What Google Shopping Free Listings Mean for Advertisers

Google recently announced that the Google Shopping tab will display both free and paid listings, starting next week. But what does that really mean?

Have we returned to the days of Froogle, when Product Listing Ads (PLAs) were free? Is Google declaring the search engine results page (SERP) to be a Wild West of free listings? No, to both of those things.

The most important thing to understand is that the free listings will only display on the Google Shopping tab. The main SERP will continue to feature paid Shopping ads only, just like always.

Secondly, there will now be a distinct section at the top of the Shopping tab labeled “Paid Section,” followed by an unpaid section.

A mockup of Google’s new paid and unpaid shopping listings on the Shopping tab of the SERP.

While your bid will influence position in both paid spaces – the SERP and the paid section of the Shopping tab – you won’t be able to bid them differently, or even see the differences in click results or conversions. Google is stressing that paid results will not change from a bid or auction standpoint, and that this is a way to augment the paid results with no additional cost.

How to Get Free Shopping Listings

To take advantage of the free listings, you’ll need access to Google Merchant Center. If you don’t already have an account, you can sign up free.

In Google Merchant Center, make sure you are opted into “Surfaces Across Google.” If you see something on the “Overview” tab that looks similar to the image below, you are good to go.

If you don’t see active products, use the left-hand menu to select “Growth” and then “Manage programs,” as shown below.

Then select the “Get Started” link under “Surfaces Across Google,” and follow the setup, as shown below.

What Impact will Free Shopping Listings Have?

The big question advertisers’ minds is, “How much added competition will I have on the Shopping tab.”

Sites that aren’t advertising on Google Shopping already will now have a chance to show in the free shopping listings on the Shopping tab. Your ads, and those of your competitors, will continue to show in paid listings on the main SERP and the Shopping tab. In addition, advertisers are also eligible for free listings, just like businesses that don’t advertise.

But if everyone can get free Shopping tab listings, why advertise with PLAs? The answer is, simply, premium placement. Remember, PLAs display far more prominently, with ad placement on the main SERP as well as at the top of the Shopping tab. Besides being able to control the bids, you can also control targeting for devices, location and more. The free listing rank will be determined by user relevance and offer quality – meaning you’ll have no control over when or if you show.

The quality of the data in your feed is going to be your best ally, for both the paid and unpaid portions on the Shopping tab. That will never change.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to measure the value the Shopping tab clicks drive. Google has never revealed the difference between clicks on the main SERP versus those on the Shopping tab. And while it’s doubtful that will change, the data would be very welcome.

The new free listings are a press relations win for Google, because it:

  • Appears benevolent – who doesn’t love something free?!
  • Gains new Google Merchant Center users who could potentially see the value of Google Shopping and start advertising.
  • Increases the value of the Google Shopping tab to their searchers.

The value of free Shopping listings is obvious for ecommerce sites that don’t use PLAs today to advertise on Google Shopping. The value to current advertisers remains to be seen.

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