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A Quick Guide to Free Shopping Ads

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Google recently announced that it is now free to list products on the Google shopping tab in the US, with plans to roll out globally by the end of the year.

Shopping ads have long been the favourite tool of retailers – these highly visual, informative ads are a fantastic way of improving visibility of products, while also leading to better qualified leads. This means that when a user clicks onto your site, they already have an understanding of an item’s look and price, making them far more likely to make a purchase.

Google’s shopping inventory was previously an exclusively paid system. However, in the future, a significant portion of these placements will be offered for free, opening up opportunities for smaller retailers to show their products, regardless of size or budget.

What’s changing?

Historically, the Google Shopping tab has consisted entirely of ads – indicated by a small sponsored symbol in the top right. Below you can see the results currently shown in the UK – note that all of the product listings fall under the sponsored symbol.

With this update, the majority of these products are now free listings. While a small sponsored section remains at the top, everything listed under the “about” header is unpaid. The below screenshot shows the impact of the changes – unpaid ads have all the key attributes of the currently paid listings:

Why should I prepare now?

This development is part of a wider initiative where there are increased opportunities to show products for free on “surfaces across Google”. In enabling this feature, you can be ahead of the curve as soon as free shopping becomes available in the UK.

It’s worth noting that the Google images tab also forms part of this initiative. Currently, if you have structured data on your site, you will be eligible to show in these listings (similarly to organic search). The Google shopping tab has stricter set-up requirements, and so by preparing for the next update you can begin to track the performance listings on Google Images, and also have some control over the data available to Google.

How do I set it up?

If you’re already advertising using Google ads, opting in to “surfaces across Google” is quick to implement, and will allow your products to show for free.

Otherwise, you’ll need to create a free Google Merchant Centre (GMC) account, and prepare a feed compliant with Google Ads policies.

Your eligibility to show paid ads depends on bid and quality score. For free listings, ad quality and search relevance is central to determining whether your product will show. Therefore, an enhanced feed set up will be key to success.

From the US, we know that the basic reporting provided by Google will be limited to the GMC. Currently, retailers have visibility on click data, but limited visibility on revenue. However, by adding UTM tracking within the GMC link field, you will be able to track free ads within Google Analytics, allowing you to evaluate performance against the rest of your paid search activity.

Should I stop paying for shopping ads?

In short, no.

While unpaid shopping listings provide a great, free new opportunity to help users find your products (initial results from the US suggest that unpaid listings add an extra 5% click volume on top of paid results), these placements will remain entirely separate to the paid space. The highest quality spots on both the search and shopping tabs will continue to be reserved for paid ads, which will have far greater reach and visibility.

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