Google Launches Non-Paid Shopping Offers (aka free PLAs)
Earlier this week, Google posted some big news on the Google Shopping Blog. To summarize, Google is introducing free product listings on the Google Shopping Tab and Shopping Property (shopping.google.com).
Google’s President of Commerce, Bill Ready, highlighted the immediate benefits businesses might see as a result of this change for those facing economic uncertainty due to COVID-19’s global impact. “As consumers increasingly shop online, they’re searching not just for essentials but also things like toys, apparel, and home goods. While this presents an opportunity for struggling businesses to reconnect with consumers, many cannot afford to do so at scale…
For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”
The new free experience is being rolled out, effective immediately, with 100% ramp by the end of the month. Early experiment data indicates that retailers will see a 3-5% increase in aggregate clicks.
Left: Previous Google Shopping Tab ExperienceRight: Updated Google Shopping Tab Experience with Organic Listings — The first row of results pictured is paid results similar to the Shopping carousel from the main search results page, under are the new organic results.
All U.S. retailers with product feeds submitted through Merchant Center are eligible to serve unpaid listings, as an extension of the Surfaces Across Google program announced last year. Merchants must “opt-in” to this feature in order to be eligible to start serving across free inventory.
If your product feed within Google Merchant Center is already opted into “Surfaces on Google,” there is no action needed to begin benefiting from this new experience.
Paid listings (Shopping Ads/LIA/Shopping Actions) will continue to appear on the Google Shopping Tab and Property. Shopping Ads/LIA/(Shopping Actions if live) will serve across reserved slots via a Shopping Carousel above the free listings, which may result in decreased paid ad inventory and higher competitive bids vying for top impression share real estate.
Google is including PayPal as a new payment partner for merchants to permit purchases on Google (current payment partnerships include Shopify). According to the announcement, merchants will be able to link their accounts in order to “speed up our onboarding process and ensure we’re surfacing the highest quality results for our users.”
Determine current eligibility with existing Google Merchant Center setup and whether your client qualifies for a new whitespace opportunity (if not currently opted into Surfaces Across Google).
Monitor organic traffic closely in Google Merchant Center and site analytics platforms to validate incremental impact to aggregate site traffic driven through product listings across Google surfaces.
Utilize new Merchant Center reporting, rolling out on April 28th. At that time, Merchants will be able to view clicks driven through free product listings directly in the UI.
Make changes to ensure the ability to track free versus paid traffic within Google Analytics and other Analytics Platforms.
For Google Analytics:
If you use Ads_Redirect, Auto-Tagging, or Tracking Template, you will see separate tracking for ads and free clicks in the backend, with free clicks lumped in with other organic traffic (i.e., blue links on Search). This is both Google and PMG’s recommended approach.
If you use hard coding in your feed, you will see aggregate tracking for ads and free clicks combined in the backend, with total clicks lumped together as paid sources in reporting.
For other analytics platforms:
We recommend moving away from hard-coding tracking within the feed, as more and more clicks become organic.
The best practice is to keep links in the feed clean and tracking free so that the links Google is using in organic initiatives will not be tagged with paid tracking.
Tracking should be applied in Google Ads, Search Ads 360, or other ad management platforms.
If this is not feasible, a possible workaround could be:
Add value track parameters to your links in the feed for Google Ads traffic.
Google will then tag clicks served from an ad. This dynamic parameter should only populate when someone clicks in from an ad. You should be able to find organic click traffic by filtering out the paid traffic.
As traffic to these new listings ramps up monitor for a potential downward shift in paid Shopping traffic. While traffic to the dedicated Google Shopping site and the Shopping tab of Google.com has been minimal in the past, we should still be mindful that this could drive some clicks away from paid ads.
Google has communicated that businesses should expect a 3-5% lift in “aggregate clicks.” Overall traffic should increase, but specifics around the tradeoff between paid and free traffic is not yet clear. Organic performance will face similar headwinds as ultimately, this could shift users away from organic results, causing a shift in attribution. Depending on how tracking is applied, organic channels could appear to be declining when, in fact, the traffic is being attributed to a different medium.
With less total paid traffic available, CPCs may rise slightly due to competitive pressure. While we do not foresee a noticeable impact here, this is a new program, and the impact could change over time.
This feature heightens the need for channel alignment and integrated strategy. Google considers SERP features such as Answer Boxes, People Also Ask, and Google My Business as organic results. Despite the odd naming of ‘non-paid’ and ‘free clicks,’ non-paid shopping offers are another layer of SEO and are automatically grouped under Google/Organic in Google Analytics. Yet, there is no report for these in Google Search Console, and brands can only activate these through Google Merchant Center, a previously paid tool. Maximizing the ROI of this feature comes with a holistic view of digital strategy.
Non-Paid Product Listings will be a win for users if they’re adopted at scale as the attractive visuals are wonderful for product discovery. Non-brand, generic product searches will likely earn more traffic than branded searches, while branded searches offer an opportunity for third-party retailers to win on price. Brands that have favorable MAP pricing agreements should be insulated from the added brand-phrase competition.
Having rushed implementation, it’s a safe bet that Google will keep this feature and further build on it. In January, Google purchased Pointy, a startup that will help Google list a physical store’s inventory online. It’s conceivable that Google would bring this into its ecosystem through Shopping and even Google My Business.
Since we’re postulating — this free addition is being viewed as Google fighting back against Amazon’s shopping dominance, which has only grown during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Amazon slashed the rate it gives affiliates — websites that drive traffic to Amazon products in exchange for a revenue cut. If this is indeed Google’s response to chip away at Amazon, it will be interesting to watch how Google approaches affiliate websites that are now looking for new sources of income.
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As product feeds continue to power more and more initiatives within Google, especially ones focusing on organic and free traffic, it is more important than ever to ensure clean, structured data within your product feed. The data you provide Google in your feed are the only signals Google can use to determine whether your product is relevant to a user or a search. If this data is messy, you are less able to take advantage of new and existing opportunities.