Google recently announced they will be transitioning Google Product Search (GPS) into a 100% paid search model – similar to Pricegrabber and Shopzilla – called Google Shopping. Coming on the heels of the newest Penguin update, it makes sense that they’re beefing up the rules on feeds as well. They’re trying to make a better online shopping experience. After all, a great way to force companies to submit higher quality feeds is to make them pay for their clicks.
Smaller merchants will be the most significantly affected by the change. Unlike Google Product Search, Google Shopping will not be a level playing field where the best products rise to the top. Even in their own announcement of the change, Google used a sample search result in which 13 of the 15 results were paid advertisements. This is not the absolute end of open competition, but it is undoubtedly a step in that direction. That said, it’s not the first. Slowly – but surely – Google has been changing over from pure, merit-based algorithms to a pay-to-play model.
Over time, Google has intentionally blurred the lines between organic and paid search results. If you look at the top 3 paid links on a typical Google search, the background color is hardly noticeable anymore, as Google has gradually lightened it over time. It’s an attempt to make the ads blend in so they won’t get ignored, because if people ignore the ads, clickthrough rates (CTR) start hurting, and if CTRs are hurting, then revenue is hurting.
There isn’t much small merchants can do now but play by the rules as best they can. Companies will need to make sure their feeds and content are optimized to their greatest potential for Google Shopping. The deadline for switching over is August 15, 2012. That should give you plenty of time to review the Google Shopping policies and see what you will need for your Google Product Listing Ads. Merchants who switch over before the deadline will receive a few extra bonuses.
All merchants who create Product Listing Ads by August 15, 2012 will automatically receive a monthly AdWords credit of 10% of their total spend on Product Listing Ads through the end of 2012, and GPS merchants who are active as of May 30, 2012 can fill out this form by August 15, 2012 and receive a $100 AdWords credit to use toward Product Listing Ads.
If you have a Google Merchant Center feed in place and want to get started, here are a few areas to focus on:
High-Quality Data: This is all about content. Make sure that your product titles and descriptions adhere to both Google Merchant Center and Google Shopping policies, and be sure to include keyword-enriched text that will help your overall page placement and conversion rate. Make it as easy as possible for a potential customer to find your products.
Images: Part of this new transition is going to be a greater focus on larger product images. Currently Google requires an image of at least 250 x 250 pixels, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that goes up. If you’re images do not measure up to the recommended size of 400 x 400 pixels, you might want to update sooner rather than later.
Up-to-Date Information: Currently, Google allows a feed to be uploaded and stay active for 30 days. Unless you’re inventory rarely changes, you’re going to want to keep your feed fresh and up to date with stock and prices. The new Google Shopping policy clearly states “The price on the landing page has to be equal to the price on Google Shopping.” If you change any prices online, be sure that they are updated in your feed as well.