Jun 28, 2012

NEWSFLASH: Google turns off Google Product Search in One Box....

Starting yesterday, June 27, our data indicated that Google started to send the bulk of the “one box” traffic for commercial searches to the new ‘step 1’ Google Shopping experience.  In calls with retailers we are getting a ton of questions about the change(s) going on at Google, so wanted to continue sharing common questions and our answers along with news updates as they happen.

What is One box traffic?

Internally at Google called the integration of product search and main search is called Universal Search, and externally One Box – this is where historically the product results from Google Product Search (GPS) were integrated right in with the organic and paid search results.


For pretty much every commercial/product search you will now see this new treatment.  Here are some examples.

Here's the search for 'electrical generator':











Here's the result for 'mascara':


Here's the result for 'samsung phone':


Why does this matter?

The original timeline that Google published for the beginning of some testing of traffic was June 1 with July 1 as the ‘change over begins in earnest day’ and Oct 15 as the move is complete day.

This abrupt change in traffic on June 27, indicates that Google has moved that July 1 date up.  In fact, many retailers were thinking there would be a slow change from July 1-> Oct 15, but this one box move signals that the bulk of the traffic will now flow through the new system.

Is GPS totally turned off?

There are still a couple of paths that consumers can take to get to the old GPS experience and thus generate free traffic to retailers.  The first path is through the new One Box Google Shopping Experience.  In the PLA below, if the user clicks any of the product images, or retailers, they are taken to the retailer an the PLA CPC is incurred.  However, if they click on the green ‘shopping.google.com’ link they still go to the old GPS.

The two other paths consumers can take to the old GPS:

  • Direct URL navigation to shopping.google.com
  • Clicking on the shopping tab from Google SERPS or home page

How much traffic is now diverted?

By our measure, the one-box delivered 80% of the traffic to Google Product Search.  While you could argue that there is still a path there from the onebox, we have seen traffic drop about 80%, so we believe that not many consumers are actually clicking on the green shopping link.  This makes sense because the other options are much more visual and appealing.

What should retailers be doing?

We continue to have a lot of  retailers calling us with a lot of questions on the changes.

Here are our recommendations:

  1. Education – First it helps to fully understand the changes and what they mean for your business.  We have a lot of content here on the CSE Strategies blog and ChannelAdvisor also had a Google co-hosted webinar that was an excellent source of information.
  2. Become a Google Shopping and PLA expert – The PLA system has flown under the radar since 2009 and we’re finding a lot of retailers have not understood the program very well nor have they optimized it.  More information on common misconceptions is below. 
  3. Start Optimizing Google Shopping and PLAs – While we haven’t seen the complete secondary and tertiary experience roll out yet (except for tents),  even with this big first step change in one box, you can start optimizing your PLAS.

Google Shopping + PLAs are not search marketing

One common mis-perception we are finding is that retailers assume that because a) this is Google and b) it’s CPC and c) you manage part of it in the adwords user interface, this is another program just like Adwords.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Here are some of the reasons it is NOT like adwords and therefore should be managed differently:

  1. The User Experience is a CSE – See our walk through here for details.
  2. Products not keywords – Instead of thinking at a keyword+ad levely, you have to optimize at a target+product level.  Google’s Adwords system has no concept of products.  You  control the product-level information via the datafeed which you have to produce.
  3. Targets?!– The atomic level at which you bid in PLAs is the target.  You group products into targets and then assign a bid to that set of products.  This creates some important and strategic questions:
    • Should you group products by brand?
    • Should you group by category?
    • Should you group by ASP?
    • Should you group by promotional activity?
    • Should you group by margin?
    • Should you group by ROAS?
    • Should you group by Conversion rate?
    • What do you do if a product goes out of stock - keep it in the target?
    • Maybe you should group by ‘price competitiveness’?

Here’s the trick – the answer to the above questions is sometimes yes, sometimes no and sometimes it changes on a daily basis.  Most frequently you want to matrix and optimize against 2-3 factors.

  1. Datafeed – The way you create and optimize targets is via datafeeds.  You’re going to want to create as tight a loop between your optimization strategies and your datafeed.  If you have to go to IT every time you want to optimize your datafeed for PLA, you will get eaten alive by competitors that can out cycle you.
  2. Target transparency – you will want to be able to ‘look into’ the targets to see the metrics on a per-product level.  Google does not allow you to do this, SEMs don’t understand products and will not be able to help you here.
  3. Search bid optimization strategies won’t work.  In the keyword search world, some advanced strategies have been developed (that are generally questionable for retailers to begin with, but we’ll save that debate for a later day).  These approaches do not make sense with Google Shopping and PLA:
    • Efficient Frontier For CPA-based business models, where you are focused on acquiring a customer or an event (e.g. a mortgage) it makes sense to overpay for some leads and underpay for others and optimize your budget.  This makes no sense in PLA – what if you overpay for a target that is lower margin products and underpay for a target that has higher margin costs?
    • Portfolio bidding – Actually this is very applicable and is essentially what google has implemented.  Targets are your different portfolios and you treat them differently with different bids.
    • Predictive bidding – These approaches allow you to ‘simulate into the future’ and answer questions such as: If I bid $X, how much more traffic will I get and consequently revenue?  This approach doesn’t work, because unlike a keyword/ad combo in Adwords where you know if I bid on the keyword “lcd monitor” I will show up, in PLA, you don’t know what target will show up for which search and you also don’t know which product within the target did/would/could show up.  In other words, by its very nature, PLA is unpredictive.  You would do much better looking at past performance than trying to predict the unpredictable future performance.

(Note: Typepad won't let me fix the numbering above.)

Ten questions to ask your Google Shopping/PLA solution provider

We’ve suggested that retailers use questions like the following to help understand if your current PLA or proposed provider is going to be able to really help you with this program:

  1. How should I set up my Targets?  What is your initial recommendation?
  2. Will you need us to make frequent datafeed changes?  How much time will you allow/need?
  3. Can you provide sku/product level details on PLA/GS performance?  (sales/sku, cost/sku, CR/sku, margin/sku, etc.)
  4. How do you plan to optimize - against spend, revenue, margin, ?
  5. Do you have business rules that automatically change datafeeds?
  6. What is the ROAS your e-commerce clients are seeing with GS/PLA?
  7. Do PLA's convert worse, or better than adwords?
  8. If I have a fixed budget, what % should be adwords and what % PLA?
  9. If a product I don't want is showing up for a GS result, can you turn that off or optimize the product that does show up?
  10. What are some common optional attributes I need to make sure my feed has to improve my GS/PLA performance?
  11. What's an example where you would bid-down a Target?
  12. How does predictive modeling work with GS/PLAs?


Examples of unoptimized retailers that are burning money on Google Shopping/PLA

One step you can take immediately is start doing searches for your top selling products.  You will start to see some very interesting behaviors which really points out the importance of tightly managing this program.  Here are a couple of examples we have found that are interesting.  When talking about the ads, we use a numbering system from left to right like this:


Example 1:  front loading washer lg:

In this example, we are looking for a front-loading LG washer.  You can imagine for a $1000+ appliance, you would be willing to pay a pretty big CPC, so to compete for this type of product, you have to be bidding north of $5/click most likely (assuming the market is rational).  If you are paying that much, you want to make sure you are showing a high-end product:


Here advertiser 5 would not want to pay a high CPC to have their $160 product.  When you see these large swings of ASP in one set of results, it usually points to a program that is running on autopilot and the retailer is probably losing not only a lot of $ on a cost/product basis, but most importantly the opportunity cost is very high.  What if they had the WM2250 at a competitive price?


Example 2: Lawn sweepers anyone?

One of the top selling outdoor items is a lawn sweeper (who knew?!). Here's a search result:


One of these things is not like the other....Yes, you guessed it, Amazon (well Google) has served up a floor sweeper and not a lawn sweeper.  Again, you would think the economics would take are of this.


Example 3: 42 inch TVs

Here, we are starting to look for a 42 inch TV and are looking at panasonics:


Spot number 2 looks like a great price, but the image is a little weird.  When you click through, this is some kind of an internal part for a panasonic 42" TV.  What you'll find is that due to their complex and unorganized catalog, eBay has some of the wackiest things they are advertising in Google Shopping.  It will be interesting to watch and see if they keep this level of spend up or not.  Also, Google has to realize it is a bad user experience at some point and do something about it.


Example 4: Mustang bumpers

Here we have been in a bit of a fender bender and are looking for a new bumper for our classic Mustang.  Boy there sure are some great deals!  BTW, this one wins the 'biggest swing in ASP' that I have found - a whopping $1,665!



Based on what we are seeing, here are some closing thoughts:

  • Google seems to be moving faster here than anyone initially thought
  • A lot of retailers are really scrambling
  • Unfortunately many are mistaking the new Google Shopping CSE as another search offering
  • They will be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Heading into Q4, this creates a big opportunity for cutting-edge retailers to get ahead of the competition and get aggressive with this program (and smart) and take some serious share.

Are you seeing your GPS traffic drop off a cliff? Have you seen any wacky PLA examples? Sound off in comments.


SeekingAlpha Disclosure - I am long Google and Amazon. eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor where I am CEO.






Harnessing Social, Local and Mobile to Improve your Online Strategy

The convergence of social, local and mobile has changed the world of e-commerce. With the rapid adoption of smartphones across Europe and changing customer habits, perfecting your strategy for these three trends can close the loop on your online strategy. For retailers looking to expand their business internationally, these three tips will give you a competitive advantage and help you stand out from the crowd. 


Facebook is one of the most powerful tools for retailers looking to broaden their brand awareness globally. With a user base of over 900 million, and over half of those users logging in to their account daily, the potential to reach new customers is vast. Facebook is not limited by borders; users across the world are “Liking” brands and retailers they admire. In fact, 33% of the Facebook audience are fans of a brand online. The desire to interact with products certainly exists amongst Facebook users, but this does not necessarily mean that your Facebook page should be an extension of your webstore. Many retailers fall into the trap of forgetting the social aspect of social media; instead you should engage with your fans in a meaningful way to create a successful social media strategy.

Facebook Fans

Incentivise those users who are fans of your page through exclusive offers or competitions and  an engaging page that they can enjoy browsing. Understand your audience and keep up-to-date with local events or holidays or shopping habits. By acknowledging their local and cultural identity, and placing timely posts, you will establish your business as a trusted name.


Google LocalIn terms of going global we advise retailers to think of local in two ways. For retailers who have an established overseas presence, embrace local by offering a store locator on your website and displaying your location on Google Maps. 50% of smartphone shoppers in Europe will use a GPS or mapping app to find a retail location. Get your store-level inventory optimised to attract potential customers and ensure that your products are compatible with barcode scanning apps such as RedLaser. 

However, local can have a different meaning in the global sense and this applies to retailers of all sizes. When going global, the key to success is acting like a local business. Rather than trying to adopt a one size fits all global expansion strategy, take a step back and understand the nuances of each potential market. From customer shopping habits to culture, local language to regulation, every country has unique characteristics. Even in English speaking territories such as the US, Australia and UK there are differences in language and culture. For example, with different product names across these regions, trying to rehash your PPC keywords can cost valuable, potential revenue. Before expanding internationally, localise all of your offering, understand your target audience, country regulations, culture and language. By understanding your target audience and localising all of your efforts you will be able to compete with local businesses and see success. 


Europe is leading the way with smartphone penetration with a 42% adoption rate across the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Pair this with a 39% adoption rate in the US and it is clear to see that globally the rise of mobile adoption rates is causing a seismic shift in consumer behaviour. 13.6 million people across Europe accessed a retail site via a smartphone last year, an increase of 112% in just 12 months. Customers are now researching and buying more products online, scanning barcodes to compare prices and check in-store availability.

Take advantage of this trend by creating a mobile-friendly website with up-to-date inventory levels, an easy checkout process and an enjoyable browsing experience to convert browsers in to shoppers. For retailers with a global presence, offer a native language site where possible, and at a minimum make your delivery conditions easy to find so as to avoid cart abandonment. 


Social, local and mobile are three of the key themes in e-commerce today. Whether you optimise your performance across these three areas to improve your online strategy or expand your business globally, keeping up with these key topics will have a positive impact on your bottom line. 


Jun 22, 2012

FIRST LOOK: The new complete Google Shopping / Product Listing Ads user experience!!

Today, we discovered that Google has one keyword live that exhibits the complete new user experience for Google Shopping, powered by Product Listing Ads (PLA).

It's all about the tents

If you've been following the big Google news (we started here, and have a webinar here and Q+A here and more blogs coming), you may have noticed that there are two types of examples that Google has given for the changes coming to the new Google Shopping: telescopes and tents.

One the folks at ChannelAdvisor had an idea, and ran a search for 'tent' to try and see the PLA screen shots live in the wild.  Much to our surprise, she discovered that the entire new Google Shopping experience is live (your results may vary as it seems they have turned it off again). 

In this post, I'll take you on a tour of the complete new GS experience.  At the bottom (skip to that if you want to understand that first) I analyze what this new User eXperience (UX) means for everyone thinking about their GPS/PLA/GS strategy going forward and introduce the Top 5 reasons you should not manage PLA/GS as if it is search (or the top 5 reasons you should manage PLA/GS like a CSE).

Notes and disclaimers:

  • Click any any image to expand it.  If you are reading this on a feed, you may want to head to csestrategies.com to go direct to get the best formatting.
  • This experience quickly went away after we found it. It's our feeling that it seems like an entirely new and detailed experience and probably represents where Google is going with GS.  That being said, Google is known for a ton of testing and it's possible this could have been a random test.  The level of investment and curation for this UX is very large which is why we are leaning this way.

GS One Box Experience for 'tent' (step one)

The 'one box' or Search Engine Results Page (SERP) integration of GS for 'tent' looks like this:


This is very interesting.  Instead of the usual presentation where you immediately see products, we are given a complete integrated buyer's guide for tents.  Step one of that buyer's guide is picking the type of tent - camping, backpacking, beach, canopy, mountaineering or ice-fishing (who knew?!).

When the user clicks on one of these 'types' of tents they are taken to step two of the experience. 

GS Step Two Experience for 'tent'

In step two, we are now out of the SERP and into the GS experience (note that the navigation on the left is branded Shopping).

Here's what step two looks like:


At this point in the experience, we are at a filtered navigation type system.  The filters available are:

  • Sleep Capacity
  • Brand
  • Price
  • Seasonality
  • More
  • Sort type (relevance, etc.)

What's really slick (and an innovative new UX) is that some of these still have a very clean 'guided shopping' type approach, for example, here is the sleep capacity:


After filtering, the user is presented with a variety of different 'models' of the product that appeared to be sorted by some kind of sales rank (Amazon style).

GS Step Three Experience for 'tent'

When we click on the first product, we are now taken to a good old fashioned product page as illustrated below:



Here GS has gone with a traditional paid CSE experience (shopping.com, shopzilla, pricegrabber, etc) where the 'initial' sort on the item page is not by price.  If the end-user wants to sort by price, they need to click the price column two times (the first click inexplicably does highest to lowest, then the second click does lowest to highest).

Also, notice that Amazon and eBay are both participating.  In fact, eBay has 3-5 entries based on eBay's BestMatch Algorithm (see the sidebar) and condition.  Note that the seller is 'new-sealed', that is not explicitly the condition being surfaced.

Once the consumer clicks here, they are taken to the retailer and the CPC (or CPA) is incurred.


Sidebar: eBay's Coleman 14x10 tents...hmmm

One unusual entry you may have noticed in the results above is that eBay's best new 10x14 coleman tent is $579 and Amazon's is $229 - could Amazon really be that much less?  When you click through the eBay listings, you see what a challenge eBay's data problem can cause as they try to participate in programs like this:


Here, eBay's algorithm has tried to match all of these tents to the Coleman 14x10 tent.  What has happened is the >$500 tent is the only one that is actually what the consumer is looking for -the other tents that eBay has matched aren't the right size.  I guess eBay is smart enough not to erroneously report those to Google, but they do erroneously group them for the consumer and it can be confusing and end up in the unalert consumer buying the wrong size.  Since eBay has no catalog for tents, this automated approach is prone to failure.

What's really painful is that it appears that eBay has a lot of $200 tents here that are Coleman instant 8-person 10x14 tents, but because of data quality issues, isn't sending those to Google and thus eBay doesn't appear competitive.

The 'tent' GS Experience - what does it mean for retailers?

That concludes the front to back new user experience for Google Shopping.  It's actaully extremely enlightening and shows what a game changer this new program is going to be for retailers and how dramatically it is going to change the PLA program.

I also think that to Google's point, this is a huge upgrade in the user experience which always is good and results in higher CRs and AOVs at the end of the day.

Frist, let's recap what we saw of note in the UX walk-through from a PLA perspective:

  • There was no 'traditional PLA' (right rail) on the initial SERP
  • There wasn't a CPC/CPA PLA 'charge' until step 3 of the process - the item page.

What's most interesting when thinking about how to strategically approach this new user experience is the item page.  With most traditional CSEs, we have found that overwhelmingly (80% plus) of the time consumers do sort by price.  What that means strategically is that you may not have to bid aggressively when you have the lowest price on a product.

Look at that initial step-3 UX - as you bid more, you are paying to move up that ladder, but if the consumer does a price sort and clicks while you have the lowest price, why would you pay more?

Five reasons that Google Shopping/PLA is a CSE and not AdWords.

This first look into the new Google Shopping user experience really highlights why retailers need to manage this program as if it were a CSE.  Here are the top five reasons you do NOT want to treat this as another adwords program (instead treat it as a steroid-amped CSE):

  1. Google Shopping/PLA is a CSE -> Well, it is a Comparison Shopping Engine - look at this UX - CSE, CSE, CSE.  Product matching, attributes, SKU-level optimization, etc. all of that is going to be super important.  Don't drop the ball here.
  2. Item page price sort - Some innovative vendor is going to create some solutions based on this experience that save smart retailers a TON of ad spend (ahem, you can bet your bottom dollar we have a big team on this already).
  3. Datafeeds - the way you manipulate this program is with datafeeds.  What if you are a tent seller and aren't providing google today with capacity, size, or one of the other ~10 attributes that Google has added to the user experience?  Well, you'll need to add those to the datafeed ASAP or you will get zero, yes zero exposure - because it doesn't matter how much you bid - if your product isn't categorized right, it won't be seen.  Period.
  4. Target transparency - PLA targets are designed to be big black boxes.  With a CSE mindset we can smash open that black box and see what is going on inside of there.  This will give you a competitive advantage over retailers that treat PLA like a search program.
  5. Target/datafeed/optimization loop- Let's say you see a new UX like this and want to change your strategy.  PLA is driven by targets which are configured in the....datafeed.  If you have to login to your adwords account to configure some new targets, then run to IT to change your datafeed (for new targets or attributes, or to exclude products) and then after X days measure that (which you can't do because you can't see into the targets), then you try to iterate, you will be 10 steps behind a retailer that is optimizing this like a CSE.
  6. Ok it's a bonus - GMV and margin vs. spend. Agencies manage based on spend.  You manage CSEs based on sales (GMV) and margin - if you manage PLA+GS on spend, you are going to get eaten alive.  It is going to be very easy to let the spend run and generate very low sales with almost no accountability (see Target transparency).

That's what we learned from the new UX - I think it's a net very positive for retailers - especially those that treat the new Google Shopping/PLA like a CSE.  For those retailers that think of it as an extension of search, you are going to be bringing a knife to a proverbial gunfight.

P.S. You saw it here first folks ;-)

SeekingAlpha Disclosure: I am long Google and Amazon.  eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor where I am CEO.




Jun 04, 2012

Questions and Answers: Google Product Search to Product Listing Ad / Google Shopping Transition

On Friday, June 1, 2012, we hosted a webinar to help retailers: (You can see a replay of the webinar HERE).

  • Understand the history and inner workings of Google Product Search, Product Listing Ads and Google Trusted Store programs  
  • Understand the changes coming to GPS and the new Google Shopping
  • Evaluate the impact from the GPS-> Google Shopping changes
  • Start thinking about remediation and next steps in a three-phase program.

Unfortunately we only had an hour and there were a LOT of questions we were not able to get through. As we started reviewing the questions, we thought it would be helpful to post the answers for all to see as there are a lot of common threads and similar topics have come up in our individual discussions with customers.  You can see a replay of the webinar here – in answering the questions, we assume you have a basic understanding of the overall changes and it would be optimal if you review the webinar.

Google also graciously agreed to help us answer some questions, so they have added content in here where you see ‘Google Answer/clarification.’  

Download the recording of our joint webinar with Google for more information about the changes and for additional answers to your questions. Register for the recording here.

Given the volume of questions, we have sectioned them into these five sub-sections:

  • General Google Shopping questions
  • Product Listing Ad questions
  • SEO/Organic search questions
  • Marketplace questions (eBay and Amazon)
  • Misc

You can read these straight though and get a really good feeling for the changes coming, or if you have specific areas of interest - e.g. eBay, you can use your browsers search function (control-f/apple-f) to jump to the specific area of interest.

After today's Google webinar, we will continue with part II and III of our series of blog posts around the big GPS changes.

*******************General Google Shopping / Google Product Search Questions

 Q: Are the shopping feeds still free? Will the Google Shopping site still be free?

A: Between now and October, Google will be changing GPS to Google Shopping and it will move to a pay system. Google is replacing the current free system (Google Product Search) with a new fee-based system called Google Shopping.  Google Shopping will use an existing program called Google Product Listing Ads (PLA).  Based on our data from the PLA program, we estimate a 19.85% effective take rate for the program.  It is impossible to predict the actual costs; because every merchant is different and because it is an auction, we cannot know the pricing across the program as a surge of new supply (retailers) and demand (buyers coming in via the new Google Shopping) hit the system.

Q: Do you think this will end all the crap companies that put up false prices. i.e Making more opportunities for the honest merchants?

A: Yes, in fact Google cited problems with the quality of products in GPS among one of the top drivers for this change. Merchant center feed policies do state that prices in feeds must match the retailer’s site.  That policy has been in effect and the issue is that it is very hard to monitor/enforce. Going forward, hopefully the fact they are paying for non-converting traffic will make this practice go away due to economic incentives being more aligned.


Q: Are policies concerning prohibited product types going to be changing to accommodate the new program?  Example:  Prohibited products in product Ads - Alcohol.  Currently allowable in Product Search.

Google Answer/clarification:  

Whereas Google Product Search and Product Listing Ads previously had separate policies and feed specifications, Google Shopping will use a single set of policies and feed specifications.

In order for your products to continue to appear on Google Shopping, your feed must comply with our feed specifications, currently available at: http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2626314 

All of the items in your feed must comply with the Google Shopping policies, currently available at: http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2632553 

Merchants who will be affected by policy changes should expect an email notification from us in June 2012.  Enforcement of the new feed specifications will roll out gradually over the course of Q3, but the policies will be enforced as of July 1. 



Q: Have you heard anything about Google Checkout contributing to the algorithm for the new Google Shopping, it sound like Trusted Stores will eventually play a role, but wasn't sure about Checkout.
A: Defer to Google on this.

 Google Answer/clarification: Google Wallet (formerly known as Checkout) is not intended to be a factor in ranking.

Q: How will Google rank the product listing ads merchants?

A: While the specifics of how Google ranks search results are impossible to know, they do disclose contributing factors in programs like AdWords.  Our expectation is that the ranking for Google Shopping will share some of that framework – specifically that quality will be important.  In AdWords that is done through Quality Score which is an important factor (along with bid and others) in determining the paid results for any given search.  The result is that high quality ads that consumers find appealing (and therefore click) do better than those that aren’t useful to consumers.  For products, these same fundamentals exist – quality will matter and this only increases the importance of building a quality data feed to send to Google.

 Google Answer/clarification: 

When the transition to Google Shopping is completed this fall, ranking will be based on a combination of relevance and bid price, similar to Product Listing Ads today.  This should give merchants greater control over where their products appear on Google Shopping.  


Q: Will this only affect "Google Shopping"?
A: This will only directly impact the program called Google Product Search (GPS), which is currently accessed via the one-box results and the shopping tab.  It will not impact other comparison shopping engines (CSEs).  If you use the Google program called Product Listing Ads (PLA), there will be side effects as Google is changing the display of that program to ‘merge’ it with GPS.  We also expect the economics will oscillate as a lot of new supply and demand hits that system, which has been relatively stable.


Q: Will rich snippets have any impact of product listings?

A: Google has not indicated anything regarding Rich Snippets will change.

Link to rich snippets info: http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1068046

Google Answer/clarification:
There is no change to the Rich Snippets program.


Q: Will the display format of PLAs change as part of this?  Will multiple advertisers' listings be consolidated into one listing (e.g. see more vendors link)?
A: Yes – if you check the original Google Commerce blog post, you will see some notional examples of how Google will modify the user experience.  Please be sure to join us on our Google Webinar to see more examples.

 Google Answer/clarification:
Google is constantly experimenting with new ad formats in its effort to provide the best user experience and performance for our partners.  As a part of the transition to Google Shopping, we will experiment with a variety of commercial formats, including larger product images or the ability to refine a search by brand or product type.  

We also will experiment with different formats, depending on the granularity of the query.  For example, if the user searches for “digital cameras” then it makes sense to show a variety of products with options for the user to browse and find more.  For a more granular product query, such as “Canon Powershot S100,” we’ll likely show more in-depth information about the specific product with a list of merchants from whom to buy.

Q: Can manufacturers/brands restrict sellers from bidding on their products?

A: The Google AdWords policies around trademarks apply and we have seen product listing ads get disapproved for this reason. Google has not given any indication that these policies are changing.

Google Answer/clarification:
The Adwords policies will apply across Google Shopping, both in the new “commercial unit” that displays on Google.com and on Google.com/shopping.


*******************Product Listing Ad (PLA) Questions*******************


Q: As the transition to PLA occurs July forward, will there be a way to know how our search profile and products are being affected? 
A: During this transition we recommend closely monitoring the traffic and revenue coming from your Google feed and specifically measuring the amount that is coming from traditional Google Product Search versus Product Listing Ads.  This ratio will rise over the transition period and is the best way to get a feel for how much of your search volume is being served by the new Google Shopping.


Q: How can a company place bids based on individual products? Without having that ability, how can mass merchants or marketplaces place appropriate bids when 1000's of similar products exist on their systems, all of which have different prices and conversions rates?
A:  Google does not currently offer a method to place bids at the product level.  Bidding is done in AdWords at the Target level.  Targets are a way to associate groups of similar products together and manage via a single bid.  Your first step should be to evaluate the performance of your product catalog across Product Listing Ads and then segment your catalog (by performance, margin, conversion rate, etc.) to employ a performance-based optimization strategy.  ChannelAdvisor provides this level of data to evaluate the performance of each product on PLA.


Google Answer/clarification:
Product Listing Ads offers a number of ways for advertisers to organize their products for bidding purposes.  Advertisers can choose from existing attributes in their product feed, such as product_type, brand or condition, or they can tag their offers using custom adwords_labels or adwords_grouping attributes, which can either represent one or many items in the product feed.  For most advertisers, we generally recommend starting more broadly at the category level and then bidding more granularly as needed. 

Q: Will there be a need for 2 URL’s after full transition?

A: Assuming this question is referring to the ability to include an optional Redirect URL in the data feed then the answer is yes this will still be possible.  The Redirect URL field enables various tracking options to differentiate PLA from traditional Google Product Search.  As GPS goes away this may prove to be of lesser use but we anticipate the flexibility remaining.

 Google Answer/clarification:
Yes, please review the new Google Shopping Feed Specification, currently available at http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2626314

Q If only PLAs, does that means that PLA guidelines will rule Google Shopping?  

A:  Effectively, yes – they are called Google Shopping policies, but seem to duplicate PLA.

 All of the items in your feed must comply with the Google Shopping policies, currently available at http://support.google.com/merchants/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2632553


Q: Can we send redirect url’s? Or does it have to be domain name url’s? 

A: No, PLA does not allow for redirects. Yes, the adwords_redirect URL currently allows for redirects. Thus far, no indication has been given by Google that this will change.

Google Answer/clarification:

Please see previous answer re: 2 URLs. 


Q: How do product listing ad CPCs compare to regular Google search CPCs?
A: Here is a table based on ChannelAdvisor’s proprietary data that shows the three programs in tabular format:


Note: It’s important to note that we do expect the PLA program to change dramatically with the sunsetting of GPS as the number of competitors in the auction will increase dramatically. Also keep in mind that the current take rate we see is an aggregation across many merchants each with their own goals, margin profile, etc.  One of the benefits of a CPC-auction based program is that it allows the retailer to set bids according to their goals.  Obviously the realities of the marketplace kick in here but it is certainly possible to pay far less than 20% albeit at a lower revenue volume.


Q: If our PLA program right now is CPA, do you believe it will change to CPC? (asked 4 times)

A: No, there has not been any announcement about this ending the PLA CPA program.


 Google Answer/clarification:
CPA will continue to be offered to merchants who are whitelisted and add the necessary code that enables transaction monitoring.  CPA is a whitelisted process, due to the level of involvement required to implement the conversion tracking properly with the advertiser.  For more information, please see:



Q: In the Merchant Center, we have products that are disapproved for Product Listing Ads because of trademark policies. This hasn't been a problem for us yet because they don't effect Google Product Search, but going forward will this be something we need to look closely into in order to appear in Google?
A: Yes – in the new Google Shopping, your items will not be shown if they show errors in the Merchant Center because PLA is the underlying system of that new user experience.

Google Answer/clarification:
We will enforce policies regarding trademark, family-safe products and other standard ads policies. 

Q: Is the back-end management for Google Shopping still going to take place on BOTH Merchant Center and the Adwords dashboard as opposed to one unified dashboard?
A: Yes

Q: So basically we should account for a 20% commission to Google for a sale!? That is insane. 

A: Based on current economics that we see across a broad customer base, that is the effective revenue share.  Every merchant is unique and as stated, we do expect the PLA action to change dramatically as this program rolls out – CPCs could go up or down.  Stay tuned. As with any CPC program the % commission is really a function of how aggressively you bid.  Google has stated that they will have the option for products to be bid at a very low CPC ($.01) but of course that may limit  your traffic potential.

Q: Sorry you said PLA is cost per click? 

A: The PLA program offers both CPC and CPA.  For CPA, you have to install a Google Conversion tracker.  Some retailers have expressed concern with installing this as it does give Google details about your conversion rate, product order details, and average order value.

Q: How many retailers do you expect to use CPA for the new Google Shopping? 

A: It’s hard to predict, based on our current set of customers in PLA – about 30% at a merchant level are CPA vs. 70% CPC – CPC is much more popular because many retailers already understand the format due to the AdWords system.  However, we have found those merchants coming into this from the world of marketplaces have a preference for CPA.  It’s the same auction, so it is really up to the retailer to decide which is best for them, though our understanding is that Google has to approve merchants into CPA pricing.


Q: in Google Merchant Center a lot of my products are disallowed for product ads but there is no explanation or obvious reason why. Is there a way to figure it out?
A: Hmm, usually we have seen a reason indicated- please contact ChannelAdvisor support (ssc.channeladvisor.com) and we’ll have one of our experts look into it for you.


Q: What is the benefit of CPA bidding versus CPC bidding for PLAs?
A: As with any decision, there are pros and cons to each.  We are gathering a list from customers for both programs and will feature that on a future blog post (csestrategies.com) – some of the previous questions have indicated some of the pros+cons.

Google Answer/clarification:
CPC bidding is recommended for merchants whose top priority is traffic.  CPA bidding is recommended for merchants whose top priority is sales.

Q: Do you think overall conversion rates will rise with the merge?
A: It’s always hard to predict conversion rates (and CPCs) because of the dynamic nature of the ‘traffic marketplace’.  If Google implements a GPS-like CSE experience, we expect CRs to at least stay stable and there is definitely up-side. Based on our initial review of the user experience it seems to be a much more cohesive experience which should favorably impact conversion rates.


Q: With this change, what happens to the Google Merchant Center feeds that tie into PLAs?
A: Those will become the feeds that drive Google Shopping – so what has changed is currently you have two ‘consumers’ of your feeds – GPS and PLA – going forward only PLA will consume the feeds.

Google Answer/clarification:
We recommend that merchants continue to submit their entire inventory in their feed, as they have done to date, and place at least the minimum bid on all products in their feed.  The process of submitting feeds is not changing with this announcement and, while we will continue to streamline the bidding process, the current bidding interface remains in place.


Q: Will unification still play a part in Google shopping? If so, how would that work with a CPC model?
A: We assume that by ‘unification’, you mean the current GPS combination of merchants onto one product page. Based on screen shots we’ve seen, we think the answer is yes. Bid would then play a role in how each offer is ranked within that product page/grouped display, much like on CPC CSEs like Shopzilla.

Google Answer/clarification:
Yes.  Product Pages, which unify all information about a product (including offers from multiple merchants), will be a key feature of Google Shopping.  Offers for a single product will be ranked using a combination of relevance and bid. 


*******************SEO/Organic search questions***********************


Q: Any thoughts on this change causing an increase competition in SEO efforts and need to commit greater resources to maintain organic search engine result positions?
A: It is too soon to tell the overall impact on organic search results.  One thing that has happened over the last few years as Google has increased the amount of real estate given to Sponsored Listings as well as programs like Google Product Search and Product Listing Ads is that the organic listings on many search terms have been pushed further down the page.  There is a possibility that as the product results consolidate into a unified user experience (PLA + One Box results) that this pulls up Organic listings slightly.


Q: Will there still be natural search on the front page?

A: -While this is the first time a free program has converted to paid, Google has not announced plans to make the same move on the organic/natural/SEO results.


Q: What does this mean for traditional SEO?  Will Google suppress products from organic results?
A: See previous Answer for the first part of your Question.  For the second part, that’s a good question.  With the advent of Panda and Penguin which are designed to remove duplicate data, fewer and fewer products are showing up in SERPS, but we do not know of anything in this change that will impact that.  We did do a study recently for commercial/e-commerce terms and discovered that ~54% of results were paid and 46% were ‘free’ – that was before the GPS change which will move that more toward 56-60% paid, 34-40% free.


Q: Will products still show up on Google organically?

A: See previous Answer. 


Marketplace questions (eBay and Amazon)


Q: Currently, Amazon and eBay show up in almost every product search. This has helped us to double or even triple up on our search results, since we sell on both sites, as well as our own website. Do you think these companies will pony up the CPA to remain in the search results, and if so, won't they have to pass that increase on to the merchants?
A: As you know, at ChannelAdvisor, we are strong advocates of a strategy that puts your products on a very diverse set of channels (search, cse, marketplaces, social, etc.) and as you point out a nice benefit of this is you do get extensive Google SERP coverage.  While we have no inside information on how Amazon and eBay will react, we do know that they are in the same boat as everyone – as best we know they are not getting a free ride.  I suspect they will make their own choices on the economics and bid accordingly.  It is possible this will result in fee changes there, but nothing has been announced.  One eBay marketing person has commented in the press: (AuctionBytes: http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y12/m06/i01/s01)


eBay's head of Internet Marketing Robert Chatwani said eBay was one of the earliest adopters of Google's Product Listing Ads at scale. "We've developed sophisticated capabilities to generate strong buyer demand for our 25 million global sellers through our relationship with Google. We are evaluating the impact of today's announcement, but we also plan to fully participate in the new Google Shopping offering, and continue to harness the power of Google's ad offerings on behalf of our sellers and merchants."


Some Wall St. Analysts have calculated that only 5-10% of eBay and Amazon’s traffic comes from Google Product Search, so most likely this will not have a material impact.



Q: How will this affect listings on Amazon and other channels? Will they be required to CPC?
A: They will definitely be required to make the change like all other merchants.  They are Google’s largest advertisers and may have some special arrangements, tools, APIs, etc.  Given the competition between the companies, we would speculate that eBay and Amazon would not want Google seeing their data, so they most likely are in the CPC program and not CPA, but only Google/Amazon/eBay know for sure.


Q: If Amazon has to pay for Clicks to have any relevance, will this in fact help the smaller etailers?
A: You could argue this either way.  One argument is that this strengthens Amazon because they have the largest selection/catalog and they tend to have the lowest prices across a broad basket of goods.  So they will enjoy more clicks and lower CPCs (long tail) and selection/price help with CR.  The other side of the argument is that at a 10-12% Take Rate, Amazon will not be able to afford the 20% ETR that we see in PLA, clearing the deck for smaller merchants that are willing to pay that much.


Q: What happens to individual Ebay stores?
A: Currently in GPS, you can see the name of each individual store, we are not sure what the new treatment will be, or if eBay will charge extra or give you some form of control over the datafeed or PLA options.  We never believed that it made sense to pay eBay essentially for free GPS traffic.  Now that GPS is no longer free and given eBay’s 10-12% take rate, it has become a great deal and many smaller sellers may want to play Google Shopping that way.


*******************ChannelAdvisor Questions******************* 

Q: In ChannelAdvisor where can I see PLA reports currently?
A: Report Center – Google Product Search Detail is the name of the report. 


Q: I have been a ChannelAdvisor customer for about a year.  We have just launched our premium webstore and have successfully been selling on Amazon and eBay with you guys.  I need some direction and help in ways of building traffic to the webstore and formulate an approach budget etc. Who should i talk to at ChannelAdvisor?
A: Congrats on the success so far!  Once you have your webstore where you want it, the logical next steps from marketplaces are:

  • Add more marketplaces – We recently announced support for NewEgg and Sears and more to come.  Marketplaces represent 27% of e-commerce and are a great starting point.
  • Comparison Shopping Engines –If you products sell well on eBay and Amazon, we have found they will do well on CSEs for most categories (CSEs represent 10% of e-commerce)
  • Search – Finally, paid search is the largest channel (40% of e-commerce) but also the most complex.
  • One of the benefits of being with ChannelAdvisor is we have an entire suite of these solutions you can grow into.


Miscellaneous (do not fit in the above)

Q: How can they manage the trusted store based on shipping times.. they don't receive the data like ebay / amazon do?  are they only going by Ratings?
A: This program requires the merchant send detailed information about orders placed as well as shipping times to Google so they can measure the merchant’s performance against the service levels.

Google Answer/clarification:
That’s correct.  The performance ratings are based on real data from the merchant.  There are 3 steps to integration:

  1. Javascript on every page to display the Trusted Stores badge
  2. A conversion pixel on your order confirmation page
  3. A daily data feed with your shipping tracking numbers

During our pilot program, most merchants completed integration in about 1 day of work. Full integration details are now publicly available here: http://support.google.com/trustedstoresmerchant/?hl=en


Q: I joined late, will this webinar be posted?
A: Yes, we will send all attendees a link to the recording, and you can check here.


Q: You show Yahoo! Shopping, but I thought that was closed down?
A: To quote Mark Twain: “News of my death is greatly exaggerated.”  Yahoo! Shopping is alive and well.  What has changed is it is now powered by PriceGrabber.  You can see the experience at shopping.yahoo.com.  It is a paid program and PG allows bidding down to zero zero cents, though bidding that low will likely ensure your listings do not appear in Yahoo Shopping or any of PG’s other publisher partners.


Jun 01, 2012

Where to go for more information on Google Product Search / Google Shopping / Google Product Listing Ads changes

We have had a flood of questions from retailers of all sizes in regards to the big changes at Google Product Search.  To help everyone get their heads around the changes and plan accordingly, we have a variety of information coming out shortly (webinars, blog posts and in-person at IRCE.  Here are the details:


We have two complimentary webinars planned, anyone is invited:

  1. Assessing the Impact of the Recent Google Product Search Changes - Thiswebinar is Friday, June 1 at 1pm ET.  You can register here.  Google will not be on thiswebinar.  Click here to register.
  2. Introducing Google Shopping - co-presented by Google - This webinar will be Monday, June 4 at 4pm ET.  Google will be co-present and be available for Q+A - this webinar will focus mostly on Q+A with Google. Click here to register.


Going forwad, we will be posting all information related to Google Product Search and Google Shopping at our comparison shopping engine blog - CSEStrategies.com


As usual, ChannelAdvisor will have a large presence at the annual Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago next week June 5-7.  Our booth is 1401.

As you come in the exhibit hall through the right entrance, it's a ginormous booth right there.  Here's a handy map in case you can't find us.

Our booth will be staffed with experts that are able to talk to you in detail about these changes and any of your other burning e-commerce questions/needs.


Finally, I will be speaking at IRCE about Pinterest and it's impact on e-commerce.  The session is Thursday at 4:15-5pm in the social commerce track.

If you have any questions you want answered, feel free to post in comments as well.

Scot Wingo

CEO and Co-founder






May 31, 2012

RIP Google Product Search (Froogle) - What it means for the Google and the e-commerce Industry

**UPDATE: We'll be hosting a webinar with Google on Monday and a webinar tomorrow to help guide retailers through this transition. Register now for both of these webinars.**

  • Part I - Details on the death of Google Product Search. (you are here)
  • Part II - What does this mean for Google and the industry?
  • Part III - What should retailers do? Mitigation strategies

RIP Google Product Search / Froogle - What it means for Google and the E-commerce ecosystem

Part I - Details on the death of Google Product Search.

Today,  Google has made an announcement that will have the biggest impact on retailers since they launched Google Adwords - the end of life of the Google Product Search (Also known as Google Shopping or Froogle - for this series of blogs we will call it GPS for brevity).

The details are available in this blog post on the Google Commerce blog, but here's our quick summary: Everything you need to know about the death of GPS:

  • The new name will be Google Shopping
  • Free goes away
  • Free is replaced with Product Listing Ads - aka PLA - PLA is a program that has been around for a while that puts the image and price on the right gutter of normal search results.
  • There will be an incentive for retailers that sign up for PLA early and move everything early.

Here's what the new UI will look like->



This is still a bit fuzzy, but what we are hearing:

  • Today - announced (May 31, 2012)
  • June - Testing of new UI commences
  • July 1 - Shifting traffic to PLA at scale
  • Oct 1 - All results will be PLA (I bet this happens faster and this is a worst case - I'd plan on Aug 1 - more on this in the retailer mitigation post)
  • This is the US schedule, the other countries will follow through 2013.

What does this mean for Google, E-commerce and online retailers?

We've put together a detailed analysis using our proprietary data on both the GPS and PLA programs.

The headlines are:

  • Google Product Search drives ~$650m in annual sales (or Gross Merchandise Value) in the US. 
  • Google Product Search drives > $1.3B in global sales
  • If you replaced that lost GMV with PLA spend, you would have to spend $130m in the US/yr or > $270m/yr globally.   

The analysis

This table shows how we arrive at the $650m / $1.3b in global GMV using ChannelAdvisor's proprietary data and Comscore's data on Google Product Search:


The second table shows how we arrive at the PLA cost to replace that free GMV:



This change is going to create a substantial shift in the e-commerce ecosystem.  Google is clearly the winner, generating possibly > $250m in new revenue into the PLA system and dramatically increasing the monetization of every e-commerce query.

That's the surface impact, in the next post, we will explore the secondary and tertiary impact on the industry.  In the third post, we will discuss mediation strategies for retailers.

(Note to ChannelAdvisor customers: we are hosting a series of Webinars and strategy calls to help everyone with remediation strategies around this very impactful Google change).

SeekingAlpha disclosure - I am long Google and Amazon, eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor where I am CEO.








May 18, 2012

ChannelAdvisor's Developer Choice Days: Two Winners!

One of my favorite traditions at ChannelAdvisor is something we call “Developer Choice Days.” Every quarter we set aside a few days for the engineers to work on anything they want. Lots of tech companies do something similar; Google’s “20% time” is probably the most famous example, but our program is more like Yahoo’s “Hack Days.”

Like Yahoo, we also have a review where the engineers show off their work and compete for prizes. We have a panel of “celebrity judges” who hand out a Best Project prize. Then there’s a prize for the project that is most useful to our services and support teams. Finally, there’s the “people’s choice” award, voted on by the audience members (generally the other engineers).

We’ve been doing this for four years now, and while the format and frequency have changed slightly over the years, we always have lots of innovative projects, many of which “ship” as part of our production software. In fact, we’ve shipped nearly 50 of these projects, and while many of them are infrastructure changes or internal tools that aren’t visible to most users, quite a few are customer-facing features---big ones, in some cases.

Our latest Dev Choice review was Episode XXIX (which gives you an idea of how long we’ve been doing this). The celebrity judges were celebrities indeed: CEO Scot Wingo, President & COO David Spitz, and Directory of Global Services Greg Ives. We had 10 projects, most of which are going to production in a month or two. While all the projects were excellent, we all know There Can Be Only One. Well, in this case, four.

Developers Day
There was a two-way tie for Best Project: QA Engineer Sean Miller’s project (Left in Picture), a “test grid” that speeds up our automated testing; and Database Administrator Justin Jaeschke’s project (Right in Picture), a demonstration of SqlServer Reporting Services for internal reporting. Runner-up for Best Project was Software Engineer Marshall Scott’s prototype of an integration with Fulfillment by Amazon. The winner of the Most Useful Project for Support and Services was Web Developer Jeromie Walters’s project, an internal tool for examining checkout error logs. And the People’s Choice award also went to Sean Miller’s test grid: we love projects that save time!

Our next episode of Developer Choice Days is scheduled for early August. Stay tuned!

Blog post by Anthony Alford, The Feed Doctor. 

May 04, 2012

Three-and-a-Half New Functions from the Feed Doctor

TheFeedDoctorIt’s been a busy month for the Doctor. Besides attending Catalyst US (which was DYNAMITE), I also managed to write THREE new functions, plus an improvement to an old one. Here’s how it happened...

I was answering a business rule question on one of our forums when I realized we were missing two really handy functions: MAX and MIN. These functions accept two to eight numeric inputs and give you back the largest and smallest values, respectively. For example, MAX(2,1,8,4) would output 8, while MIN(2,1,8,4) would output 1.

One of our readers left a comment that inspired a change to the IFTOOLONG function. This function had three inputs: the “normal” text, a maximum length, and a “fallback” text. If the normal text is shorter than the maximum length, then the function outputs that. Otherwise, it outputs the fallback text. The problem is that sometimes the fallback text is also too long. So our reader suggested we allow the function to accept multiple fallback text values, and output the first one that’s not too long. This makes a lot of sense, so I made it so.

She also suggested we create a function that would truncate an input text so that it had no more than a given number of words. This is similar to the LEFTWORD function I wrote about a little while ago, only instead of the maximum total length, you specify the maximum number of words. I called this function NWORDS, and here’s an example:NWORDS(“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”,4,” ”)

Notice the “ “ after the 4. This is the delimiter between words; you could also use something else, such as a comma in a comma-separated list of words. In this example, the result would be “The quick brown fox”.

Look for these changes and more in our next software update!

Blog post by Anthony Alford, The Feed Doctor; Image courtesy of Zee Khan, Customer Support Manager


Find out more about our Comparison Shopping Solution with our Guide to Comparison Shopping



May 02, 2012

Upcoming Webinar: Flex Feeds


Join us Thursday, May 3 for the Flex Feeds webinar to learn how our new solution allows you to send completely customized product data feeds to satisfy the needs of virtually any commerce partner. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012
11:00 am ET, 4:00 pm GMT

Register now for the Flex Feeds webinar!

Apr 24, 2012

Upcoming Webinar: 2012 Spring Release Webinar Series


Be sure to check out the Upcoming Webinar: 2012 Spring Release Webinar Series blog post for more information about our new Facebook Campaigns, Flex Feeds and Rich Media solutions.