Free Google Shopping Ads – Notes from the Field

May 4, 2020

Last week, Google launched free Shopping listings as an extension of their Surfaces Across Google Merchant Center program.

While there are a few policies on what products you can and cannot advertise, the program is available to nearly all retailers in the US, with global roll-out promised before the end of the year. We started seeing free click volume appear on April 23, 2020, so it is too early to identify definitive data trends, but here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Volume coming from unpaid clicks slowed its ramp up period on April 28th and normalized.  Free shopping traffic for ForwardPMX clients in the last few days made up 6% of our Google Shopping volume.
  • Retailers are in the process of implementing the changes to their datafeed URL links to properly track demand in their analytics platforms.  The revenue value of this traffic will be more accurately quantified when these updates are rolled out and hit their analytics programs.  Either way…. we’re talking about highly qualified, free traffic!  It’s hard to beat the ROAS on free!
  • Across retail categories, Home Improvement / Furnishings and Footwear are indexing strongest in traffic.  This aligns with the general interest shift in consumers as they are staying home and social distancing.
  • It’s too early to quantify if the change within Shopping is redirecting vs. generating incremental traffic and demand.  We will continue to monitor in coming weeks for a more definitive understanding.

Now that this program has launched, what do we recommend clients do?

  • Number one, participate! We’re seeing strong volume for merchants with and without active, paid Shopping programs!  If you are not currently live in Google Merchant Center (GMC) but have a datafeed, open a GMC account and upload your feed.  This is a low risk opportunity to drive more traffic to your site and get a taste of what Google Shopping can do for your sales.
  • Next, make sure the data in your Google Merchant Center feed is up to date, accurate, complete and optimized according to Google’s recommendations.
  • Update your feed’s link URLs to identify this traffic and demand as specifically associated with this free Shopping program within your analytics platform. If you do not, this traffic will hit analytics as undifferentiated, Google organic traffic.  Unique analytics parameters will allow you to report this traffic separately from other activity and see what products or merchandise categories are performing well in free Shopping.
  • Remember that free Shopping ads are served using an algorithm much like paid ads: the ad’s click through rate, landing page meta data and user experience are all a part of ensuring your free ad is served before competitors’.
  • If revenue generation is your key priority, keep supporting your paid program.  It’s still generating the lion’s share of all Google Shopping traffic.

There are no indications that the free Shopping program will be a temporary feature – this is something Google has planned for some time and chose to launch now in response to the pressure merchants are feeling because of COVID-19. While Google has not indicated any intention of rolling these free ads out into the “main” search results (amongst paid Google Ads and organic listings), the Shopping traffic is significant enough that participation should be an essential part of any brand’s go-forward search strategy.

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