Most people’s first experience of Google Shopping is via the paid ads we frequently see when searching for products on Google. They look something like this:
However, many users now search directly via the shopping tab on Google, where the full Google Shopping experience allows users to search millions of products across thousands of stores to find the item they are looking for in seconds.
These shopping listings can also appear in other spaces across the Google ecosystem (‘surfaces’ as Google describes them). This presents a fantastic opportunity for online retailers to drive traffic that converts - without having to pay for the lead.
This opportunity is often overlooked by ecommerce retailers but it’s surprisingly easy to get listed and utilize this massive opportunity.
In this guide, we explain what Google Shopping is, how to get your products listed for free, and how these free listings will compare to paid-for ads.
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, although Google Shopping originally featured only paid listings, this changed in 2020 so that it now consists primarily of free product listings. If you’re running successful paid shopping ads (Product Listing Ads), don’t worry, these are still a significant feature of both the Shopping tab and the main search engine results page.
We can see an example of how these listings appear in the example below
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 Generative Experience
AI generated features in Google’s search results are experimental and only available in limited markets. For product searches we are increasingly going to see products listings interwoven with more conversational answers within the results.
Due to their high visibility in the SEPRs, this may well prove to be one of the most valuable reasons for making sure your products are listed with Google.
Google Search Popular Products
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.
Google Search Rich Snippets
Product attributes can enhance your existing organic search listings when included as ‘rich snippets’ in both mobile and desktop search results. These can include product images, reviews, price and stock availability.
Some images will be labelled ‘Product’ on Google Images. Clicking on these will take users to Google Shopping listings to view the featured product.
When a user scans a product in Google Lens, 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.
As more people are searching visually, this again gives you a great chance to get your products in front of engaged shoppers!
How do I get my products on Google Shopping?
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 are 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 an account here.
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.
For your products to be displayed you need to ensure that you adhere to Google’s Merchant Centre Guidelines.
These include making sure that the products you list are available for direct purchase via your store and that you have specified return and refund policies.
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.
A sample shopping feed can be found here.
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:
1. 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:
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.
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
2. Total Price
Show the right purchase information for the shopper.
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.
3. Unique Product Identifiers (UPIs)
These are used to match against Google’s product catalog to ensure product validity.
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 [h3]
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 requirements can be found here.
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 optimising some attributes for better performance.
Optimising 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:
|Mens, Ladies, Gender neutral
|Male, Female or Unisex
|0-3 months, 3-6 months, 2 years, Children
|Newborn, Infant, Toddler, Kids
|Never used, Secondhand, Reconditioned
|New, Used, Refurbished
|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 optimise 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 optimise 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?
The first step is getting set up on the Google Merchant Centre and establishing your product feed. Once you’ve done this, you can take advantage of the free listings when they become available in your country.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you to better understand how to do just that.
If you want to learn more about how to maximize Google Shopping opportunities with paid advertising, you may be interested in our dedicated Google Shopping course.
Free listings alone can still be extremely valuable for retailers - particularly if your listings are well-optimized.