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How to Ensure your Brand is Ready for Free Shopping

Here’s how to ensure your brand is ready for this online retail revolution.



Google is making it free for retailers to sell through their Merchant Centre. Organic Shopping listings will intersperse paid Shopping Adverts in an augmented digital retail experience. This will be rolled out in the US in April 2020 before being pushed out globally in the coming months. 

Shopping forms the backbone of Google’s ecommerce offering. By interlacing paid and organic results, Google Shopping will more closely reflect the look and feel of Amazon’s commerce experience. Shopping ads help brands to service users looking to convert through Google’s Marketing Platforms.  


Merkle Digital Marketing Statistic
Source: Merkle’s Digital Marketing Report Q4, 2019.


Google have framed this as part of their response to COVID-19’s decimation of high street retail. Integrations with PayPal and popular commerce platforms support this effort to draw large volumes of smaller retailers to their commerce platform. Retailers may welcome the increased ability to deliver personal customer service compared with Amazon’s strict guidelines.  

Attracting more vendors should result in greater variety being available to consumers through Shopping. Naturally, more customers – and advertisers hoping to attract those customers – should follow. More searches, from more people, for more products, to more results. It is not clear whether this service will remain free.  


Flow Chart for Google Free Shopping




  1. Set up Free Shopping  

  1. Prepare Existing Merchant Centre Activity for Free Shopping 

  1. Optimise for Performance by: 

    • Improving product feeds and bidding strategies 

    • Showing products to more users with more appealing results 

    • Reporting Shopping traffic and revenue effectively  


Organic Shopping is available to all retailers other than those excluded by Google’s Shopping Ads Policies. Here’s how to get started. 


Creating a Merchant Centre is a simple set up. A Google account is needed to sign up, followed by entering business information. Be sure to review the guidelines first. 


A key consideration during set up: How are you going to track the performance of these listings? This is something that needs to be accounted for during set up to avoid having to alter the feed later to add in tracking capabilities.  

In the early days of Froogle, a rudimentary split of paid vs organic clicks was available in Merchant Centre. A similar feature is expected to reappear with this launch. Analysts can attach query parameters to URLs to pass valuable information into analytics platforms. Once the feed is set up, the in-platform configuration required to enable custom reporting can then be undertaken. 


During feed creation and optimisation, it is important to consider both the paid and organic impact of feed alterations. 

Feeds Support 

With the introduction of organic shopping, it is more important than ever to ensure your feed content is optimised for organic ranking and that landing pages are optimised to aid the path to conversion. This requires working with the data feed manager to ensure product titles, descriptions, and images adhere to SEO best practices and appeal to customers. 



Google have stated that brands already running Shopping ads through Merchant Centre will automatically qualify for organic Shopping listings if they opt-in. This statement should not breed complacency. 

Optimisations will help brands extract maximum value from organic Shopping. It will also ensure paid Shopping traffic realises greater efficiencies. Here’s how. 



As with any marketing activity, optimisations should constantly be made to enhance quality and efficiency. The addition of organic listings will undoubtedly impact search behaviour. Monitoring how this changing commerce landscape impacts your brand will be a vital source of decisioning information in the coming months.  



The aim of your feed is to describe your products in enough detail to match to relevant search queries.  There are many attributes to product feeds, from product titles and product images, which will show in the shopping ad to your product categories and product types, which are backend attributes. 

The condition of the feed affects the relevancy of a given product to a given search query, and ultimately whether an ad will show. 



Good SEO has historically been good for paid search. This is true for Shopping Ads and it will be true for organic Shopping listings. Traditional SEO will place brands in good stead for changind online commerce behaviour and help retailers extract maximum value from the “always on” commerce offering through Google.  



Organic Shopping will likely be subject to a different ranking algorithm than Google search. Traditional factors such as authority (links) may be diluted by more commerce-specific considerations. Pure-play commerce sites such as Etsy and Amazon have higher algorithmic weightings for listings with: 

  1. Fast, Free Shipping 

  1. Positive Reviews 

  1. Strong Historic CTRs 

  1. Competitive Prices 

Monitoring these new ranking factors and incorporating learnings into ecommerce strategy will prove a vital source of competitive advantage in this new landscape. It is expected that the algorithm will closely mirror the paid Shopping algorithm, stressing the need for ongoing feed optimisations. 

Three SEO items offer the best avenues for brands to maximise the value of this expansion of Google Shopping across their paid and organic Shopping listings: page speed, image optimisations, and structured data. If Google continues to expand the placement of these results beyond the Shopping tab and into the main web results page, brands that focus on these optimisations now will realise the greatest return on their preparatory investment.



Fast landing pages prevent users from leaving before content has the chance to load. This means less advertising spend is wasted on users who leave. It also means ads acquire a higher Quality Score. 

Organically, slow pages are punished in ranking decisions. Slow pages typically rank below fast pages. Spared from the risk of negative ranking factors, brands can rely on fast product pages to deliver a steady stream of converting organic traffic. 

Balancing listing quality with page speed is vital here. Users will be reluctant to click on grainy images; Google will be reluctant to serve heavy images. Brands want an appealing store front and they need to prevent users leaving their store because of slow service (latency). 

Merkle’s priorities for speeding Shopping experiences: 

  1. Serve responsive images to prevent users from downloading large files unnecessarily  

  1. Utilise modern image formats such as WebP, JPEG XR, and JPEG2000 

  1. Consider implementing lazy loading to prioritise the rendering of content at the top of the page 

  1. Cache static assets to aid users as they window shop and flit between listings 

Now is a great time to realise the benefits of broader site speed improvements. Reducing latency enhances user-experience and drives long-term ROI.  



In this new world of digital window shopping, image optimisation is more relevant than ever. SEOs need to ensure that the images selected to present products through the Shopping feed are optimised to support organic visibility.  

Google is indicating that organic Shopping listings will lean heavily on Google Surfaces best practices. SEOs have years of experience in raising the visibility of images. The rise of mobile thumbnail images and visual search results over recent have encouraged this and rewarded image optimisations with improved organic click-through-rates and more traffic to product pages.  

Brands should audit images in their Shopping feeds to ensure: 

  1. White backgrounds in line with ecommerce expectations  

  1. Alt-text aids accessibility and accurately describes image contents 

  1. Filenames reflect the target keywords of the product listings 



Product pages with valid Product Schema are best placed to benefit from a shift in conversion funnels away from Amazon and towards Google. Whilst not vital for organic Shopping per se, side effects of implementing Product Schema include: 

  1. Star Ratings appearing in search results, improving the appeal of listings 

  1. Price being displayed in search results, helping searchers to select one listing ahead of others 

  1. Availability appearing in search results, enabling users to understand stock levels 

These enhancements can significantly increase organic share of voice, CTR, and CVR. 



Shopping performance will be viewable across four platforms: Google Merchant Centre, Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Google Ads. As all metrics won’t be accessible in all platforms, retailers need a centralised view of this performance data.   

Creating a new channel in Google Analytics will enable conversions to be attributed to organic Shopping. This will allow for more granular reporting and allow a unified view of retail activity across paid and organic shopping.  

Cross-channel insights are more likely to unearth opportunities for focussing paid investment where competition and margins are higher. Efficiencies can then be made with less competitive listings. 



The most important thing is readiness. Merkle has a deep expertise in Merchant Centre and Feeds-based optimisations for ecommerce. As a full-suite agency, Merkle has the capability to support brands as they enter, expand, and optimise their Shopping offering. This process requires the interplay of paid search, SEO, and analytics expertise throughout.  

To ensure your brand is ready for organic Shopping, speak to our specialists today.