Quality score. Inbound links. Broad match vs. phrase match. Robots.txt. Universal search. A/B split testing. All of these terms are familiar to you if you are a search engine marketer. SEM and SEO get a lot of play these days in blogs, webinars, and tweets. I’d like to take this time to discuss a Google product that doesn’t get a lot of play in the internet marketing world, yet if you are a retailer, you know or should know how important it is. As a CSE consultant, I’m still shocked on how little some retailers know about Google Product Search.
Google Product Search, formally known as “Froogle”, is Google’s comparison shopping engine, where users are able to browse products for sale listed by retailers. Like Google SERPs, the Google Product Search results pages are aesthetically pleasing and clean, offer the user extended options to filter and sort your results, and are monetized only by the sponsored links on the top and right of the page. Over the last few years of working on various Google Product Search accounts with about 10 different companies, I can say that Google Product Search is becoming more and more popular with the user, and continues its trend of eating away at traditional CSE market share, such as Nextag, Shopping.com:
As a marketer, there are many reasons why you should be aware of Google Product Search, particularly if you or your clients are part of the retail vertical. Like many products of Google, Google Product Search has a lot of things going for it from a marketing stand-point. Behind search engine marketing and search engine optimization, it’s probably one of the best ways to get visibility on the first search engine result page (and we all know how important that 1st page listing is). Having said that, let me dive in to the ten reasons why Google Product Search is great for retailers looking to take a huge step towards increasing their store’s revenue:
10. Google Product Search is “spam-free”.
Several years ago, it was way too easy to submit an affiliate store to Google Product Search. Heck, I’ll admit that I was one of those folks making a storefront based off a data feed I received from several retailer’s affiliate programs. Back then, Google didn’t keep a close eye on Google Product Search. Some stores were submitting their feeds twice for added visibility, affiliates were crawling around looking for an extra buck, and Google Product Search didn’t have any account managers on the product to help remove these poor listings. There was a “report violation” button to call out these “spammers”, but it was rare that these violations were ever taken care of. Google Product Search up until 2008 was like the wild west… laws didn’t apply to anyone.
Fast forward to 2010, and you’ll see a completely different Google Product Search. First off, you won’t find an affiliate storefront listed on Google Product Search any more. Most drop-shippers are no longer there either (also not allowed to list their products). Google has increased their headcount within the GPS department, giving bigger retailers an account manager (much like the Google Adwords program), and has become more strict on who can list their products. A direct example of this includes Google asking retailers who wish to be listed on Google Product Search to verify their store by installing a snippet of code on their homepage, confirming they’re the URL associated with their account number given to them when they signed up for the program.
9. Google Product Search is relatively unnoticed.
What I mean by this is that while GPS has been around for 7+ years, I am still shocked to find legitimate retailers who don’t list their products here. I was on Facebook several days ago when an ad was served to me by an outdoor gear retailer. I was dumbstruck to find out that this retailer was savvy enough to run ads on Facebook (which are served on a CPC basis, and for retailers, have a relatively poor conversation rate), yet didn’t have any Google Product Search listings. Many retailers are still in the dark about Google Product Search, meaning there is still time to get your foot in the door before your competition does. Learning Google Product Search yourself, or hiring a team that already has the know-how is definitely worth your effort if you haven’t listed your products here yet.
8. Google Product Search is focused on the interest of the user.
Google is not afraid to put the user first, and their company second. After all, it is how the company has grown to its immense size over the last decade. Taken from Google’s corporate information page, you’ll see that Google’s #1 philosiphy is to ‘focus on the user and all else will follow’:
Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting. And when we build new tools and applications, we believe they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.
What does this have to do with Google Product Search? Google Product Search’s main objective is to give the user the best product search result listing hands down. This means there will be better listings than other comparison shopping engines and a more enriched experience for the user. This is also good news for the advertiser. Your brand will be safe with Google when you list your products. When you list with other CSEs, it’s very rare that their philosophy and thinking is the same, as their first priorities may be satisfying board members, year-over-year revenue growth, and profitability.
7. Starting a Google Product Search campaign requires little effort.
In order to have your products listed on Google, all you need is your product catalog’s data feed, a few hours of your time, and the desire to drive more traffic to your site. Once your feed is successfully uploaded, just watch the traffic roll in. Because Google Product Search is free, the time spent managing your Google Product Search campaign is much less than running the same feed through a CPC-driven engine. There is no need to optimize your listings based on poor performing products (high-cost and low revenue) because cost isn’t an issue. Of all comparison shopping engine programs for retailers on the market today, Google Product Search gives you the best revenue-per-time-spent ratio, hands down.
6. A Google Product Search feed means easier integration with the Google Affiliate Network (ability to have SERP image ads).
If you don’t have a Google Product Search feed and are still unsure you want to put the minimal time and resources into getting one up and running, let me add that if you have a Google Product Search account set up, you’re one step closer to running on the Google Affiliate Network and displaying image ads on the Google SERP. Here is a photo of a SERP for the query “Big Agnes SL1 Tent”:
If Backcountry.com didn’t run have a GPS feed, they would only have the one SEO listing for this product and the other sponsored adwords listing. However, because they do run on their feed through GPS, they have the ability to show not once, but twice more on the SERP thanks to the product listing result one box, as well as the image ads typically seen on the top right of the SERP. There have been case studies that show synergy exists when a company has two or more listings on the SERP. Running campaigns with Google Product Search and their affiliate network means more visibility, and more search engine result page ‘real estate’. Running your feed with Google will allow you to have your website visible on both Google Product Search listings and image ads, allowing you to dominate the SERP, much like Backcountry.com has in this example.
5. Google Product Search uses the ‘Google algorithm’ to list products.
It is one of Google’s core competencies: their search algorithm and the ability to provide great results to the user based on their search query. Google is number one in this field, with many imitators and SEOers trying to figure out just how Google ranks websites for the billions of search queries the search engine sees a day. As a core competency, Google is able to leverage this ability to provide useful results in their result pages of Google Product Search. This is a huge advantage for Google over all other comparison shopping engines.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve looked on a Become.com, a PriceGrabber.com, or a Nextag.com to find and compare products offered at different retailer websites, just to be frustrated with the poor results that I get when I do an internal site search. Sometimes I’ll do a search for a winter jacket, and I’ll have a bra and a DVD show up in the results of my search. As a user, it’s very frustrating. Poor results time and time again have users considering their loyalty to these comparison shopping engines. Eventually, they’ll wind up on Google Product Search, where they don’t have to waste time sifting through products that they weren’t interested in. Because Google’s algorithm is much better at finding what the user is looking for in comparison to other CSEs, it makes the user happier and increase loyalty to Google Product Search.
4. Google Product Search doesn’t compete in shady practices.
When someone asks me which CSE has the ‘shadiest’ practices, I always answer PriceGrabber without hesitation. While most CSEs are trying to lean towards a more user-friendly experience, they still need to focus on revenue, meaning your partnership with them isn’t always in their best interest.
As an example, PriceGrabber has a network of sites where your products will be listed when you start running your product catalog feed with them. However, PriceGrabber refuses to send you the list of websites where your products could be listed. PriceGrabber’s reasons for not telling you is because the “list is long and difficult to come by”, when the real reason is they are scared of what you’ll find (this is the same reason why Yahoo doesn’t allow you to manually download a search query report like Google allows… you must request it from your Yahoo Account Manager, if you’re lucky enough to have one). I don’t have the whole list of PriceGrabber network sites, but some of these sites that they don’t want to tell you are Compare247.us, Best-Prices.com, and CheapUncle.com. If you check out these sites, you’ll see they are in it purely make PriceGrabber some extra money, a practice that Google won’t be a part of. When Yahoo announced that they were partnering with PriceGrabber, I was not in the least bit surprised. I am sure the PG/Yahoo partnership gave Google Product Search folks a good laugh.
Shady practices, especially outdated ones as described above, won’t be around too long. The general population is becoming more educated to the internet, and in turn, folks are able to tell the difference between a legitimate site, and a site made as a money-maker. Your products listings will have a better chance of being associated with a user-friendly experience listed on Google vs. some of the other CSEs out there.
3. You can list your entire catalog on Google Product Search.
Because listing your products on Google Product Search is free, there is no need to filter out poor performing items based on conversation rates or a low ROI. In other comparison shopping engines, it is a common practice to filter out products under a certain price point. If a comparison shopping engine is CPC-based, and your catalog consists of products with a price range under $20, it will be a real challenge making your campaign profitable. On average, retailers are charged between $0.30 and $0.40 per click from CPC-based shopping engines. If you have a product catalog filled with tee-shirts on sale for $14.95 and your margin is 50% of that, you have a breakeven conversion rate of 5%. If you don’t sell 1 shirt per 20 clicks to your site, you’ll be losing money. On top of that, average conversion rates in CSEs are usually below 2%, and often much lower than that depending on several factors.
But because Google is free, you’ve got a win-win situation for both the retailers and the users. Retailers are able to submit their entire product catalogs without danger of running up costs, and users now have the ability to search for a much broader range of products since there aren’t any barriers for retailers to list products.
2. Listing on Google Product Search means more SERP ‘real estate’.
As listed above in reason #6, listing your products on Google Product Search means more search engine result page real estate. Not to repeat myself, but this is done through the shopping results one box and through image ads, run through Google Affiliate Network.
However, one thing that wasn’t touched on in reason 6 was the Google Adwords Product PlusBox. All retailers with both a Google Adwords and a Google Product Search account are able to link the two accounts together, and give them yet more visibility in the SERPs by enabling the Product PlusBox feature. When you connect these two accounts together, Google puts an expandable ‘plus box’ below your sponsored ad, which allows the user to see the most relevant products offered from that retailer depending on the user’s search query. If a user interacts with the plus box by expanding it but doesn’t click through to your site, you’re not charged with the CPC fee associated with the sponsored link.
Having worked with the product plusbox in the past, adding this to your adwords campaign is wildly successful. It increases conversion rate, click through rate, and brand interaction on the SERP. I’ve run tests that have shown that a sponsored link with a plusbox gets a 41% higher CTR than those ads without one. Also, take a look at this image of the expanded plusbox. The added visibility and real-estate is a nice win.
1. Google Product Search is FREE.
The number one reason why you should be running with Google Product Search is obvious; because it doesn’t cost you a dime. The only thing required of you is your product catalog feed and a little bit of your time. Google Adwords charges you a CPC fee, hiring an SEO agency will cost you a good amount of management fees, and listing on any other comparison shopping engine will cost you. Not Google Product Search… it’s all free. And it’s my opinion it will remain free for the foreseeable future. Here’s a quick summary why:
Google recognizes the competition in the CSE landscape (at least they have in the last few years). Offering their product listing for free means there are no barriers to entry for the retailer… any mom and pop store with thin margins can list their products on GPS for no charge. They can also list all of their products without any repercussions. Because Google Product Search is so inviting to retailers big and small, the user gets a better experience while shopping on their site: more products, better search results, non-obtrusive advertising, and a better selection of stores to choose from. Finally, not charging retailers for listing their products is good for Google. They are able to own the CSE landscape leveraging what they’re already good at, they’re able to sell great advertising space on the right side and top of the page, and they have the ability to provide the best user experience folks have ever seen in the CSE landscape.
Some industry folks say that Google will begin charging retailers to list on Google Product Search. If this happened, there will be massive backlash. Google beginning to charge for GPS listings would be getting awfully close to bait-and-switch strategy, which isn’t in Google’s best interest. There is no good way to start charging retailers for something that has been free for its 7+ years of existence. Google Analytics is free, Google Docs is free, Google Mail (g-mail) is free, Google Reader is free: so what would happen if Google started charging for all these services? It would be pretty ugly. As an ‘industry folk’ myself, I’ll stand firm that Google Product Search will remain free.
In the companies I’ve worked with and consulted for, Google Product Search has shown that it has the ability to bring in just as much revenue as a robust SEM campaign can. Google Product Search listings, like SEM and SEO campaigns, can also be tweaked for maximum visibility. There are strategies that can be implemented to see that your products get listed higher than your competition. So why doesn’t Google Product Search get a lot of play? Not sure, but hopefully this post serves as a great start to getting to know Google Product Search. Begin to impress your retail clients today!
Greg Goodson is internet marketing consultant and founder of Sawtooth Media, LLC, who provides CSE consulting services to internet retailers big and small on the web.