How to get your products noticed on Google Shopping

Google Shopping

Kevin Partner provides practical advice for those looking to sell products via Google Shopping

Google has thrown a welcome hand grenade into the midst of the search-engine marketing world, with what, on the face of it, looks like a minor tweak to its product-comparison service.

Since 2002, with the launch of Froogle, the search-engine giant has struggled to find a way to integrate a shopping-comparison service into its front page. By 2012, Froogle had metamorphosed into Google Product Search, but the sheer number of matches for common search terms meant that its results were rarely what the buyer wanted. This is less of a problem with text results since a user can simply scroll down the browser page to find the one they’re looking for, but products are confined to a small box, so Google needed to find a way to make them as relevant as possible.

It now makes financial sense for Google to put product photos front and centre

The solution was to launch Google Shopping – a service identical to Product Search except that shop owners must now pay to have their product included. Not surprisingly, this has caused much gnashing of teeth among online marketers, but it presents an opportunity to those willing to exploit it. In my view, it’s the most significant change to search-engine marketing in the past five years for product sellers: miss it and you’ll cede ground to your competitors, with perhaps disastrous results.

Shopping: what’s the deal?

In fairness to Google, all the other major price-comparison services already charge merchants a fee – either a flat fee per listing or a price per click. What’s more, by giving such a prominent position to shopping results, Google risked customers clicking a product listing for which it received no revenue, rather than a paid-for text ad. For my small online retail business, it’s always been impossible to get into the top four or eight products because of the sheer quantity of competitors. I welcome the switch to paid-for inclusion because, at a stroke, the number of products listed in Google Shopping has been slashed.

I also believe this is part of a bigger plan. Look at the changes to Google Search over the past couple of years and it becomes obvious it’s gently moving away from the complete dominance of text and towards a wider variety of media types. A typical search phrase will now yield images and videos as well as text results, enhanced by author thumbnails and Wikipedia entries, especially on mobile devices. If you want evidence that photo-based product listings clearly fit this trend, pay attention the next time you search for a product on your smartphone and you’ll see only a single text ad followed by a row of photos.

This increased prominence of visuals coincides with the change to paid-only listings. It now makes financial sense for Google to put product photos front and centre, since it can squeeze so many more of them into the space previously occupied by a second text ad. The task for today’s marketeers and online retailers is to ensure their product appears in that tempting little row.

Product Listing Ads

To get started with product ads, you’ll need three things: a compatible product feed, an account at Google Merchant Center and an AdWords account. Merchant Center accepts delimited text or XML files, which can be either manually uploaded or automatically generated. Some e-commerce packages, such as Bigcommerce, can be set up to create files in the appropriate format for Merchant Center to find, while Volusion offers the same function on its more expensive packages. Unless you have only a few products, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to create a file manually – although you can do this in Excel and export it, creating a rich, fully populated feed is complicated and likely to result in errors.

The first step, then, is to decide how you’re going to generate and supply your product feed. If you’re using an e-commerce package, you’ll need to begin by mapping your product categories to those in Google Shopping and specifying which products you’d like to include in your feed. You also need to make sure that all the fields Google requires are included or else your products won’t appear.

Setting up a Google Merchant account is pretty straightforward. Once you’ve verified ownership of your online shop, you can import the product feed and have it automatically updated using the information provided by your e-commerce service. You can also manually export a test feed from your shop and upload it to Google Merchant’s feed debugger, which will let you know if any information is missing.