If you’re a brick-and-mortar or ecommerce retailer, you’ll want to ensure your inventory appears as part of Google Shopping’s free product listings.
Below are key tips for retailers looking to optimize their free listings for search.
What are free product listings on Google?
Google Shopping search results have consisted primarily of free product listings since April 2020, marking a major shift for the formerly purely paid product.
This change, which initially took effect for U.S. merchants only, was mirrored worldwide later in 2020.
Free product listings have been a win-win-win situation for shoppers, sellers, and Google alike.
Consumers now enjoy improved access to a diverse range of products and convenient purchasing options.
Sellers benefit from an expanded organic reach without any additional costs on their end.
And for Google, the move allows them to better compete with other major players in the online shopping sphere.
While, as the name implies, participation in the program is free, retailers must ensure they follow SEO best practices to enhance their product listings.
Doing so is the best way to maximize your chances of reaching various potential buyers across various Google destinations.
Just as businesses don’t need to pay for inclusion in Google’s search index, displaying products online through Google is also a complimentary service.
Users traditionally access Google Shopping by clicking the “Shopping” tab on a results page.
But free product listings can also appear within:
- Google Images, including Google Lens.
- YouTube mobile or desktop.
- Rich result types like popular products or shopping knowledge panels.
All retailers with a Merchant Center account are eligible for free listings regardless of their participation in Google Ads.
Simply opt in when creating an account. Ensure the Show your products in free product listings on Google option is selected within the Manage Programs menu.
Free product listing types
Free listings can have a standard or enhanced appearance depending on the amount of product data you provide.
Standard free listings
With only basic product data provided, Google’s standard free listings appear similar to a standard search result with some additional product-specific information.
This type of listing may include a product description, price, user ratings, reviews, and stock availability.
Google may source this information from your Merchant Center data feed or, if it is not present, from your website via structured data markup.
Enhanced free listings
These visually engaging and content-rich listings can appear across the Shopping tab and other Google destinations outside the results page.
They require retailers to upload additional attributes, such as high-quality images, but can also boost traffic and drive more sales than the basic standard listings.
Free local product listings
Local listings can promote your in-store inventory and drive traffic from searchers within your geographic region.
Free local listings help small businesses connect with shoppers in the area who are actively considering products within a relevant category.
This is an excellent way to drive traffic for products that shoppers might want to try on or view in person before purchasing.
Other than purchasing at a local store, shoppers can buy products from free listings by checking out on your website.
While shoppers can also purchase products directly on Google via the Buy on Google feature, this option will no longer be available starting September 26, 2023.
Instead, Google has announced plans to pilot a new streamlined buying journey for shoppers across Search and YouTube.
Free product listings requirements
Before we can optimize, merchants must meet several requirements to have their products eligible to display in any capacity.
For both standard and enhanced free listings, the following elements must be set up in Merchant Center:
Merchants must verify they have authorized ownership of their website by adding an HTML tag or verifying via Google Tag Manager or Google Analytics.
When a website is claimed in Merchant Center, already created feeds must be reset.
Google wants shoppers to have the most seamless experience when purchasing from a product listing.
They require sites to contain:
- Contact and payment information.
- Return and refund policies.
- Billing terms and conditions.
- A secure checkout process protected by a valid SSL certificate.
Approved product feed
This can be manually built or automatically synced via integration options with ecommerce platforms.
This list of all your products also includes the individual attributes of each product needed to generate free and paid listings.
Minimum product data
Standard listings require each product’s ID, title, price, description, availability, link, and image_link attributes.
For enhanced listings, the following information is also required:
Additional product attributes
- Condition, brand, gtin, mpn, multipack, is_bundle, color, size, age_hroup, gender, item_group_id.
- Note that these can vary depending on the specific product type and category.
- Specify your products’ shipping method and associated fees and rates within Merchant Center or the feed itself.
- Note the sales tax for each geographic region you serve in Merchant Center or your feed.
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Optimizing your free listings for better search visibility
Google’s free product listings can boost the reach of your inventory and get your products in front of potential customers with demonstrated purchase intent for your category or brand.
Enhanced listings, in particular, are an excellent opportunity to display your offerings visually.
Like traditional SEO best practices, a Google shopping ecosystem optimization strategy begins with effective keyword research and competitor analysis.
Keyword research and competitor analysis
Start by identifying the most relevant and high-performing search terms used to find products similar to what your business offers.
Consider what product attributes and details are most commonly used by searchers to discover products within your category.
Let’s turn to the jewelry category.
You may discover volume around shoppers looking for items by color, material, brand, or specific item type.
How might a “diamond gold necklace” perform on impressions and clicks basis versus a “stone-cut gold classic diamond tennis necklace?”
Descriptors like “artisanal” or “handcrafted” could additionally help match your products with shoppers with higher purchase intent.
Overall, strategically integrating these keywords into the product titles and descriptions can increase the chances of your products appearing in relevant search results.
Competitor analysis complements keyword research by enhancing your insights with findings on what other businesses do in the same sector.
Analyze your competitor’s product listings to understand their keyword usage, pricing strategies, or other factors contributing to their success.
If you notice your competitors appearing in searches you’d like to be in, fine-tune your product listings, building on their strategies.
Optimizing feed data and product attributes are the most effective ways to positively impact SEO performance.
Think beyond the minimal amount of required information. Hhighlight any and all differentiators like color, material, technical specifications, or unique features.
Take advantage of the space Google offers, especially within the product description field, to offer an appealing sell to potential buyers.
Selecting and optimizing product images
High-quality and compelling images can also significantly impact your product listings’ click-through rate and overall performance.
Above all, ensure that your product images are of the highest quality possible while complying with Google’s size and formatting requirements.
- Clear and well-lit photographs that showcase your products from different angles will give customers a better understanding of what they can expect.
- Use descriptive file names and alt tags. Google extracts information about your images using these attributes, and including alt text is also a requirement for ADA compliance.
- Google Images also supports structured data, such as product, video, recipe, and image metadata. Including this information makes your images eligible for Google’s rich results, as long as you include the “image” attribute.
Also, depending on your product category, consider incorporating lifestyle images to demonstrate your products in real-life scenarios.
For instance, if you’re selling outdoor camping gear, show images of people using the equipment in a camping setting.
This type of imagery helps differentiate you from your competitors. It also enables customers to envision themselves using the product and evoke emotions that drive them to make a purchase.
External optimizations: Landing page performance and customer reviews
Moving beyond your product listings, Google may also assess your landing page speed and experience to rank your products.
Regularly evaluate your product pages to improve user experience and consumer purchase journey.
- A high bounce rate could indicate a mismatch between your product listings and your site’s offerings. This could also be a sign of poor or misleading descriptions on your listings, non-competitive pricing, or even a buggy or slow website experience.
- Load time and page experience correlate with user time spent on site and Google rankings.
Another external method of expanding your reach is by opting into Google customer reviews.
Third-party reviews are a powerful strategy for ecommerce merchants looking to enhance their online presence and build trust with potential customers.
Customer reviews are crucial in the decision-making process of online shoppers, and their presence can increase the visibility of products in search results.
Star ratings can help you attract clicks as buyers look to make informed purchase decisions.
Google offers the ability to display both seller and individual product ratings.
- Seller ratings are sourced from Google customer reviews (if the merchant opts in) and aggregated independent review websites.
- Product ratings require a minimum of 50 reviews across all your products and can be submitted manually in Merchant Center or via a supported third-party review aggregator.
Reporting and insights for free product listings
Tracking the performance of your free product listings is essential to understanding the impact of your optimization efforts.
Fortunately, Google Merchant Center breaks down valuable metrics like clicks, impressions, and click-through rates in dedicated tabs for free and local listings.
You can also use Report Editor to compare metrics side by side across paid and free shopping activity, or segment traffic by product, brand, or category.
Listing your products for free alongside paid shopping ads is a powerful way to maximize visibility across Google platforms and add value to your brand.
Since the introduction of free listings, merchants using free listings and ads together saw a click increase of 50% and doubled impressions, according to Google internal data.
The insights obtained through tracking the performance of your free product listings directly impact your marketing reporting and inventory planning.
With a clear understanding of which products are gaining more visibility and engagement, you can fine-tune your free listing optimization and paid shopping campaigns to allocate resources more effectively.
The Google Shopping experience is evolving rapidly, as evidenced by the relatively recent introduction of free listings.
As consumer behavior shifts, with an increased willingness to purchase products online, look to the search giant to continue upgrading how users shop on Google.
Optimizing your free product listings is the best way to ensure success within Google’s shopping ecosystem and meet the challenges of a transforming marketplace.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.