What You Need to Know about Google Product-Feed Changes
By Ina Steiner
Google imposed new requirements for sellers who send product feeds to Google Product Search (also known as Google Base) and has begun the enforcement process for the first round of changes. Sellers (and marketplaces) must comply with the new requirements or face getting dropped from Google Product Search, with the consequence of less traffic to their stores and listings.
If you sell on eBay, Etsy, Bonanza, ArtFire, eCrater, eBid, Atomic Mall or other online marketplaces, keep reading! While Google no longer permits marketplace sellers to send product feeds directly to Google Product Search, it allows marketplaces do so on your behalf. Therefore, you must provide all the required information to the marketplace so they can include your data in the feeds they send to Google.
Here's what you need to know about the latest policy changes to make sure your feeds are in compliance.
Unique Product Identifiers and Why Google Needs Them
Unique product identifiers are product codes or other values associated with an individual product. The primary set of unique product identifiers are Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs), which include UPC, EAN (in Europe), JAN (in Japan), and ISBN. Manufacturer Part Number (MPN) can be used to identify a specific product if it is accompanied by the manufacturer's brand name.
Last August, Google began requiring that merchants provide unique product identifiers in product offers in the Electronics, Books, and Media categories.
On May 3rd of this year, Google began requiring unique identifiers for all products except apparel and one-of-a-kind items. Note that the policy does not impact Google Commerce Search or AdWords ad formats.
The unique product identifiers help Google match products to the correct "product pages," which show shoppers user reviews, prices, related items and videos for a particular product, along with which online and offline stores offer that product.
This is the same kind of catalog approach to Google's shopping engine that Amazon.com uses - one page for a product and displaying a list of sellers who offer the product. For example, here's a Google product page for the Canon S95.
When merchants send product feeds to Google, the unique product identifiers help Google determine which product pages are associated with the merchants' listings. As Google puts it, "Our unique identifier requirements enable us to build detailed product pages to help shoppers learn about products and compare prices from across the web."
Google also fills in information on product pages from other sources, such as technical specifications data and photos from manufacturers and suppliers via Edgenet, and seller ratings from Google Checkout, features that strengthen its position as a shopping search engine.
Unique Product Identifiers Required May 3rd, Full Enforcement June 20th
Google said it is gradually enforcing the unique product identifiers policy over the next few weeks, with full enforcement in effect on June 20th. During this time, products that do not have correct unique identifiers may not appear in Google Product Search.
In the weeks after June 20th, Google will begin rejecting the feeds of merchants who have a significant percentage of items that do not include the correct unique identifiers.
Unique Product Identifiers: How to Find Them
Google gives some background on unique product identifiers on this page and provides tips on locating them.
One source Google recommends is the Internet UPC Database. You can use this site to look up items by their UPC or EAN, but you must create an account to search by product description.
What about Antiques, Vintage and Handmade Goods?
Before you panic, some products don't have UPCs or ISBNs - antiques and handmade goods, for example - and Google has provided for that. It is not requiring unique identifiers for apparel and one-of-a-kind items, which include items that are custom made, vintage goods, collectibles, etc., and fall across all product categories. You can request an exemption on this page.
To see if your items fall into the apparel category, search Google's product taxonomy. If you have previously received an exemption for products in the Books, Media, or Electronics categories, your products will continue to be exempt from the unique product identifier requirement.
Sellers of used goods face an additional challenge: UPC codes are found on packaging, but not on products themselves. Just because you don't have the boxes your items came in does not mean you can automatically file for an exemption - if other retailers are able to provide unique identifiers for the same product, Google won't grant the exemption. Use the Internet UPC Database, referenced above, to look up your items and locate the code.
Sellers are no longer allowed to send marketplace listings to Google directly, but most major marketplaces have accounts with Google and send their merchants' listings using sub-accounts for each seller. (iOffer is an exception, as we reported in last week's Newsflash). Google requires that Marketplaces answer Google Product Search-related questions from individual sellers. You can find Google's Marketplace policy on this page.
"Google has confirmed that Etsy sellers are exempt from the unique product identifier requirement. We wanted to make triply sure, and here's the word direct from Google: "Etsy sellers will not be impacted by demotion or disapproval as a result of the new strong ID requirement. Please feel free to communicate that individual sellers should not request exemptions on an individual basis.""
Check the help pages and community discussion boards of the marketplaces on which you sell, and continue to monitor their announcement boards. There are ongoing discussions on many marketplaces about the new Google policies, here are a few to get you started.
Shipping and Tax Information Required June 6th
As if all that weren't overwhelming enough, Google will also begin requiring shipping and tax information for Google Product Search on June 6th. After that date, it may reject feeds from accounts that do not include this information.
You have three options in your Google Merchant Center account for adding shipping information:
- Specify a flat shipping rate (or free shipping);
- Define custom tables if the shipping rate you charge varies by price, weight, or number of items. Note: If you define a table based on the number of items, for now, we'll use the rate in the first row only.
- (US only) Apply a carrier-calculated rate if the shipping rate you charge is based on rates from UPS, FedEx, or USPS. Note: We use daily rates for UPS, and standard (non-retail counter) rates for FedEx.
You have three options in your Google Merchant Center account for adding tax information:
- Opt to not charge tax;
- Set a tax rate based on the state an item ships to;
- Use an estimate based on the destination ZIP code. (Google uses data from Tax Data Systems based on the destination ZIP code.)
You can also include item-level override values in your data feeds or via the API.
More details about shipping and tax data requirements are available on this page.
Sale Price Information - Recommended
Google is also adding new "Sale Price" attributes that are recommended for sale items, but not required. The new attributes are "sale price" and "sale price effective date."
You must still include the "price" attribute in your feed, which should reflect the non-sale price displayed on your product landing pages, and you must clearly display both the non-sale and sale prices on product landing pages.
Is Google Product Search Really Important?
Many sellers say their analytics programs show significant traffic coming from Google, but don't know if the traffic is coming from organic search or from Google Product Search. You can set up your feed to track this - see this Google help page, or use a filtering method, such as the one described on Lunametrics.com or on Google Knol.
AuctionBytes will continue to report on Google policy changes in the Newsflash email newsletter and on the AuctionBytes Blog. And please take a moment to take our Quick Poll on SurveyMonkey about these new Google Product Search policies.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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