with pictures that detail product title, size and look, price, site name and other promotional details. The e-commerce expert also said they could be very beneficial to retailers, as they often deliver very solid conversion rates and rely on standard existing assets; GPS feed and Google AdWords. “These ads will drive search results, so retailers need to ensure they get them right.”

Google chooses and ranks products to display in the PLA based on cost-per-click and other factors familiar to search auctions, such as quality score and click-through rate. He added: “It’s vital to get your promotional messages right to help communicate the value proposition of your offers and urge users to take a closer look. PLAs already offer more product information than regular text-based ads, but Google Shopping has an additional ‘Promotions’ field where retailers can add additional text to help differentiate products from competitors’ offerings.”

PLA success starts with product data feeds that are accurate, comprehensive and delivered frequently. Whittingham said that Google is more likely to serve an ad for retailers who have a consistently fresh, error-free data feed. So he also advised retailers to keep a close eye on tracking to ensure feeds contains the parameters needed to collect accurate performance data and address all errors and warnings that appear in a Merchant Centre Account as soon as possible. “Maximising the eligibility of your products is vital, as you will see ads drop down the rankings if errors go uncorrected,” he added.

Online retailers in the UK and Europe need to be on top of these changes in order to ensure they get ahead of the competition in 2013 – Whittingham said retailers must be careful not to let these changes catch them out. “Seek expert advice to stay ahead of the curve and act now to prepare for these changes because they will affect your business,” he concluded.