Google has now made shopping ads-free across multiple countries. This is great news for retailers who have been hard hit by the pandemic this year.

Having introduced free listings in early 2020 within the US, these have now been extended to Latin America, Europe and Asia. Initially, listings were only free within the Shopping tab, but they were subsequently expanded to the main search results page in the US trial.

Why now?

The trend towards ecommerce has accelerated rapidly since the start of the pandemic. With high streets closed down, digital commerce becoming the only remaining option for many.

For retailers, ecommerce has become a vital outlet for sales and customer engagement. But with budgets tight amid the financial hit of the pandemic, the cost of Shopping Ads presented a barrier.

“Consumer preference for online shopping has increased dramatically, and it’s crucial that we help people find all the best options available and help merchants more easily connect with consumers online.” (Bill Ready, President of Commerce, Google)

Benefits for Google

Google are eager to ride the wave of this year’s digital commerce boom and expand their market share within the industry. Despite its popularity as a search engine, consumers tend to favour Amazon or eBay over Google when it comes to product searches.

Offering free ads is likely to result in a big increase in new retailers advertising on Google. A higher number of results will encourage more consumers to remain in Google instead of searching in a marketplace. Google can then capitalise through advertising campaigns as listings become an increasingly attractive offer to advertisers.

Benefits for the consumer

The advantages of free shopping ads will be felt by more than just merchants. For consumers, the user experience will be greatly improved. Google is now able to list a far broader range of products, varying the options available to the consumer.

Products from merchants who were previously unable or unwilling to pay for shopping ads were far more difficult to find. This meant search results would be limited to only those who could pay for the listing.

Convenience is the name of the game with the Shopping tab.

For a consumer searching for a particular product, trawling through individual sites is onerous. Instead, Google Shopping offers consumers a like-for-like comparison of products from various suppliers.

Photos of each item, price and short description are all displayed and can be flicked through quickly and easily.

Benefits for the merchants

For businesses already hit by high street closures and supply chain disruption, free Google Ads will be a welcome relief to their advertising budgets. They will now have more opportunity to get more of their products in front of the consumers who are searching for them. With free ads, there is no need to prioritise products, and your entire catalogue can be listed.

Since the free Shopping ads trial in the US, the engagement between merchants and customers has greatly increased, with a rise in ad clicks and impressions.

The visual nature of the listings – featuring images and star ratings - perform much better than text-only ads. In 2018 they accounted for 60% of search ad clicks, a clear lead over AdWords.

The quality of the leads generated through these image based ads is also far greater. Users are able to see the product and know what to expect before they click on the link, resulting in higher conversion rates than text-only ads.

Now being able to access Shopping Ads for free is an exciting prospect for merchants.

How to list your products

In order to list your products, your store will need to be linked to the Google Merchant Centre. Google offer a step-by-step guide to creating a product feed.

Since the listings are now organic rather than paid, the importance of SEO becomes paramount. Competition will be greater, so make sure your listings are fully optimised to get them in prime position, just as you would for other areas of your site.

Why continue to pay for Shopping Ads?

Merchants who can still afford to pay for Google listings may well choose to continue. Their products will be featured in ads, and will take priority over free ads. And as Google listings gain more traction due to a wider range of products, their audience will grow, making them increasingly attractive as advertising space.

Google may have their own motivations for making Shopping Ads free, but the move benefits all involved. The change brings merchants and consumers closer, with more opportunities for the right products to get in front of the right people. And after the financial strain of 2020, retailers will welcome any chance to increase their connection to their customers.