Having to pay for something that used to be free may not sound like good news.
There’s little doubt that many retailers will have greeted with dismay the news that Google would start charging for product listings.
But Google Shopping – Paid Listing Ads (PLAs) – may have some long-term benefits, even if it comes with a bill attached.
Google Shopping was introduced in the United States in October last year and is now being rolled-out in the UK.
Google has claimed this is about “helping shoppers better research purchases, compare different products and their features and prices, and then connect with merchants to make their purchase”.
PLAs give retailers greater control over what products are listed and how they appear. Or at least that’s what Google has said.
There is already early evidence from the US that retailers who were quick to embrace the new approach have seen higher click-through rates from PLAs than Google’s more familiar text-based ads.
But Microsoft, the owner of Bing, has been chief among critics of the move… and has gone as far as launching Scroogled.com to argue what it sees as the case against Google.
The essence of the criticism is that Google Shopping is “nothing more than a list of targeted ads that unsuspecting customers assume are search results”.
Google Shopping in the UK works on a cost-per-click basis – so similar to other PPC activity – but without the use of keywords.
Instead of keywords, attributes such as product type and brand will be used to define what appears in the product feed.
Likewise, Google Shopping is managed through Adwords accounts, though users will need a Merchant Center account as well to set up and manage the feed containing product information.
The disadvantage to retailers is obvious: having to pay for what was previously free.
However, one of the biggest advantages of the new platform is that spammy listings – or from tiny retailers who offer unsustainably low prices – will be removed, as they won’t be able to afford the exposure.
One of the persistent problems with shopping results in the past has also been spam product listings that show the cheapest price – but then give the user no way to buy the item on the spammer’s website.
With pay-per-click being the only way of gaining exposure, the quality and relevance of Google product search can only improve.
This may well improve usage and give retailers who are genuinely competitive on price a real boost in traffic, if they are getting the return on investment to make the pay-per-click (PPC) model make sense.
Ultimately, PLA and Google Shopping have the potential to be of real benefit to retailers who are already happy to invest in driving traffic via PPC. The new system should allow them to get even more relevant, highly converting traffic than through standard PPC listings.