Free Listings on Google Shopping

You may have heard Google now allows merchants to list products in the Google Shopping tab for free, below the paid Shopping ads. This change went into effect on April 27 in the U.S., and is scheduled to go into effect by the end of 2020 worldwide.

What has changed?

To understand the update, you might need a refresher about “Surfaces across Google.” Prior to the update, Surfaces across Google used to refer to Google Images, Google Lens, Google Maps, and Google Search. This meant if you had products for sale on the internet, Google could find those products and display them organically to somebody on these surfaces.

With the update, the Google Shopping tab is now included in the “Surfaces across Google” destination. This means your products can be shown organically in the Google Shopping tab according to their search relevancy, free of charge. The Google Shopping tab used to be solely reserved for Sponsored Product ads and commission-based marketplace listings.

How does this affect Google Shopping?

To answer this question, let’s make a distinction between the Google Shopping tab and Google Shopping as a whole. The front page of Google Search will still be reserved for Sponsored Product listings — these product ads are part of the broader Google Shopping program, and that real estate will not be opening up to organic product listings.

Sponsored Google Shopping Ads showing cowboy boots on a search for cowboy boots

The Google Search page will stay the same, showing Sponsored Products.

The real difference occurs on the Google Shopping tab. Previously, Google’s Shopping tab only consisted of Sponsored Product listings. Occasionally, Buy on Google items would show along the top row of the Google Shopping page, and Sponsored listings would take up the remainder of the page.

Google Shopping ads showing free listings

The old layout reserved the Google Shopping tab for Buy on Google and Sponsored Products only.

Now the Shopping tab will show free product listings, but with the top row still reserved for Sponsored Products. Buy on Google items will exist between the Sponsored listings at the top of the page, and the free organic listings on the bottom.

Google Shopping free listings for an organic search

With the update, Sponsored Products get the top row of the Shopping tab, Buy on Google items are in the middle, and free listings get the bottom.

How should merchants adjust for the change?

If you want to take advantage of this new offering, you will need your products to show on Surfaces across Google.

There are a few ways to have your products appear on Surfaces across Google, which now includes the Google Shopping tab.

  • If you do not have a Google Merchant Center account, and do not plan to create one, you can still have products show in Google’s free listings on the Shopping tab. You will need a website with structured data markup, so that Google can easily read your website data to understand what is on the product pages. Your products will automatically appear on Surfaces across Google without any additional input from you, assuming you meet the data requirements for each surface, aren’t in violation of the program’s policies, and have relevant products.
  • If you do not have a Google Merchant Center account, and you want to create one, you should first follow these steps for getting started. You will select Surfaces across Google as one of the programs you can join. After that, follow the steps in the next bullet point:
  • If you already have a Google Merchant Center account and a product feed, you can opt in to the “Surfaces across Google” destination in the Google Merchant Center. To select the Surfaces across Google destination for your product feed, follow these steps:
    1. On the left sidebar menu, go to Products > Feeds.
      Google Merchant Center product feed menu
    2. Click the feed container for your product feed under “Feed name.” (If your feed is already opted-in, you will see Surfaces across Google listed as a Destination on the right.)
      Product feed name
    3. Click on SETTINGS at the top of the page, and then click the country for your feed.
      Product feed settings
    4. This will bring up a dialogue box where you can check the box for your preferred feed destinations, including Surfaces across Google.
      Edit target destinations to get products listed for free
  • If you already have a Google Merchant Center account and a product feed, but you cannot see the “Surfaces across Google” destination in the Google Merchant Center, try this:
    • In the Google Merchant Center, go to Growth > Manage Programs in the left sidebar menu. From there, you should be able to activate Surfaces across Google. You will still need to select the program as a destination for your product feed after that.
      Google offers free listings

How can merchants see the metrics for unpaid clicks from Surfaces across Google?

Google plans to show a performance report for unpaid clicks from Surfaces across Google in the Google Merchant Center. The rollout date has not yet been specified. You will be able to access this report by going to Performance > Dashboard on the left sidebar menu.

Google Merchant center dashboard

What does this mean for paid Google Shopping ads?

This is a little more speculative, but we can make some reasonable assumptions.

The front page of Google’s Search is still reserved for advertised products. The top row of the Google Shopping tab is also reserved for Sponsored listings, but these ads are also competing with the free listings on the page for attention. With fewer spaces available to advertise products, getting a spot at the top will become more competitive.

Your products will probably get more impressions too, paid or organic. One reason Google is opening up Google Shopping is to attract more merchants, which will increase the selection of products from which its search algorithm can choose. Google’s overall intent is to provide a better shopping experience for consumers, which will help it reclaim some territory lost to Amazon for product searches. In a nutshell, if all goes according to plan, then more merchants will have products show on Google Shopping, more customers will find value in it, and sellers will reach a wider audience.

To remain competitive, or to capitalize on this new opportunity, you definitely want to make sure you have optimized product data. The quality of your product data will determine how your products fare among the organic listings.

Feedonomics’ take on this update is that it may not have major implications for paid Shopping ads, since it has been our experience that less than 10% of all searches happen on the Shopping tab.

Find out why over 30% of the top 1,000 Internet Retailers choose Feedonomics.

Brian Roizen is the Cofounder and Chief Architect of Feedonomics, a full-service feed optimization platform that optimizes product data for hundreds of channels. He has been featured on numerous podcasts and eCommerce webinars, and regularly contributes to Search Engine Land and other industry-leading blogs. Brian graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.