Is Your Storefront Ready for Google Shopping?

Comparison shopping engines such as PriceGrabber, Nextag, have been a popular method for Internet retailers to drive traffic and sales over the past decade (or longer) - but things are about to change.

Starting this fall, Google will make a major switch that impacts everyone involved in ecommerce - its "Google Product Search" offering will shift to "Google Shopping" - but it's much more than a name change alone.

Google Shopping is an entirely new platform to showcase and sell products. Merchants will create "Product Listing Ads" that will appear at Google and within the Google Shopping platform at Advertisers are able to set custom bidding options (down to the product attribute level - more on that later) and showcase to users why they are a better choice than the competition by participating in the new Google Trusted Stores program. Consider it "Comparison Shopping 2.0" and a program that will shake up the ecommerce industry forever.

Product Listing Ads (or PLAs) are what will be top of mind with merchants in the coming months and years however. PLAs are essentially AdWords ads that include "rich" product information such as images, price and the merchant's name, along with other information that could be useful to shoppers and influential in their purchasing decisions.

What's interesting about Google Shopping is that merchants will be charged on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. That's right - those with the highest bid will (usually) get the top position when selling products (there is also a conversion- focused cost-per-acquisition or CPA percentage basis but that is reserved for select participants in the U.S. at the current time). PLA's use product targets to determine when products in a Google Merchant Center account appear on a search results page.

This is not unlike the comparison shopping engines that have provided such value to merchants in the past. Positioning for ecommerce product listings will still depend (at least in part) on relevance, but in the very near future merchants will be bidding for placement in much the same way they do with Adwords in order to get their products seen by prospective buyers visiting Google.

While industry watchers have a range of opinions (both positive and negative) on the change, Google (which stands to bring in substantial profits from the shift) expects it to be a useful one for both consumers and merchants. For example, consumers will have access to products that are consistently updated as the new platform encourages merchants to keep their product information as fresh as possible in order to remain competitive. Consumers will also benefit as more frequently updated information means a greater opportunity for merchants to showcase the deals and promotions they are offering.

While merchants' promotional and advertising budgets will likely need to balloon to accommodate for this rather seismic digital shift at least at the outset, they (merchants) will receive a few benefits as well. The new model for paid ecommerce product feeds should result in more targeted traffic and traffic which is more likely to convert (make a purchase). The reason? An overall better digital shopping experience for consumers.

Google offered a 10 percent discount to merchants that created Product Listing Ads by August 15th, 2012, and businesses that made the switch received a $100 credit in addition once they got started. That time has come and gone however. For those that are looking forward to the upcoming holiday season or don't want to be left behind, consider the following a starter guide for the new age of comparison shopping.

Getting Started

In order to set up a product listing ads campaign, merchants must first link their Google Merchant Center and AdWords account, build an AdWords product listing ad campaign, create product targets (to ensure the appropriate products are shown with the correct ads), and will need to continually manage their product feeds in Google Merchant Center. Sound like a lot of work? It is, but the benefits will be clear and immediate. Let's take a closer look at the process.

- Create a new PLA campaign: When creating a new campaign, make sure that campaigns include "Google search" under Network settings and that you have opted to show ads with product details from Google Merchant Center. Merchant advertisers will then be able to create product listings ads. Since PLAs and product extensions share the same feed data, don't delete the connected account at the campaign level as it will remove the same information for the PLAs.

- Create a PLA: To create a new product listing ad, first select the campaign (or ad group) where the ad should appear, then select Product listing ad from the "New ad" drop down menu. Merchant advertisers are then able to enter a promotional phrase for the ad - text which appears with any possible combination of products tied to the campaign. For example, if you offer free shipping, include a promotion such as "Free shipping on orders over $25."

Note: The company name shown in PLAs is the same as what appears in your linked Merchant Center account.

- Align campaigns to PLAs: Campaign goals will differ for each merchant advertiser. Google has outlined some best practices initially, but let's look at one example specifically. Should you want to bid the same amount for all products, but use different promotional messages for different sets of products, the recommended approach would be to create multiple ad groups, and create one product target (set with one product target each) for each ad group. Then, create a corresponding PLA with a promotional message.

- Note: In order to target product listing ads, it is necessary to have product targets, which allow merchant advertiser to select which products are eligible to show on PLAs. This process requires a lot in the way of detail work, so Website Magazine has put together a quick guide on targeting product listing ads available at which details product target attributes and outlines the method for setting up product targets.

While there is no guarantee that a merchant's products will show for a particular query, the likelihood of showing can be increased can be improved by optimizing the Google Merchant Center account and bidding competitively. It is possible to leverage negative keywords and product filters to limit what is shown for particular queries however, but the best option is to optimize the data feed available within the Google Merchant Center, making sure the appropriate data, as well as product labels for product targets are included.

Google Shopping will undoubtedly provide merchants as much value as it does consternation - at least initially. Focusing on the best practices, setting up analytics to measure performance, and ensuring your marketing team is takeing step toward improving results is the best course of action as this profoundly important ecommerce shift takes form.

Google Shopping On the SERPs

How will PLAs appear on Google search results pages? For generic searches (e.g. telescopes) searchers will see numerous Google Shopping listings in a vertical format with pricing from various merchants, under the Adwords listing and above the organic search results (see image a). For more specific searches (e.g. "Celestron CPC 800") users will Google Shopping results on the right hand of the page (see image b) with reviews, a product descriptions and a list of addition stores where the product is available (see image b).