Google Product Listings and Product Search were good ideas. As the web has been increasingly used to find and compare products that anyone along the Information Superhighway could ever possibly want, there was a genuine need to have those products listed by sellers. The result for Google, much like with building any database, wass a comprehensive, crowd-sourced product listing that Google didn’t have to pay for. Of course, as with any good business idea that comes out of Google HQ in Mountain View, California these days, there is a desire to create a revenue stream that supports it.
The Product Listings program has a brief history:
In early 2002 Google’s shopping results were located and managed through their Froogle.com portal. Since these earliest days, products listings found in search used to be available from merchants who would upload a product feed to Google. On April 18, 2007 the product was renamed to Google Product Search. Then, On May 31, 2012 the name changed again to Google Shopping.
Products filled search. It was a great program with an easy-to-use set-up. The Google Merchant Center made it simple for product merchants of all technology competencies to upload their product listings (via Google base), keyword-rich product descriptions, website link, and other details such as price, brand, condition, image URL, product type, UPC, etc. The program worked well for all those involved. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 10% of search traffic to retailer websites came from Google Product Search. But, two years later, the free product listings program is coming to a quick end because Google is “building a better shopping experience.”
It should be mentioned at this time that the transition from a free product listing service to a purely commercial model will be enacted in the U.S. this fall (sometime after August 15, 2012) and will be called Google Shopping. If merchants in the U.S. want a product listing at Google Shopping, it will be a paid placement via the standard cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-action (CPA) models.
Google is only giving merchants a few months to transition to this new product listing service (or opt out). Clearly, Google is excited about the pending changes. Given that any forward-thinking merchant would want their products listed on the most powerful and popular search engine on the web, it’s a guaranteed win – in terms of revenues – for Google.
But is the end of free product listings a good thing? Some say yes indeed. Read the following.
“We believe that having a commercial relationship with merchants will encourage them to keep their product information fresh and up to date,” said Sameer Samat, Vice President of Product Management, Google Shopping, in his May 31st statement on the Google Commerce blog. “Higher quality data—whether it’s accurate prices, the latest offers, or product availability—should mean better shopping results for users, which in turn should create higher quality traffic for merchants.”
Mr. Samat has an excellent point about keeping product information fresh. The web, at least in Google’s mind, is no place to let things lie stagnating. One of the greatest aspects of the web should be the ability for searchers to get access to the most-recent data, information, or product details for any given search query. If merchants are not personally invested in their product listings, what is their drive to keep their online product listings up to date? What drives them to rotate their stock, so to speak? Well, if they’re the kind of business people that want to stay ahead of the competition and make the most of every opportunity to sell their wares, that’s drive enough. But with merchant money on the line, Google knows that product listings will be routinely serviced – accurate and more reliable. Fresh produce every day makes for happy customers, don’t you know.
And there’s more good stuff in the offing. In the coming program changes, Google is also promising a higher level of control over products and promotions, allowing savvy merchants in competitive markets to make the most of the once-free service.
The outcome, as with so many involving Google, is one that delivers highly-relevant product results to qualified shoppers. For merchants, it still means increased traffic and sales, but they will have to figure a few new numbers into their costs.