Google is taking the significant step of opening up its Shopping search results to unpaid, organic listings. The Google Shopping tab results “will consist primarily of free product listings” starting next week, the company announced Tuesday.
The move comes amid the coronavirus crisis in which many brick and mortar retailers have had to close their doors. An e-commerce strategy has suddenly taken on heightened importance and urgency for merchants. The crisis was the impetus for “advancing our plans to make [Google Shopping] free for merchants,” Google’s President of Commerce Bill Ready said in a blog post. However, the change will be permanent and fits into the longer-term vision for the company’s role in digital commerce.
“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs,” said Ready. “For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”
Why we care. This is an evolution we’ve been watching closely and in many ways is a back to the future moment for Google product search, which used to be free (remember Froogle?), before it shifted to a purely paid product in 2012. Two things have changed since that time: data quality and Amazon.
Before going entirely paid, Google’s product search suffered from a quality problem — with listings that often led to out of stock or entirely different items altogether. Google’s ability to ensure that the information in a product feed matches the data on the site has advanced significantly since then.
Then there’s Amazon. Google has seen the e-commerce giant continue to gain share in product search and advertising. Limiting the universe of products available in Google Shopping results to those retailers who are willing to pay has put Google’s search power at a disadvantage.
Opening up to all merchants will enhance Google’s offering and its appeal to both sellers and consumers. And as on Amazon, merchants that want to ensure prominent visibility in the search results, now more competitive with more products eligible to show, will continue to pay for ads. For e-commerce marketers and SEOs, the move adds a new layer to organic product search optimization efforts.
Here’s how the new program will work.
Distribution of ads and free listings. Paid shopping ads will appear at the top and bottom of the page on the Google Shopping tab, just as they do on the main search results tab. There may be future layout experiments in the future. Amazon, for example, now sprinkles sponsored products ads throughout its search results pages.
The main Google Search page is not changing, and the carousels of product listing ads (PLAs) will continue to consist of ads only.
The Google Shopping hub in the U.S. (https://shopping.google.com), which underwent a complete redesign last fall, will also see this change, specifically on the search results pages. The hub’s homepage, which typically features curated product themes (tech and tools for working, learning and teaching from home, are current offerings), will continue to feature paid listings only, at least to start.
Product feed-powered. Like the ads, the free listings will be powered by product data feeds uploaded to Google Merchant Center. Google opened up Merchant Center to all retailers a little over a year ago to start enabling organic product visibility in areas of the search results, including Image search. More recently, Google began showing organic product listings in a section called “Popular products.”
To get started, you’ll need to open a Google Merchant Center account and upload a product feed. Sellers must opt-in to “surfaces across Google” to be eligible for organic visibility, Google notes in the updated help center article.
New PayPal integration. Google also announced a new partnership with PayPal on Tuesday. Merchants using PayPal will be able to link those accounts to Google Merchant Center, which will allow Google to pull in seller details faster and to verify trusted merchants.
Google also partners with e-commerce platforms, including Shopify, WooCommerce and BigCommerce to make it easier for merchants to manage inventory and products.
Google says the change will fully take effect in the U.S. before the end of April and expand globally by the end of the year.
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This story first appeared on Search Engine Land.