Is the new Google shopping anything more than a way to increase their quarterly earnings?

Google have today sent out an email to business in the UK that submit their stock to GoogleBase and appear in the shopping results, announcing a major change in February of this year. The change was first announced in November 2012 and follows what Google describe as a ‘successful’ debut in USA last year.

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The announcement  comes as no surprise therefore but it does herald the end of free shopping listings on Google. Traditionally any merchant who can comply with the requirements of GoogleBase have been able to submit a stock sheet which allows their products to appear in the shopping results free of charge, but this is all about to change. From February businesses will have to pay through the Adwords platform as Shopping is integrated, and what was once free becomes a paid service.

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So is this a step forward?

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E CommerceWell, Google insist that following the roll out in the States last year that there have been a number of success stories and it is therefore fit for a global rollout. They argue that it improves the user experience (top of their list naturally) and it provides a better richer experience, but this view is not universally held.

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Firstly, retailers in the States have argued that moving from a free to paid inclusion reduces choice as a number of smaller retailers simply don’t have the budgets to compete at this level. It is seen by some as a removal of a basic ‘free’ service and just another example of Google leveraging its assets to enhance its quarterly earnings.

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Secondly, the retailers have pointed out that as well as squeezing out those at the bottom end, it actively reduces the consumer choice as the listings have a bid element to them, meaning that without deep pockets you simply won’t appear and although you may have a cheaper price on your product than other well known retailers, nobody will see your listing.

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Thirdly, there has been round criticism of the ‘automated’ service behind the feeds. Currently it is extremely difficult to configure a feed for GoogleBase and get it accepted and even seasoned professionals sometimes take days to get it sorted. The lack of any kind of help other than self service online help is a bug bear for some. Stories abound across the internet of businesses simply giving up on this as it has become too hard to sort, or having made a mistake finding themselves having to argue (electronically of course) with Google that it was just a mistake and not an attempt to deliberately mislead anyone. Some have found it impossible to get themselves off the blacklist.

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American retailers are complaining that they have been priced out of the market by this move and that it helps only the larger stores or those which can afford to use specialist Digital Agencies to help them manage their feeds. Whether this is true or not, the change is coming so we need to brace ourselves for it.

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The changes also mean a big change for SEO as well, as in the more popular categories the new enhanced shopping results take over the top of the page, displacing the traditional adword adverts. These new shopping listings, with glossy pictures, social features, pricing and rating details means that the physical space taken up is far greater than used to be the case with traditional PPC adverts. This in turn means that the amount of space on the page has reduced and therefore the natural search results have been reduced, in many cases down to seven listings but in some as few as five.

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Is this increased choice for a consumer? Will it give a better, richer shopping experience? Will buyers welcome this move as a help to streamlining their online purchasing? Time will tell on these and many other questions.

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So, from next month we will have a chance to judge for ourselves whether this is a good move or not but one thing is certain, the days of free listings on Google are over for shopping and natural search listings are being squeezed out in favour of paid inclusion. The landscape has shifted and once again the old adage holds true, that survival goes not to the fittest, but to those who can adapt the best.