Blog | Google Shopping Changes 2013

10th May 2013

Until 2013, one of the biggest kept secrets for e-commerce websites and marketeers alike was the free sales opportunities presented by Google Shopping.

By uploading your products to their Merchant Centre you could very quickly have front page listings and a dramatic increase in website traffic. All it took was a bit of exporting and importing.

However, Google have now moved the goalposts. With the change having already taken place in the USA, Google Shopping will become a paid service from February 13 2013 in the UK and across Europe. Although smaller retailers feel outraged, Google does claim it will provide a better experience for both users and retailers alike.

Valuable Google Results Space

google shopping resultsPreviously the Google Shopping results appeared in the centre of the SERPs pages, occupying valuable and highly clickable space (right) for a multitude of product related searches.

A user was presented with a (powerfully recognisable) image and a price – the two key buying factors. Clicking through would take you directly to that website to investigate further – or as Google argues – often to an out-of-stock page if the retailers XML feed wasn’t completely up to date. With no revenue being earned, Google’s argument was that there were no resources to pay the staff/servers to police this situation, thereby resulting in a poorer experience for users.

Improvements in Usability

Google Shopping results exampleMoving to a paid model allows them to not only make billions more dollars, but to also improve the quality of this shopping experience. Google Shopping USA also allows better filtering of the results – providing the retailer has fully populated his data!

The user can now show by location (functionality we predicted years ago…based on IP address or chosen location), by colour or style – all required attributes in the new product uploads. No longer do you have to page through hundreds of results or constantly retype your search query to find that orange striped shirt you’ve always been after!

All of this functionality is clearly a step in the right direction for the user, but there are no shoppers without sellers – and increased advertising costs will mean that many eCommerce shop owners will shun Google Shopping, seeing huge falls in traffic and sales and potentially putting them out of business. Either that or retailers will be forced to increase prices to allow for this advertising budget – when so many operate on such small margins anyway – which can’t be good news for users, only Google.

Pressure on Smaller eCommerce Retailers

new google shopping resultsIf you are a small business and are not already braced for the changes to Google Shopping, then be prepared to lose traffic or see your  advertising budget shoot up. If you do decide to take Google up on its £75 credit voucher to try the system out, you also need to be prepared for a whole lot of work.

Firstly you need to ensure that your XML feed (often called Froogle.txt) is fully populated – and that means no cutting corners. Every single box that CAN be populated – size, shipping charge, pack size, EAN number – needs to be populated and correctly so. If Google are spending more time and resource on policing the feeds, believe me they will exclude you if you’re going wrong. On one hand this is a pain, but on the other hand your data integrity is something you should be focussing on anyway.

Secondly, once your ads are up and running (right) you need to keep a close eye on how much you are spending – and whether it is worth it. operating through the Adwords interface means that most retailers will be familiar with the budget monitoring, but it is vital that you also analyse conversions as well as clicks. The last thing you want is a pile of window shoppers running up your click costs and never purchasing.

Importance of Conversion Analysis

Pageviews v SalesNever has it been so important to focus on the conversion rates of your website. Plenty of businesses simply put a low cost web site up, gained some natural traffic and it never mattered too much whether 5 or 50 people bought – the money was already spent. Now that you are paying for that traffic each month, improving conversion rates from 2% to 2.8% suddenly makes a huge difference.

Being the primary focus of our business, we can vouch for how beneficial Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) really is. We’ve seen how a 1.1% increase on conversions on a £1 million turnover actually added £400k to the bottom line. But where do you start?

The best report we have ever created within Google Analytics has been the Pageviews v Sales report. Being able to see that 500 people visited Page A and only 2 people bought something (CR of 0.4%) means that something is very wrong with that page. Look at your pricing and compare to your competitors. Are the images as good as they can be, and is the description too short (or even too long-winded)? What about the overall page layout – well balanced or too many adverts distracting the user? There are so many factors that we always recommend a period of A/B Multivariate testing – don’t leave it to a designer to solve the problem, ask the consumers what they prefer.

CRO should be the kind of activity you are undertaking anyway, and one that becomes even more vital now you’re paying more for your traffic. Proper testing, implementation and evaluation of A/B testing is something which will ultimately benefit all of your website.

Alternate Marketing Channels

Perhaps you cannot afford the new Google costs, and need to take your marketing strategy elsewhere?

If so, now is the time to focus on your current customers, who let’s be honest, should be a lot less hard work. If you can generate a good level of traffic back to your website (to make up for the loss) through email marketing, social marketing, and spreading your brand name through articles and more, then you are well prepared for the change. If the Paid Marketing route is closed of, then you need to refocus on the Owned and Earned Marketing routes – good old fashioned SEO, content and conversation.

Even then the Pageviews v Sales report will come in handy. Perhaps you have a product page on your site that converts really well (e.g. 2 sales from 50 visits – 4% CR) but doesn’t get much traffic? That is the page that should have a high search engine ranking, or that you should be advertising on your site as a “Other People Viewed” page. Or that you could be sharing on your Facebook page, or writing an article about.

There are still plenty of marketing options open to the small business – they’re just more hard work is all.


Adam Pritchard

Founder of this agency and Shopit, Adam has nearly 20 years of digital experience, from the days of getting 3M and Pioneer UK web-friendly, to leading project teams on development and marketing projects for the likes of Tesco, Royal College of Nursing and National Tyres. Secretary of junior football club Winton Wanderers, most of the weekend is spent coaching kids, or reading the Sunday papers with coffee and cake.

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