This piece was written by Luke Standford (paid search account director) and Willis Homden (owned media technical director) at Zenith.

Google Shopping’s latest move to free listings is a massive opportunity for brands that want to develop an integrated search strategy. Google Shopping is a highly effective paid and organic e-commerce channel, so removing the exclusivity of these paid listings from the shopping tab is a big deal for brands. This change will have an immediate impact on paid activity: search listings will become much more competitive and optimisation will increase in importance. 

So how can brands adequately prepare and develop their integrated search strategy to incorporate these changes and reap the benefits?

Why invest in Google Shopping?

The current, paid-only iteration of Google Shopping is already a highly effective platform for driving ecommerce sales. A typical search on Google Shopping is much closer to conversion due to the specificity and purchase intent behind product search, meaning the traffic that Google Shopping drives is high quality.

This is demonstrated by conversion figures we see across a variety of e-commerce clients – a Google Shopping search could on average be 30% more likely to convert than a traditional text ad.  

With this update, driving this high quality traffic becomes possible organically. And a major difference (and advantage) of Google Shopping search vs traditional search for merchants is that product management is centralised. 

The Google Merchant Center will feed both paid and organic listings, so instead of managing two separate work streams, you just need to govern one process for effective paid and organic performance.

This means that it will be more important than ever to optimise your product data feed and to ensure your product pages provide an excellent landing page experience.

How can brands get the most out of the Google Shopping Feed?

For those who are not already familiar with the platform, Google Shopping is powered by a data feed that contains information about your products including product name, ID, description and price. There are 57 attributes in total, some of which are required and others which are optional fields, dependent on your product category.

The information that you submit within these attributes is what Google will use to index your products in organic Google Shopping results and generate relevant search queries via paid listings. 

Therefore, to get the most out of Google Shopping’s free listings, you will need to:

  1. Ensure the key attributes of your product title and product description are accurate, detailed and descriptive. These will be the primary methods for generating relevant organic and paid query visibility. To further support the creation of relevant queries, keywords can also be inserted into the feed as an additional attribute. 
  2. It’s also essential that product images are accurate and of high quality. Mobile formatted images are a bonus. 
  3. You will also need to ensure your product category and product type definition are both accurate and relevant. These attributes are essential for product feed segmentation and providing Google information with which to group products to relevant queries.

These three key steps have always been best practice for traditional paid Google Shopping performance, but now they’re even more important with organic listings on the horizon.

It’s likely that there will be other factors at play in the Google Shopping organic algorithm that are similar to the traditional search algorithm, including landing page experience and user behaviour signals. Naturally, we recommend ensuring your website provides a fast and coherent user experience for product searchers.

For large e-commerce sites, in particular, product listing pages, rather than product pages, are more likely to act as the entry point to your site from search. If the user-base of Google Shopping grows, product pages will become an increasingly more common entry point, therefore it’s vital that these pages provide an optimal experience in term of UX design, content and page speed.

How can brands make the most of the Google Merchant Centre?

Alongside improvements to your feed there are also features within the Google Merchant Center that you can implement which will automate elements of your feed and help overall feed quality.

Firstly, enabling Automatic Item Updates for price and availability will allow Google to scrape product data from the structured data mark-up on your website product pages and then amend price and availability if it mismatches the product information in the feed. 

Secondly, enabling Automatic Image improvements will allow Google to try and amend images that do not fulfil its image criteria, for example images that include promotional overlays.

Thirdly, Google can crawl your XML sitemaps to find products and supplementary information to automatically update your product feed.

Enabling product feed automation within the Merchant Center makes Google Shopping management much easier and ensures users are presented with the correct, most up to date product information directly from Google Shopping.

What you can do right now to optimise for Google Shopping

Google Shopping organic listings have only launched in the US so far but it will likely be live across EMEA by Q4 2020. Advertisers with existing Merchant Center’s are already being contacted by Google to opt in to showing data feeds across surfaces on Google, which includes the shopping tab. 

To help you prepare for the change, there are several actions you can take now: 

  • Audit your product data feed to ensure it includes optimised attributes and feeds as much information to Google as possible. Alternatively, create a product data feed if you’re not already using Google Merchant Center.
  • Improve your product pages with UX design, content and page speed improvements. As product pages increasingly act as landing pages, it’s vital that they provide a positive initial experience for shoppers. Benchmarking and A/B testing is key for this.
  • Implement Schema mark-up across your product pages. Key attributes such as price should be dynamically marked up in JSON-LD or microdata to enable Automatic Item Updates within the Merchant Center. 
  • Ensure your XML sitemaps are comprehensive, contain all of your product pages and follow best practices

With these actions, you’ll be in good stead to improve your current paid Google Shopping performance and your eventual organic Google Shopping performance.