Over the course of the past twelve months, Google has slowly been rolling out various changes to the Google Shopping experience in the US, in a rebrand of the platform that has upped the ante against Amazon. The UK market is patiently waiting its turn to test some of these new features, some of which have already been rolling out in beta across global territories.

‘Google Shopping Actions’ is one such example, which provides consumers with the functionality to be able to checkout directly through the search engine without ever clicking through to the retailers’ website, enticed by the ‘Buy On Google’ button.

Personalisation has also been a large focus on the US Shopping rebrand, which went live in October last year, with consumers seeing product recommendations based on their previous browsing habits, with local inventory ads also displaying localised listings.

However, in a reversal of an eight-year strategy, the most recent game-changing development from Google in April was the announcement in a blog post from Bill Ready, President of Commerce with the headline ‘It’s now free to sell on Google’ and stating ‘Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings’.

The announcement comes at a time in tough economic conditions brought on by COVID-19 and is offered as a pledge to support retailers. However, the free listings are also likely to be an added benefit for consumers.

Where will free listings appear

For the time being, the free shopping listings will only be available in the US on the Google Shopping tab https://shopping.google.com/ and not the search engine results page. The Google Shopping tab only represents around 5% of current paid shopping traffic, so organic traffic opportunities will be somewhat limited by this.

Shown below, Google have now annotated the paid listing with ‘Ads’ whilst adding an about label to the free listings, which can be expanded with a further explanation stating ‘Google is not compensated for clicks on these results’

Example of a set of paid Google ads and a set of Free Google shopping ads. The free version has an About icon at the top right, stating that Google isn't getting compensated for the clicks

Ensure you opt into Google Surfaces

As well as already having a product feed up and running in a Merchant Center account, retailers need to ensure they are opted into the ‘Surfaces for Google’ platform. This allows products to be eligible to show for free across unpaid listings on maps, lens, images, as well Google Shopping.

To opt-in within the Merchant Center select “Growth” and then “Manage programs” in the left navigation menu and select the “surfaces across Google” program card. You do not need to be running paid for Shopping Ads or even have a Google Ads account to benefit from free Shopping listings.

How to report on free listings

A new report is now available for retailers opted into the Google Surfaces in the US within the performance tab of the dashboard:

Furthermore, UTM tracking can also be added to URLs in the feed, in order to report on free shopping clicks within Google Analytics with more control.

Further considerations

One of the factors as to why Shopping became a paid-for product initially was that ‘feed quality’ was not always taken seriously by retailers, often leading to poor quality listings, with issues such as out of stock products being listed. However, Google has since developed ways to highlight mismatching errors between the feed and website more effectively and therefore prevent poor listings.

With organic shopping opportunities now available and potentially more competition for paid spots, the recent announcement means that feed quality and optimisation are more important than ever.

At Epiphany, we are keeping a close eye on our Shopping campaigns which are live in the USA and early signs are that the amount of free clicks coming through Shopping is less than 3% of overall Shopping traffic, but this does not appear to have had a detrimental impact paid clicks.

However, there could be a significant shift in performance if Google decides to roll out free shopping listings across more Surfaces inventory.

This roll-out will undoubtedly bring opportunities to retailers who were not previously investing in paid shopping ads, although it’s uncertain whether this change will cause a fluctuation in competition for the paid ad spots, with the potential to lead to an increase in costs.

In the meantime, we are still waiting patiently until later in the year, when free shopping listings are expected to be launched in the UK. If you need any more information on optimising your paid search strategy, please get in touch or speak to us on Twitter and LinkedIn.