What Retailers Need to Know About Google ShoppingBy Mike Dobbs, Group SEO Director with Bruce Williams, Associate Media Directorand David Randolph, VP of Retail at 360i Executive SummaryGoogle has announced that its Product Search feature will soon transition to a purely paid model, calledGoogle Shopping. Previously, the shopping experience and product feed management service has beena free inclusion service, but by Oct. 1st this year merchants must pay to be listed in Google Shopping.We estimate that anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of search traffic to a retailers’ website currently comesfrom Product Search, so the change could have a significant impact on retailers’ search performance. Amore precise approximation won’t be available until this fall, but marketers should keep in mind that theconversion rate for these shopping-focused searchers will be higher than it is for other paid efforts inGoogle. This is an important slice of traffic that retailers will want to keep a close eye on.Merchants can participate via a CPC or CPA model that is powered by Product Listing Ads (PLA) – anexisting AdWords product that retail marketers have grown familiar with in recent years. The formerGoogle Product Search will fade away as PLA-powered listings gradually usurp the sponsored space.This report highlights what the shift will mean for advertisers, and how brands should prepare.Key Takeaways: 1. Marketers can begin preparations now. Although the full transition from Product Search to Shopping will take place this fall, marketers can begin their transition now. Early adoption will be advantageous for retailers aiming to be in full swing by the holiday season and will allow time to fix any unforeseen challenge in advance. Improving product feed quality and freshness should also be a major consideration with product attributes supporting long-tail relevance. Rich product attributes will lead to broad match equivalence for this form of AdWords. 2. Retailers have more control to capture demand. As Google changes the visual display of where products are promoted within results, clicks will migrate from free to pay-per-click. The audience size remains the same, so it’s not necessarily additive or incremental business that is up for grabs. Instead the opportunity presented is that marketers can increase bids for specific products or categories of products to capture more of this demand while promoting specific inventory and improving conversion rate optimization. 3. Brands will benefit by staying nimble during the roll-out. Google won’t have all the answers during this major transition. For example, budgeting will be a dynamic challenge as many
merchants transition over to the paid model, while others choose to opt out entirely. Brands can expect Product Search results to be in-flux over the summer and into the early fall. Since bidding on PLAs is not exact match keyword targeted, understanding product feed attributes will be an important factor of query relevance and long-tail visibility. Moreover, Google’s display of PLAs within the main search results will be refined based on user behavior. What is changing?Google’s product comparison engine was first launched as a free service for merchants under the name“Froogle” back in 2002. At the time, Google opened the doors to product feeds from those merchantswho could share inventory details about each product URL maintained (FTP process). Since then, moreand more merchants have proactively sent their product data to Google via a data feed process. Today,nearly all major retailers participate within Google’s merchant center and retailers big and small haveenjoyed a healthy amount of free activity from these natural results.The Google AdWords platform will now feature two distinct paid opportunities for advertisers. The first isAdWords – Google’s standard text ads with standard keyword targeting that have been in place foryears. The second is Product Listing Ads (PLAs), which are standalone shopping ad formats that useproduct information from an advertisers Google Merchant Center account. These ads will not usestandard keyword targeting and are only available to merchants who make the transition onto the newGoogle Shopping program via PLA.PLAs include rich product information, such as product image, price and merchant name. While Googleis still testing the display options, these newer Product Listing Ads will help retailers visually stand outfrom the competition and eliminate the clutter of duplicate listings.To ensure a cleaner display, Google will likely use the new “right panel” space similar to how Google’sknowledge graph uses a top right portion of Google’s results. This real estate will show sponsoreddetails for top bidding merchants. Google is also testing format that directly occupies traditional, top ofpage AdWords real estate. This new placement is already emerging in market and is likely to be aprominent placement for PLAs moving forward. A few examples of how the Product Listing Ads mightlook: Ex. #1: At the top, just below Text AdWords Ex. #2: Top right side panel of Google SERPs
Transitioning to a fully paid model will eliminate the perks of having free listings, but the shift will likelybenefit retailers seeking added controls. Moreover, since blended “shopping results” will soon beeliminated from Google’s natural listings, retailer web pages (per product URLs) will have less productclusters to compete against within pure natural web rankings. This will spell good news for brands withstrong natural search presences – specifically retailers leveraging “Rich Snippets” or Schema.org markupon product web pages. Leveraging this type of enhanced SEO coding can differentiate amongst thenatural results. Example: Retailer’s Product Page listing within Natural results, applying Rich Snippets or Schema.org markup Marketer Benefits of Moving from Free to PaidWhile critics may argue that Google’s intent is to generate more revenue, the company maintains thatthe change will increase result quality and give retailers new control over product result ads. • Less clutter. Per Google, the move to a paid model will remove some of the result clutter (or duplication) while improving personalization and reliability of product information to their users. Google expects that the new model will inspire marketers to supply higher quality data and provide more frequent feed updates. The paid model will also eliminate merchants who attempt unethical feed practices, such as switching prices, redirecting landing pages or feeding in other inaccurate info. • More control. Larger retailers stand to benefit from greater control that will allow them to influence traffic volume and promotion of specific categories or specific products for a given time frame. For many brands, paying for this control is a worthwhile trade-off as they will now be able to eliminate unexplained fluctuations in volume or layer in differentiation within the Product Listing Ads results.Evaluating how Google plans to display these listings on top of natural results or in the new top rightside panel will be important as user behavior adapts to Google’s current testing. As such, marketers willneed to understand how the paid activity for “product search” is effectively funneled through bothAdWords and Product Listing Ads.
How Will the Change Impact Planning, Strategy &Measurement?Brands have less than four months to prepare for the move to a fully paid model – a change whichstands to influence all phases of their Google Shopping program: from planning to strategy tomeasurement. Below we explore the impact on each.Budgets & Planning: Retailers active in Google Product Search should begin considering how the moveto a paid model will impact their budgets. A shift in dollars will be imminent for retailers that wish tomaintain the benefit of appearing in Google Shopping results and capturing product-specific clickswithin Google.com. Retailers will also want to consider the evolved opportunities during the holidayseason and potential lift that might occur during peak periods of shopping activity. 360i estimates that,conservatively, Google Shopping makes up more than 50 percent of the shopping comparison clickswithin the comparison shopping engine (CSE) marketplace.For those marketers seeking to maintain a presence within shopping results, adding modest budgets–allowing for the lowest bid of $.01 – will ensure a baseline of visibility until larger budgets are secured.Moreover, advertisers can work to estimate the potential incremental cost and analyze of how that mightfit within overall performance. While volume and competition data are not available, marketers can get ahead start by working from baseline figures.Marketers will need to continue their active management of product inventory and look for new ways toimprove feed delivery or quality of data.Bidding Strategy & Relevance Scoring: A retailer’s search agency – or whoever directly managesbidding strategy within AdWords – will be best positioned to manage desired visibility and return on adspend (ROAS), even though the feed attributes play an important role. Since bidding on Product ListingAds is product based (not keyword based), marketers will be able to bid, control and optimize viaattributes in the feed. Through AdWords, this is currently supported with the creation of ProductTargets, which enable the ability to group products, create special promotions, and bid differently perproduct target.Familiarity with the product feed to hone-in on specific attributes of product targets will become moreimportant. In addition, implementing rules for negative keywords will remain a useful option of PLAs.This is a big shift from standard AdWords bidding, based on targeting an exact keyword.Moreover, understanding the additional relevancy factors at play will become important. While thesefactors are not yet clear, it is likely that PLA rankings for a given search will be determined by acombination of the retailer’s bid, product attributes, trusted store verification, product landing page anda series of weighting factors like reviews or rating information – a spinoff of Q Score as used on basicAdWords. Learning the new bidding and relevancy relationships will be a critical piece of effectivelymanaging the new channel.Measurement: The new Shopping channel adds another layer to the search mix. As such, the interplaybetween the new Product Listing Ads compared with Text AdWords and natural search will require sometest and learn time.
Next Steps for MarketersFor retailers currently participating in Google Product Search as a free model, there are several nextsteps to consider over the next four months to ensure a smooth transition to the new Google Shoppingproduct. Below is a check-list for marketers ahead of the Oct. 1 changeover: 1. Anticipate shifts in planning and/or budgeting early. Retailers have just a few months to prepare for the transition, so conversations regarding how best to migrate to the new model should commence as soon as possible. 2. Align search specialists across SEM and SEO. The integrated search team will need to understand all levers controlling cost, strategic product visibility and optimization strategies. Collaboration across teams will be critical to a successful migration from Product Search to Shopping. 3. Continue improving inventory management processes. Retailers should strive to quickly refresh product details with Google’s Merchant Center or intermediary technology platforms that manage the brand’s CSEs. Focusing on quality feeds and creating specific product attributes at a keyword-level for each product or SKU will remain important. This will provide differentiation on parameters, such as color, durability, flexibility and more -- which are often filters used by comparison shoppers or a trigger for PLA relevance. You will also want to ensure that the appropriate AdWords and third-party tracking parameters are set up to correctly measure traffic from Product Listings Ads. 4. Connect Google Merchant Center to AdWords, if you have not done so already. This will enable Google Product Listings and advance campaign settings to be launched and managed in Google AdWords – across both Google Shopping and Google Search. Further, Google recommends that retailers apply to be verified as a Trusted Google Store. 5. Conduct an assessment of the competitive landscape. Determine opportunities for specific products or categories as compared to online competitors. Think ahead as to how the move will impact the holiday season and plan accordingly. Also, assess your brand’s ratings and reviews to improve areas of weakness before the transition takes place. 6. Follow updates as they come. Retailers should stay on the edge of their seats during this rollout. Great investment often leads to greater development and the potential of newer features, such as improved reporting dashboards, integration with Google+ (connecting Shopping with Google+ pages) and enhancements to the way brands leverage Google Offers to promote during peak shopping periods. - Published June 2012
About 360i360i is an award-winning digital marketing agency that drives results for Fortune 500 marketers throughinsights, ideas and technologies. 360i helps its clients think differently about their online presence andevolve their strategies to take advantage of the new world of marketing communications – one wherebrands and consumers engage in interactive and multi-directional conversations. In 2010, Ad Agenamed 360i to its prestigious Agency A-List. Current clients include Kraft Foods, JCPenney, Coca-Cola,NBC Universal and Diageo, among others. For more information, please visit http://www.360i.com orfollow us on Twitter @360i. Ways to Connect With 360i 360i.com/insights blog.360i.com twitter.com/360i firstname.lastname@example.org