By including free listings alongside ads, Google Shopping is now set to compete with Amazon for organic product searches.
This presents a fantastic opportunity for online retailers to drive traffic that converts - without even having to pay for the lead. It’s surprisingly easy to claim Google Shopping free listings and utilize this massive, new opportunity.
In this guide, we explain what Google Shopping is, how to get your products listed, and how these free listings will compare to paid-for ads.
- What is Google Shopping?
- Introducing Google Merchant Centre
- The Google Shopping product feed
What is Google Shopping
Google Shopping is a Comparison Shopping Engine (CSE), accessible via the Google Search interface. It allows people to search and shop for products from different retailers – all in one place.
The product listings are made up of:
- A title
- Short description
- Thumbnail image
Users can click on any listing to visit the retailer’s website, where they can purchase the item.
Is Google Shopping really free?
Yes. Google Shopping is changing to “consist primarily of free product listings”. Until recently, it only included paid advertisements.
Free listings will now appear in the Google Shopping tab, and potentially other surfaces across Google. If you’re running successful paid shopping ads (Product Listing Ads), don’t worry, these will still be a significant feature of both the Shopping tab and the main search engine results page.
The free option went live in the US at the end of April and its global roll-out will be complete by the end of 2020.
New Mobile Experience:
New Desktop Experience:
Where will free shopping listings appear on Google?
You’ll see free listings appear most commonly in the Google Shopping tab.
Google Shopping will consist primarily of free listings, meaning retailers will be able to reach customers regardless of whether they are running paid Google campaigns. Free listings will be browsable and searchable alongside paid ad slots that will continue to show.
Google states that merchants can also opt into the ‘surfaces across Google programme’, meaning their free listings may also appear in other Google product areas. These include:
- Google Search
When somebody searches for a product in Google, the search engine may display what’s known as visual, browsy listings. Available only on mobile search in the US initially, these will display as ‘Popular Products’ - this is when product thumbnails appear in the main search.
Product attributes can also show up as rich snippets in both mobile and desktop search results.
- Google Images
Some images will be labelled ‘Product’ on Google Images. Clicking on these will take users to Google Shopping listings to view the featured product.
- Google Lens
Google Lens is an image recognition technology that lets users scan real-life objects to identify them. When a user scans a product, relevant Google Shopping listings of the item or similar items are shown. This allows users to save time by taking a quick photo, rather than describing what they are looking for in the search bar. You can download the app via the Google Play Store to access and try for yourself.
How do I get my products on Google Shopping?href
For both free listings and Google Shopping Ads, you simply need to submit products through the Google Merchant Centre.
In the Merchant Centre, you enter product data about the items you wish to sell. These attributes enable Google to automatically create the listings and determine when they’re displayed.
Products in the Merchant Centre will be automatically considered for inclusion in free listings - once the data’s entered, you don’t need to do anything else. So, if you’re already running paid shopping campaigns through the Merchant Centre, you’re good to go! Your products will be eligible for free listings as soon as they’re available in your country.
Introducing Google Merchant Centre
The Google Merchant Centre enables you to access free listings via Google Shopping, as well as paid advertisement through Google Search, Shopping and other Google services (e.g. YouTube).
New to the Merchant Centre? You can set up a Google Merchant account.
If you want to appear in the free listings described above, the first thing you need to do is opt into the surfaces across Google programme.
The local surface programme is great if you have physical stores that sell the products you’re listing.
Once you’ve created a Merchant Centre account for your business, it’s time to upload your products. This can be done via the products menu - individually or by creating a data feed.
Unless you have a limited range of products, the most efficient way of adding products is via a data feed. This will allow you to upload multiple products into the Merchant Centre, and makes it much easier to keep your data up to date.
The Google Shopping product feed
The data feed is a file made up of a list of products and their qualities, which are defined by unique attributes.
Attributes such as “availability” and “size” need to use standardized values which mirror Google’s templates. Other attributes, such as “product type” or “title”, can be filled in as you wish.
Accurately describing and categorizing your items using these attributes allows users to search for your products. Google will show your products more often if the titles, descriptions and product types are relevant to desired keywords.
You can view a Google Shopping Feed over at the Google Merchant answers page.
Creating your product data feed
When adding a new feed, you’ll be asked to name it and then choose one of the four options below to create and connect it.
- Google Sheets - Make updates to your product data in a Google Sheet, and they'll automatically be applied to your account.
- Scheduled fetch - Host a file on your website that contains data and schedule a regular time for Google to fetch updates. Updates are only applied to your account when the fetch occurs.
- Upload - Keep a file on your computer that contains data and regularly upload it to your account through SFTP, FTP, Google Cloud Storage, or a manual upload.
- Content API - Allows your web app to connect automatically to the Merchant Center and automatically upload product listings.
The most common types of feed are uploads via an XML file or a scheduled fetch. However, the Google guides linked to above will help you to decide which of these is most appropriate for your site.
Required fields in the shopping feed
Whether you add content manually or rely on data automatically gathered from your website, there are some product attributes that you need to provide information for. If these fields are missing, your product will not show.
Product data feeds are split out into three main categories:
- Product Content: Required for search relevance and accurate content. Necessary to ensure shoppers don’t click on your product expecting something different.
The attributes required are:
- Product ID
This is how a product is identified. Therefore the identifier has to be unique for each item within your feed and cannot be recycled between feeds for the same country in the same language.
This is the name of the product. It’s best practice to include different characteristics, such as brand, color and size, as this will help distinguish the product from others and ensure the correct item is shown when a user searches.
There is a 150-character limit on titles. However, in most cases, only 70 characters will be displayed.
Information about the product’s most relevant attributes, such as material, size, special features and other specifications. Try to include relevant keywords and mention the product name again to increase impressions.
You have a total character limit of 5,000. However, it’s recommended to submit only between 500 to 1,000.
- Google Product Category
This indicates the category of the product being submitted, which must fit in line with Google’s product taxonomy.
Any category from the taxonomy must contain the full path, for example the category 6703 or ‘Food, Beverages & Tobacco > Food Items > Fruit & Vegetables > Fresh & Frozen Vegetables > Tomatoes’ would be acceptable but ‘Tomatoes’ is not.
The more specific and relevant the product category, the more valuable Google will view you as an advertiser. For Ads, this will usually result in cheaper cost-per-clicks, larger impression shares and better ad positions. It’s likely to also improve your organic listings’ performances, too.
- Product Type
This can sometimes be confused with the Google Product Category as their purposes are very similar. However, Product Type enables you to provide your own product type classification. You can also include more than one Product Type value if the product applies to more than one category.
For example, if your product belongs to Trainers, you should list the full category of: Footwear > Brand > Men’s > Trainers (you must use “>” as a separator, including a space before and after).
The more granular you can get, the better. This is important because you can use your Product Type(s) to structure your Shopping Campaign, which is highly recommended.
We would advise on having no more than five Product Types per item. Google also looks for keyword relevancy here, so try and include these where possible.
This is the product page URL where the user will be sent once they have clicked on a Shopping listing. It’s also referred to as the landing page.
You can also use tracking URLs to distinguish traffic coming from Google Shopping.
On the landing page itself, the title, description, price, currency, product variants (i.e. size, color and material), availability and buy button must all be visible. The product offer must be prominent and the image must match the listing’s.
If you have items that are out of stock, do not remove the URL from the feed. Provide the ‘out of stock’ value within the ‘availability’ column.
It’s crucial to supply up-to-date availability information for your products. This is so users know the item will be delivered within the specified time.
The availability attribute has three values:
- Preorder (use the availability date attribute to indicate when the product can become available to buy)
- In stock
- Out of stock
The attributes required are:
Users have to be able to buy the item for the price shown without paying for a membership. Items where prices vary should not be submitted – all products must be sold at a fixed price. Although if an item is on sale, the sale price should be shown here.
For US feeds, do not include tax. For Canada and India, do not include any value added tax (VAT). All other countries must include VAT.
The attributes required are:
UPIs are codes associated with individual products. By submitting these identifiers, you make it easier for users to find the product that you’re selling.
Products submitted without identifiers are very difficult to classify and are rarely shown for product related searches.
There are three types of UPIs:
- Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN) - a product’s GTIN can be found next to the barcode on your product’s packaging (it’s an 8, 12 or 13-digit number)
- Manufacturer Part Number (MPN)
- The product’s brand name
Product feed example
Common reasons for a disapproved feed
If your data doesn't meet Google’s quality requirements, your products may be disapproved. You will be notified of this through the Merchant Centre. Disapproved items will not appear in search, so it’s important to fix any issues that arise.
The most common reasons your products have been disapproved are:
- Missing or incorrect required attribute [price]
The price in your feed needs to exactly match what’s on your website. While this seems like an obvious step, it can easily be forgotten when a promotion is applied on site. It is also important to ensure your currency matches - particularly if you’re running activity in multiple countries.
- Missing shipping information
This is required by all vendors - regardless of the product. If you offer free shipping, simply enter the value of 0 in this field.
- Promotion of violence or alcohol
Google limits the promotion of alcohol or violence. If either is included within the product feed - particularly in the description or image - your feed will be disapproved. Country-specific alcoholic beverages restrictions can be found on the Google Merchant help center page
To find out more about other common reasons for disapprovals and how to resolve them, visit Google’s guide on disapproved accounts, feeds or items.
Optimizing your shopping feed
Once your data is complete and accurate, you’re finally able to begin optimizing some attributes for better performance.
Optimizing consists of modifying attribute values to help:
- Increase click-through rate and engagement
- Show products for relevant search queries
- Maximize total impressions and impression share
Before any advance optimization is carried out, it’s important that everything is standardized to match Google’s requirements. For example:
|Gender||Mens, Ladies, Gender neutral||Male, Female or Unisex|
|Age||0-3 months, 3-6 months, 2 years, Children||Newborn, Infant, Toddler, Kids|
|Condition||Never used, Secondhand, Reconditioned||New, Used, Refurbished|
|Color||Rose, Midnight Blue, Emerald||Red, Blue, Green|
Consumers recognize the sophistication of Google Search and, as a result, search strings are becoming more and more specific.
This means you can optimize the individual elements of your listing to increase performance.
How to optimize your product title
The product title is critical in Google’s matching algorithm, as well as being the main component that users see. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you ensure the title clearly captures what your product is about, and reflects what your customers are searching for.
To optimize your product title, we advise that you:
- Include attributes that make the product unique
- Include the most relevant product variables such as size, brand and color - many users will include product variables like this in their search queries, so including these will maximize impression share and click-through rate
- Review the titles of your most important products first - ensure they are informative and all the information is relevant
- Use the terms your customers are using to search for your product - you can find these in Google’s search terms report
- Avoid spam such as all capitals, keyword stuffing and promotional text
- Use a uniform title structure across all products makes for easier analysis and optimizations in the future e.g. [Brand] [Colour] [Product] [Size] for “Nike Black Trainers Size 6” or “Adidas Pink Flip-Flops Size 8” - keeping brand names at the beginning of titles also helps to maximize click-through rates
- Be wary of truncation - front-load important information in case your title is cut off
- Use Google Trends to determine language preference and help you write the most relevant titles
- Run search query reports to find other ways users search for your products
How to optimize your product descriptions
As well as categorizations and product titles, Google also looks at the quality and relevance of product descriptions to determine what items to show for specific search queries.
You can optimize product descriptions by:
- Enriching them with keywords and relevant product information to improve search query matching
- Regularly running search query reports across any ad campaigns to make sure you have all keyword variations covered
If the keywords you want to appear for are not within the product description, your ads will not show. You’re also not able to rank organically for these with free listings.
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As a result, you will be able to increase the keyword relevancy - and therefore the overall ‘data quality’ element - of your feed.
Want to get started with Google Shopping Ads?
This guide is focussed on taking advantage of the free Google Shopping listings when they become available in your country. If you want to learn more about how to maximize Google Shopping opportunities with