Google Shopping Transitions to a Paid Platform

Today, Google officially replaces its free Product Search with a paid shopping platform. As discussed in an earlier post, the controversial change means merchants must now pay to be listed on Google Shopping‘s search results pages.

Google’s move to a paid comparison shopping engine sends a big message: the company is making a step toward e-commerce and taking on Amazon–the world’s most popular “first stop” in shoppers’ online product research.

The Controversy

Critics believe the switch is a blow to merchants who have relied on free product search as a marketing strategy. Retailers may see a drop in sales and many will need to re-evaluate their online marketing budgets to see if paid Google Shopping is a good fit.

As for Google Shopping users, some critics believe they may miss out on deals and products, since the product results will now be partially influenced by the merchants’ bids.

Google, however, says a switch to a paid model will encourage retailers to keep their product information relevant and up-to-date, and will therefore deliver a better product search experience for shoppers.

How It Works

When Google’s comparison shopping engine was free, merchants participated by uploading their product feeds to Google’s Product Search. Now, merchants join by paying for Product Listing Ads (PLAs) on a cost-per-click or cost-per-acquisition model. Google Shopping works like Google AdWords with retailers selecting product attributes and bidding on keywords.

Product Listing Ads will appear in search results as they have in the past, with a product image, price, product name, and retailer. When a shopper clicks on an image, they’ll be taken straight to the product page on the merchant’s website.

Google is vague about how, exactly, the results are chosen and ranked. Relevance will continue to influence product ranking, but bidding will be a new factor as well.

Paid Ads Require Strong Content

Companies with the resources to participate will likely approach Google Shopping more strategically and with more finesse than they have in the past. Participants need to look at whether each of their products would be successful on the paid platform, and they’ll need to anticipate the most appropriate keywords and budget for their target products.

Retailers will also need to keep their product pages fresh and up-to-date since clicking on a PLA leads straight to their own content. And if you’re paying for clicks, you’ll want each one to count.

Bottom line: If you’re going to pay to play, your content needs to be in its best form.

What’s Next

We’ll be keeping our eye on Google Shopping, which is still playing around with SERP designs and optimization tools for merchants. The company is also rumored to be working with contractors for help in creating better product information on the site.

We’re wondering if merchants will truly benefit from the paid model over the free model. What are Google’s long-term intentions with this new venture? And how will shoppers respond? We’d love to hear your views on the switch from free to paid product search.

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