Google Shopping – What It Is, How It Has Changed {updated 12/19/19}

Google Shopping is by far the largest Comparison Shopping Engine aka CSE on the Internet. CSEs are used exclusively by ecommerce advertisers, not professional services advertisers. This is because Comparison Shopping Engines allow customers to compare the same product or type of products from multiple stores simultaneously.

Although there are other Comparison Shopping Engines, many of these companies have gone by the wayside as Google Shopping has captured the vast majority of the market share.

Companies such as PriceGrabber, Nextag, BizRate, Shopzilla, Pronto and have been outpaced and left behind by Google and the opportunities that Google brings to its advertisers.

Make Each Click Count - T.O.P. Guide To Success Using Google AdWords

In order to have your products eligible to appear inside the Google Shopping platform, advertisers must first open a Google Merchant Center account and then upload their products into the Merchant Center platform.

Typically for retailers with a substantial number of products, a data feed is formatted in either a csv or txt format. Although there are other ways including API connections most advertisers use the formatted feed method to upload their products.

The ability for merchants to upload their products to Google Merchant Center has given rise to quite a few data optimization companies. Some will also manage your feed (we can get into that later), but for the most part their services exist to make an advertiser’s life easier when it comes to getting their products approved and ready to advertise on the Google Shopping platform.

Before we go any further, let’s take a quick look at the history of how Google Shopping came to dominate the comparison shopping space.

Google Shopping was a free service until October 2012 called Froogle. In October 2012, Google went to a cost per click model similar to Google text ads where advertisers would pay each time one of their product ads was clicked. Although it was free to list prior to October 2012, the reporting abilities and customer support from Google was almost non-existent. 

When Google changed to a CPC model they made their Google Shopping system much more user friendly, allowing advertisers to manage their Shopping campaign inside their Google Ads console, allowing different bidding options and adding full customer support. Google has also made Google Shopping more prominent in how they display it to their users.

What Google Shopping Looks Like

There have been many variations over the years of where Google Shopping ads appear on Google as Google continues to experiment with the best-placement for these high performing ads.

Currently, Google Shopping ads are seen either in an expandable carousel at the top of the page above both text ads and organic placements or in a limited view on the right side typically which occurs for branded term searches.

To illustrate the difference, let’s look at search results for ‘baseball gloves’ vs. ‘Wilson baseball gloves’

Non-Branded Search Results For ‘Baseball Gloves’
Branded Search Results For ‘Wilson Gloves’

As you can see the generic search results for ‘baseball gloves’ yields 5 Shopping ads located above the search ads and the organic listings. In this case, JustGloves has every shopping listing shown as well as the Search Text ad. What a great job they are doing with their Google marketing!

If you click on the arrow, more results for Shopping ads are shown. In addition, users can find more Shopping ads inside the ‘Shopping’ tab where shoppers can compare the same item from multiple sellers on the same listing. Shoppers are also able to sort their searches by price, brand and other criteria such as fielding position in this example.

For branded searches such as ‘Wilson gloves’ you can see in the image above that Shopping ads are not shown on top. Instead, there is a Search text ad. The Shopping ads, again for JustGloves, are shown on the right side of the organic results along with information about the searched brand.

How To Implement Google Shopping

For advertisers to participate in Google Shopping, they must have an active Google Ads account as well as a Google Merchant Center account with approved products.

The Google Merchant Center account is where advertisers upload their products typically through a data feed. This data feed must contain their current product listing that they wish to make eligible for inclusion within the Google shopping database. To open a Google Merchant Center account, visit

The Google Ads account is where advertisers can create a Shopping campaign and where merchants will link their Shopping campaign in order to control bids and their Shopping ads placement.

It sounds much more complicated than it is. Once an advertiser opens a Google Merchant Center account and uploads a feed and verifies that they own the website in Merchant Center, they can quickly link to their Ads account simply by sending an invitation from Merchant Center to their ads account.

Here is how to link your Merchant Center account to your Google Ads account.

  1. In Merchant Center, click on the wrench icon in the upper right corner.
  2. Click on ‘Linked accounts’ under Settings.
  3. Click on ‘LINK ACCOUNT’ and enter your Google Ads customer ID and ‘Send Link Request’.
  4. Then, open your Google Ads account.
  5. Click on the wrench icon in the upper right corner and select ‘Linked accounts’ under SETUP.
  6. There you should see an invitation to link to your merchant account.
  7. Accept the request and you are done.

Easy, right?

The part that is a little more involved is setting up the csv file for the Google merchant feed. Google supports a variety of different attributes for each product.  Attributes currently supported include: id, title, description, google merchant category, product type, link, mobile link, image link, additional image link, condition, availability, availability date, price, sale price, brand, gtin, mpn, identifier exists, gender, age group, size type, color, size, material, pattern, shipping, shipping weight, excluded destination, expiration date, product applicability, promotion id, product review average, product review count and five custom labels.

The purpose of so many attributes is to allow Google to serve the most refined results to their users performing Google searches. It may sound a bit overwhelming, but the good news is that there are many services that help merchants convert their products into the correct formats that are accepted by Google.

However, most of these services do not work right out of the box and may need some customization in order to correctly populate as many fields as possible.

This is where using a 3rd party Google data optimization company is extremely helpful especially for merchants with a large number of product offerings.

It is in the best-interest of advertisers to populate as many of these fields as are relevant to their product listings. Populating fields correctly will help advertiser’s products appear more often and appear more relevant to searches performed. It will also allow advertiser’s products to be accurately grouped with other merchants retailing the same product which will allow for your product ad in a Google Shopping campaign to be displayed.

Therefore, when selecting a feed provider double-check that the provider has the capabilities to both deliver Google a correctly formatted feed as well as the ability to convert existing data from your website to the appropriate Google field attributes.

Final Word

Google Shopping generally delivers a better ROI (rate on investment) and generally higher conversion rates compared to using straight text ads. This is due to how they appear.  Google Shopping ads show customers an image of an item along with the price.  In contrast, Google text ads show provide only a text description.  Even the most detailed description may not convey what is in the customer’s mind and therefore the customer may click on an ad (costing the advertiser money) and not be taken to the product or products that they expected thus leaving.

Advertisers not using Google Shopping ads will not appear in the Google Shopping results either in the Shopping carousel or withing the Shopping section of Google.

As simple as that sounds, I’ve spoken to retailers before that have said to me, “Hey Andy, I’m advertising on Google, why are my products not being shown under Google Shopping?” 

And the answer is: only products in the Google Shopping database as submitted to Google Merchant Center are eligible to show on Google Shopping and an advertiser needs to set up their products using the processes described above in order for their products to be eligible to appear.

Once an advertiser has their products appearing in Google Shopping the work has just begun.  Just like search campaigns, a Google Shopping campaign must be fully optimized in order to produce the best possible results and the ‘biggest bang for the buck’. 

For more information on optimizing your Google Shopping listings, check out these articles:

Keyword Search Terms – Unlocking The AdWords Puzzle
Effectively Optimize Google Shopping Based on Past History Nothing More
How Segmenting Google Shopping Campaigns Can Boost Profitability

The bottom line is that Google Shopping ads are far outpacing other Google Ads including search in terms of profitability for retailers.

If you are an ecommerce merchant, then selling your products inside Google Shopping is an absolute must if you want to substantially grow your online sales.

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Happy Marketing!
Andy Splichal

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Andy Splichal is the founder of True Online Presence, the founder of The Academy of Internet Marketing, author and certified online marketing strategist with more than a decade and a half of experience helping companies increase their online presence and profitable revenues. To find more information on Andy Splichal, visit or read the full story in his article – The Full Story of The Academy of Internet Marketing.