Want to reduce your advertising budget without losing sales? Or grow your profits without spending more? It may sound too good to be true. That is the opportunity being missed by many affiliates and brands. Ignore Google Comparison Shopping Services (CSS) and Product Listing Ads (PLA), and you could be losing a huge amount of potential revenue.

One example Google has shared saw a merchant achieve a 200% increase in click-throughs, with a 15% reduction in Cost Per Click (CPC) at the same time. That’s not untypical from our experience with 35,000 retailers and £1 billion in annual sales.

An unusual aspect of Google CSS is that it’s actually cheaper to let someone else do the hard work for you. A small number of Google CSS partners even bill on a commission only basis, removing a large element of risk. While Google Shopping Europe will charge a 20% margin of bid costs, most CSS providers don’t. The result is that more of your budget goes to advertising rather than costs.

As an affiliate, you can also benefit. Some leading CSS partners operate their own websites and channels which benefit from the large amounts of traffic they are able to generate. By placing your products on their owned channels, you could unlock fresh traffic sources.

It’s worth any business owner understanding how can you benefit from Google CSS and PLA.

How the EU has empowered Google CSS

Google Shopping has existed since 2002 when it first launched under the Froogle name. But the benefits of it were limited to the search engine giant and consumers. It was only in June 2017 that a European Commission antitrust fine changed the landscape for Google CSS.

This opened up the huge traffic and sales opportunities of Comparison Shopping Services to partners. As a result, non-Google properties increased their share of results from 2% to 33% in the first year alone. Any business operating in the European Economic Area and Switzerland can utilise one or more CSS campaigns via partners or Google Merchant Centre to access this share of valuable advertising space.

Initially, growth was fuelled by rebates and incentives from Google. But the results and competition between providers mean that these aren’t really needed to convince more businesses to sign up.

Easier for customers and sellers alike

It’s almost impossible to search for any products via Google without coming across a PLA or CSS in your search results. The result is that consumers have embraced them as a quicker way to shop, particularly on mobile devices. Google reported a 39% increase in paid clicks on their owned properties in Q1 2019, compared to the same period in 2018.

Google doesn’t split out the impact of Google Shopping in their annual reports. Third party analysis by CSS providers and advertising agencies generally measure annual growth at around 80% per year. Those figures are supported by the increase in size and number of Google Shopping adverts and the demotion of organic search results.
If Google CSS and PLA are good for consumers and the search engine giant, how do e-commerce sellers and affiliate merchants benefit?

The main ongoing reasons are the ease of set-up and the massive potential benefits to sales and revenue.

Access to Google CSS has never been better

Unlocking the benefits of Google CSS is comparatively easy, especially when compared to traditional paid search and display advertising. Because the product information is relatively concise, setting up a feed of your inventory is relatively simple.

The direct route from the advertising to product pages saves a lot of time and resources. There’s no need to test different creative text and display ideas. Or drive traffic to higher level landing pages, which all need optimisation to best filter customers through to buying an actual product. Every stage removed from a customer journey means fewer chances to lose a potential purchase. 

The way CSS and PLA advertising works together is that Comparison Shopping Service ads target more generic searches. Customers can then browse the selected results. Google PLAs are designed to answer specific product searches. Both advertising options will take customers directly to product pages to make their purchase.

Every CSS partner has access to the same advertising slots and features. That includes Google not letting merchants essentially bid against themselves via two CSSs. So you’ll always pay the lowest winning bid.

Although Google does try to filter out multiple bids for the exact same product from the same retailer, different products from the same merchant can be displayed. These can appear in one or more CSS blocks on a single page, without any increase in CPC costs.

How do you benefit with a CSS Partner?

The savings from avoiding the Google Shopping margin and commission-based pricing are just two reasons to consider a CSS partner. Not only do they have the same access as Google to CSS features, but they can also handle the heavy lifting of targeting and optimisation. Using machine learning and automation to deliver better results also means that cannibalisation and the impact on your other channels are minimal.

A leading provider will also supply third-party tracking you can trust, integration with the top affiliate networks and shopping platforms, and will be able to offer additional channels as required to enable engagement and remarketing beyond Google.

For affiliates, the benefits come from working with CSS partners and their websites. You can leverage the additional traffic those channels receive from advertising designed to promote transactions. Collaborating means you get the benefits of CSS and PLA advertising operated by specialist experts, without running any of the campaigns yourself.

Google PLA & CSS are taking a big bite out of Amazon

Anyone involved in e-commerce over the last 10 years will have seen Amazon making huge inroads into Google’s organic landscape on product terms and categories much to their concern.

Google’s continued push with PLA and CSS ads is their fightback to pull advertising revenues away from Amazon and make Google a retail destination for users again.

By positioning the PLA ads so heavily above the fold in the SERPS, some might argue that Google is managing to throttle the flow of traffic from Google to Amazon. Others might say Google is simply trying to monetise this traffic to its own financial advantage.

Either way, with visibility tools such as SEMrush showing that in the last month or so the occurrence of shopping ads in the SERPS has been as high as 60%, PLA ads are essential for any retailer looking for sales volume from Google. You could also argue that Google is doing retailers a huge favour by increasing the inventory of PLA ads to organic searches as users are able to find more products from more retailers creating greater choice for consumers.

Don’t delay your Google CSS and PLA plans any longer

You don’t always have to be the first to adopt a new technology to get all the benefits. But you do need to get there before the majority of your competitors. Choose a certified Google CSS partner working on a CPA commission basis, and it means there’s surprisingly little risk. Measured against the potential for higher sales at a lower cost, it seems a no brainer.