Google Shopping has entered the old continent. What’s it all about?

Back in the early 2000s it was trendy for online portals to offer vertical websites on certain industries and areas. In the same spirit, in 2002, Google introduced its service for searching products. The new service was named Froogle after frugal and Google.

Froogle wasn’t a massive success, and four years later Google removed the link from Google’s main page. Strangely enough, the greatest money-wasting failure in the history of Finnish e-commerce was a project called Fruugo. What’s it with all these F-words?

In 2007, Froogle was named Google Product Search. This particular brand lasted five years before it was replaced by a new brand in May last year. It was when Google announced that free Google Product Search would be replaced by commercial-based solution called Google Shopping.

Success and criticism

According to Google the new service will offer people a whole new way to search, compare and buy products online. In practice this means that visual product information is integrated to search results. Online retails can advertise their products pretty much in the same way as in AdWords.

Google Shopping has been pretty well received in the United States, and tens of thousands of online merchants have joined in. On the other hand the service has been criticized for turning product search ad-based. Some fear that instead of leveling the playing field between big enterprises and smaller retailers – benefiting only big companies with lots of money to spend on product marketing.

Reasons for launching a new brand probably include the modest success of Google Product Search and lawsuits associated with the service caused. Now Google aims to bring to the market something that benefits both consumers and merchants.

First reaction has been rather positive but not fully without criticism. Google’s bitter rival Microsoft quickly launched campaign called Scroogled to promote their own Bing search engine.

Product Listing Ads (PLA)

In November 2012 Google announced that Google Shopping was going international. The service was first introduced in Australia, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

You may ask what the fuss is about since Google Product Search was, after all, available internationally? Google Shopping has one major difference to the old system: product display is based on commercial-based model. The approach is called Product Listing Ads (PLA), which defines the visibility of the products in search engine search results.

PLAs contain information such as the product image, price and merchant name with no additional keywords or ad text. When search engine users make searches with product-related terms, Google automatically displays relevant products and their prices alongside with their search results.

The pricing logic is pretty similar to that in AdWords. The merchant pays for ad clicks (CPC) or conversion-based CPA (available only in the United States). Products are shown in the search results in a similar sponsored-style section as AdWords ads.

If the user is looking for information on a specific product with the exact product name, a summary of product information will be shown. This way the user can decide whether the product is what they want and purchase it from the retailer of their choice.

Serving retailers and consumers

According to Google, the service will build closer commercial ties with merchants and thereby encourage them to continue to provide high-quality and up-to-date product information: exact prices, good product descriptions and the latest availability information.

This will in turn improve consumer shopping experience and create expanding high-quality stream of sales to online retailers. And, of course, generate money for Google.

Remains to be seen whether the world’s most popular search engine company can smoothly combine e-commerce to part of its profit-making machine, or is this another step to paid-inclusion search engine content.

The Merchant Center

Google Shopping’s merchant features are managed in the Merchant Center. The dashboard, very much akin to the AdWords dashboard, provides information on active and disqualified the products, ads, products reviews and, of course, statistics on campaign performance.

In order to dispel consumer concerns on shopping online, Google has set up a Google Trusted Stores program. The program works as a badge of honor for sites which are particularly safe and reliable. Through the program, buyers will get background information on the store, products reviews and feedback and deliveries and customer service.

For merchants Google Shopping is quite straightforward. The online retailer establishes a PLA campaign, which defines the products, product types, ad group, and bids. Campaign progress is monitored in the same way as in AdWords. Product visibility is affected by, among other things, product information update rate, product image quality, specified attributes and e-commerce site meta-information.

Promoting ad texts, such as promises of free delivery, are not allowed. Google’s editorial guidelines include also other bans, such as prohibition for capital letters. More information about the PLA campaign can be found in Google’s guide.

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