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Keeping Up With Google: How Do You Track Click Performance of Google’s Free Shopping Ads?

Nathan Sheusi

Google recently announced that clicks on most placements in Google’s Shopping tab would incur no charge to the advertiser. Following the news, however, it was unclear how retailers would be able to confidently track performance of their ads.

We’ve identified a way to now track click performance of these free ads, and we’ll explain further in this follow-up Keeping Up With Google article. Learn how you can track click performance of Google’s free shopping ads and what it means for your business.

Release Date:

Free ads on the Shopping tab were made available for U.S. retailers on April 27, 2020.

What It Is:

Retailers who sign up to advertise their products for free on the Shopping tab on Google can track clicks to their ads via Google Merchant Center. Clicks to these free ads blend with organic traffic in Google Analytics. Google Merchant Center displays free clicks in line graph form as well as product level detail.

Retailers can use the free ads feature on the Shopping tab by signing up for Google Merchant Center and surfaces across Google. 

Which Channels:

Free product listings will appear on the Shopping tab. Retailers can track clicks to these ads in Google Merchant Center and Google Analytics.

What This Means for Retailers:

Google has indicated that it is serious about going up against Amazon by expanding its e-commerce directory to more small businesses. This quick deployment of free ads in the Shopping tab comes with caveats, however. Click performance view exists in Google Merchant Center as either a simple line graph in overview or a separate product level view, each of which lacks an export feature. Clicks through this format display with organic traffic in Google Analytics and don’t seem to be separable. Preliminary data shows that far more clicks come through the Google Shopping directory than previously thought, but how can retailers measure the precise impact that it is having on their business?

The secret to tracking the performance of these clicks lies in your own product feed. Google has chosen to use the product feed’s ‘link’ field in their free product listing ad directory, as opposed to the ‘ads_redirect’ field, which would normally override the ‘link’ field in traditional CPC-based shopping campaigns. As a result, it may be possible to successfully track the conversion volume and revenue stemming from free clicks by appending tracking parameters to the link field in your data feed. If you are running paid ads, this would require use of the ads_redirect field in order to ensure that there is no overlap between free and paid placements. 

There are some hurdles this implementation presents. Google moved away from UTMs as a default tracking method between Google Ads and Analytics some time ago. It now uses what it calls Google Click Identifier, or GCLID for short, to pass data from Google Ads to Analytics.

The proposed method of tracking free shopping clicks is currently incompatible with GCLID. Should you decide to pursue this method, we recommend having knowledge of Google Ads campaign level tracking and Advanced Analytics settings before making sweeping changes to the product URLs in your feed.