Google Shopping changes today (Feb 13): with the introduction of paid-for product listing ads as the standard result format.

The changes mean online businesses who advertise products in Shopping now need to pay when searchers click on their items.

For ten years, Google Shopping has been a free service for businesses – with Google Merchant Center allowing companies to upload their entire inventory for use in Shopping searches for free.

Now, businesses will be charged when searchers click on their products in Shopping. Google is phasing in the transition slowly: and will return a mix of paid-for and free listings in Shopping until summer.

From then, though, all Shopping results will be paid for.

In order to participate, retailers need to link their Google AdWords and Merchant Center accounts and then create product listing ads.

Unlike normal Google advertising, product listing ads don’t require keyword bids or catchy text.

Instead, the Merchant Center combs product feeds to find relevant products for a searcher.

It then automatically returns a product listing ad from sellers offering that item. The product listing ads clearly display a large image of the product, alongside price, seller info and availability.

The idea is to make Shopping more useful for searchers: quickly providing ‘all you need to know’ information within the ‘ad’ itself.

It should also stop businesses nefariously using Shopping for free traffic – thus improving the overall quality of the results.

Google is offering businesses an incentive to get cracking early with product listing ads: with a 10% discount off PLA spend until June.

In the US, where the changes were introduced last year, studies have shown product listing ads get better clickthrough rates, attract lower click-costs and boost conversions. However, they have also limited average order values, as shoppers return to the Shopping search page to browse for extra items, rather than staying on a retailer’s site to browse.

UK searchers should start to notice more product listing ads as the Google Shopping changes start today.

News brought to you by ClickThrough – experts in SEO, PPC, Multilingual Search Marketing and Website Conversion Enhancement services.

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About the author:

Alistair Harris is ClickThrough’s head of content. A double-award-winning senior journalist, Ali holds both the NCTJ and NCE qualifications and has more than ten years of experience in traditional press and PR. He has worked in digital marketing and SEO for the past three years and is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to quality.