What was (and still is for right now) a free opportunity to appear in Google’s shopping search results through the Google Merchant Center is about to transition over to a platform where merchants will have to pay to be listed.
While some (many?) merchants may not have experienced the benefit of free search traffic as a result of their merchant center product listings, others currently receive loads of free, highly targeted traffic from these shopping results. When users type in a product related search query, Google has been integrating their own shopping results within the organic results under a title like “Shopping results for kids clothes,” as an example. If you followed the Google Merchant Center instructions to a “t” and optimized your listings (but not over-optimized), you may have found yourself in the lucky position of being included as one of the three or four Shopping results on page 1.
This opportunity is set to change as Google will eliminate the free data feeds and instead charge merchants to be included. It sounds like they’ll be using a a paid inclusion model where companies pay to be listed but are not guaranteed a top position for their keywords. This may work in a similar way to the current Product Ads through AdWords that are affiliated with the products in a Google Merchant Center data feed. My experience with Product Ads has been that the ads generate low cost-per-clicks and high conversion rates, probably due to the level of detail included in the ad (photo, price, title, description). But I’ve only tested personally in limited markets. I’m sure it differs depending on how competitive a market is.
This change to a paid inclusion model for Google Shopping results should take place by late 2012. At that point, Product Ads will be phased out but Google suggests that getting those set up now (and they are offering incentives here: Limited Time Offer for Google Shopping) will be a good way to prepare for Google Shopping.