Apr 29 2020
Jesse Foley

Google Shopping Shifts to Organic + Paid Hybrid Model


Google announced Tuesday that it is opening up its Shopping search results to unpaid, organic listings. This change should be rolling out, starting this week (27 April). In a practical sense, what this means is that the Shopping results will consist “primarily of free product listings.” 

This change raises questions, including why they’re making such a significant shift backward, after going to purely paid listings in 2012 (Froogle). 

The History

The impetus behind ending the organic listings service, Froogle, and moving to purely paid listings was quality-driven. Products that were out of stock, incorrectly identified, or had other data issues were so widespread that the listings were frustratingly useless. Given the data-crunching power that Google now possesses, they must believe that they can successfully maintain the quality of results and that it’s safe to go back. 

Why would Google give up a large portion of paid revenue?

Announced via a blog post, Bill Ready, the President of Commerce at Google, states they intend to “provide a measure of relief for businesses,” during the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus likely did accelerate their plans; however, the change was probably in the works long before coronavirus.

The actual impetus is likely competition from other online marketplaces. The largest is Amazon, but Target and Walmart have both launched online marketplaces that accept and sell products from third-party sellers. But why does Google care? They’re a behemoth, right?

Here are some hypotheses about what prompted the change in Google Shopping: 

  1. Amazon can show more products because they aren’t limited to paid-only. Customers start at Amazon because they feel that if they can’t find it there, it doesn’t exist.

  2. Google’s paid-only listings probably took a severe hit as retailers shut down their marketing during coronavirus. All those empty spots were leading to poor user experience for Google and almost certainly accelerated this change.

  3. More users are shopping online than ever before due to quarantines, which is both an opportunity to gain new customers, and liability if those users are unsatisfied with the breadth of products offered. 

Impact on Shopping Advertisers

The change in Google Shopping is going to have an impact on retailers who are currently running paid listings. Your paid ads will still be able to show at the top and bottom of the page and those top spots will be valuable. 

Google Shopping: Only the top row are paid listings

However, there are now fewer paid spots on the top of the results page. Only time and data will tell if retailers showing up organically will compensate for that increased competitiveness in the auction. 

How to Take Advantage

This is a big shift in the market and we encourage our United States-based clients to take advantage of these free listings wherever possible. You will need:

  • A Merchant Center account
  • A product feed connected to Google Merchant Center
  • Within Merchant Center, opt your feed into “surfaces across Google”

Note that the change to accepting organic product listings should be fully rolled out in the United States by the end of April and globally by the end of 2020. 

Measuring Impact

As of April 28, 2020, we see a new Performance (unpaid) dashboard in the overview of Merchant Center accounts, and the data is retroactive a few days. 

The new Performance (unpaid) dashboard

You can also see organic clicks on the new Performance dashboard on the sidebar, which lets you choose a date range and view a graph. Unfortunately, downloading nets you a PDF of the graph, not the granular data download that marketers are generally seeking.

Organic clicks on the new Performance dashboard

There is more detail within the Diagnostics sidebar, where you can see a snapshot of which products are driving unpaid clicks.

Google Shopping Diagnostics sidebar


In Conclusion

If you are based in the United States, now is the time to ensure that your products are opted into Google’s organic product listings. Another venue for brand awareness and sales is an opportunity, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.


For assistance with your Google Shopping listings, Centro is here to help! Contact us today.