Google is making some big changes to its organic search listings, and retailers will be able to take advantage. The company announced it will soon let businesses run free retail ads on its main search page.
In a post on the Google Shopping Blog, Bryan Ready, Google’s President, Commerce, wrote, “Free listings in Google Search results makes your offers more accessible to the hundreds of millions of people who shop on Google each day, connecting you to more customers in more places.”
This new feature is a logical extension of other recent changes at Google. In late April, the company began allowing free listings of products in the Shopping tab. That adjustment was presented as an adaptation to the challenges faced by businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now it looks like they’re thinking beyond the short term — and into 2021 and beyond — with their attempts to increase opportunities for retail companies and consumers alike.
Why Did They Make the Change?
According to Google, it’s all about giving buyers more options and businesses more opportunities. In that same blog post, Ready wrote that free listings are “a big step forward in democratizing access to digital commerce, benefitting shoppers and merchants with more choices across the board.”
We think there are a couple of other reasons, too:
To Compete with Amazon
According to Johan Moreno at Forbes, the move better positions Google to compete with Amazon. That makes a lot of sense. Amazon currently dominates online shopping and is showing no signs of slowing down.
According to a study from Civic Science, 74% of Amazon Prime members start their search on Amazon. At the moment, Google doesn’t have an opportunity to woo those shoppers, so it’s investing in everyone else.
But 42% of people without Prime membership start their online shopping search on Google, compared to 29% on Amazon. So there are still large swaths of the population that will be reached by these free listings.
With the change, Google can increase the number of products listed on its site — and try to close the gap with Amazon — and make it easier for buyers and sellers to find each other.
And Take Advantage of the Shift Away from Brick and Mortar
Even before COVID-19, brick and mortar retailers were closing shop. Many store closures that at first appeared temporary as a result of the pandemic could end up permanent.
Now e-commerce is surging. “Out of all the growth markets in the world at the moment, few are more promising than e-commerce,” wrote Joe Tenebruso of Motley Fool. “Global retail e-commerce sales will exceed $6.5 trillion by 2023, according to Statista, up from $3.5 trillion in 2019.”
Many businesses will also try to capitalize on the increase in e-commerce by using Google’s free listings to get its products out there.
That’s a good idea, but it’s not the only option.
It Still May Be Worth it to Invest in Paid Listings
While free advertising is undoubtedly a great opportunity for many businesses, that doesn’t mean there’s no longer a reason to pay for advertising on Google. In fact, the change could make paid ads even more valuable.
As Google phases in its free product listings, search pages could become crowded. According to Motley Fool’s Adam Levy, “Brands looking to stand out from the increasingly crowded field may spend more on Google’s ad products.”
So even with the opportunity to be listed for free on Google, it might be worth an investment in more high-profile paid ads in order to be more noticeable to consumers.
Rollout Will Be Gradual
Google is phasing in its free listings, so businesses may want to wait before making changes to their advertising plans.
At the beginning it’ll only be in the U.S., and strictly on mobile devices. But they plan to expand to computers shortly. It also seems likely that they will add more countries into the mix — free Shopping tab listings also started out as U.S. only before expanding to other countries.