Product Search Becoming Paid Search


If you were to log in to Google's Merchant Centre at the moment, you will see the following notice:

Product Search Becoming Paid Search

I was a bit surprised by what was said, and even though this is only important for feeds targeting customers in the US, I thought I'd have a read anyway. I couldn't believe that merchants were going to have to pay Google to keep their products in the results!

Sure enough, for searches in the US, to keep products appearing in the product part of the search pages you will have to start paying, in the same way as you would pay for clicks in AdWords. Despite Google's apparent jubilation at the fact they are "building delightful shopping experiences for consumers," this change has a number of serious implications:

- Small businesses will struggle to compete in product search

- Increasingly, big brands will be able to dominate ecommerce

- New ecommerce startups will find it a lot harder to get a foot in the door

- We can be almost certain that shortly after it's rolled out in the US, we can expect this system worldwide.

However, in my opinion the most worrying part is the continual push of sponsored listings. The sponsored links box at the top of Google's SERPs has gradually been getting bigger and bigger. Initially it was one title line, one line for the description and one line for the URL, and there would usually only be 1 result above the organics. Now we can expect to see 3 results on most short tail search terms, and due to rich snippets appearing alongside adwords data, on competitive searches the sponsored listings box seems to take up most of the space above the fold.

SEO remains, and always will remain, incredibly important for long tail tail searches which make up the majority of traffic. However the holy grail of SEO has previously been getting a top spot for a competitive term. This increasing 'paid search sprawl' may signal a change in SEO priorities, making the effort that goes into these competitive terms not worth the returns.

For now, this paid inclusion for product listings is only affecting the US, but we need to keep an eye on how it affects online retailers across the pond and when it's due to be rolled out in the UK.

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