Google Shopping Changes: Will They Screw You?

Recently, Google announced changes in the Google Shopping offered as a free service to Ecommerce merchants for the Fall of 2012. For those not familiar with this search option, when you click on the Shopping tab at the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP), products appear with associated prices. Also, depending on the search query, the Shopping Results show up in organic listings. The big change they are announcing is it will now cost to submit your products for Google Shopping. What was once free now comes with a fee. Of course, this will make a dent in an Ecommerce merchant’s bottom line, but this also could be signaling changes for the world of search marketing in general.

There are many other blog topics we could discuss… like how this will impact online merchants. But first, let’s step back a moment to understand how Google is continuing to shape the search behavior of people by teaching them to search better. Google is putting a lot of science behind anticipating search intent and returns search results based on what they believe the search user is looking for. Using as an example someone searching “green mountain breakfast k cups”, we see the SERP contains an organic listing that says “Shopping Results for…” You may also notice in this graphic that there are sponsored ads that also contain a product picture with pricing.  Google decided beforehand this term is a shopping action and the search result highlighted is not text, but a picture of the product. In the world of SEO, where words and content are king, this subtle change will have much deeper impact on your pursuit of higher search rankings.

Let’s consider how the SERP will change once a Shopping listing is no longer free. Since Google is a for profit business, we suspect you will see more product images search results and less merchant choices selling the product. A lot of the “Mom & Pop” websites set up in Amazon will not be willing to pay for the exposure they used to get for free, and thus a number of online merchants will disappear. While this could be perceived as a negative, if you happen to be shopping for a specific product this development will likely evolve into a good thing. Having lots of choice a as shopper is nice, but being served reliable and well organized information is better than sorting through 100s of stores. Why will it be better organized and more reliable? Because Google is now being paid to make the shopping experience better, and merchants will focus on improving their ROI. Online shopping is being taken way more seriously.

Changes to the organic SERP for shopping searches will also likely occur. We are not sure if it will go away, migrate to the sponsored ads section, or vice versa, but it will change. First, it seems unlikely that Google will continue to display two highly visible search results on the same page that could display the same product picture and merchant. Also, more importantly, it can be challenged by FCC regulations since it’s no longer organic/free and thus must have a Sponsored Ad tag. I suspect Google would avoid mixing organic and paid search listings within the same page section, but that is just my guess.

Clearly with this change, Google is not only looking to make more money, but also to segment commercial and non-commercial searches into separate experiences. Depending on how they change the overall look of the SERP, these changes will be a signal of future directions for Google. In any case, it will not be long before we find out what’s next!

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