Laptop woman Google

In a surprise move this April, Google dropped the mike and announced that Google Shopping is going free. Again (remember Froogle?). Google Shopping can be a powerful tool for online retailers to get their products in front of millions of users on the web, but it’s always come with a fee. Google has announced that it will allow any business to list products on Google Shopping for free, even if, of course, you will still need to pay per click for top spots and to show on the search results page.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 sweeping the globe and impacting the United States especially hard, online shopping has become more crucial than ever before. In light of that, Google has announced that “search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free product listings” starting next week. Speaking to The Verge, Google’s president of commerce, Bill Ready, said that the company has been working on implementing this free service through Google Shopping for “some time,” but the coronavirus outbreak and the potential good the company could do pushed it to accelerate the launch.

“Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free product listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google,” wrote Ready. “With hundreds of millions of shopping searches on Google each day, we know that many retailers have the items people need in stock and ready to ship, but are less discoverable online.”

The expansion of free listings is slated to be completed by the end of April. Initially it will only take place in the U.S. — but Google says it intends to roll out the change globally before the end of the year.

Not just a gesture of good will from Google

While Google is packaging the change as a gesture to help cash-strapped retailers during a time of economic crisis, there’s no doubt the tech giant is also spying strategic opportunity to expand its role in e-commerce in the midst of a coronavirus-shaped boom.

With millions of people stuck at home, and scores of physical stores closed or with heavily restricted access, online shopping has seen huge uplift – more so on several niches and goods.

So far, Amazon’s  Jeff Bezos  has been the most notable winner, adding a reported $24 billion to his personal wealth since the shutdown began — while ad giants like Google are facing heavy exposure to the crisis, as advertisers hunker down and rip up their 2020 marketing budgets.

“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. And for advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings. If you’re an existing user of Merchant Center and Shopping ads, you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the free listings, and for new users of Merchant Center, we’ll continue working to streamline the onboarding process over the coming weeks and months”, said Google officials.

Google also kicked off a new partnership with PayPal to allow merchants to link their accounts. “This will speed up our onboarding process and ensure we’re surfacing the highest quality results for our users. And we’re continuing to work closely with many of our existing partners that help merchants manage their products and inventory, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce, to make digital commerce more accessible for businesses of all sizes”.

Google: no more searching in Amazon!

If Google Shopping can start returning better results for products, and indeed results for more products, there’s an opportunity for the search giant to grow its share of shopping traffic and grab listings clicks from shoppers who might otherwise have run product queries directly on Amazon.

Google is also using the new free product listings feature as a value add “carrot” — to encourage advertisers to (keep) paying it for ads.

Shopify has an app that helps you easily sync your products to Google Shopping. The app will automatically create a product feed and upload it to your Merchant Center Account, then update the feed when you make changes.

Shopify and Google are working together to ensure eligible merchants can participate and list their products seamlessly via the Google Shopping app through Shopify. 

How will the new program 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., 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.

What does the Shopify Community say

As expected, the Shopify community was taken by storm by this big news. The general perspective seems to be that the merchants should expect a lot more competition – at least on the Google Shopping tab.

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.

But, as far as SERP – search engine results where it shows a slideshow of Google Shopping ads, that section will still be fully paid ads only. “Like when the customer first searches for a product and they see shopping ads on top as a result those in specific will still be 100% ads and only the shopping tab section will show the influx of free advertisers. It’s only if the customer clicks on the Google Shopping tab is when they will see all the other free ads”, explains a Shopify user.

Less customers for you through Google Shopping?

Another concern voiced by e-store owners is that, with exploding competition, less customers will go to you. “Because now instead of maybe 8-14 shops that the customers would buy from, now it’s going to be like 18-30 different with the same products. Customers are going to get divided up greatly. And there’s probably not going to be the top guy taking all the sales anymore since he will have so much more competition”.

Most probably, a new algorithm will be released to rank the most suitable product on the top. Just like how it happened to the normal text search results.

Tactics like optimizing product description, optimize images, will become more and more necessary. Read here on how to make great product descriptions for your store.

How do you think free Google Shopping will affect eCommerce? Will you take advantage and how? Let us know in the comment section below.