On the 21st of April, Google announced that it would provide a free option for its Shopping listings page.
This is great news for online retailers looking to increase traffic to their site with a view to improving sales. It is especially beneficial for small businesses who may not have the budget to be able to run PPC or paid Google Shopping ads.
In this blog, we will discuss what listings you can now get for free, the history of product listing ads and crucially, what you need to do to get your products appearing on Google’s Shopping page for free.
What are Google Shopping ads?
Google Shopping listings, or sometimes called Product Listing Ads (PLAs), are an ad format that Google allows advertisers to run on its advertising platform.
Google Shopping listings contain an image, product title, price, and the name of the advertiser as a minimum. They can also include a product description depending on where you see the Google Shopping listing.
This isn’t the first time that Google has offered Product Listing ads for free.
Back in 2012, when Google first introduced Product Listings Ads, they were offering them to advertisers for free. Later, they changed the name to Shopping ads and charged advertisers on a pay per click basis to show them.
The difference between this time around compared to what Google offered previously, is that this time there is still a paid option.
Some listings will be free while other (more prominent) listings will use the pay per click model.
How do I get free Google Shopping listings to appear?
If you want to take advantage of the free Shopping listings being offered by Google but don’t know how to get started, then below we have put together some instructions.
Create a Google Merchant Centre account
The first step to getting free Google Shopping listings is to create a Google Merchant Centre account.
This is where your product feed will be stored. Google will pull all the information about your products from here.
Creating a Google Merchant Centre account is quick and easy. As a starting point, you will need to visit the Google Merchant Centre page and create an account.
Google will ask for basic details like the domain name of your website and a password. You can create a Google Merchant Centre account here.
Once you’ve created a Google Merchant Centre account, you will need to prove that you own your website.
You can do this by claiming your website. To start the process of verifying and claiming your website, click on the spanner tool on the of the page and then click on ‘Business Information’.
You can find more information on how to verify and claim your website on Google’s help centre..
Here are four options available for you to verify and claim your website, which you can find more information about by browsing Google Merchant Centre and Google’s help centre.
- Google Analytics – If you already have a Google Analytics account, and the tag is set up, then this could be the simplest option. If you use this option, you will need to verify your site on Google Search Console. Once you’ve verified your site on Google Search Console, your site will also be verified in Google Merchant Centre.
- Google Tag Manager – If you have Google Tag Manager, then you can use this to verify your site. Once you verify your site on Google Search Console, your site will be verified on Google Merchant Centre.
- Access to your server: HTML tag – The above two methods are the simplest. If you’re not able to verify your site using one of the above two methods, then you can try adding a meta tag to your site homepage. The meta tag is generated by Google Merchant Centre and should be placed within the <Head> and </Head> tags.
- Access to your server: HTML file upload – The final method is to upload a HTML file to your server. This file will need to remain on your server for as long as you wish to remain verified.
Upload a product feed into Google Merchant Centre
Once you’ve become verified, the third step is to get a product feed generated and placed into Google Merchant Centre.
The method that you use to generate a product feed will depend on the CMS that you’re using. There are many options available for you to do this effectively.
For example, if you’re using Shopify, then there are many apps available to you. If you’re using WooCommerce, then have a look at the WooCommerce Google Feed Manager. Magento users also have options available which you can learn more about here.
Once you’ve generated your product feed, you need to get it into Google Merchant Centre. You have four options when it comes to doing this.
Some methods are more automated than others, so we’ve put together detailed descriptions below.
- Google Sheets – You can create a Google Sheets file and paste your product feed into it. While this method is quite simple, it does mean that if some information about your product changes, then you will need to paste an updated version of your feed manually. For example, if your product price, description, or stock availability changes, then you will need to make sure that you keep your Google Sheet file updated.
- Scheduled fetch – A file containing your product feed can be hosted on your website, which is retrieved by Google at certain times. This method is automated, which means you don’t have to worry about manually making changes to your feed when you change information on your products.
- Upload – Your product feed can be stored on your computer. The product feed is then regularly uploaded to your Google Merchant centre using SFTP, FTP, Google Cloud Storage or by a manual upload.
- Content API – Possibly, the most efficient method is to use an API and automatically upload your product feed when changes are made.
Enable Surfaces Across Google
Once you’ve created your Google Merchant Centre account and have taken the necessary steps to get your product feed in, you will need to activate Surfaces across Google. This switches on the option of getting free Shopping traffic.
To enable Surfaces across Google, click on ‘Products’ on the left-hand menu and then on ‘Feeds’.
Click on your feed and then on the page that follows, click on ‘Settings’ near the top. From here, you should see a checkbox allowing you to activate ‘Surfaces across Google’.
That’s it! You’re all set to have your products appear for free on Google’s organic listings.
What information should I include in my product feed?
There are many attributes that Google requires all advertisers to include in their product feeds. If you don’t include this information, then your products will be disapproved and won’t show on Google’s Shopping listings.
Here are some elements you need to include.
- ID – max 50 characters
- Title – max 150 characters
- Description – max 5,000 characters
- Image link
- Brand – required for all new products except films, books, and musical recording brands.
- GTIN – for all products that have a GTIN number.
- MPN – only if your product does not have a GTIN number.
- Adult – if your product contains adult content.
- Multipack – if your product can be purchased as a multipack.
- Is bundle – For bundles in Australia, Brazil, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.
- Age group – For clothing items that are targeting Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US.
- Colour – For clothing items that are targeting Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US.
- Gender – For clothing items that are targeting Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US.
- Condition – Required for used or refurbished products.
- Size – If the product is within Apparel & Accessories.
- Material – If relevant for distinguishing different products in a set of variants.
- Pattern – If relevant for distinguishing different products in a set of variants
- Item group ID – Required for Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US if the product is a variant.
- Tax – For the US only.
In addition to the mandatory fields, there are several optional attributes that you can include in your product feed.
The type of searches that Google shows your products on and your position on the page is largely dependent on the contents of your product feed.
Google uses the contents of your product feed to help it to understand what your product is, and who would be interested in it.
If you add in as many optional attributes into your product feed as you can, it will help Google to understand what searches to show your products on.
Here are some optional attributes that you should consider adding to your product feed. There are many more optional attributes that you could add depending on the specifics of your business.
Google product category – A list of categories that help Google understand your product. Choose from a list of categories found in Google’s product taxonomy page.
- Product type – Similar to a Google product category but the category is made by the business.
- Additional image link – In some listings, Google can show multiple images.
- Sale price – If you’re running a sale, then you can put your sale price here.
You can find more information on the mandatory and optional information required in your product feed on Google’s product specification page..
Where do my free Shopping listings appear?
Not all Shopping listings are free. Google still has a paid option on its Shopping page. However, Google now offers advertisers the opportunity to get some free Shopping traffic as well.
Free Google Shopping listing doesn’t appear on the main search page. The Shopping listings on the main search page are paid-for listings.
On the Shopping tab, paid listings appear on the top of the page and the bottom of the page. Paid listings can be identified by the text above the ads that say ‘Sponsored’.
When the paid listings end and the free listings begin, there is a line running through the page followed by some text that says ‘About’ on the right-hand side.
What reporting options are available?
So, you’re picking up free organic Shopping traffic, but how much traffic are you getting? How is it performing? Without this information, it is difficult to optimise your organic Shopping listings.
Currently, there are not much reporting capabilities available for monitoring organic Shopping traffic.
There are two options available to you. You can use the basic reporting functionality in Google Merchant Centre, or with a bit of work, you can get your organic Shopping data into Google Analytics.
Method 1: Google Merchant Centre reporting
Google Merchant Centre offers some very basic insights into your organic Shopping traffic.
In Google Merchant Centre, click on ‘Performance’ and then ‘Dashboard’ on the left-hand side.
In the ‘Dashboard’ section, you can see how many organic Shopping clicks you’ve received. You can also choose to segment the data further and see how many clicks you’ve received by product, brand or category.
Method 2: Google Analytics reporting
Google Analytics does not currently segment out reporting for organic and paid Shopping traffic.
By default, organic Shopping traffic is grouped within all organic traffic coming from Google. This means your organic Shopping traffic data is coming through the source, medium ‘google/organic’.
If you want to be able to segment out your organic Shopping traffic from organic search traffic, then there is a workaround that you can use.
To segment out organic Shopping traffic, you can use the adWords redirect attribute within your product feed.
This will send a different landing page if the user clicks on a paid Shopping ad. Now all you need to do is to add UTM tracking to the standard landing page so that Google Analytics tracks it differently to your paid Shopping traffic.
Here is what you need to do:
- Add adwords redirect attribute into product feed – You first need to add an additional attribute to your product feed called adwords redirect. This attribute should include the landing page of the specific product.
- Create UTM tracking – Create the UTM tracking text to add to your organic shopping landing pages.
You need to include a source and a medium in your UTM tracking text. The medium must be called ‘organic’. This is because you want the traffic to be grouped with your other organic traffic.
The name that you give to the source will depend on what you want your organic Shopping traffic to be grouped as within Google Analytics. If you want your source to be called ‘organic shopping’, then your UTM tracking text would look like this:
When adding this UTM text to a landing page, it would look like the below:
- Add UTM tracking to link attribute – The link attribute in your product feed contains the landing pages for each of your products. The adwords redirect attribute is an optional attribute.
If you use the adwords redirect attribute, then Google will use the link in the adwords redirect attribute for paid Shopping ads. It will use the standard link attribute for organic shopping listings.
Add the UTM tracking code that you created to the end of all the URLs within the link attribute of your product feed.
Now all your paid Shopping traffic will get served the landing page within the AdWords redirect attribute, and your organic Shopping traffic will get served the URL in the link attribute.
- Look for organic shopping traffic within Google Analytics – Within Google Analytics, your organic Shopping traffic should now start appearing in its own source.
Google Shopping is often the best performing campaign type within a Google Ads account.
As advertisers now have an opportunity to obtain Shopping traffic, it can be hugely beneficial – especially those who don’t have the budget to pay for Shopping traffic.
If you have an eCommerce business, then make sure you take advantage of free Shopping traffic by adding a product feed into Google Merchant Centre and enabling ‘Surfaces Across Google’.