Over the past month (even the past week!), Google has made lots of Commerce related updates/announcement that retailers might have missed, so I thought I’d sum them up really quickly.
1. Google Merchant Center (GMC) updated its data feed specifications, significantly cutting the list of attributes. As far as SingleFeed knows, all attributes which were formerly listed are still supported, but Google Product Search might not be highlighting those attributes for refinement purposes.
2. Google Checkout is accepting holiday promotions! While Geckout is no longer footing the bill for these types of promotions, this is still a great opportunity for merchants. From the blog post: “Last holiday season, merchants who ran a Checkout promotion increased their Google Checkout sales by an average of 209%, compared to a 25% increase for merchants who did not participate.” Merchants who set up a holiday promotion will benefit from a special badge and what sounds like a ton of promotion from Google: Google will market the promotion through AdWords ads, emails to buyers, and social networking posts…Social Networking Posts???
If you participate, we’ll change your standard Google Checkout button on your website to the special promotional Checkout button that features an orange starburst labeled with the promotion discount. When the minimum cart requirement is met, the discount will automatically appear for buyers when they shop with Google Checkout from November 23, 2010 at 4:00 PM Pacific to December 16, 2010, at 4:00 PM Pacific.
Additionally, if you are an AdWords advertiser, Google will change the standard Checkout badge appearing on your Google.com AdWords ads to a new badge that features the promotion discount. These badges have been introduced to enable shoppers who search on Google.com to easily identify and take advantage of promotional offers.
3. Data Feeds now influence your SEO listings. While I’ve talked for years about the opportunity to mine your data feed for keywords for SEO and PPC, Google one upped me by putting the GMC feed content in organic results. This is the Rich Snippets program (microformats). For you non-webmasters, I’m not talking about the OneBox listings, I’m talking about rich product information within merchant organic listings. Check out the highlighted sections below for Amazon, HSN, and Williams-Sonoma rich snippet info garnered from the data feed.
Merchants can take advantage of this as follows: 1) providing a data feed and specifying rel=canonical (merchants need a lot more info on rel=canonical…way too many unanswered questions) on product pages, 2) providing markup to your site, and 3) through the Product Reviews program. Read the Rich Snippets for Shopping blog post to find out more.
4. Google Boost – Advertise your local business in San Francisco, Houston, and Chicago. Local store information (location, hours, coupons, etc.) is going to become more and more critical as Google continues to help offline merchants make more money through local and mobile applications. Assuming you’ve claimed your free Google Places listings (for any city – this is a must), it’s now time to test advertising through Boost.
Boost enables business owners to easily create online search ads from directly within their Google Places account. No ongoing management is needed after the initial set up, and this beta is currently available to select local businesses in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago.
And with Google’s recent Android updates for Maps, this local information will be even more critical for the holidays.
5. Product Ads. In case you feel behind the ball in understanding Product Ads, don’t worry, there are more changes. Google has hardened up its Product Ads attributes for the GMC data feed (stop using that prefer_for_query attribute!). And Google is giving merchants more control of Product Ads through GMC (no data feed changes required).
I’ve been pushing the shopping engines, including Google Shopping, to talk about deals for years. The economy stinks and shopping engines can easily push bargains and savings. And many have done so. Yahoo! Shopping did this really early on. Become, Pronto, PriceGrabber, and the rest followed. But Google is still a holdout in that they don’t allow a merchant to submit a Sale Price in addition to a Regular Price, and thus allow a consumer to see a 10% off, 20% off, or 25% off sticker/star.
Deals. You hear about a hot new daily deal site every day. It’s hard to keep track. I used DailyCandy back in the day…and today the company launched DailyCandy Stylish alerts for Android (only for NYC). I’ve used Woot off and on for years…and now that it’s an Amazon company, expect to see Woot leverage Amazon’s relationship with millions of sellers (and buyers, of course). Twitter is experimenting with @earlybird. Groupon and the hundreds (is it thousands?) of clones around the country and around the world are the darlings of the media and the talk of the town. And for a good reason. Groupon is an incredible business making a boatload of money.
Deals. Everyone wants them. Online or offline, we want deals, steals, free shipping, bargains, and more. Check out Google Trends for Daily Deals or Coupons. Just as Amazon will move into a category that’s performing well, Google will look at what people are searching for and make sure they can provide the right answer and monetize the result. Why do you think they’re gearing up for games? The growth of Facebook gaming sites like playdom and zynga is incredible. Google sees this and makes a move or 2.
If Google’s goal is to organize the worlds information, they’re kinda letting us all down on deals. Sure, I can search for ‘deals’ on Google, but I get 1000s of so-so coupon sites that Google has already dinged on Google AdWords for basically being duplicate content. And there’s no specific deal information for the 20M uniques who use Google Shopping each month. It’s only a matter of time until Google gets into the game itself. Just as they’ve entered shopping or health or finance or travel, Google will jump on the bandwagon and offer a deals site…maybe they’ll buy one as well, but I’m sure they can easily do it themselves. Google already has relationships with 100s of 1000s of online and offline business. I’m going to table the discussion of Google launching a Groupon clone for now and just concentrate on an online daily deal site like a Woot, but on sterioids.
Google Merchant Center recently introduce the Featured Product attribute. The Google Merchant Center Featured Product Attribute is “Used to indicate that this item is a special, featured product; for instances, items on promotion or featured in a sale or circular,” according to Google.
I estimate that there are about 60K-90K active merchants submitting data feeds to Google Merchant Center (Google doesn’t publish this number, so this is a guestimation). Imagine if Google starts tapping into this merchant base for deals, or as they call them, featured products. They’ll have to start classifying these Featured Products better – sale, coupon available, rebate available, in-store special, etc. – but it’s easy to see an extremely powerful deal site start to develop without much work on Google’s part. Merchants are already providing Google Merchant Center with a lot of structured data (UPCs, titles, descriptions, images, prices, etc.) that most daily deal sites or coupon sites would kill to have or currently beg to have through the affiliate networks like CJ and Linkshare (super-affiliates need to work with data feeds from merchants as opposed to banners, buttons, and basic links). Google Shopping already has all this data. Just as they’ve started to publish merchant offers and take a cut of the transaction through Product Listing Ads, they can do the same for deals.
Google Deals. Has a nice ring to it.
But for Google, especially with commerce related activites, it’s not about a new property, it’s about leveraging structured data to enhance Search, AdWords, Mobile, Checkout, etc. So expect featured products to show up on Google Deals, but also on Google Shopping, attached to Google AdWords ads, and sprinkled everywhere else. If I worked at Google, I’d start pusing Google Deals OneBox results for searches like ‘Xbox coupon’ or ‘digital camera deal’ just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Back in 2006, I wrote about Google OneBox results as part of a 4 part series that also looked at Yahoo! Shortcuts, Ask Smart Answers, and Microsoft’s Instant Answers. Google’s OneBox results as they pertain to shopping search have mushroomed over the years and Google currently has a number of OneBox shopping results. Here are the most common:
The 5-Pack Normalized (multiple stores selling the same product):
The 5-Pack Normalized with Ratings:
The 3-Pack Normalized (multiple stores selling the same product):
The 3-Pack Normalized with Ratings:
And the rare 4-Pack Normalized with Reviews
These OneBox shopping results are all obviously variations on a theme. A OneBox result starts with a picture, title, and price, but can be supplemented with normalized listings and reviews.
The most common question I get is how a merchant gets listed in Google’s OneBox shopping results. The easy answer is that the merchant has to submit a high quality data feed to Google Merchant Center. What is a high quality data feed? It starts with meeting Google Merchant Center’s basic data feed requirements, but the merchant has to go much further, improving the quality of the data and adding more relevant data to the data feed. Think of it this way, if you submit the basic minimum data feed requirements to Google Merchant Center, you’re probably in the 50th percentile in terms of the quality of the data feed. To move up to the 60th, 70th, or even 90th percentile, you have to add recommended attributes, optional attributes, custom attributes and improve the quality of the values of each attribute. You also need to pay attention to settings like Tax and Shipping, you have to submit bigger, higher quality images, and you have to submit fresh product data whenever there are changes in your data feed.
And in general, a merchant has to take data feed optimization (DFO) just as seriously as they would SEO. If you’re interested in improving the quality of your data feed, check out LoveYourFeed and start running tests on the amount of data you’re submitting and the quality of that data.
As the Rimm Kaufman Group (RKG) pointed out a while back, when Google displayed Extension Ads at the top of the page (above organic listings), Google usually used the advertiser name next to the plus box. When the Extension Ad was on the side of the page, Google usually referred to the advertiser as just an advertiser.
From the RKG blog:
When the keyword has a lower click volume, then the keyword can move to the right panel and the message will change to “Show products from this advertiser”. While that data is difficult to tease out on a query by query basis, we are generalizing that lower click volume keywords are often appearing on the right panel, as compared to those analyzed in the “top 50” group defined above.
For the first time I’m seeing Google refer to the advertiser as the site/brand name on the side bar. In the image below, you’ll see that Target gets their name and ACityDiscount.com gets plain old ‘advertiser’ next to the plus box.
In November of 2009, Google made Product Extensions available to all US merchants.
…product extensions are a way for you to enrich your existing AdWords ads with more relevant and specific information. Product extensions allow you to use your existing Google Merchant Center account to highlight your products directly in your search ads. When your AdWords text ad appears, and your Google Merchant Center account contains products that are relevant to the searcher’s query, product extensions show the images, titles, and prices of your products in a plusbox under your ad.
There are two formats for Product Extensions, depending on the placement
Format 1: Top placement. See it in action.
Format 2: Side placement. See it in action.
This is a great opportunity for all merchants and Google as data from Google and Rimm Kaufman Group has shown that Product Extensions increase click through rate (CTR). With this new ad format, Google gets more clicks, which makes them more money, and the merchant gets more click throughs, which means more sales (assuming on site conversion remains constant – and no one has said anything to the contrary).
Product Extensions is an AdWords product which means that merchants are charged on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis, as they would be for their normal AdWords ad. A merchant is only charged when a searcher clicks through on a listing, not when a searcher clicks the + or – sign.
To get started with Product Extension ads, a merchants need to connect their AdWords and Google Merchant Center accounts. This is done within Google Merchant Center. Just click on Settings > AdWords and enter your AdWords Customer ID:
It might take 24hrs for the hookup to take effect.
What most merchants don’t realize, though, is that there are important ways to control and target the Extension ads
What’s more, product extensions give you the option to prefer which products are displayed when a user’s query triggers your ads. For example, you may sell dozens of laptop computers but you want to promote the newest or best selling inventory using product extensions when a user searches for ‘laptop computer’ on Google.com. By making a simple addition to your Merchant Center account, you can easily control the products that display for certain queries. Of course, you can always use automatic targeting, and let AdWords determine the most relevant products in your account to a user’s query.
This targeting takes place by adding attributes to the Google Merchant Center data feed. We strongly encourage you to read the directions here. Here are the accepted attributes:
The adwords_prefer_for_query is especially powerful as it allows a merchant to target the exact offer for a specific query.
In November of 2009, Google started testing a new ad format called Google Product Lising Ads. I will refer to the ad format as Product Listing Ads or just Product Listings. While Product Listings was announced on the Google AdWords blog and is called a new feature of Adwords in this Google Ad Innovations video, it’s easier to consider this a Google Affiliate Network product as the merchant pays on a Cost Per Acquisition/Action (CPA) basis.
Regardless of which unit within Google owns this product at this point, here are the important details: