By reducing product searches thanks to marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart, Google boosted its e-commerce search game last week with a new organic search feature: popular products.
Years ago, Google replaced its original attempt at organic online shopping, Froogle, with shopping ads. With popular products, organic shopping returns to the search results page with a neat, interactive screen.
As shown below, searching for keywords like "down jacket" can produce popular product listings. So far, the lists are only released on mobile devices in the US and India and only for searches for clothing and accessories. Popular products usually appear on the second or third scroll down the page, below the ads and an organic result or two.
On the popular product card, by clicking on a filter – for example, "men" or "buffer" – the product selection is dynamically weakened without requesting a new search results page. Or searchers can click directly on a product to see more information, reviews and a list of stores to buy the product from, complete with prices.
The information in a product's list is a mashup of the information found on each of the websites. For example, product photos and reviews may come from any of the stores in the list. Google also pulls reviews from these stores, but it seems to emphasize reviews from the manufacturer's website. Thus, even an e-commerce site with few reviews or limited product images can benefit from the information.
In a way, popular products levels the playing field for big and small traders. All stores are linked to the same pictures and reviews, so shoppers are free to choose any from the list. But if the only difference is price and name recognition, it is more likely that big brands will win the click unless another store offers a lower price.
Popular products still offer smaller e-commerce sites a way to compete, especially if they can price competitively.
Interestingly, shopping ads and popular products appear in the same search results, which may seem the opposite. But the ads focus on the store – where to buy the product. If you click on an ad, the viewers will go to that merchant's site. Conversely, the popular products section focuses on items that people search for, not who sells them.
The only store I haven't seen in popular products is Amazon.
Amazon is in the top three for many of the searches I tested. But it does not appear in the popular product lists for any of them. For example, Amazon ranks among the top three for "Sorel Women's Joan Of Arctic Boot" but does not appear in the list of 13 stores selling the item. Walmart and eBay are both on the list twice – from different sellers in these marketplaces – but no Amazon.
However, the reason may be due to Amazon's reluctance to use structured data and shopping ads. Both are sources of specifications and details of popular product listings, as explained in Google documentation for ranking in popular products.
Uploading a product data feed to Google Merchant Center – the same platform for managing shopping ads – is the fastest path to inclusion. We've discussed how to create a product data feed, at "Real-time SEO: Creating a Google Product Feed from an XML Sitemap."
No, buying shopping ads is not required for the feature for popular products. There is still no link between advertising on Google and ranking organically. Any seller can upload data to the Google Merchant Center without buying a dollar worth of advertising. However, Google's use of Merchant Center data for organic listings does not help that they are both separate.
Google's apparent refusal to include Amazon in the new section on popular products should signal all fashion retailers to implement a shopping feed or structured data immediately. For the latter, see "SEO: Structured Data Marking for E-Commerce Product Pages."