The Mess That Is Google Shopping

Google ShoppingOne of the things Google promised by moving Google Shopping to the pay-to-play model for merchants was how much the experience was going to improve for shoppers. If that’s the case, I’m sure not seeing it. Come on a little tour.

Amazon Don’t Play That Game

The new system began on October 17. Perhaps the most striking change by Google deciding that it would only list merchants if they pay to be included is the absence of a little known online retailer called Amazon. Nope, Amazon doesn’t want to play Google’s game, where it only gets included if it pays.

This type of absence is exactly why Google argued against the “paid inclusion” model for Google Shopping (or any type of search engine) back in 2004, saying:

Most online merchants are also automatically included in Froogle’s [now Google Shopping] index of shopping sites. Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle, our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.

Searching For The Kindle Fire HD

What do you lose by not having Amazon? For one, the primary seller of the Kindle. Consider the situation for someone who decides to search for the Kindle Fire HD at Google Shopping. Yes, they do, otherwise Google wouldn’t have these suggestions based on search activity:

Selecting “Kindle Fire HD” gives me this:

The arrows show how the Kindle Fire HD’s 7″ model is listed four different ways. Yes, one of the listings is for the 32GB model, and you could argue it should be separated from the base 16GB model. But that still leaves three separate product listings where one should be enough.

Clicking on the first listing brings up this:

I get three merchants listed, as well as actual stores I can go into that may have it in stock, which is nice. What I don’t get is Amazon itself listed, which would be useful if Amazon did some type of special price drop (at $200, two of the three merchants listed above are matching Amazon’s price).

But remember those other listings for Kindle Fire HD? The second is for ToysRUs selling the exact same Kindle model, for $200, but for whatever reason isn’t being clustered in with the other merchants.

In fact, if you click on that listing, you have a jarring shift of not getting to the product page within Google Shopping for the Kindle Fire HD (where those other merchants are shown) but instead being expelled out directly to the ToysRUs site:

The same thing happens if you click on the two other listings pointed at above, both of which jump you out directly to Negri Electronics.

More Oddness With The Kindle Fire HD Product Page

You might have noticed that on the Kindle Fire HD page, there was a note at the top saying it was “#5 in E-Book Readers.” Clicking on that link takes you to the E-Book Reader page at Google Shopping:

As you can see, the Kindle Fire HD is indeed rated fifth, er, make that fourth. Well, what’s a little accuracy with the ratings when so much else isn’t accurate.

See that second arrow, telling you the number of stores it’s offered at, more than 25? That means more than 25 online stores (next to it is a separate count for “nearby stores”).

Let’s drill into the product page (you can click to enlarge this):

More than 25 online stories? No, as arrow #2 highlights, there are only four. Perhaps Google is counting nearby stores, as well? As arrow #3 highlights, there are 134 of those. But remember what I said earlier, Google listed these stores separately in its counts.

You, Sir, Are No Kindle Fire HD

If I’m disappointed that I only got four online stores rather than more than 25, at least for some strange reason, navigating directly to the Kindle Fire HD product page produced an additional store that was not shown when I got to it by searching.

That’s what arrow #2 highlights, a listing from All4Cellular, promising the Kindle Fire HD for the low, low price of $150. Let’s click to learn more about this bargain:

That’s not the Kindle Fire HD. That’s the original Kindle Fire. But despite Google’s new pay-to-be-listed system that’s supposed to improve search quality, the old Kindle Fire makes it into the Kindle Fire HD page.

Hey, it’s better than yesterday when for whatever reason, 25 separate eBay listings for the Kindle Fire were being clustered into one of the Google Shopping pages. I can’t find that today. Maybe eBay has pulled its listings suddenly. But, there’s still plenty of mess left over.

Beyond The Kindle

Leaving Amazon behind, how about Halo 4? Same product, listed three different ways:

 The good news is that the first listing leads to a very nice Halo 4 page with plenty of merchants listed. The preorder listing in the screenshot above arguably shouldn’t get lumped into that. But the third Halo listing from QVC? This type of stuff should get caught.

Let’s try a search for “ipad mini” which brings up this:

Again, we get the first listing which leads to a page about the product, but there’s a second “Popular Electronics” listing that doesn’t get clustered into that. Then there’s the third listing that, while it’s for a larger capacity model, still should have gotten clustered into the first listing. After all, that first listing has a description that promises there are “more style/capacity options” available.

Why You Get “Apple” Listings & You Don’t

Let’s look at the iPad Mini product page:

The first arrow shows that there’s a listing from the Apple Store. Pretty cool, right? Apple itself is taking part in Google Shopping. Only, it’s not. That’s almost certainly an Apple affiliate, someone who gets a cut of any sales they send to Apple from web links.

I can tell this in two ways. First, if you click on the link, I can see “afid=” showing in the URL along with a string of numbers, which will help Apple identify the affiliate that sent it the business.

Also, look at the second arrow. Those are local stories near me selling the iPad Mini. What you don’t see are either of the two Apple stores only a few miles from my home (yeah, spoiled for Apple store choice, I am). They’re not showing up because Apple’s not paying to be listed.

Well, no matter, I suppose. It’s not like people turning to Google for comprehensive shopping information of local merchants should expect that. If there are enough other places showing, maybe they’ll be happy.

For Once, Google Loves Affiliates

Google just expanded a test to allow merchant affiliates to participate in Google Shopping. The test perhaps should have been called the “OMG what are we going to do” program, because it feels like Google needs this program to cover for the fact that Amazon (as the New York Times covered earlier this year), Apple and who knows how many others merchants are just saying no.

There’s a big dose of irony here, by the way. Over the years, Google’s not been particularly friendly to affiliates, in particular not wanting to reward them in its unpaid listings. That makes sense from a relevancy perspective. No one really wants a page full of listings that make you jump through hoops to get to a final destination.

Google can better police affiliates in the paid listing space, supposedly ensuring that only one (likely the one offering the best conversion, and thus the best to Google’s bottom line), shows. The welcome mat is very much being put out for affiliates with Google Shopping. It needs them.

A Gamble That’ll Probably Work, Relevancy Improvement Or Not

Of course, while Google’s taking a gamble here, having turned every product listing into a earning one means that even without some major retailers — and even if those retailers exercise their rights to ban affiliates from participating — Google still stands to make a load more money than Google Shopping did before.

Nor is Google doing anything different than its brethren in the shopping search space. They all charge for inclusion and long have.

In the end, what’s disappointing is when Google has tried to justify its complete turnabout on paid inclusion as a way to improve the quality of Google Shopping, from what I see, it still has all the same problems that it and other shopping search engines have suffered before.

Related Topics: Channel: Retail | Features: Analysis | Google: Google Shopping | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Khalid

    Though I do agree with the thrust of the piece, Danny, I think it’s a little early to draw major conclusions. If in 6 months it’s still an abysmal experience, that would be completely fair to say. Today, I feel like a footnote should be added.

  • seoword

    The release of the new shopping system right before the holiday shopping season is very frustrating. I don’t understand the logic of that.

  • Dennis Goedegebuure

    Sorry Khalid, but Google has been working towards this product for over 2 years. The flaws pointed out by Danny here are very valid, as we are approaching the shopping season.

    Not having Amazon in the shopping results is actually a major miss on user experience. if the argument from Google is around Paid listings will be better for the user experience, this is a miss IMHO.

  • Chris Crompton

    It was released in July.

  • ScottyMack

    I don’t get it. If you’re trying to influence shoppers, it’s highly doubtful they are reading this. If you are complaining about the pay for pay model, then complain about that.

    If you don’t like a television show, you change the channel. You don’t complain to everyone about the show (or do you?).

  • seoword

    Good point.
    From July until October it was a mix of the old and new system. The formal cut over to the new system happened in October. There was a noticeable change in shopping traffic in the middle of October from sites that had setup the new system well in advance.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Scotty, we’re a site about search engines. We write about how well search engines work, because we have an audience that is interested in them. This is an article about flaws in Google Shopping, flaws that aren’t being corrected by a new model of gathering listings in the way that Google suggested things would improve.

  • jayesh khandor

    One of the things Google promised by moving Google Shopping to the pay-to-play model for merchants was how much the experience was …

  • chx

    Amazon itself lists everything so many times it’s impossible to compare things there.

  • Anil Badlani

    When product search was free merchant would do everything to
    be searchable and stay competitive thereby end user would get best deal.
    Presently same merchant has to pay to stay visible which means he has to add
    that much in cost resulting to list his product at higher price. I think Sooner
    or later buyers will lose confidence in Google shopping.

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    Not at all, google should have had all this planed out and fixed before making the change over to paid inclusion, so I think Danny is completely right to jump on the poor quality that google is showing in its shopping results, because they shouldn’t have said they will be better if they aren’t ready to be better!

    I hope this shoots google in the foot and people leave the google shopping engine for a competitor like bing because I for one will not be using it again as the amount of listings is too small now and I know for a fact that the places where I would normally buy products for cheaper are no longer in the shopping results!

    All this means from a shoppers perspective is that google are stopping them from getting the best deals a lot of the time and so from a shoppers point of view I am much better of not using the paid shopping results to find a good and cheaper deal any longer :(

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    “(or do you?)” hell yeah! Why not complain, its our god given right to complain and give our opinion when something is well and truly f’ed up! Especially if its been f’ed up just because the company have become greedy money grabbers and are telling us its for our benefit, when all its clearly benefiting is their wallets!

  • robthespy

    Shopping is an absolute disjointed mess! Especially w/ the un-verified rating display system.

  • David

    Unfortunately this is nothing new. In my experience Google Shopping has always been this bad, which was fine when it was free, but to now charge for it without any sort of improvement in the listings / shopping search results really grates.

  • Chris Avery

    I’m only using my own experience of listing items in these shopping sites (including Amazon), but what happens with other sites is that some marketers realised that if you don’t want to be part of the “normal” pack of results for a product (as perhaps you are not the cheapest), you can make up an EAN code (which is usually the unique identifier for the product and is the number found on the bar code) and when you upload your products the system will often automatically create a new product. Of course the problem comes when that EAN code is then uploaded by someone else (we we selling a print cartridge where someone had used the EAN as a really expensive dishwasher). This leads to a terrible experience for the customer as they will see dishwashers for the price of the cartridge! The only way round this is much more rigid policing of uploads and for google themselves to have a catalogue of EAN codes complete with products so that if you alter the code, you’re advertising under a different product.

  • Sean Godier

    If I’m Amazon, I don’t pay-to-play either. After all, Google is ranking Amazon tops in organic on most searches, even if the Amazon page isn’t optimized as well as competitor pages (and doesn’t provide as good of a user experience).

  • Katherine Luvr

    “Over the years, Google’s not been particularly friendly to affiliates,
    in particular not wanting to reward them in its unpaid listings”

    In the fashion & womens apparel space, affiliates dominate and continually outrank the main retailers.

  • Dennis Goedegebuure

    Shopping season = Increased Shopping queries = Increased commerce marketing budgets = Increased Revenue for G. I’m bullish for Q4 for Google just because the shopping revenue is new in the mix, and will show a nice Y-Y increase in revenue…

  • Nikhil

    Good article overall – I agree with the problems you are facing, but having worked on similar stuff myself – I’d like to point out that “grouping” things together is an extremely difficult problem with missing/wrong data.

  • brian_metzger

    If I am going to do pay per click, then I need to market differently then sending “cold traffic” to a sales page. Conversion rate relative to cost per click is a losing game, but don’t tell that to my competition.

  • MonopolizedSearch

    Here’s the kicker…. Products in Google shopping, with little competition, are being sold at nearly twice the going rate as what is found on Amazon. The consumer is getting hosed when using Google shopping. Definitely stay away from Google shopping this holiday season unless you like paying twice as much as you have to for gifts.

  • Lenae Yawn

    I hadn’t even thought to check the Shopping results for a major product like these. I thought maybe the problems I’ve been having with our products were just due to a lack of competition! That makes me feel a little better about the horrible quality of our results.

  • ScottyMack

    I get that Danny and read every single thing this website and scores of others in the SEO niche publish. I guess I don’t consider paid advertising real “search” and the tone is more about how people think they are owed something because what once was free isn’t now.

    Frankly, I’m glad it isn’t free anymore. Way less competition in Google Shopping to get to the top of the results as far as I’m concerned and I’m paying half of what an AdWords ad costs and getting twice the CTR.

  • Thomas Redmond

    Just did a Google shopping search for jeans. Why is it so hard for Google to understand that I am not interested in buying used clothes on eBay?

  • David Rothwell

    It’s still early days yet.

    A lot of these problems originate with the merchants, and now they are having to pay for what was once free, some of them will wise up and get it sorted out.

    There will still be those who like in AdWords will continue to pay for poor results.

  • Hashim Warren

    What a mess!

  • JS

    Im finding it to be a discouraging money pit already. Lots of tire kickers wasting my money looking, not committing. If I have the best price and the landing page is simple and to the point (free ship), what’s to think about? I love window shopper traffic, but I’m not making money on Google shopping yet, Amazon makes money daily — and at a sturdy 12% fee (and much higher price). My Amazon sales fell -50% when Google Shopping turned off Amazon’s listing feeds. How about a pay for inclusion for tha if the buyer commits in Amazon? That would be worth it for me.

  • JS

    My Amazon sales plummeted on this change — hey, I would pay Google an inclusion fee to turn this back on, my sales are down -50% so this is a no brainer. Consumers are now finding Google Shopping nearly useless.

  • Maury Markowitz

    One of the things I’ve always found a little odd when looking over the Google ecosystem is how their non-core assets have such terrible search. You highlight one such example here, how the very item you searched on doesn’t come up at the top. Compare this with the exact same search in the main Google.

    Another example, even more egregious, can be found in the model library for (nee) Google SketchUp. It seems to apply no logic at all… try practically any two word term like “cordless drill” or “solar panel” and go in one page deep.

    It’s very confusing.

  • Max Wigs

    There is no ebay anymore! your search is outdated. I think ebay told Google to go fly a kite

  • Max Wigs

    Danny, any update on this article? It appears eBay has been black-listed too; or has opted out of Google Shopping. My sales have completely taken a dump due to this

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