In a surprise, on April 21, Google announced that some of the listings on the Google Shopping tab would be free. Google had required sellers to create a Merchant Center account and run Shopping ads through Google ads. So far, Shopping List sellers will still need a Merchant Center account but not Google ads.
The concept of free shopping lists may sound familiar. Google's initial shift to comparison shopping, called Froogle, occurred in 2002. In 2007, Google named it product search. Lists were free on Froogle and product search, although merchants could also display ads. Since 2012, it changed its name to Google Shopping again and started paying for it All lists.
Paid shopping lists are still only displayed on Google's main search page, which is shown in the screenshot below for "grill protection:
The change comes when you click on the "Shopping" tab. The site now contains a mix of paid ("Sponsored") and free results.
If you already have Shopping ads, you will see free listings on the Google Shopping tab if you select "Areas across Google" in Merchant Center. To confirm, go to the "Tools" section and then click "Surfaces Google." If you assume you have selected the feature, you will see this screen:
Go to to see results from "Surfaces across Google" Performance> Dashboard in the left navigation. Google shows a graph of unpaid (free) clicks, which began for many of my clients shortly after the announcement on April 21.
The specified theme in Google message is to help dealers during the coronavirus pandemic. The press release stated, “With physical stores closed, digital commerce has become a lifeline for retailers. … In light of these challenges, we are promoting our plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google. "
As a long-time Google Ads consultant, however, I think the reason for free listings goes beyond the immediate crisis. Kirk Williams of ZATO, a pay-per-click marketing company. decomposes the benefits to Google, which include (i) competition with Amazon and (ii) attracting merchants to participate in Shopping.
According to various surveys, more American shoppers are starting their product searches on Amazon than Google. By allowing merchants to list on Shopping for free, it will enable more companies and products available to searchers and thus fight Amazon's lead
In addition, Google now has a free offer where Amazon does not. Merchants can create free stores on Amazon, but Amazon takes a cut of every sale. The only requirement that Google merchants have is to create the product flow.
And attracting merchants to participate in Shopping is likely to generate advertising revenue. That's the other advantage.
Release the ads?
Need to change your Google Ads Shopping strategy? No.
The newly announced free ads are only displayed on the Shopping tab. The main search page (the "All" tab) is unchanged. Google does not separate click and impression data for the main search and Shopping tab. Probably most traffic comes from the main search, not the Shopping tab. When consumers go to the Shopping tab, the paid listings will still be displayed above the organic results.
To be sure, the free listings will generate traffic. But the Shopping ads will dominate. Thus, advertisers should continue to create segmented Shopping campaigns that break out priority and budget by product. The importance of an optimized product feed will continue. A further advantage is that paid and organic listings on the Shopping tab can now be displayed simultaneously
In short, if you run Google Shopping ads, don't change.