Google is slowly unveiling what it has in store for users with its new paid version of Google Shopping, formerly known as Google Product Search. The implications for both shoppers and retailers are huge and since we’re starting to see much more of the new Google Shopping listings being incorporated into the SERPs I figured we’d dive in and take a closer look at what all of this means.
The New Paid Google Shopping is Live
… well sort of.
The new pay-to-play model of Google Shopping has garnered a lot of attention lately, but how many of us have actually seen the paid ads alive and breathing in the SERPs? Since Google originally made the announcement I’ve seen them only now and again, with most of my attempts to replicate what I saw previously being largely unsuccessful. It was like chasing Sasquatch…
I guess that’s how it goes when Google’s A/B testing internally and still fleshing out some minor details for Google Shopping. In all fairness they did warn us in their initial announcement:
“…we’ve also begun to experiment with some new commercial formats on Google.com….”
Still Google hasn’t settled on a final location for its paid shopping listings and we’re seeing a lot of movement with regards to that real estate. Take this search for “hiking boots” for example – we see the location of the shopping ads dancing around quite a bit – first it’s to the right, then below the Adwords text ads, then sitting completely alone at the top of the search results.
(click to see a bigger image of the different Google Shopping ad locations)
Now some of you may not think that the new Google Shopping ads are that much different than the free listings that Google used to serve up. Take into account the placement of old product listing ads and you might be on to something, but I’ll address that later in the article. Hang tight ;).
New Product Type Shopping Ads
However, we have seen a major change in the Google shopping experience and it’s being rolled out to the “tents” query. If you head to Google and search “tents” in the web results you’ll see a brand new shopping snippet that Google hasn’t displayed before.
Instead of returning individual product results that matched the “tent” query, Google recognized that “tent” is a broad, overarching term that encompasses multiple product types, each with a very specific use, and returned categories of tents that you can click to continue shopping. Nobody is charged for this particular click from the organic SERPs even though it’s listed within a “Sponsored” cell.
This is the first time that we’re seeing Google link to it’s shopping platform via pictograms and they kind of resemble something you would see on a street sign. (Does the beach pictogram look like a ninja-pacman to anybody else?)
Clicking any one of the links takes you directly to a Google Shopping with a new UX, updated faceted nav and many other neat nuances that give it a whole new look and “feel”. Google now gives it’s shoppers the ability to filter by brand, price, and other incredibly specific attributes as well as giving users the option to Read On about any given attribute or filter.
Google Shopping Buying Guides
Clicking “Read On” for an expanded attribute filter, such as Seasonality, will bring up a Buying Guide that goes into more detail about why that particular attribute is relevant and/or important to the purchase decision. The Buying Guide gives you the ability to do some preliminary product research without having to leave the Google Shopping interface. If you scroll through some of the information in the Tent Buying Guide you’ll see that it’s pretty comprehensive!
There’s also a link to the Buying Guide in the left navigation as well.
What The Heck Just Happened?
Wait… how did Google suddenly create what, upon first glance, seems to be an awesome product that not only looks nice but also provides a great user experience? That’s not really the Google that I’ve come to know so dearly…
But the answer to that question is that they’ve slowly been moving in this direction for a while now and we’ve seen it happening in other popular shopping categories on a lesser scale. About a year ago Google began creating unique landing pages for popular products and verticals within Google Product Search. An example of this is the search for “digital cameras” in the Google Shopping tab. It will take you to a page broken down into multiple sections:
- Most Popular
- Shop by Brand
- Shop by Type
- Shop by Resolution
Then even further down the page,
- People Also Considered
- Related Categories
- Buying Guides for Digital Cameras
We can assume that Google’s been collecting buying guides for some time and has probably been toying with the idea of presenting product attribute pages in it’s paid shopping results even earlier than a year ago. It’s unclear how many people actually found any of those filters to be useful, and whether anybody even saw or read the buying guides at the bottom of those shopping landing pages, but it does solve one very glaring issue presented by paid shopping ads.
The Issue with Serving Product-Based Ads to Broad, Generalized Searches
Google has stated that Google Shopping ads are determined by two things – the relevance of the product to the query and the bid amount applied to that product’s adgroup. The auction bid arrangement is something we’re all familiar with from traditional Adwords and it seems like a perfectly reasonable way to approach the creation of a paid shopping channel in Google, right?
Well, not entirely. Or at least not without the right systems in place.
Google already does an amazing job of identifying commercial, or “transactional”, searches that refer to an existing product(s). But what happens when someone does a general search for “refrigerators” and gets a list of 4 random refrigerators?
If you’ve ever gone fridge shopping you know that it’s not that simple. There are other variables such as width, available space, door-types, freestanding, etc. etc… These shopping ads (pictured above) don’t point to a category/sub-category page like the other text ads from ecommerce stores. The potential customer doesn’t naturally feel compelled to narrow their search by clicking links and using the faceted nav until they finally find what that perfect product(s) that they’re looking for.
No, instead the shopper is sent to a specific product page for some random refrigerator that Google magically deemed “the most relevant” to the vague query of “refrigerator”. If that product isn’t damn near exactly what that person was looking for, there’s a good chance the shopper hits the back button and continues their search on Google.
In this case, not only is Google failing to give the user what they’re looking for, but they’re also charging the merchant for the click even though it was Google who thought that the product was “relevant”.
How Google Has Been Preparing For This Very Moment
A little bit earlier we talked about how Google has been creating unique landing pages for products and product types in popular verticals. These landing pages may have had a funky layout and they probably weren’t all that great for conversion rates, but they do illustrate just how Google’s been learning about product-based search and preparing to deal with the transition to paid shopping ads over the past couple years.
If you can’t figure out the specific item that the user wants to see, why not turn it into a numbers game and just give him/her the most popular and best rated items? Chances are that if you’re on the prowl for a new fridge one of the popular models might be just what you’re looking for. After all, they’re popular for a reason!
Based on some shoddy research and personal testing this is precisely what I’ve found to be happening in the early stages of Google Shopping. For example, the ads we saw earlier for “refrigerators” correspond to the top 3 most popular items as determined by Google Product Search’s Refrigerators landing page.
The Samsung RS265TDRS (eBay) and the Samsung RS261MDRS (Number1Direct) are the #2 and #3 most popular items within that category. Refresh the shopping ads multiple times across a number of keywords and you’ll find this to be fairly consistent throughout. Add in a couple of random ads for diversity’s sake and you increase the likelihood of actually meeting the searchers needs.
Implications For Your Google Shopping Strategy
This is the alternative approach to what we saw happening for the “tents” search. Rather than asking the user to refine their original query by going to the Google Shopping platform, Google is essentially saying, “Here are a couple of the most popular results with a couple of randoms mixed in; we really hope you like them.”
If you’re a merchant that sells some very popular items on Google Shopping and you know that those products are ranked on those product-type landing pages, then this could be a great opportunity for you to gain market share for an extremely competitive product. Items tagged by Google as Most Popular within a given niche are going to get more impressions in Google Shopping than the ones that aren’t. There’s obviously a lot more search volume for broader terms like “tent” or “refrigerator” than there are for the long tail queries that would otherwise trigger your shopping ad.
Being able to identify the products that are going to get a majority of impressions for a high volume keyword gives us a slight advantage.
But before you start raising bids, make sure to do your research:
1) Identify the most popular items within your search vertical. These should be product-type specific such as ‘Freezers’ or ‘Washers/Dryers’ rather than ‘Large Appliances’.
2) Find and research the keywords that are triggering shopping ads for the popular items.
3) Are you price competitive? Research what your competitors are doing to make sure your price point doesn’t scare off anyone who sees the ad.
4) Make sure you’re confident in your landing page’s ability to convert a potential shopper.
Those are just a few things to keep in mind when evaluating your Google Shopping campaigns, but by no means is that it! If you have any other strategies that you find useful please add them in the comments.
Otherwise, download our free eBook for more protips on the new Google Shopping!