Marketers may have become too accustomed to marketing their wares on Google for free. Time to snap out of it.
The company announced Thursday that it will be transitioning product listings to a commercial model so that by the fall brands and retailers will be required to pay to play. Best Buy, Buy.com, Vistaprint and Channel Intelligence are among Google Shopping's launch partners.
“This move in part was done because we believe that when we have a commercial relationship with merchants we will be able to receive higher quality information in the form of what products they’re selling, what prices those products are listed for, what is actually in stock and other critical information,” said Sameer Samat, vp of product management for Google Shopping. He said Google doesn’t have any plans to round out the offering by letting users purchase products directly on the site.
Currently when users search for a product on Google, they’re presented with a paid shopping results section atop the page and then organic product listings within a “Shopping results” section. The new Google Shopping will combine those sections into one box that will be limited to paid listings and be labeled as “Sponsored.” Products will be featured within the box based on an advertiser’s bid price and the product’s relevance to the user’s query.
The idea that a retailer could game the system by outbidding competitors despite inferior relevance could discourage others from paying to list products through Google Shopping. But Samat said Google factors in other components to ensure relevant results are returned. “You can imagine that if we didn’t do that—we don’t return relevant results to the user—we simply won’t have very many people who find the service useful, and they won’t be using it,” he said. Google provides some tools with its product listing ads to inform merchants why a relevance score may be suffering, but Samat said the company is making “a renewed investment and effort in increasing the sophistication and comprehensiveness” of the tools it offers.
To speed along the transition process, Google is dangling a couple carrots in front of merchants to get on board. Those merchants that create a product listing ad by August 15 will get a monthly credit for 10 percent off their total product listing ad spend through the end of this year, and any merchants that already list items through Google Product Search and fill out this form  by August 15 will be credited $100 through AdWords to be put toward product listing ads.
In tandem with Google’s quality push for its Shopping product, Google will be expanding its Trusted Stores merchant certification program—which gives badges to e-commerce sites that Google verifies as meeting commitments around shipping performance and customer service—and display those badges within Google Shopping.
“We think that’s really important to help small, medium and large retailers better compete with perhaps more well known names and brands,” Samat said.