Google has a storied history with services for ecommerce products. The first was Froogle. Then Google Base absorbed Froogle. Both provided a method for merchants to inform Google about their products to improve visibility in organic search results.

As a search optimizer in the mid-2000s, optimizing for Froogle and Google Base was a part of the job. Those were in the early days of shopping feeds.

But in 2012 Google changed product listings from free to paid. Listings in Google Shopping (which replaced Google Base) were tied to Google AdWords.

I eventually stopped focusing on Google Shopping as my emphasis was organic search optimization. I began using structured data such as Schema, with rich snippets, for extra visibility in search results. Then in April 2020, Google announced it was returning some free listings to Shopping results.

The headline in a blog post by Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, read, “It’s now free to sell on Google.” He wrote:

“With hundreds of millions of shopping searches on Google each day, we know that many retailers have the items people need in stock and ready to ship, but are less discoverable online. For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”

Ready cited the pandemic as the reason for the change. But, likely, it will be permanent. More shoppers use Amazon for product search, after all. Presumably, that influenced Google’s decision.

In the Shopping Help portal (for consumers), Google describes the organic portion of Shopping results:

“Unless otherwise indicated, offers on Google Shopping are ranked based on relevance, including your search terms and other Google activity. Some ads data is used to improve the quality of results. Offers that have the ‘Sponsored’ label means that advertiser payment to Google may also influence how items are ranked and grouped. Google is compensated for clicks on these ads.”

Search results on Google Shopping showing paid and organic listings

Google Shopping search results for “axe FX iii,” a music pre-amp, showing paid and organic listings.

Old Is New

Here we are in 2021, picking up where Google left off in 2012. Google Base has been replaced with Google Merchant Center, where a retailer can connect a real-time product data feed directly to Google.

The Merchant Center feed, incidentally, does not necessarily need to duplicate the website. This is enormously helpful. For example, a client of my firm uses an inflexible ecommerce platform that doesn’t easily update title tags. But we built a heavily optimized product feed that drove plenty of sales due to improved rankings in Google Shopping.

Optimizing a Feed

Product feeds are essential for listings in Google Shopping. Likely your ecommerce software has a default feed generator. There are independent feed providers, too. Or, you could make your own feed with Google Sheets, which will natively work with Google Merchant Center.

Shopping feeds can include relevant search terms in the titles and product descriptions. Including those terms is scalable with scraping — pulling your product titles and details into a sheet to quickly identify key terms. After some hours (depending on product quantity), publish your feed and measure the results. Then repeat as needed.

If you haven’t explored feed optimization, I highly suggest it.