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Google expands free retail listings into search as pandemic hits ad sales

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Google will expand free shopping results from a narrow experiment in its shopping tab to the main search engine, dramatically expanding their reach. The company announced the move today in a blog post written by commerce president Bill Ready.

The shift is part of a continuous move away from paid search results and follows a trend of users searching more for information on subjects like the coronavirus and less for products. At the same time, advertisers have been cutting spending as the pandemic takes an economic toll.

Ready attributed the move to Google’s desire to help sellers and buyers connect and noted that it remains difficult for users to find what they need online in terms of product, price, and seller reputation. Likewise, digital remains a challenge for many small businesses, even as shoppers continue to gravitate toward online purchasing.

“It’s crucial that we help people find all the best options available and help merchants more easily connect with consumers online,” Ready wrote.

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Back in April, Google announced that results in its shopping tab would become primarily based on free listings as it moved away from paid placement. Ready reported that the change “has already produced a significant increase in user engagement, with both clicks and impressions up substantially for merchants, meaning consumers are finding more of the products they’re looking for from a wider range of options.”

He projected that the changes would lead to “billions of dollars in sales” for small businesses. The same system will now be implemented within the main search engine results, initially, displayed in a “product knowledge panel”:

Those results had previously been sponsored but will be free starting sometime this summer. The company plans to make the change on mobile first and bring it to the desktop later this year. The company will continue to have paid shopping ads at the top of the page.

“Free listings on Google Search are a big step forward in democratizing access to digital commerce, benefitting shoppers and merchants with more choices across the board,” Ready said.



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