Questions and Answers: Google Product Search to Product Listing Ad / Google Shopping Transition

June 4, 2012

Digital Marketing ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

On Friday, June 1, 2012, we hosted a webinar to help retailers: (You can see a replay of the webinar HERE).

  • Understand the history and inner workings of Google Product Search, Product Listing Ads and Google Trusted Store programs
  • Understand the changes coming to GPS and the new Google Shopping
  • Evaluate the impact from the GPS-> Google Shopping changes
  • Start thinking about remediation and next steps in a three-phase program.

Unfortunately we only had an hour and there were a LOT of questions we were not able to get through. As we started reviewing the questions, we thought it would be helpful to post the answers for all to see as there are a lot of common threads and similar topics have come up in our individual discussions with customers.  You can see a replay of the webinar here – in answering the questions, we assume you have a basic understanding of the overall changes and it would be optimal if you review the webinar.

Google also graciously agreed to help us answer some questions, so they have added content in here where you see ‘Google Answer/clarification.’

Download the recording of our joint webinar with Google for more information about the changes and for additional answers to your questions. Register for the recording here.

Given the volume of questions, we have sectioned them into these five sub-sections:

  • General Google Shopping questions
  • Product Listing Ad questions
  • SEO/Organic search questions
  • Marketplace questions (eBay and Amazon)
  • Misc

You can read these straight though and get a really good feeling for the changes coming, or if you have specific areas of interest – e.g. eBay, you can use your browsers search function (control-f/apple-f) to jump to the specific area of interest.

After today’s Google webinar, we will continue with part II and III of our series of blog posts around the big GPS changes.

*******************General Google Shopping / Google Product Search Questions

 Q: Are the shopping feeds still free? Will the Google Shopping site still be free?

A: Between now and October, Google will be changing GPS to Google Shopping and it will move to a pay system. Google is replacing the current free system (Google Product Search) with a new fee-based system called Google Shopping.  Google Shopping will use an existing program called Google Product Listing Ads (PLA).  Based on our data from the PLA program, we estimate a 19.85% effective take rate for the program.  It is impossible to predict the actual costs; because every merchant is different and because it is an auction, we cannot know the pricing across the program as a surge of new supply (retailers) and demand (buyers coming in via the new Google Shopping) hit the system.

Q: Do you think this will end all the crap companies that put up false prices. i.e Making more opportunities for the honest merchants?

 
A: Yes, in fact Google cited problems with the quality of products in GPS among one of the top drivers for this change. Merchant centre feed policies do state that prices in feeds must match the retailer’s site.  That policy has been in effect and the issue is that it is very hard to monitor/enforce. Going forward, hopefully the fact they are paying for non-converting traffic will make this practice go away due to economic incentives being more aligned.

 

Q: Are policies concerning prohibited product types going to be changing to accommodate the new program?  Example:  Prohibited products in product Ads – Alcohol.  Currently allowable in Product Search.

Google Answer/clarification:

Whereas Google Product Search and Product Listing Ads previously had separate policies and feed specifications, Google Shopping will use a single set of policies and feed specifications.

In order for your products to continue to appear on Google Shopping, your feed must comply with our feed specifications, currently available at: http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2626314 

All of the items in your feed must comply with the Google Shopping policies, currently available at: http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2632553 

Merchants who will be affected by policy changes should expect an email notification from us in June 2012.  Enforcement of the new feed specifications will roll out gradually over the course of Q3, but the policies will be enforced as of July 1. 

 

 

Q: Have you heard anything about Google Checkout contributing to the algorithm for the new Google Shopping, it sound like Trusted Stores will eventually play a role, but wasn’t sure about Checkout.
A: Defer to Google on this.

Google Answer/clarification: Google Wallet (formerly known as Checkout) is not intended to be a factor in ranking.

Q: How will Google rank the product listing ads merchants?

 
A: While the specifics of how Google ranks search results are impossible to know, they do disclose contributing factors in programs like AdWords.  Our expectation is that the ranking for Google Shopping will share some of that framework – specifically that quality will be important.  In AdWords that is done through Quality Score which is an important factor (along with bid and others) in determining the paid results for any given search.  The result is that high quality ads that consumers find appealing (and therefore click) do better than those that aren’t useful to consumers.  For products, these same fundamentals exist – quality will matter and this only increases the importance of building a quality data feed to send to Google.

Google Answer/clarification:

When the transition to Google Shopping is completed this fall, ranking will be based on a combination of relevance and bid price, similar to Product Listing Ads today.  This should give merchants greater control over where their products appear on Google Shopping.

 

Q: Will this only affect “Google Shopping”?
A: This will only directly impact the program called Google Product Search (GPS), which is currently accessed via the one-box results and the shopping tab.  It will not impact other comparison shopping engines (CSEs).  If you use the Google program called Product Listing Ads (PLA), there will be side effects as Google is changing the display of that program to ‘merge’ it with GPS.  We also expect the economics will oscillate as a lot of new supply and demand hits that system, which has been relatively stable.

 

Q: Will rich snippets have any impact of product listings?

A: Google has not indicated anything regarding Rich Snippets will change.

Link to rich snippets info: http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1068046

Google Answer/clarification:
There is no change to the Rich Snippets program.

 

Q: Will the display format of PLAs change as part of this?  Will multiple advertisers’ listings be consolidated into one listing (e.g. see more vendors link)?
A: Yes – if you check the original Google Commerce blog post, you will see some notional examples of how Google will modify the user experience.  Please be sure to join us on our Google Webinar to see more examples.

Google Answer/clarification:
Google is constantly experimenting with new ad formats in its effort to provide the best user experience and performance for our partners.  As a part of the transition to Google Shopping, we will experiment with a variety of commercial formats, including larger product images or the ability to refine a search by brand or product type.

We also will experiment with different formats, depending on the granularity of the query.  For example, if the user searches for “digital cameras” then it makes sense to show a variety of products with options for the user to browse and find more.  For a more granular product query, such as “Canon Powershot S100,” we’ll likely show more in-depth information about the specific product with a list of merchants from whom to buy.

Q: Can manufacturers/brands restrict sellers from bidding on their products?

A: The Google AdWords policies around trademarks apply and we have seen product listing ads get disapproved for this reason. Google has not given any indication that these policies are changing.

Google Answer/clarification:
The Adwords policies will apply across Google Shopping, both in the new “commercial unit” that displays on Google.com and on Google.com/shopping.

 

*******************Product Listing Ad (PLA) Questions*******************

 

Q: As the transition to PLA occurs July forward, will there be a way to know how our search profile and products are being affected?
A: During this transition we recommend closely monitoring the traffic and revenue coming from your Google feed and specifically measuring the amount that is coming from traditional Google Product Search versus Product Listing Ads.  This ratio will rise over the transition period and is the best way to get a feel for how much of your search volume is being served by the new Google Shopping.

 

Q: How can a company place bids based on individual products? Without having that ability, how can mass merchants or marketplaces place appropriate bids when 1000’s of similar products exist on their systems, all of which have different prices and conversions rates?
A:  Google does not currently offer a method to place bids at the product level.  Bidding is done in AdWords at the Target level.  Targets are a way to associate groups of similar products together and manage via a single bid.  Your first step should be to evaluate the performance of your product catalogueueue across Product Listing Ads and then segment your catalogueueue (by performance, margin, conversion rate, etc.) to employ a performance-based optimization strategy.  ChannelAdvisor provides this level of data to evaluate the performance of each product on PLA.

 

Google Answer/clarification:
Product Listing Ads offers a number of ways for advertisers to organise their products for bidding purposes.  Advertisers can choose from existing attributes in their product feed, such as product_type, brand or condition, or they can tag their offers using custom adwords_labels or adwords_grouping attributes, which can either represent one or many items in the product feed.  For most advertisers, we generally recommend starting more broadly at the category level and then bidding more granularly as needed.

Q: Will there be a need for 2 URL’s after full transition?

A: Assuming this question is referring to the ability to include an optional Redirect URL in the data feed then the answer is yes this will still be possible.  The Redirect URL field enables various tracking options to differentiate PLA from traditional Google Product Search.  As GPS goes away this may prove to be of lesser use but we anticipate the flexibility remaining.

Google Answer/clarification:
Yes, please review the new Google Shopping Feed Specification, currently available at http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2626314


Q If only PLAs, does that means that PLA guidelines will rule Google Shopping?  

A:  Effectively, yes – they are called Google Shopping policies, but seem to duplicate PLA.

All of the items in your feed must comply with the Google Shopping policies, currently available at http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2632553

 

Q: Can we send redirect url’s? Or does it have to be domain name url’s? 

A: No, PLA does not allow for redirects. Yes, the adwords_redirect URL currently allows for redirects. Thus far, no indication has been given by Google that this will change.

Google Answer/clarification:

Please see previous answer re: 2 URLs.

 

Q: How do product listing ad CPCs compare to regular Google search CPCs?
A: Here is a table based on ChannelAdvisor’s proprietary data that shows the three programs in tabular format:

Google_programs

Note: It’s important to note that we do expect the PLA program to change dramatically with the sunsetting of GPS as the number of competitors in the auction will increase dramatically. Also keep in mind that the current take rate we see is an aggregation across many merchants each with their own goals, margin profile, etc.  One of the benefits of a CPC-auction based program is that it allows the retailer to set bids according to their goals.  Obviously the realities of the marketplace kick in here but it is certainly possible to pay far less than 20% albeit at a lower revenue volume.

 

Q: If our PLA program right now is CPA, do you believe it will change to CPC? (asked 4 times)

A: No, there has not been any announcement about this ending the PLA CPA program.

 

Google Answer/clarification:
CPA will continue to be offered to merchants who are whitelisted and add the necessary code that enables transaction monitoring.  CPA is a whitelisted process, due to the level of involvement required to implement the conversion tracking properly with the advertiser.  For more information, please see:

http://support.google.com/adwords/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2456107.

 

Q: In the Merchant centre, we have products that are disapproved for Product Listing Ads because of trademark policies. This hasn’t been a problem for us yet because they don’t effect Google Product Search, but going forward will this be something we need to look closely into in order to appear in Google?
A: Yes – in the new Google Shopping, your items will not be shown if they show errors in the Merchant centre because PLA is the underlying system of that new user experience.

Google Answer/clarification:
We will enforce policies regarding trademark, family-safe products and other standard ads policies.

Q: Is the back-end management for Google Shopping still going to take place on BOTH Merchant centre and the Adwords dashboard as opposed to one unified dashboard?
A: Yes

Q: So basically we should account for a 20% commission to Google for a sale!? That is insane. 

A: Based on current economics that we see across a broad customer base, that is the effective revenue share.  Every merchant is unique and as stated, we do expect the PLA action to change dramatically as this program rolls out – CPCs could go up or down.  Stay tuned. As with any CPC program the % commission is really a function of how aggressively you bid.  Google has stated that they will have the option for products to be bid at a very low CPC ($.01) but of course that may limit  your traffic potential.

Q: Sorry you said PLA is cost per click? 

A: The PLA program offers both CPC and CPA.  For CPA, you have to install a Google Conversion tracker.  Some retailers have expressed concern with installing this as it does give Google details about your conversion rate, product order details, and average order value.

Q: How many retailers do you expect to use CPA for the new Google Shopping? 

A: It’s hard to predict, based on our current set of customers in PLA – about 30% at a merchant level are CPA vs. 70% CPC – CPC is much more popular because many retailers already understand the format due to the AdWords system.  However, we have found those merchants coming into this from the world of marketplaces have a preference for CPA.  It’s the same auction, so it is really up to the retailer to decide which is best for them, though our understanding is that Google has to approve merchants into CPA pricing.

 

Q: in Google Merchant centre a lot of my products are disallowed for product ads but there is no explanation or obvious reason why. Is there a way to figure it out?
A: Hmm, usually we have seen a reason indicated- please contact ChannelAdvisor support (ssc.channeladvisor.com) and we’ll have one of our experts look into it for you.

 

Q: What is the benefit of CPA bidding versus CPC bidding for PLAs?
A: As with any decision, there are pros and cons to each.  We are gathering a list from customers for both programs and will feature that on a future blog post (csestrategies.com) – some of the previous questions have indicated some of the pros+cons.

Google Answer/clarification:
CPC bidding is recommended for merchants whose top priority is traffic.  CPA bidding is recommended for merchants whose top priority is sales.

Q: Do you think overall conversion rates will rise with the merge?
A: It’s always hard to predict conversion rates (and CPCs) because of the dynamic nature of the ‘traffic marketplace’.  If Google implements a GPS-like CSE experience, we expect CRs to at least stay stable and there is definitely up-side. Based on our initial review of the user experience it seems to be a much more cohesive experience which should favorably impact conversion rates.

 

Q: With this change, what happens to the Google Merchant centre feeds that tie into PLAs?
A: Those will become the feeds that drive Google Shopping – so what has changed is currently you have two ‘consumers’ of your feeds – GPS and PLA – going forward only PLA will consume the feeds.

Google Answer/clarification:
We recommend that merchants continue to submit their entire inventory in their feed, as they have done to date, and place at least the minimum bid on all products in their feed.  The process of submitting feeds is not changing with this announcement and, while we will continue to streamline the bidding process, the current bidding interface remains in place.

 

Q: Will unification still play a part in Google shopping? If so, how would that work with a CPC model?
A: We assume that by ‘unification’, you mean the current GPS combination of merchants onto one product page. Based on screen shots we’ve seen, we think the answer is yes. Bid would then play a role in how each offer is ranked within that product page/grouped display, much like on CPC CSEs like Shopzilla.

Google Answer/clarification:
Yes.  Product Pages, which unify all information about a product (including offers from multiple merchants), will be a key feature of Google Shopping.  Offers for a single product will be ranked using a combination of relevance and bid.

 

*******************SEO/Organic search questions***********************

 

Q: Any thoughts on this change causing an increase competition in SEO efforts and need to commit greater resources to maintain organic search engine result positions?
A: It is too soon to tell the overall impact on organic search results.  One thing that has happened over the last few years as Google has increased the amount of real estate given to Sponsored Listings as well as programs like Google Product Search and Product Listing Ads is that the organic listings on many search terms have been pushed further down the page.  There is a possibility that as the product results consolidate into a unified user experience (PLA + One Box results) that this pulls up Organic listings slightly.

 

Q: Will there still be natural search on the front page?

A: -While this is the first time a free program has converted to paid, Google has not announced plans to make the same move on the organic/natural/SEO results.

 

Q: What does this mean for traditional SEO?  Will Google suppress products from organic results?
A: See previous Answer for the first part of your Question.  For the second part, that’s a good question.  With the advent of Panda and Penguin which are designed to remove duplicate data, fewer and fewer products are showing up in SERPS, but we do not know of anything in this change that will impact that.  We did do a study recently for commercial/e-commerce terms and discovered that ~54% of results were paid and 46% were ‘free’ – that was before the GPS change which will move that more toward 56-60% paid, 34-40% free.

 

Q: Will products still show up on Google organically?

A: See previous Answer. 

 

Marketplace questions (eBay and Amazon)

 

Q: Currently, Amazon and eBay show up in almost every product search. This has helped us to double or even triple up on our search results, since we sell on both sites, as well as our own website. Do you think these companies will pony up the CPA to remain in the search results, and if so, won’t they have to pass that increase on to the merchants?
A: As you know, at ChannelAdvisor, we are strong advocates of a strategy that puts your products on a very diverse set of channels (search, cse, marketplaces, social, etc.) and as you point out a nice benefit of this is you do get extensive Google SERP coverage.  While we have no inside information on how Amazon and eBay will react, we do know that they are in the same boat as everyone – as best we know they are not getting a free ride.  I suspect they will make their own choices on the economics and bid accordingly.  It is possible this will result in fee changes there, but nothing has been announced.  One eBay marketing person has commented in the press: (AuctionBytes: http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y12/m06/i01/s01)

 

eBay’s head of Internet Marketing Robert Chatwani said eBay was one of the earliest adopters of Google’s Product Listing Ads at scale. “We’ve developed sophisticated capabilities to generate strong buyer demand for our 25 million global sellers through our relationship with Google. We are evaluating the impact of today’s announcement, but we also plan to fully participate in the new Google Shopping offering, and continue to harness the power of Google’s ad offerings on behalf of our sellers and merchants.”

 

Some Wall St. Analysts have calculated that only 5-10% of eBay and Amazon’s traffic comes from Google Product Search, so most likely this will not have a material impact.

 

 

Q: How will this affect listings on Amazon and other channels? Will they be required to CPC?
A: They will definitely be required to make the change like all other merchants.  They are Google’s largest advertisers and may have some special arrangements, tools, APIs, etc.  Given the competition between the companies, we would speculate that eBay and Amazon would not want Google seeing their data, so they most likely are in the CPC program and not CPA, but only Google/Amazon/eBay know for sure.

 

Q: If Amazon has to pay for Clicks to have any relevance, will this in fact help the smaller etailers?
A: You could argue this either way.  One argument is that this strengthens Amazon because they have the largest selection/catalogueueue and they tend to have the lowest prices across a broad basket of goods.  So they will enjoy more clicks and lower CPCs (long tail) and selection/price help with CR.  The other side of the argument is that at a 10-12% Take Rate, Amazon will not be able to afford the 20% ETR that we see in PLA, clearing the deck for smaller merchants that are willing to pay that much.

 

Q: What happens to individual Ebay stores?
A: Currently in GPS, you can see the name of each individual store, we are not sure what the new treatment will be, or if eBay will charge extra or give you some form of control over the datafeed or PLA options.  We never believed that it made sense to pay eBay essentially for free GPS traffic.  Now that GPS is no longer free and given eBay’s 10-12% take rate, it has become a great deal and many smaller sellers may want to play Google Shopping that way.

 

*******************ChannelAdvisor Questions******************* 

Q: In ChannelAdvisor where can I see PLA reports currently?
A: Report centre – Google Product Search Detail is the name of the report.

 

Q: I have been a ChannelAdvisor customer for about a year.  We have just launched our premium webstore and have successfully been selling on Amazon and eBay with you guys.  I need some direction and help in ways of building traffic to the webstore and formulate an approach budget etc. Who should i talk to at ChannelAdvisor?
A: Congrats on the success so far!  Once you have your webstore where you want it, the logical next steps from marketplaces are:

  • Add more marketplaces – We recently announced support for NewEgg and Sears and more to come.  Marketplaces represent 27% of e-commerce and are a great starting point.
  • Comparison Shopping Engines –If you products sell well on eBay and Amazon, we have found they will do well on CSEs for most categories (CSEs represent 10% of e-commerce)
  • Search – Finally, paid search is the largest channel (40% of e-commerce) but also the most complex.
  • One of the benefits of being with ChannelAdvisor is we have an entire suite of these solutions you can grow into.

 

Miscellaneous (do not fit in the above)

Q: How can they manage the trusted store based on shipping times.. they don’t receive the data like ebay / amazon do?  are they only going by Ratings?
A: This program requires the merchant send detailed information about orders placed as well as shipping times to Google so they can measure the merchant’s performance against the service levels.

Google Answer/clarification:
That’s correct.  The performance ratings are based on real data from the merchant.  There are 3 steps to integration:

  1. Javascript on every page to display the Trusted Stores badge
  2. A conversion pixel on your order confirmation page
  3. A daily data feed with your shipping tracking numbers

During our pilot program, most merchants completed integration in about 1 day of work. Full integration details are now publicly available here: http://support.google.com/trustedstoresmerchant/?hl=en

 

Q: I joined late, will this webinar be posted?
A: Yes, we will send all attendees a link to the recording, and you can check here.

 

Q: You show Yahoo! Shopping, but I thought that was closed down?
A: To quote Mark Twain: “News of my death is greatly exaggerated.”  Yahoo! Shopping is alive and well.  What has changed is it is now powered by PriceGrabber.  You can see the experience at shopping.yahoo.com.  It is a paid program and PG allows bidding down to zero zero cents, though bidding that low will likely ensure your listings do not appear in Yahoo Shopping or any of PG’s other publisher partners.

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