|Wed Oct 3 2012 23:42:42|
Google Shopping Ads and OneBox Results
By: Ina Steiner
The world changed for online merchants on May 31 when Google announced the impending demise of free listings in "Google Product Search" (the Shopping tab on Google.com). Traffic would still come from organic (aka natural) search results on Google.com. But the OneBox showing products pulled from listings merchants sent to Google via their product feed would no longer bring traffic unless merchants were willing to pay for it through the Product Listing Ad program (PLA).
Google spent the summer experimenting with the new Google Shopping, including the placement of the OneBox on the search results page, and on Tuesday, it announced October 17th was the day it would officially end free listings.
"Starting on October 17, Google Shopping results in the US will come only from merchants who are Product Listing Ads advertisers. We will be ranking these results based on relevance, with bidding as an additional factor. The ranking of natural search results on Google.com will not change."
The timing is far from ideal. Many merchants took the summer to set up their product feed and set CPC bids - the maximum amount they are willing to spend for a click on their Product Listing Ads - but they must cope with Google's mad experiment right as the holiday shopping season is getting started.
Here's a look at how Google Shopping works right now. before the complete rollout. A search yesterday for "fenton glass vase cranberry" on Google.com brought back 1 PLA ad for Bonanza in the Google Shopping OneBox.
It seemed strange that Google would only show one product; a quick check of several marketplaces revealed there was plenty of inventory available for sale:
eBay: 687 results found for fenton glass vase cranberry
Ruby Lane: 72 results for fenton glass vase cranberry
Bonanza: 41 results for fenton glass vase cranberry
Tias: 38 results for fenton glass vase cranberry
A search this evening for the same term showed 2 PLAs in the Google Shopping OneBox on Google.com - one for an item on Bonanza, and another on DCs attic.
A search a few hours later for "fenton glass vase cranberry" showed 2 PLAs - one for an item on Bonanza, another on Ruby Lane. The results raised some questions. Why was Bonanza consistently getting exposure for this search term? Why were results for the same term varying? Why was Google showing only one or 2 PLAs for this particular search term? And the burning question, how do you get Google to feature your listings in the OneBox?
Clicking through to Google Shopping, the source of PLAs shown in the OneBox, showed lots of inventory, including from several eBay sellers, TIAS.com and Fitzula's Gift Shop.
Merchants (or marketplaces) pay for PLAs on a cost-per-click basis. So it seems on the surface it would make sense for Google to show more items in the OneBox - the more items in front of shoppers, the more likely one of them will grab a shopper's attention.
Google pulls other OneBoxes into Google.com search results in addition to the PLA OneBox, including News, Images, and its other ad program - Google AdWords. So it's a pretty complex algorithm to dynamically determine what to display on a search results page. With PLA ads, Google has to weigh relevancy vs revenue. (Could Google be comparing CPC bids for PLA versus AdWords when deciding which ads to display on the page and their placement on the page?)
Conversion may end up playing a big roll in how Google surfaces your listings. If shoppers click on your PLA ad but come right back to Google, it may believe your ad less relevant. Many merchants have Google Analytics on their websites, and Google is pushing them to become "Trusted Stores," in which case Google knows whether your shoppers are buying or just browsing. This can help it determine what shoppers are doing when they go to the listings on your website.
Still interested in how Google Shopping handled non-commodity items like antiques and handmade goods, I tried another search, this time for "hand crocheted sweater." Five PLA ads showed up on the OneBox on Google.com from retailers 6pm, net-a-p ..., Zappos.com, Sierra Tradin...,Saks Fifth Av.... (In the screenshot below, the ads with the pictures inside the OneBox are the PLA ads.)
So why were branded retailers showing up rather than sites like Etsy, which is the Queen of handmade and vintage goods? A quick search of Etsy and eBay showed that eBay had 711 listings and Etsy had 1,876 listings for hand crocheted sweater (I happened to notice that Etsy did come up 1st in organic search results).
Clicking on the Google Shopping link on the OneBox revealed merchandise from Etsy, eBay, Blujay, Bonanza as well as North Style, EveAndOnlyEve and RustyZipper.com. (Notice a different layout than in the Google Shopping screenshot in the search for Fenton above.)
Here are more results for some searches I conducted over the past two days. Note that results vary based on many factors, so don't think that you'll necessarily see the exact same search results I'm seeing.
Search term: vintage batman comic book dc comics
PLA results: 3 PLA ads all for a merchant by the name of Murtz Comics
Search term: ipod nano graphite 8 gb
PLA results: 3 PLA ads: Gamestop, Meijer, Clever Electr...
This was an interesting exercise to see how Google is surfacing one-of-a-kind items. While it's great if your items show up on Google Shopping, it seems critical to get them to show up on the OneBox in Google.com search results, and as far as I know, Google has not given guidance into how it selects items to feature.
As Demandware's Gary Lomardo told me at the recent Shop.org Summit, data quality is key. Beyond that, it seems it's a waiting game, and you can count on merchants, vendors and experts to delve into the workings of PLA in the coming months, especially after the complete rollout of the program on October 17th.
Google is attending the SMX East conference in New York City this week and said, "we would love to hear from you during the Google Shopping Q&A session on October 4 at 2:30 PM local time. We look forward to making ourselves available to answer any questions you may have regarding Product Listing Ads on Google Shopping."
Google is also hosting a "Bidding Strategies for the Holidays" Hangout on Air on October 19 at 10:00am PST - visit the Ads Google+ page to join the Hangout.
Let me know what questions you'd like to see answered, and what you discover once the changeover takes place.