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Google Shopping


Google Shopping – why it’s stepping into the digital marketing spotlight for its 18th birthday
Believe it or not Google Shopping will turn 18 years old this December, old enough to buy you a pint. If that surprises you it may be because it has adopted so many different names and forms over the years. But with its recent announcement in the US that it will “now let anyone who operates a website or manages a store on a marketplace platform list without paying”, and that this will soon roll out globally, it’s very much back in the news.
Originally launched as Froogle in December 2002, the service then prided itself on differing from other price comparison sites by using Google’s web crawler to index product data instead of relying on paid submissions. In 2012 it switched its strategy and began offering a “pay to play” service which led to controversy and a record breaking fine of nearly $4 million AUD from the European Union for anti-competitive practices.
Although Google is gigantic enough to withstand fines as heavy as that, it may have played some role in the new decision to again offer free listings – although the company itself insists that coronavirus is by far the more significant factor. Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, has said the move “helps bring some quite needed relief to the retail and small business ecosystem.”
Many businesses already using Google Shopping may question the value of the free listings, given that Google will still charge for its most valuable top listed placements, but the changes are likely to make Google Shopping even more prominent during the Covid-19 crisis and after. They will also make it easier for even large businesses to promote a wider variety of products or services. As The Verge note: “Existing customers will now be able to list their full inventories in the event they were only paying to promote some products on the platform.” In short, if you weren’t already looking for ways to utilise Google Shopping, it’s time to rectify that, and this article will help you.
Hubspot put it at its simplest: “Why use Google Shopping? In short, it works.” As that blogger notes, if you are a potential customer looking to buy an item you don’t know much about, in a sector where you have no existing vendor loyalty – the writer gives purchasing a new sofa as an example – searching for your item in Google will pull up a greater variety of options, presented in a greater variety of formats, than any rival could hope to. As well as a platoon of websites, you’ll also get the Google Shopping results, which are extremely visual and allow quick filtering by various measures such as pricing, type, materials, etc. It’s not hard to see why a rich search set of search results like that will directly lead to sales.
For entrepreneurs or marketers, Google Shopping gives you another valuable shot at appearing prominently in Google’s Search Engine Page Results. If you’ve got a really robust marketing strategy, you might be appearing as a website listing, as a text only ad bought on a Pay Per Click basis and as a Shopping result. This is the “take no prisoners” approach to digital marketing.
Also, Hubspot were understating the facts when they said these ads worked. In 2017, a study conducted into what were then called Google Product Listing Ads found they were getting a 30% higher conversion rate than traditional text adverts. By that point US consumer-facing businesses were already spending a higher proportion of their Google ad budget on these ads than on text ads, a trend that has accelerated and spread around the world since.
If you want to tap into this rich vein of commercial potential, then you need to understand what makes Google Shopping tick. And the answer is, more than anything else, visuals. While the channel uses uploaded product feeds to index search results, the all-important featured images come from the retailer’s website. That means that you need to think carefully about whether the product imagery you are using is tailored towards Google Shopping. As Wordstream points out “product images are less about communicating relevance to Google and more about attracting consumers’ eyes”, but that definitely doesn’t mean ignoring Google’s needs.
For one thing, Google will take ad campaigns offline if it believes the images to be low quality and has even been known to suspend advertiser’s accounts for repeat offences. Google Shopping is quite clear about its reasoning: “High image quality is strongly correlated with user engagement and clicks. By improving your image quality, you’ll provide a better experience for the users”. Google Shopping does provide extensive guidelines, ranging from the obvious like use of clear lighting to the less obvious like avoiding image tweaking like fringing – we recommend following the instructions from the start to save yourself a lot of trouble later.
Once images are optimised, it’s time to turn your attention to the trickier, more technical but completely essential task of getting your product feed set up correctly. This is the data that tells Google about your products and allows it to find and display them correctly for your potential customers. It’s a time-consuming process but time well spent nonetheless, as mistakes made here will mean that Google simply doesn’t know where to put your product. You’ll end up stuck in the online equivalent of a warehouse, gathering virtual dust. Recart rightly calls this “undoubtedly the most important stage of setting up a shopping campaign.”
Of course, just because Google knows where to display your product doesn’t mean that they will do so prominently. Even with its move back to free listings, Google still makes a vast amount of its vast revenue through advertising, and that’s why you’ll need to link your Google Shopping account to your Google Ads account as the final step before setting up full shopping campaigns. A lot of these are run on the bidding strategies familiar to most of us digital marketers, and this would require a full article all on its own (since we don’t have space here, try this rather comprehensive one from GoDataFeed).
It’s clear from many of its recent announcements and initiatives that Google hopes its Shopping channel will pose a serious threat to the online commerce hegemony of Amazon in the future. Another big clue came last year when it folded its Google Express physical shopping service – and, more importantly, app – into Google Shopping. But as Business Insider said at the time, Amazon’s lead was so huge that it “begs the question of whether Google has waited too long to try to convert its popularity into e-commerce market share.”
Google clearly disagrees and thinks the opportunity is real, and is prepared to put its money where its mouth is by investing in Shopping. It is also hoping that it may benefit from the shock-to-the-commercial system that is the Covid-19 crisis, and the even greater surge of consumers towards online shopping. And as long as Google is the starting point for 95% of Australian searches, it would be foolish to ignore its commercial potential now and in the future.

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