- State of eCommerce
- Amazon vs Google
- Google Free Product Listings
- eCommerce SEO
Rise of Online Shopping
Source: eMarketer, May 2021
There’s no doubt that the majority of users have noticed the rise of online shopping in both their personal and professional lives.
With eMarketer backing the data up, we can clearly see that worldwide retail eCommerce sales have grown rapidly over the past few years. It is predicted to steadily increase YoY for the foreseeable future. The black bars from the illustration are in trillions, which means there is a huge amount of opportunity for anyone in the market.
On top of that, the make-up of e-commerce as a percentage of total retail sales is increasing. It is expected to double in the 6 years between 2019 and 2025.
Australia over indexes
Source: eMarketer, June 2022
The worldwide eCommerce sales have a growth rate of 9.7% and Australia sits at double with 20%, as of June 2022. These large-scale changes emphasise the shift in the landscape and tell businesses that they need to be in the places where their customers are researching as well as purchasing.
Why consumers purchase online
Talking about customers, we know that more and more people are purchasing online, and the reasons behind that will differ depending on the market and the consumer, but a lot of it comes down to these factors:
- Smartphones/Internet Access
- Prevalence of online retail
- Competitive price matching
The amount of access provided by smartphones, portable devices, and general internet access just means that the option exists more for everyone. More reasons are the convenience of being able to shop from wherever you are, the time-saving that goes alongside that, and the recent rise of contactless shopping which became prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rise of Informed Consumer
On top of the availability to purchase online, we also have the rise of the more informed consumer with:
- 81% of consumers do online research before making a purchase online or in the store
- Consumers typically take 79 days of online research before making a high-value or high-cost purchase
- 80% of consumers say that shopping personalisation is important in where they make their purchases
While the act of online shopping is easier than ever before and most eCommerce sites cover the basics, “easy” alone is no longer enough to maximise your share of voice. Today’s consumers are not satisfied with sites that simply make it possible to shop. The experience must be designed to answer all questions for all types of customers and help them easily decide which products to purchase. Shoppers can scroll the web to find their products and make purchases from their phones with a click of a button, they can do all their research online and then go in-store or they can have any range of customer journey experiences across social media, seeing paid ads, jumping on a comparison site and crazily enough even just visiting the websites because they know exactly what they want
With all of these scenarios, there is a whole rabbit hole of what the future of online vs brick and mortar shopping looks like. This sets up some context for why the biggest retailers and marketplaces are making their decisions on what they are offering and help to let you know the right place to get in front of your consumers.
Biggest name in eCommerce
The biggest name in eCommerce, Amazon, is a marketplace selling both their own products, as well as products for other retailers. They make up around 40% of the overall online spending in the US and provide their own ecosystem of paid advertising across their site. They are continually growing in size, in terms of the number of products they sell, their paid offerings, and their country markets.
People who go directly to Amazon can be lower-funnel users compared to Google. They are more willing to buy a product when they are there, not just research and compare options. Just as Google is the go-to place for searching, Amazon is the hub for shopping.
Estimated share of total internet sales of Amazon Australia from 2021 to 2026
Source: Statista, 2022
Amazon’s 40% market-share in the US isn’t matched yet in the Australian market but it is on the rise. According to Statista, it is looking to get to 20% of total internet sales in Australia by 2026. We’re not suggesting that Google and Google Shopping is trying to provide the same product and experience as Amazon (well not yet anyway). The point is that Google wants to keep people who are online for eCommerce purposes within its own ecosystem and for as long as possible.
Google knows that the whole purchase cycle, from research to sale, is a huge part of why people are on the internet in the first place, so they want to be able to serve as much of it as possible while making money off their ads and shopping platforms.
Google Shopping Timeline
The first instance of what we’re talking about today can be traced back to 2002. It was called ‘Froogle’.
This was a service that helped people search for products online and compare their features and prices and back then, the listing of products was free of charge.
In 2007, It became ‘Google products’ which was still free but was featured on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
One of the reasons behind the name change was due to the whole frugal/google pun which was not necessarily translating that well.
In 2012, it became the paid channel known as ‘Google Shopping’.
It wasn’t until 2019 when Google realised the potential of eCommerce and really upped the quality of the product to focus on customer personalisation and the checkout process. These significant updates have helped Google Shopping become a more viable competitor in the eCommerce space.
Always looking for more customer market share and opportunities to lure retailers onto their Shopping platform, Google introduced free listings in 2020.
This marked a major shift in the way small eCommerce businesses could compete against major established brands. Even though Free Listings have been around for a few years now, it’s still an often misunderstood product that’s left out of a lot of businesses’ overall marketing mix.
Similar to other quote-unquote free channels such as Google business listings and organic social, it can be highly beneficial in getting more eyeballs to see your brand and products. However, it can also be time-consuming and requires its own research and resources.
In order to combat that, Google is still rolling out new features and going live in new countries to make its free product listings a more valuable platform with practical insights.
What are free listings?
Free listings allow customers to see products from your store across Google. Products appear for free across the Shopping tab, YouTube, Google Search (.com), Google Images, and Google Lens.
For example, on the shopping tab, paid shopping ads still appear, but beneath these are the free listings.
Are ‘free listings’ really free?
Google’s free listings is a completely unpaid program – no costs per click or ad spend required. Free listings can be set up without running ads. However, free listings take time to set up, monitor, and optimise. Also, there can be fees associated with generating and upkeeping the feed.
What channel do ‘free listings’ belong to?
At In Marketing We Trust, we have paid media specialists who do everything ads-related and SEO specialists who do everything organically related. Paid specialists have a leg up on using Merchant Centre from their experience running feed-based shopping & dynamic remarketing campaigns.
The set-up and optimisation of Google’s Free Product Listings requires an SEO mindset for the delivery of results (in other words, it essentially requires cross-stream capabilities). Hence why Tom Ashworth and Elle Hackett both presented to us on the topic.
How to set them up & monitor them?
Free listings are powered by a Google merchant centre inventory feed. There are a lot of policies and requirements to meet. Advertisers need to follow Google’s policies for showing products in free listings, follow Google’s Shopping ads policies, and a link to your shipping policy needs to be in your Merchant Centre account. Whilst Free listing is an unpaid program, with all these requirements, you still want the ability to know what free listings are doing and how they are impacting your business.
We want two feeds set up so that optimisations can occur that work for the different requirements of ads and free listings.
For example, what language is being used, what images, and what tests are required to deliver the results.
Step 1: Create separate feeds for each channel
The first step is to create separate feeds for each channel, one feed for shopping ads and another feed for free listings.
There are also free local listings and local inventory ads if you want to promote the stock you have in-store (not online) which have their own requirements and policies. You’ll also note there is a display ad for dynamic remarketing for retail, which again has specific policies.
You need to pick a country of sale and language too.
Step 2: Ensure your feed is healthy
The second step is to ensure your feed is healthy and products are approved. Google will show diagnostics for ads and free listings at the item, feed, and account level. Typically we aim for 98%-99% approval.
There can be many reasons for disapprovals, from missing data to not meeting a policy requirement. If there are disapprovals, it’s important to consider how profitable those items are and the impact on your business of them being disapproved.
Step 3: Use promotion badges to increase engagement
The next step is to use promotion badges to increase engagement. Here we can see that traffic increased significantly when sale prices were added.
This allows Google to provide more information in the listing such as a price drop badge or a sale badge.
The price is a required element of feeds. Additionally, the sale price can be added as a separate attribute. Doing so, will provide more information to customers and allow Google to highlight the sale through promotion badges.
In Marketing We Trust highly recommends using this for sales for free listings and paid listings, rather than just overriding the price attribute.
Step 4: Identify categories to test
Once you have your feeds set up and ready to go, start to monitor performance to identify categories to test for free listing optimisation by looking at traffic, market share, revenue and transactions.
You can see in the graph that impressions increased (the red line) indicating that the listings were being shown more often but clicks decreased from a decrease in click-through rate indicating that people are less engaged with the listing. Digging deeper, this came from two categories – outdoor & sofas – with sofas being a high-priority category for the business, so this was the key focus to work on.
Step 5: Competitor benchmarking
The fifth step is to review the Competitive visibility report, which will help you to compare your visibility across Shopping ads and free listings.
At this current time, the report is currently limited to the following countries: Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US.
To show you what a competitor benchmark looks like, the report covers various metrics including:
- Relative visibility, which shows the number of times another merchant’s products were shown relative to the number of times your products were shown. (For example, if a merchant received 5% more impressions than you, their Relative visibility would be +5%)
- Page overlap rate shows how often you and another merchant received impressions on the same page.
- Ads/Free ratio shows the fraction of ads and free impressions for a merchant. (For example, if a merchant has 10 times more ad impressions than free impressions, the Ads/Free ratio is 10.)
Competitor price benchmarking
Competitor price benchmarking is available in more countries and shows how others are pricing the same products you sell.
With Competitor price benchmarking, you’ll be able to see if competitors are undercutting prices or if your prices are lower than the benchmark. Checking these reports can help you identify if there is a pricing issue, i.e. lots of people are seeing your listings but not clicking on them because the price is significantly higher.
Testing & Optimisation
- Identify the category to test
- Complete the keyword research
- Execute the test
- Monitor & review
- Expand based on positive results or remove based on negative results
- Identify a new test
What are some things that you can test and optimise…
Optimisation – Language
To optimise for language, Research the keywords that have the highest avg. monthly searches and check for trends.
- Is the way people search significantly changing?
- Are you using language that is missing the audience?
In Google’s keyword planner, which is in Google Ads, keep in mind that it’s a tool for paid listings and the competition and bids reflect paid ads rather than free listings. So we can use it to get insights into what people are searching for and trends, but the competition here is separate to free listings.
Language & location
Consider the location and how people speak locally. For example, an increase in people searching for sofas in the US, may not reflect current trends in Australia.
In this example, couches are the dominant language in the US and lounges are dominant in Australia, so the same title and description optimisations wouldn’t work for both countries. They need to be tailored to the country that the listings are targeting.
Product Title Structure
Another part of your optimisation should be around testing how product titles are being structured. Here we have examples of different brands and what they’re doing.
- What order are the descriptive elements in the title?
- Is the product name first, or is it last?
- Where do product type, colour, and fabric sit?
This will help identify what order will make the most sense when ads are displayed and match the most ways that people search. You can do keyword research for this to help build the test to see what will drive the best results.
Optimisation – Images
Another important part of the free listing is the image. The image appears to potential customers in ads and free listings for your product. There is the main image, but multiple images can be added.Tip: You can test new images with the URL inspection tool to ensure that images meet Google’s requirements and clearly display the product being sold.
Optimisation – Multiple Images
The additional image link provides more images for your product beyond the main image you provide.
Additional images for your product can appear to potential customers and are commonly used to show a product from different angles or with product staging elements.
To see how free listings are going, firstly check the Merchant Centre performance dashboard. In good news, conversion metrics are now available – you’ll need to link Google Analytics to Merchant Centre to view them.
Once you’ve linked Google Analytics & Merchant Centre to improve reporting in Analytics, you can check Analytics reports to see how Organic Shopping is performing against other traffic sources.
Auto-tagging can link free listings to your Google Analytics account. Previously this was only available for Google Ads but is now available for all free listings on Google.Once the set-up is done, it automatically reports on conversion data in the Merchant Centre and website traffic in Analytics.
Lastly, we can look at Google Free Product Listings as an iterative process.
- Identify where to test
- Complete the research
- Implement the optimisation
- Monitor and reviewing the reports
- Implement the results
- And then, start a new test
The ongoing life cycle brings us back to how your, hopefully existing, ongoing SEO work can already be of help to this product in a Paid channel.
Pillars of SEO
When talking about SEO, it generally breaks down into 4 main categories: technical, content, on-site, and off-site.
In our point of view, Technical SEO should always come first. In order for the search engines to show your web pages in the search results, they first need to find, crawl and index them.
Fixing your technical SEO health breaks down:
- Making sure that everything on your website that you want to be visible, is visible to search engines
- The site itself is working quickly and smoothly
- The overarching structure of your pages are understandable relative to their priority to your business goals.
With the technical work in place, we now know that search engines can find and index your web pages and what they find on each page is considered the content. Content is the backbone of a lot of SEO work and includes all text, images, video, PDFs and much more.
The main things to keep in mind here are making sure what is on the page is high quality and unique in regards to your competitors as well as the other pages on your site.
On-site is based on specific sections on your pages which are the main elements of how they are seen by users and search engines. These are your page titles, descriptions, Heading tags, alt text, internal links and structured data. In short, working on these aspects means following specific best practice guidelines provided by search engines in order to be optimised. In reality, this requires a lot of backing research work as well as an understanding of the constant shifts of those guidelines and rulebooks which are often provided with vague and conflicting messaging
The last one is off-site SEO. These are any actions taken outside your website, such as links to your site, that impact your rankings within search engine results pages. It comes down to how your popularity is seen in terms of the authority of your website, the trust in the information on it, and if it is relevant in its purpose.
Organic Shopping SEO
Now moving from those general ideas, the competition within eCommerce is extremely tough but the overall work you are already doing on your site following these principles will help across all platforms including Free listings. But there are some points of emphasis that you can focus on:Technical SEO
From a technical standpoint, one thing to note is that there are a lot of different CMS out there. Even though the overall eCommerce goals remain the same, they have varying difficulties and limitations in how they can help you extract the information you need. There are some platforms, such as Shopify and Webflow that integrate quite easily and can automatically sync inventory information with the feed.
Content and On-Site SEO
The content and On-site work go together because, unlike traditional SEO, the majority of your optimisations will not be on-site, but on your Google Shopping Feed as mentioned but the act of creating keyword-rich content, designing a user-friendly website, and optimising site elements like page titles and URLs are always going to be beneficial to a user, a search engine and a product feed.
On top of this, you also need to make sure you have that unique content on your site across your titles, URLs and descriptions that will help avoid any duplication or cannibalisation which would impact the ability for all of your products to be able to show up.
For offsite, the main relevant sticking point would be having positive reviews and star ratings which will help users decide to choose you over a competitor.
This is a list of the main variables that act as performance influencers which are key to how your free listings will perform. There are a lot of these that should already be involved in the day-to-day work you are doing, whether you are in SEO or Paid.
As you can see, there are also major overlaps in variables that show up in both channels. This suggests that we should be able to utilise the research and results from both channels to work together in maximising those insights.
Google’s Free Product Listings gives a real opportunity to use the existing principles for Paid and SEO and blend them in a way that can take insights from each to work towards a singular business goal.
Need Help on Google’s Product Listing Setup?
In Marketing We Trust is a Certified Google Marketing Platform Partner, just one of 20 companies in Australia certified by Google. If you have any queries or questions about Google’s product listings, reach out to us for a free consultation and one of our experts will respond to you with all the information you need.