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Keeping Up With Google: What Are Free Product Listings on Shopping?

Mike Farrell

In light of the challenges many small retail businesses face due to COVID-19, Google advanced its plans to release free product listings on the Shopping tab. These listings will allow retailers who do not have the resources to manage advertising campaigns to benefit from additional exposure on the channel. Google reports that the Shopping tab will now primarily feature these free listings, rather than purely paid listings.

In this installation of Keeping Up With Google, we’ll explore what these new listings are and how they might impact retailers’ strategies on Google Shopping.

Release Date: 

Google announced this update on April 21, 2020, and it will go into effect for U.S. retailers on April 27.

What It Is: 

Google is adding free product listings to the Shopping tab, similar to the free, organic listings that appear on paid search. The update will allow shoppers to find more products and retailers when they search on Google Shopping. Google reports that the majority of listings on the Shopping tab will be free listings, and that this update will not impact the function of paid Google Shopping ads.

Retailers who are already signed up with Merchant Center and surfaces across Google will automatically be opted into this program. If you are not a part of the surfaces across Google program, select “Growth” within the Merchant Center and then “Manage programs.” Finally, select the “surfaces across Google” program card.

Which Channels: 

Free product listing ads will be featured on the Shopping tab.

What It Means For Your Business:

This latest Google Shopping update will open the door for more retailers and their product listings to appear in the Shopping tab. That could mean greater competition on the Shopping tab but also greater exposure for retailers who can benefit from both paid and free listings. It is likely that Google will continue to prioritize the placement of paid shopping ads, and free listings will perform similarly to organic search results. While organic search results provide some incremental traffic, paid search ads often earn the majority of clicks.

Google says that the purpose of the free product listings is to lower the barrier to entry for small retailers who are striving to keep their businesses moving while shelter-in-place orders are in effect. Retailers most impacted by COVID-19 have had to quickly transition to sell exclusively through online channels. Now these retailers can reach consumers on Google Shopping with no monetary risk.

Creating, uploading, and continuing to manage a product feed may be the biggest challenges for small retailers getting started or trying to grow on Google Shopping. Google announced a partnership with PayPal to integrate retailers’ existing products and is also working with existing feed partners to simplify this transition.

While there is not much downside to free exposure for any retailer, there are a few points worth clarifying in light of this announcement. First, it has historically been unclear how much search traffic reaches the Shopping tab on Google search.

Second, Google did not mention any reporting on Shopping tab traffic in its announcement, making it difficult for retailers to accurately measure its impact on their businesses.

Lastly, the Shopping tab does not have much exposure on the mobile SERP. Shoppers have to scroll to the right in order to see and select the Shopping tab on mobile. Given that over 69% of Google Shopping traffic comes from mobile devices, this significantly limits the impact of free product listings.

The first page of the SERP drives the majority of retailers’ traffic and exposure. While free product listings may have some positive impact for businesses, Sidecar doesn’t anticipate a major shift to retailers’ strategies on Google Ads. Paid ads will remain the primary driver of success on Google Shopping and will continue to require the same level of strategy and planning.