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Comment: How to prepare for Google Shopping

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The impressive adoption rates of online shopping globally – over 40 per cent of European Union shoppers now use the internet to buy goods and services – make expanding overseas a tempting opportunity. Those who take the plunge may reap the rewards, since the 13 largest online markets in the EU are already estimated to be worth €200 billion (£162 billion), and growing at just under 20 per cent per annum. However, while considering buying products from other countries to make huge savings, research shows that shoppers often worry things can go wrong when buying online, so prefer to browse on sites that they trust.

Google product listings and marketplaces like eBay and Amazon are increasingly globalised, making it easier than ever to sell across multiple regions. Browsing on such well-known sites lends an ease to online shopping, as these brands convey trustworthiness. While Google product listings have been a great way, for smaller e-tailers especially, to advertise their products on a popular, trusted and easily navigated site, soon this channel will come at a cost.

Google recently announced that it is soon pulling the plug on its free Google Product Search, replacing it with Google Shopping, a paid product advert service. Retailers in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Brazil, Australia and Switzerland will begin to see this change on 13 February 2013, and the transition will be complete by June 2013. The news seems to have gone unnoticed by many in the UK, but the transition to the new Google Shopping service has already started in the USA. Replacing its efficient and effective free service with a commercial model that charges for listings via Product Listing Ads (PLAs), will drastically change the way retailers use search, and has been heralded as the biggest change in e-commerce search since the launch of Google Adwords.

Google Shopping will give retailers greater control over where their ads appear, and the opportunity to get more consistent levels of high quality website traffic. It has the potential to provide a much more engaging user experience while making it simple for retailers to promote their entire product line via many Google searches. Clearly then, there are hurdles that UK retailers need to consider as February 2013 approaches, so here’s a few tips to help make it a smooth transition.

The biggest change retailers face is the new Product Listing Ads (PLAs) format. Understanding and optimising PLAs is now fundamental to a retailer’s future success on Google Shopping. PLAs are visually compelling product advertisements that include product information such as title, price, merchant name and images to attract consumers. They will drive search results, so retailers need to ensure they are creating each one properly.

PLAs work via “product targeting” technology, meaning that once a retailer has submitted its product data feeds to the Google Merchant Centre, Google accesses that data and matches search queries to the most relevant products within Merchant Centre accounts. Google chooses and ranks products to display in the PLA, based on cost-per-click and other factors familiar to search auctions such as quality score and click-through rate. It’s vital to get your promotional messages right to help communicate the value proposition of your offers and urge users to take a closer look.

The cost side of Google Shopping is also something that retailers will have to get used to as free listings are phased out. Calculate how much budget you have, and keep this in mind. Try to identify and make the most of any incremental opportunities by setting budgets very low and adjusting based on performance. Monitor advert performance and demote those that receive significant traffic but don’t generate orders. Replace these with better selling products to ensure you pay less per click for these less successful items in the future. Google makes it easy to keep all products active by allowing advertisers to bid as low as one cent, so use minimum bids to your advantage.

Keep Google updated with accurate and relevant data to maximise the eligibility of your products – you are only as good as your data. Google is more likely to serve an ad for retailers who have a consistently fresh, error-free data feed, so address all errors and warnings that appear in your Merchant Centre Account as soon as possible. Maximising the eligibility of your products is vital, as you will see ads drop down the rankings if errors go uncorrected. Keep a close eye on your tracking, to ensure your feed contains the parameters needed to collect accurate performance data, otherwise your ads may drop drown the rankings.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of keywords. Identify target questions and keywords so that you can integrate them into the titles and descriptions of all of your products. Not all keywords will necessarily drive positive results, so add negative keywords to optimise the chance of your products coming up in relevant searches. Frequently update promotional messaging with new keywords and information to help your ads to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t let these changes catch you out. With careful preparation, you can make the most of Google Shopping; seek expert advice to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for the changes that will affect your business from early next year.

Published on Monday 26 November by Editorial Assistant

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