Is Google Shopping Really Going Free?

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This week, Google left a trail of interesting news. Most notably, perhaps, is the launch of free Google Shopping listings. From Google:

Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google. With hundreds of millions of shopping searches on Google each day, we know that many retailers have the items people need in stock and ready to ship, but are less discoverable online.

For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings. If you’re an existing user of Merchant Center and Shopping ads, you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the free listings, and for new users of Merchant Center, we’ll continue working to streamline the onboarding process over the coming weeks and months.

It’s worth noting a few things surrounding this significant change:

  1. It’s a throwback. Does anyone remember Froogle? When the first iterations of this product launched in 2002, it was free. It wasn’t until 2012 that Google started charging for these listings.
  2. This is a direct response to Amazon. With an increasingly significant number of product searches starting on Amazon, Google had to make this move to salvage the equity they have left in product search.
  3. Google Shopping Ads aren’t going anywhere. The free listings Google is touting is limited to the Shopping tab. The Shopping results on the main results page will remain paid, along with some of the listings on the Shopping tab. Think Amazon’s ‘Sponsored’ products.

From my perspective, one of two things will happen as a result of this change.

Either Google Shopping will regain some of its prior dominance in product search and Shopping ads will become evermore important to advertisers as search volume grows. Or, the free listings will be a flop and the paid listings will retail their existing level of importance.

In either case, paid Google Shopping ads are unlikely to be devalued by this update.

Even if you are not currently running Google Shopping ads, it is certainly worth checking to see if your product feed is connected to Google Merchant Center. If it isn’t, you likely want to connect it. However, you will want to audit the products flowing through to ensure they are an accurate representation of your current product catalog and not old, dead products that are stashed away somewhere in your CMS.

🔎 Search

Increasing transparency through advertiser identity verification

In 2018, we announced a new identity verification policy for political advertisers. The policy requires all advertisers that want to run election ads on our platforms go through a verification program to confirm their identity. We display that identity in the ad unit so that users can learn more about the election ads they see on Google’s platforms. Since introducing this program, we’ve verified political advertisers in 30 countries. And now, to provide greater transparency and equip users with more information about who is advertising to them, we are extending identity verification to all advertisers on our platforms.

As part of this initiative, advertisers will be required to complete a verification program in order to buy ads on our network. Advertisers will need to submit personal identification, business incorporation documents or other information that proves who they are and the country in which they operate. Beginning this summer, users will start to see disclosures that list this information about the advertiser behind the ads they see.
We will start by verifying advertisers in phases in the U.S. and continue to expand globally. Because we are working closely with our advertising partners to scale the program while continuing to ensure we are surfacing helpful information to our users, we expect that this process will take a few years to complete.

This is a big initiative and one that probably makes the advertising world a better place. So kudos to Google for making the change.

That said, for folks like me who manage ads for others, most of my clients don’t log into their Google Ads account, hardly ever. And I certainly don’t want to be handling sensitive business documents for them. So it will be interesting to see how this rolls out in a practical sense.

From CNBC:

Existing advertisers will have 30 days once notified to complete the verification process, since the company is doing the rollout in phases, according to a spokeswoman. If they don’t submit the documents by then, Google said it will suspend the account and the advertiser’s ability to serve ads until they provide it.

In the meantime, you can find more details about this program here.

Ad credits will be on a rolling basis starting in May. Eligible customers will get an ad credit applied, and will receive a notification of the addition. The credits can be used through December of this year, and will be revoked after that.

Credits can be used towards anything on the Google Ads platform that encompasses Search, Display and YouTube, along with any campaign goal or type within those.

There is no application for this program. And the value of credit is unique to each advertiser.

Google Ads has announced their Call Only ads now offers advertisers the option to include a link to their website.

This announcement also coincides with a renaming of the offering from “Call Only Ads” to simply “Call Ads.”

The “visit website” option will make the ad unit slightly larger, with the main headline of the ad still resulting in a phone call.

If you have Call Only Ads running, you may want to update them to take advantage of this change.

Bing delivers new COVID-19 experiences including partnership with GoFundMe to help affected businesses

If you’re a small business owner and already have a Bing Places for Business account, you can easily set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to rally your community and get financial support. Bing will showcase your GoFundMe on the Bing local listing page, making it easy for people to see how they can help. Bing Places customers can also update temporary store closure information and create special announcements in Bing Places to help customers find the latest updates about your business.

🗣 Social

Facebook: Small Business Grants Program

We know that your business may be experiencing disruptions resulting from the global outbreak of COVID-19. We’ve heard that a little financial support can go a long way, so we are offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits to help during this challenging time.

The grants only apply to ~30 metro areas in the United States. But other countries are included as well. To see if you qualify, start the application process.

Facebook pulls back on Campaign Budget Optimization mandate

In a reversal, Facebook will no longer require advertisers to use its Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO) feature in campaigns. Advertisers will have the choice to either have budgets managed at the campaign or ad set level.

“To provide advertisers with flexibility and choice in their buying strategies, we have decided not to pursue a mandatory migration for Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO),” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Search Engine Land Monday. “While we still believe CBO provides performance and value gains, we will move to offering CBO as an option and not as a requirement.”

Facebook had initially planned to move all campaigns to CBO-only by last September but has been pushing off the switch. With CBO, Facebook’s algorithm automatically optimizes budget allocation across the ads sets in a campaign.

This potentially significant change has been flapping in the wind for a while. I’m glad to see it settled. I am even more glad to see them backtrack on the change.

Report: CVS forms digital ad network

CVS Pharmacy is creating a digital advertising network that will let brands place ads on and other platforms that use the drugstore chain’s data. The CVS Media Exchange will have display and search ad formats, and placements on digital platforms such as Google, Facebook and Instagram, Digiday reported, citing people familiar with the plan.

With the launch of the CVS Media Exchange, the drugstore chain is joining the ranks of retailers that are pitching media buyers on their advertising services, including Amazon, Kroger, Target and Walmart.

If there is a disintermediation of online ad networks similar to what we’ve seen in streaming television, media buyers will have their hands full.

It’s also worth noting that the first few years of any ad network are fraught with click fraud. I’m not so sure Kroger and CVS are up to combatting that challenge.

📈 Reporting & Revenue

Shopify cash flow calculator

Get a comprehensive understanding of your cash flow in 5 minutes or less.

Shopify launched this helpful tool this week.

🛍 Marketplace

The cull of retail businesses spells the end for mediocre malls

And here’s the good bit for the shopper. Average is over. Mediocrity is out the window, along with our summer travel plans. The bland, the dull, the middle-of-the-road merchandise — forget it. The retail businesses that will survive, the ones who will come out with a deeper connection to their followers (note I don’t say consumers: the days of rabid consumerism are over), are those with hard-earned brand equity. They knew being good enough was never good enough.


It took a pandemic, but Facebook Marketplace is of increased interest to brands and retailers

Marketplace has been a smaller but growing section of Facebook’s program. The social network has been trying to facilitate commerce on its site, and has offered a standalone section where people can buy and sell goods. For a little over a year, the company has let brands upload SKUs via integrations with platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify, in exchange for a 5% commission fee. While most of the transaction volume on Facebook remains peer-to-peer, with traditional digital channels like Amazon proving unreliable, more brands are beginning to dip their toes in the Facebook Marketplace waters.

As so many companies, eCommerce or not, are scrambling to add an online channel, could the most obvious marketplace - especially if the need is only temporary - be right under our noses?

Amazon Scooped Up Data From Its Own Sellers to Launch Competing Products Inc. employees have used data about independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop competing products, a practice at odds with the company’s stated policies.

The online retailing giant has long asserted, including to Congress, that when it makes and sells its own products, it doesn’t use information it collects from the site’s individual third-party sellers—data those sellers view as proprietary.

This topic is very hard for me. On one hand, I know this is a common practice. I know other big box retailers like Target & Walmart do the exact same thing. On the other hand, aside from their own policies, something about Amazon doing it feels different. And I can’t quite put my finger on why.

🦠 Coronavirus

Spending on clothes plummets 50%. Here’s what it means for fashion’s future

This week, the Census Bureau released consumer spending data for the month of March. Anyone could have guessed that lockdown orders around the country would lead to a drop in retail sales, but the extent of the decline was staggering. Sales plummeted by 8.7%, the largest-ever decrease on record, nearly triple the previous worst month on record in 2008. And clothing and accessory brands took the biggest hit, dropping by an astronomical 50.5%.

Many apparel brands are currently offering big promotions and discounts to generate revenue and clear their inventory. Elkind assumed that the people most likely to buy clothes during these sales would be millennial professionals, but his data tells another story. He’s found that it’s customers over 60 that have been most likely to spend on fashion items. “One hypothesis brands have is that these young professionals also have young children, so they don’t have a lot of time to spend online shopping right now,” he says. “But this is also revealing that older consumers are more comfortable shopping online than previously thought.”

COVID-19 Trend Analysis

Use machine learning to identify the days where the trend in a Google Analytics metric changed.

This can tell you the date that your site KPIs have turned the corner and started improving again after lockdown.

For those of us in the US, March 16 is probably the most usable date for this type of data analysis. It is the day the White House advised to limit groups of people to 10 or less. Subsequently, it is also the date most businesses closed or moved to remote work.

The trends are likely much as you would expect - increases in topics related to self-care, home-schooling, board games, etc. But Tailwind’s listing provides specific insight into the key search queries within each segment, which could help you devise a more effective Pin strategy.

Amid the economic gloom, some hopeful indicators emerge for marketers

Consumer confidence and spending have ticked up as people receive stimulus money and anticipate the lockdowns ending.

🤷🏻‍♂️ Just For Fun

How Nike is striking the right tone with its response to Covid-19

Nike is a master of emotional branding, typically using the themes of determination, inspiration, and performance to engage consumers. This is often depicted in the context of professional sport, but more often than not, it is from the (relatable) perspective of anyone who leads an active lifestyle. At a time when everyone’s day-to-day activity has been disrupted – including both global athletes and humble joggers – Nike has created a campaign that aims to unite us all in our ‘new normal’.

The ‘Play for the World’ campaign, created by Wieden + Kennedy, reinforces the message that we must all do our bit for the world and ‘play inside’.

👋 Holla!

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