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Retail technology - Google Shopping

David Mackley offers a guide to Google Shopping for retailers

Guide to Google Shopping for retailers

On 11th June 2013, Google Shopping completed the UK transition from free listings to a commercial model. This means free product listings will no longer appear on Google Shopping. Google say this new model, built on Product Listing Ads, will help retailers of all sizes connect the right products with the right customers, increase clicks to their sites, and convert more shoppers into buyers. Others say it's just a way for Google to make more money by forcing retailers to pay for listings. One thing is certain, as most retailers rely on some degree of product listings, change will be needed.

What is Google Shopping?
Google Shopping, previously known as Google Product Search, Google Products and Froogle, is a Google service that allows users to search for products on ecommerce websites. They can conveniently see images and compare prices from different retailers whilst staying on the Google search page. Users can click on any item to go to the retailer's website.

To take part in Google Shopping, retailers have to send a 'product feed' up to Google telling it what products they sell; the price, description and image. A product feed is like a spreadsheet full of information. Many website platforms support Google Product feeds by automatically creating and sending them to Google daily. However, some websites support the Google specification better than others, which means that some retailers end up with better listings.

Why is this change happening?
Google says the change is happening to improve the customer search experience and that previously shopping listings were a bit of a mess; there is some truth in that. We know that people have changed how and when they access the internet. It's amazing to consider how quickly computers have evolved. Google reports that 13 per cent of total searches are coming from mobile devices. 120 million tablets were shipped to the UK last year alone. This is evidence of a huge shift in how people are accessing information online, and Google wants to be at the forefront of the change. When someone searches for a product, they may be doing research or may want to make a direct purchase. Google's job is to get the right information to the user straight away. To do this, Google gets insight into a searcher's intent. So, depending on the words they use in their search, which type of device they are using, their location and the time, Google will decide what their intent is and hopefully display the right results. If Google decides their intent is to shop, then Google displays Shopping Ads. With all these different screen types, Google has tidied up how it displays Shopping Ads so they work well across all platforms.

Where are Shopping Ads displayed?
From the Google results page there's a section near the top showing Shopping Ads. The consumer can see a small selection of product images and pricing, then click straight through to the shop to buy. Or they can click on the link above and go to the Google shopping site where lots more products are displayed. This works on mobile or desktop.
To see it yourself, type in Bugaboo and see the results - these are informative based on the fact that this is probably someone doing some research, then type in Bugaboo Cameleon 3 and see the Shopping Ads displayed.

Shopping process
These days, consumers are doing their research for a product online and buying offline or vice versa (as many retailers are all too aware). This is known as multi-screen shopping. Retailers need to find ways to stay competitive whilst maintaining margins in this multi-screen world.

As a retailer you may already have a lot of content on your website and can influence a consumer at various stages of their shopping journey by providing information. You now also have the option of promoting certain products using Google Shopping.

How to set up Shopping Ads
Sign into your Google Merchant Center account (free to set up). From here, link to your Google AdWords account (you can create one from Google Merchant Center under Settings if you don't have one). Then create a Product Listing Ad campaign - there's a quick set up you can try. Ads start from 1p each, and don't forget to set your daily budget! Add your credit card information and you're done.

Working with Shopping Ads
Optimise performance. To get the best return out of Shopping Ads, it does need some TLC. Firstly, the quality of your data is essential. Product descriptions are important; the better you describe your product the more accurately Google can match them to customers searching for them. Also, pricing and availability information must be accurate to provide a good experience for your customers.

Data quality
In your Merchant Center account go to the Data Quality tab and Google will show you errors. Do this at least once a month but preferably after each upload. You can see critical errors that need handling as well as optimisation suggestions.

Images and promotional text
High quality images are essential. Also promotional text to highlight individual offers and key selling points that differentiate you from your competitors. Some tips here include:
1. Use only one promotional text per ad group.
2. A promotion of '10 per cent off this week' gets better results than a general statement like 'Best Service'.
3. Have promo text that is specific to a product range if you have time to do it.

Set product targets
You can select 'All Products' to promote all of your stock. Or you can bid different amounts for different ranges of products. Bid higher on your higher value products.

Review and refine
Check your results weekly and tweak areas that aren't working well for you. You can see fairly quickly whether an ad is working, so there's no need to waste lots of money; move it into areas that are working.

What's next?
Google may integrate Google Shopping with Google Catalogs, an application for tablets that lets users browse through virtual catalogues. It's only available in the US at present, but those retailers that print a catalogue at present as well as submit product feeds through Google Merchant Center can apply to take part. Visit www.google.com/catalogs

David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail, providers of multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126 or E: dmackley@intelligentretail.co.uk

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