The Definitive Google Shopping Ads Handbook: 2020 Edition

The ecommerce industry is accelerating at an unprecedented pace, fueled by the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic that has taken the globe in nothing less than epic proportions.

Although the economic ramifications have been hard-felt by many, consumer behavior in shopping online has not waned — it has risen and continues to rise. 

People are stuck at home, their kids are stuck at home, and with that they are spending more time shopping online.

The bottom line for Ecommerce store owners? If you aren’t there, you are nowhere. 

With billions of searches per day on Google, it’s one of the first places shoppers go to discover or find products online.  Whether they’re searching for products, watching related videos, comparing images, or talking to their assistants, it is beyond crucial that you are there to grab their attention.

What is Google Shopping?

Before we even touch on Shopping ads, we should first explore that it is NOT advertising. Most merchants, and even advertisers, still associate the term “Google Shopping” with ads on Google — but that is just not the case anymore.

To put it simply, Google Shopping is a way for consumers to search, browse, and compare products across a wide variety of brands and retailers — yet that barely scrapes the surface in explaining it.

In 2019, at Google Marketing Live, Google officially announced the New Google Shopping Experience in the United States only. What was once known as Google Express, Google did away with Express, and “rebranded” to, you guessed it, Google Shopping! 

With it, Google took the best that Express had to offer consumers — things such as native checkout, easy re-ordering, and all tied to their Google account — and merged it with their general brand umbrella.

Google Shopping Ads

Retailers do not leverage Shopping ads to appear on the New Google Shopping Experience. Instead, they must enable a program within Merchant Center called Shopping Actions. These particular product listings do not direct shoppers back to the store as all the purchasing occurs natively in Google Shopping — this now being known as Buy on Google.

Shopping Actions or Buy on Google used to follow a cost-per-sale model where retailers would pay a fee or commission to Google when someone purchases, similar to a marketplace like Amazon.

As of July 23, 2020 Google has done away with the commission fees for those new to the program while those already selling will migrate over a few weeks’ time. Furthermore, there is currently a waitlist period wherein new merchants will no longer be able to onboard to Shopping Actions for some time.

In April 2020, Google announced Free Product Listings in the United States by way of another Merchant Center program called Surfaces across Google

Accelerated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and continued spread of COVID-19, the Shopping tab on Google now consists almost entirely of these Free Product Listings – with some Shopping ads and Buy on Google results peppered in.

Google Shopping Ads

These free listings do in fact direct shoppers back to the ecommerce store and merchants do not pay a fee or a cost per click to get that traffic.


The roll-out of free or organic product listings on Google actually stretches back to February of 2019 and was enhanced again back in January of 2020.





What are Google Shopping ads?

For anyone selling consumer goods online, or even downloadable products, Shopping ads on Google represent one of, if not the most lucrative pay-per-click or search engine marketing opportunity around for ecommerce businesses.

An advertising campaign type within Google Ads, Shopping ads (sometimes still referred to as PLAs or Product Listing Ads)  show up across a number of Google’s properties (including Search, Images, even YouTube) and can reach shoppers wherever, and whenever, they’re searching on Google.

Retailers, in most cases at least, pay a fee (aka cost-per-click or CPC) when someone clicks on their Shopping ads – this is referred to as biddingOnce clicked on, the ad unit directs a potential back to that product’s landing page on one’s ecommerce website.

Google Shopping Ads

In most cases, Shopping ads appear “above the fold” – before any organic search results and even before Search or Text Ads on Google. These ads display relevant product information to shoppers such as price, seller, and can even show product review stars.

With the launch of Free Product Listings on Google, Shopping ads continue to show less and less on the Shopping tab. This has made it even more important for retailers to take up what digital shelf space is left to continue to drive quality traffic and increase sales for their ecommerce businesses.

As of July, Google has just released free and fast annotations for Google Shopping Ads. This new feature for Shopping ads units highlight not only free shipping on products but also expected delivery and/or arrival times:

Google Shopping ads

How Does Google Shopping Work?

At the center of all things on Google are keywords or search queries. Anything that appears on Google, be it Shopping ads, Buy on Google, Free Product Listings, or any search result whatsoever is controlled by what people type into the search bar.

In the background, Google’s algorithms try to best match those results with the words typed in by the user.

When it comes to Shopping ads, there is no “bidding” on keywords as with traditional text-based or Search Ads. Instead, retailers and advertisers bid on the actual products themselves to get them to appear in those coveted positions on Google.

Google Shopping ads

Since Shopping Actions (Buy on Google) and Surfaces across Google (Free Product Listings) are not, in any way, a form of advertising, these too do not involve any kind of bidding on keywords.

To be eligible for any of these programs, retailers must submit what is called a Product Feed to Google Merchant Center. This product feed is essentially a catalog of one’s products and product data such as titles and descriptions.

It is that very same product data that Google uses to fuel the results of what a potential shopper types into Google.