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Free shopping listings?
Yes please, where and when do we sign-up!

The Definitive Guide to Google’s Free Shopping Ads

Free shopping listings? Yes please, where and when do we sign-up! 

On 5th May 2020 online retailers and digital marketing agencies in the UK rejoiced upon opening a very promising sounding and timely email from the Google Merchant Center team. The email alluded to Google’s latest free product listings offering, with the subject line reading: ‘Your products are now eligible to appear in unpaid results on surfaces across Google’. Understandably, the e-commerce and marketing community has been set abuzz, so we felt it important to address numerous questions we’d received from clients in regard to the news and delve further into the promise of ‘free ads for all’ from Google.

Is it really free to sell on Google?

Bill Read, President of Commerce at Google, announced on 21st April 2020 that “It’s now free to sell on Google“. This seemingly too-good-to-be-true announcement from Google HQ will see shopping listings become available for free, a move that many believe is a tactical effort to increase its stake in e-commerce.

“Just as we don’t charge sites to be part of the Google Search index, listings for participating retailers are eligible to appear in these results at no cost to them. Paid listings will continue to appear in ad slots and will operate in the same way as Shopping Ads do today.”

Google says that this update has been in the pipeline for some time, now fast-tracked in order to assist merchants impacted by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic: “…this presents an opportunity for struggling businesses to reconnect with consumers, many cannot afford to do so at scale.” Google continues to say:

“Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google. 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.”

Much like Google not charging sites to show organic results as part of the Google Search index, shopping listings for participating retailers are now eligible to appear across Google surfaces at no cost to them, even without having to run Shopping ads campaigns in unison. For merchants already advertising on Google, benefits include the ease of opting-in and increased exposure for their existing inventory:

“…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.”

Google feels that this move will also aid online shoppers, allowing more products from more shops to be discoverable through the Shopping tab. Savvy shoppers: get ready to compare like you’ve never compared before!

Google released this update in the US before the end of April and is now rolling out its free product listing program globally this month. As of 5th May 2020, merchants in the UK are fully eligible.

What you need to know

Our comprehensive FAQs should neatly summarise everything you need to know in relation to Google’s latest update. If there are any questions we’ve left unanswered then feel free to reach out to us and we’ll happily answer you.

Q: What are Google surfaces?

A: Surfaces across Google include Google Images, the Google Shopping tab, Google Lens, Google Maps and Google Search. All participating merchants are eligible to appear in results across Google surfaces as part of the new update.

Q: How does it work?

A: You must participate in the program for surfaces across Google in order for your product offers to be eligible to show in unpaid listings on Google surfaces. Listings on surfaces across Google vary based on data requirements.

Q: Are google shopping listings across Google surfaces totally free for everyone? What’s the catch?

A: Yes, 100% free! You do not need to have any Google Shopping ads campaigns running previously, or need to set up any new campaigns through Google Ads in order to be eligible. All you need is an e-commerce website, a Google Merchant Center account (again, free to create), and a shopping feed OR structured data set up for your products.

Bear in mind that Google does restrict listings for illegal, regulated, or sensitive products, so not all products are eligible to appear in results.

Q: Do you have to set up a Google Merchant Center for your store to appear across Google surfaces?

Not necessarily.  If properly structured data is on your website, then a feed is not required. There are two implementation choices for surfaces across Google:

  1. If you have structured data markup on your website, your products will automatically show on surfaces across Google without requiring a Merchant Center account or opting in to the program directly. Note that you can opt-out at any time.
  2. If you have a Google Merchant Center account and use an inventory feed for product ads. You would then need to opt-in to the ‘Surfaces across Google’ program.

Generally, a feed offers a bit more control but does require more time and effort. Trafiki Ecommerce Marketing can advise you on your best option based on your current website and can opt you in to the program. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss the opt-in process.

Q: Do you have to run a Paid campaign (Google Shopping Ads or Google Search Ads) in order for your free listings to appear?

No you do not. You simply need a Google Merchant Center account and a product feed or structured data markup.

Q: I’ve also heard talk of ‘local surfaces across Google’. Is this the same thing?

If your store has a physical presence then your in-store products (local inventory ads) can appear in unpaid product listings across Google surfaces including Google Maps. Local inventory ads showcase your products and shop information to nearby users searching with Google. Your listing could include store hours, directions, phone number, product price, product availability, and approximate distance from the user if data has been provided.

You must sign-up for local surfaces across Google by selecting it when you sign-up for Merchant Center. You can then link your Google My Business account to your Google Merchant Center account. 

Q: Will I be able to reduce or pause my current Shopping campaigns and let my free listings take over?

A: Free listings across Google surfaces should be seen as an extension of retailers’ current marketing efforts and complementary to Paid Search and Shopping activity. You will now have more flexibility in how you chose to promote your full inventory across Google.

Paid listings and free (organic) listings will appear in different placements across Google surfaces, so the benefits, challenges and overall performance of each type of listing are yet to be determined.

Q: Where will free listings show? How can I tell free listings apart from paid listings and non-product listing results?

Google Shopping ads will continue to appear on the Google Shopping tab, primarily towards the top and bottom of the pages. Free listings will take the remaining real estate within that tab.

Google Merchant Center Help has included some examples of how listings will look across shopping tab, search and image results.

The Google Shopping tab

Standard and local nonpaid product listings.

Google Shopping

Google Search

Product information (attributes), including product titles, images, brands price, availability and ratings, and brand annotations, may be eligible to show as rich snippets in web results related to product queries.

Google Shopping

Google Images

Google Images now show free listings alongside normal image results, these are labelled with the “Product” annotation, which signifies that the product in the image can be purchased. Product attributes, including price, availability, and brand, can show on images and the expanded view of images that contain the “Product” annotation on Google Images. Results show on mobile and desktop devices.

Searchers can tap on the Google Lens feature on mobile devices to see images of similar products. These results can contain “Product” annotations, and product attributes.

Google Shopping - Google Images

Q: Where won’t free listings show?

The shopping results from the Google search results page, partner search engines, the Google Display Network, Gmail, and YouTube will still only feature Paid Shopping ads at this time, so advertisers can expect to maintain high levels of Shopping Ads traffic for now.

Q: This sounds very much like ‘Organic’ Shopping results, will product optimisation (attributes) help produce better results and preferential listing visibility?

Optimising product attributes within your Google Shopping feed will benefit both your free Google Shopping listings and your Google Shopping ads. You can optimise product listings by improving your product titles, testing different images, and providing as much detail as possible in terms of feed attributes (product category, type, colour, size etc.). 

Trafiki Ecommerce Marketing has worked with numerous small to large-sized retailers, devising and executing feed optimisation strategies. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss your feed performance or to request a Shopping feed audit.

Q: How can you measure and evaluate performance? 

It should be possible for retailers to view the performance of their free listings within Google Merchant Center under the “Performance” tab within the left-hand menu, as illustrated below. Monitoring Organic traffic performance within Google Analytics would also be insightful.

Google Graph

Q: Will Microsoft Advertising (Bing Ads) offer free shopping listings? When will they offer this?

We have not been able to find any information with regard to Microsoft Advertising offering a similar program. It may be possible, as Microsoft usually follows Google’s lead in implementing new products and services.

Q: Can I manage it myself?

Free listings can be self-managed once you’ve opted-in to the program, or if your site uses structured data. If you do not have a structured data setup on your site or have not created a Google Merchant Center account, then you’d need to implement one of these options.

In order to get the most out of the free listings, it’s important to ensure that your product attributes are correct, comprehensive, and fully optimised. If you would like to check how viable your feed is for procuring the best results using free Google listings, or need assistance with setting up a Merchant Center account and/or product feed, then complete the form at the bottom of the page or call us on 0203 411 2680.

Q: Will I have to change my website to become eligible for free shopping listings?

Google’s policies and guidelines state that online retailers to conform to the below requirements:

  • Allow everyone to check out.
  • Provide accurate pricing.
  • Be consistent with currency.
  • Provide relevant information – you should provide at least 2 of the following: support contact email, phone number and company physical address.
  • Collect user information responsibly and securely.

As long as your website meets the above criteria and you’ve opted-in to the program, your listings will be able to show for free. Full details on checkout requirements and best practices can be found here.

Are you ready to capitalise on free listings?

If you have any queries regarding the free listing program, or would like to request a free shopping feed audit to ensure you’re in the best possible position to leverage more traffic, then get in touch with us today. Click here to read about our Google Shopping marketing services

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If you are serious about your ecommerce success, submit your details for a free audit

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