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How to Take Advantage of the New Free Google Shopping Ad Opportunity

Google’s announcement towards the end of April that “It’s now free to sell on Google” caught many by surprise. Google stated that the retail sector had faced many threats recently, which have been intensified by the pandemic, so from the end of April it was rolling out plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google in the US, with the aim to expand this globally before the end of the year. Google Shopping Ads are a major feature of any Google Search page (SERP) and a major feature of its paid inventory and Ad revenue. Google Shopping is a prominent part of any ecommerce marketing strategy and many ecommerce sellers devote a significant part, if not the majority, of their Google Ads budget to Shopping Ads. So why is Google giving away a big chunk of its revenue?

A Google Shopping Snippet on a Desktop SERP

A Google Shopping Snippet on a Desktop SERP

Why is Google Offering Free Google Shopping Ads?

Many speculated that aside from Google’s altruistic stance in response to the difficulty many retailers are facing due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, it’s announcement was a direct response to the increase in traffic and ad revenue flowing to Amazon, the world’s biggest ecommerce site and online marketplace, through its Amazon Ads product. It is also facing increasing competition from Facebook with its own Facebook product ads. In addition, Google was hit with a €2.42 billon antitrust fine by the EU in 2017 for abusing its dominance in search in relation to other comparison shopping services (CSS) and a further €1.49 billion fine in 2019 for not opening up its shopping search engine sufficiently, albeit it has launched an appeal on this in February. As a result of the EU’s actions, Google now has had to open up its Shopping Comparison Ads to other CSS providers such as Kelkoo, Pricegrabber, Shopzilla, Shopping.com, Productcaster and a number of other CSS’s which have set up since the change.

The switch to free ads would be a way of hitting both Amazon and Facebook, whilst taking back inventory from its own SERP, which it has always been unhappy about giving away.

What’s more, Google originally set up Shopping as a free service, so it has history. Google launched its Product Search feature in the US, then called Froogle, back in 2002, offering free Product Listings to ecommerce sellers or merchants, provided they submitted a range of pre-defined data to Google.

Google relaunched this as Google Shopping in 2012 and switched to a paid ad model, which although removing a large element of free organic traffic for many sites, offered the ability to better target product advertising and improved the quality of the service and the listings considerably.

If it can keep some revenue from Shopping Ads or Product Listing Ads (as they are otherwise known) and keep the integrity and quality of the service high (which was a major problem previously when the service was free), not only will it hurt Amazon, Facebook and the other CSS’s but it would bring more traffic to Google, thus helping boost its text ad, brand ad, remarketing and other advertising products.

A Google Shopping Carousel in a Desktop SERP

A Google Shopping Carousel in a Desktop SERP

A Google Shopping Carousel in a Mobile SERP

A Google Shopping Carousel in a Mobile SERP

How Will Free Google Shopping Ads Work?

It appears that Google will run the free product ads through its Google Surfaces programme, which it launched in the US at the back end of 2019. The Surfaces programme works by allowing you to showcase your products across “various Google surfaces, including Google Images, the Google Shopping tab, Google Lens, and Google Search …. Just as we don’t charge sites to be part of the Google Search index, participating merchants are eligible to appear on surfaces across Google results for free”.

To participate in these free listings you either need add or ensure you have correctly configured (and, ideally, optimised) structured data markup on your website, in which case you can automatically appear, or you can submit a feed and manage the programme through Google Merchant Center.

Google shows the number of products you have live on Surfaces (as well as paid Shopping Ads) in the Merchant Center Dashboard Overview. In our example below, so far our client is receiving roughly half as many clicks from the unpaid listings as it does from the paid listings since the free programme was rolled out towards the end of April.

The Google Merchant Center Dashboard Overview in the US

The Google Merchant Dashboard Overview in the US

In the UK, we can see the Surfaces product data, also from the end of April, although, as of yet, we are not seeing the free clicks data.

The Google Merchant Center Dashboard Overview in the UK

The Google Merchant Dashboard Overview in the UK

With the UK being Google’s second biggest market, we expect Google to roll out free shopping ads in the UK fairly soon and this new feature does suggest that this is fairly imminent.

In the US, Google Merchant Centre is also displaying the number of free clicks next to the number of paid clicks for each product, in the product data listing.

The Google Merchant Center Product Data Listing

The Google Merchant Product Data Listing

In addition, a new Performance Tab has been introduced in the Merchant Center interface.

The New Google Merchant Center Performance Tab

The New Google Merchant Performance Tab

How Can You Benefit from Free Google Shopping Ads?

So IF, as we suspect, Google starts to offer Free Google Shopping Ads in the UK, we believe that there are a number of ways you can benefit from these free ads and a number of different circumstances in which you can do so.

Existing Google Shopping Advertisers can leverage their existing spend and gain more exposure through the free listings, improving sales and ROI as a result, with the ability to use their targeted paid shopping ads much more effectively and enabling a much bigger footprint for their products and business.

Existing Google Advertisers who haven’t been running Google Shopping Ads or who have been uncertain of their value or effectiveness, can now try product listing ads for free.

Ecommerce merchants who didn’t have the budget for paid Google Shopping Ads or who were more reliant on organic traffic, can now harness a huge potential source of highly targeted organic traffic and really expand their market and potential reach.

What Are the Cons of Free Google Shopping Ads?

Google Shopping has always been notoriously difficult to manage and optimise properly and there are a number of challenges that you face if you are to get it right, even when you’re paying for the privilege of advertising on the platform. It’s unlikely that the free version will be any easier, however, there is a well-known maxim that You Only Get Out What You Put In and Google Shopping is no different. If you invest in a good Strategy and good Google Shopping Optimisation, your Free Google Shopping Ads campaign could deliver amazing results.

In addition with Google Shopping, although it typically has a better conversion rate than standard generic text ads, its main role is in creating interest and desire for your products, planting the seeds of interest and growing the shoots of desire in your customers’ minds. You typically also need a strong brand text ad campaign to convert this interest and desire into action and harvest your crop of sales. That said, this brand campaign, if managed effectively, should cost relatively little and will produce a stunning Return on Your Investment.

At Zelst, we’ve been running Google Shopping (and Froogle) campaigns since 2008, which was when it was first launched in the UK, and currently, around 40% of our managed Google Ads spend is on Google Shopping. We have Google Partners Shopping Specialisation status and  4 Certified Google Shopping Specialists. If you’re looking to take advantage of Free Google Shopping Ads get in touch with us now.