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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2554 - May 31, 2011 - ISSN 1539-5065    2 of 2

Online Sellers in the Dark about Google Product Feeds

By Ina Steiner
May 31, 2011

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Many sellers are unsure if their Google product feeds are in compliance with the search engine's new requirements, according to an AuctionBytes quick poll, which also found that sellers are frustrated at a lack of communication and an inability to get exemptions from Google where permitted.

Google recently began requiring unique product identifiers (UPIs) for all products except apparel and one-of-a-kind items. Unique product identifiers are product codes or other values associated with an individual product. (UPCs and ISBNs are examples of unique product identifiers.)

When asked if they understood the new policy, 60% of respondents said yes and 40% said no.

But only 26% of sellers responding to the quick poll said their Google Product Search product feeds were in compliance with Google's requirement that it contain UPIs for their products; 39% said their feeds were not in compliance, while 35% said they did not know.

Slightly less than half (47%) of respondents submit their product feed to Google Product Search directly, while 89% of sellers said the marketplaces on which they sell send their product feeds to Google on their behalf.

"Google did not do a very good job of getting the word out," "What a MESS," and "Help!" were some of the comments from online sellers, who expressed frustration at the requirements and lack of communication from Google. "I sell antiques and collectibles. I have asked for permission to list these without the Product Identifiers, but I have heard nothing in response and have no idea if my request has been granted or even received. Honestly, Google Base is mystifying. Much too complicated for the average user."

One respondent said, "Until recently I never had emails from Google telling me that my feed was rejected, but now the feed from Bonanza is always rejected," and another said, "Applied for an exemption and was granted one, but uploaded listings still show warnings." Another seller wrote, " I sell vintage and pre-owned clothing, which is supposed to be exempt from this requirement. However, both of my eCrater stores have been flagged as my exemption request still remains pending with Google."

Some merchants source items that have no UPIs, which presents a challenge. Said one respondent, "I sell jewelry making supplies such as beads and bone cabochons. I get directly from the makers in Indonesia but they have no product identifiers. I'm working with one of them initially to develop them for my own use. For many jewelry suppliers it's going to be impossible."

Another respondent echoed that concern: "Not all products have the unique identifier that Google is looking for. Some of the stuff I sell comes from misc. manufacturers in Asia. What do I do then? Make up a random number, rather than leave the product identifier field blank?"

Another wrote, "I buy from liquidation centers. there are no upc's, or upc has a dummy upc which is not listed, even collectibles. Some have as many as 3 dummy upc's. I know you can not check individual upc's, since 99.8% upc's I have been working with no file on upc's."

Some are overwhelmed with the sheer number of products they must update to make their feed compliant: "6,000 books. We are updating the isbns (where available) slowly."

One respondent was concerned about how Google would view listings of the same product on multiple marketplaces: "Does it mean with each marketplace I list things that I have to have 1 or 2 words different from the rest with each listing so they don't think I'm spamming? I have no duplicate listings within a particular store, so they shouldn't worry about that. With the amount of listings and how many online marketplaces I list, it would certainly be drudgery and I would be at my PC 24/7/365 and not have a life!"

While many of the comments were negative, one respondent wrote, "The new requirements of Unique Product Identifiers, Shipping, and Tax will benefit me. My feed is currently compliant." Another said, "Absolutely agree with Google on this requirement. I believe it provides for, in many cases, more specific and targeted search results. I believe I am starting to see an increase in sales per visitor, but it really is a bit too soon to tell for sure."

"It was very frustrating the first couple of days of adding the UPIs to my items as I had to keep referring back to Google's guidelines regarding what attributes and how many were required for each item I had for sale," said one respondent, "but I eventually got to the point where I had everything memorized and the job went much quicker. I do think it will be helpful for people searching for particular items. In the few days since the new rules went into effect I've actually seen increased sales."

Note: Also see this recent letter to the editor about Google's limits on Etsy's product feeds.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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