Google’s Efforts to Democratize Online Shopping is Great News for Consumers, Brands and Retailers
By Raj De Datta
Following its recent announcement that product results on the Google Shopping tab in the U.S. will consist primarily of free listings, Google announced today that it plans to make “free” Google shopping results present in its mainline search results. These efforts to democratize shopping on Google is great news for consumers, brands and retailers worldwide.
Previously, shopping results on Google were visible only from paid advertisers, meaning that consumers would only see the products that brands and retailers were willing to pay more for, versus the ones that might have been most relevant to the customer’s search, or query. That all changes with this announcement.
So why is Google doing this? Certainly, it is about supporting the commerce ecosystem and in particular driving traffic to smaller retailers that have struggled during the pandemic. But make no mistake, this announcement is not about pandemic charity. It’s about Amazon.
Every year that goes by, Amazon captures more and more “product search”, one of the most monetized categories on Google. As more visitors start their journey on Amazon, fewer people start their shopping experience on Google. Google needed to change the game – and charging brands to list their products on Google was only accelerating that shift.
Here’s what this means for brands and retailers:
- They will have the opportunity to get a lot more “free traffic” from Google: With the advent of “free” listings and the massive increase in visibility of being present on Google.com, brands have access to a lot more demand than ever before.
- They will face massive competition for visibility of listings: The previous PLA program rewarded those retailers that were willing to bid the most, narrowing the selection on Google vs. Amazon. With this change, expect massive numbers of (smaller) competitors to start showing up.
- They will win with product feed optimization: The change Google has made only makes the importance of a high-quality product feed even more important – it is now tightly tied with “free traffic.” Importantly, the quality of product images will be key – since so many listings will be visual in nature.
- They will win with experience optimization: No doubt, the convergence of SEO and PLA will mean that Google will continue to include signals that drive organic results in product listings. For example, Google recently announced “Core Web Vitals” where it will reward higher degrees of UX stability, interactivity and site speed – all metrics that are about your experience.
- They had better have great search and browse on sites or apps: Make no mistake, this is about Google building the best product search engine around, with broader selection and better ranking. So what happens when your visitor arrives on your site and doesn’t find what they are looking for? They bounce, and go search on Google to find a different listing.
- Paid search/listing prices will go up: As supply of paid slots reduces, prices will go up. Demand/Supply will work to drive up the prices of bidding for key terms.
- Measurement will need to be worked through: The introduction of free Google shopping listings further makes disambiguation of SEO, Google Shopping and Paid even more murky. Tracking incrementality will be tricky but even more important.
For smart brands and retailers that react quickly and decisively, these shopping changes on Google can have a tremendous positive impact on their business.