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Google has seven distinct solutions for building your brand’s online presence and getting your customers down the funnel. This includes reaching customers who may have never heard of your brand, as well as making the most of previous interactions and conversions.

“Whether you’re an ecommerce business or a multi-channel business, the new Google for Retail offers a one-stop hub to learn more about Google’s solutions for retailers of all sizes.” - Kim Doan, Product Marketing Manager, Google

In this post, we dive into each of Google’s retail-specific solutions. We look at what makes each solution unique, why it may or may not be right for your business, and where and how your products will appear for shoppers. 

But first, some definitions and differentiations. Google for Retail is a comprehensive set of solutions for merchants and marketers. Naturally, there’s a lot of overlap in terminology. Knowing and understanding these terms will help you navigate Google for Retail’s features and functionality.

Terms to Know

Surfaces Across Google

This term refers to Google properties where merchants can show their products. Some of the surfaces where products appear include Google search engine results pages (SERPs), the SERP Shopping tab, Google Lens, and Google Images. 

Google Shopping Actions  

This program syncs merchants’ business information with Google. By centralizing tax, order handling, payment gateways, and business information, Google is able to create the frictionless checkout experience that is the backbone of the Buy on Google solution. 

Google Merchant Center 

Merchant Center is the hub for your product data and information. Here, you can see data feed stats, feed health data, and available marketing programs for your feeds.

Google Ads 

This is the platform where you manage paid listing ad campaigns. Bidding, audience targeting, negative keywords, etc., will all be accessible here.

Google Shopping 

Once a general term used in reference to all product listing-related surfaces, “Google Shopping” is now used by Google specifically to refer to the customer-facing shopping portal, which can be accessed via shopping.google.com, Google Shopping app for iOS and Android, and the Shopping tab on SERPs. Merchants who set up Shopping Actions and are eligible for Buy on Google will have a storefront on Google Shopping and their products will be available for purchase. 

With this terminology out of the way, let’s dive into the Google for Retail solutions.

1. Buy on Google

By cutting out the middleman, Buy on Google simplifies the checkout experience.

It makes it so that shoppers can purchase your products right as they discover them. And even though transactions happen on Google, you don’t pay commission (beginning 2020). You can even bring your own payment gateways if you use PayPal or Shopify.

Where Listings Appear

google for retail buy on google
Buy on Google listing in Shopping tab

With Buy on Google, your listings are eligible to surface in the Shopping tab of SERP and inside of the Google Shopping marketplace, which can be found on shopping.google.com, the Google Shopping app, and on the Google Assistant. 

google for retail buy on google ad
Buy on Google checkout button

Buy on Google listings that surface in Shopping tab results will be marked with a Google cart icon to differentiate them from listing ads. Shoppers who find your listings on search results will be sent to a Google Shopping page when they click. There, they’ll see the full product details and complete the purchase, without leaving Google.

Cost Structure

Even though Buy on Google is more like Amazon in shopper engagement and how it handles sales transactions, it’s actually very different from the marketplace in one very simple yet very important way.

Buy on Google is commission-free. 

This means you can leverage the power of this solution without paying every time you convert a new customer. Furthermore, Google now allows you to use your own third-party payment gateways like Shopify and PayPal, making it even easier to take full advantage of this solution.

Getting Started with Buy on Google

To start using Buy on Google, you first need to sign up for Google Shopping Actions.

Once your storefront is set up and you’re checked your inventory for accuracy, “request final validation” and Google will review your store for publication.

2. Smart Shopping Campaigns

What about customers who conduct their shopping across platforms and devices? What about those who still shop in-person, too?

If these sound like your customers, you need Smart Shopping campaigns.

Where Listings Appear

google for retail using smart shopping campaigns
Smart Shopping ads in YouTube side panel
google for retail smart shopping campaign ads
Smart Shopping Ads in YouTube video feed

These ads are displayed across literally all of Google’s surfaces, so they can reach your customers whenever they’re online. This includes SERPs, Google Display Network, YouTube, and Gmail

That’s impressive, but what makes them so “smart”?

Google has tapped into the power of machine learning so you can just outline a goal for your Smart Shopping Campaigns, and they’ll take care of everything else. This means identifying which users are potential customers, what products those potential customers are most likely to buy, and even when they’re most likely to buy them. Bidding can be automated, too.

Cost Structure

While this is another option that just about any retailer will benefit from, it’s especially valuable for those who may be new to paid advertising. As Google will allocate your budget where it sees the best results, you can learn a lot about your market from running a Smart Campaign, even if you have had an online presence for years.

Getting Started with Smart Shopping Campaigns 

Starting your first Smart Campaign is simple if you already have a Google Ads account. Just start a normal Shopping Campaign for the Merchant Center account that has the inventory you want to sell. For “Campaign subtype”, choose “Smart Shopping campaign.”

After that, it’s just a matter of selecting the specifics for your campaign, like the marketing assets you want to use.

3. Listings on Google

What is now referred to as “Listings on Google” is what we used to generalize as “Google Shopping.” That’s no longer the case as Google aims to differentiate between the engine that delivers product listings across various surfaces and the Google Shopping portal.

Where Listings Appear

google for retail surfaces across google listings ads
Listings on Google in SERP

Listings on Google gives merchants the choice to list products for free via Surfaces Across Google, advertise products via paid listings that send shoppers to your web store, or sell directly on Google via Buy on Google.

This is the most common way to get your products in front of millions of Google shoppers. Listings on Google surface your product listings on Google search results, Google Shopping, Google Images, Google Lens, and Google Maps.

Cost Structure

Technically, it’s free. 

Yes, you read that right. You can list your products on Google for free. 

Remember Froogle? It's back, kinda.

If you’re new to Google for Retail, this is a great option. You get to learn the platform with practically zero risk. 

But Google’s free listings are on par with its organic search listings. In order to be found, it will take some work. So you can either outdo competing listings with supremely optimized product feeds or… you can boost your listings with paid ad campaigns.

Getting Started with Listings on Google

To take advantage of the free listings format, head to your Merchant Center account and select “Growth.” This aptly-named option will take you to a screen where you’ll see “Managed programs” over on the left. Then, choose “surfaces across Google.”

To boost your listings with paid ad campaigns, go to Google Ads and set up a new campaign. Choose the Sales goal and the Shopping type.

google for retail surfaces across google getting started
google for retail surfaces across google getting started

4. Manufacturer Center

This is a no-brainer for brands who manufacture their own products.

By submitting a manufacturer-specific product feed to Manufacturer Center, you’ll make it even easier for shoppers to explore the depth of your product catalog. You can even highlight the product features that you know matter most to your market.

google for retail manufacturer center listings
Manufacturer Center listing with expanded Details

That’s not all. Using Manufacturer Center also gives you another level of analytics for your products. For example, you can see which of your competitors’ products are showing up most often right next to yours. You can also see the average selling price across different retailers, accumulated performance for your Google Shopping ads, and much more. 

Where Listings Appear

Manufacturer Center listings appear on Google SERPs where the knowledge panel usually goes. Manufacturer listings feature extended product images, retailer listing ads where shoppers can compare prices, a link to the manufacturer’s website, customer reviews and editorial reviews. 

Manufacturer listings also include a More Details link, which opens a full-page lightbox with every important detail about your products.

Cost Structure

There’s no cost to submit to Manufacturer Center as it is not an ad solution. Manufacturer Center is more of a resource to help brands provide information to their resellers for use in their product listing ads. More importantly, Manufacturer Center helps brands boost the informational quality of their products' organic search results, drive conversions overall conversions regardless of where or how the shopper interacts with the information, and improve the customer experience around the product. 

Getting Started with Manufacturer Center

Signing up for a Merchant Center account is simple. Then, just link it to your Google Ads account to show your products off all over Google’s Display Network. 

5. Shopping Campaigns with Partners

Speaking of stretching your dollar, Shopping Campaigns with Partners represents one of the most unique ways for brands and manufacturers to grow with Google. 

As the name suggests, the program allows brand manufacturers to support retail distributors by contributing to their advertising budget.

It’s a win/win for both parties.

Merchants get to increase traffic to their ecommerce sites and drive more sales, while brand manufacturers get to drive incremental sales and gain a better understanding of sales attribution.

Cost Structure

The cost structure is the same as Listings with Google. The difference is how campaigns are funded. 

Merchants get a bigger budget, and manufacturers get their products in front of more customers. Of course, by doing so, you won’t just sell more. You’ll also be able to fine-tune your campaigns at a faster rate as you’re learning from more impressions.

At the same time, the manufacturer sees more profits. Instead of waiting until you can afford to increase your budget, they can step in to reduce that timeline and enjoy more sales on the products they choose.

This is a unique opportunity for brands and retailers alike. 

Where Listings Appear

This solution applies partner budgets to ad campaigns across all of Google’s surfaces.

Getting Started with Shopping Campaigns with Partners 

The “catch” to Shopping Campaigns with Partners for merchants is baked into the functionality. That is, if you’re a retailer, your manufacturers will have to register for the early beta

6. Discovery Ads

Discovery Ads are “visually rich, mobile first and use the ‘power of intent.'” Those are Google’s VP of Product Management Brad Bender’s words, not ours. But we don’t disagree.

Where Listings Appear

google for retail discovery ads google feed
Discovery Ads in Google Feed

This solution positions your products on a variety of Google surfaces, including Gmail, Google Discover (formerly Google Feed), the Google mobile app, and YouTube. But what makes Discovery Ads interesting isn’t so much where they surface, but how. 

Discovery Ads brings the power of Google’s audience matching algorithm to ecommerce. This is a great opportunity to get in front of hand-picked (by Google) shoppers. That’s where the “power of intent” comes in.  Google’s algorithm derives “signals” from shoppers interests and behavior on websites, apps, videos and maps. Display Ads users might recognize these signals as the foundations for In-Market audience targeting.

Cost Structure

Discover Ads can run on two bidding types: Maximize Conversions and Target CPA. 

Getting Started with Discovery Ads

Discovery Ads is a great opportunity for merchants to reach tailored audiences. To have access to Discovery ads, you’ll need to enable the Google Ads global site tag.

To create Discovery Ads, create a Discovery campaign in your Google Ads account. The campaign builder will walk you through adding ad copy and creative assets (images, logos and videos). Google will run your assets and ad copy against each other using machine learning to optimize for the best performing combinations. 

7. Local Inventory Ads 

Shopping-related “near me” searches have increased 3x over the past two years. This is low-hanging fruit for merchants with local inventories. Local Inventory Ads also come with an added layer of metrics, to help you understand the impact Google ads have on offline sales.

Where Listings Appear

google for retail local inventory ads assistant query
google for retail local inventory ads assistant response
Local Inventory Ads on Google Home

Google Local Inventory Ads highlight your locally available catalog in three ways:

  1. On Google Search, product listings are accompanied by location and stock information.
  2. On Google Assistant and Google Home, Google will use your feed to answer shopping-related questions in your area.
  3. On Google Images, search queries related to matching products will show your listings along with location and stock information.

Cost Structure

There is no cost to add Local Inventory Ads to your Listings on Google. The cost is incurred on the campaign side. 

Getting Started with Local Inventory Ads

To be eligible for Local Inventory Ads, you’ll need to have the following criteria:

  1. Have a brick-and-mortar store
  2. Sell products that can be bought without a membership or some other additional fee
  3. Protect personally identifiable information.

Be Everywhere Your Customers Are

Google for Retail is a force multiplier for ecommerce companies across every industry, but every merchant is different. The Google for Retail services that serve your business best will depend on factors unique to it.

Still, it’s worth considering how each of the following solutions could help your company grow its profits. In some cases, it will be a matter of catching up to your competition. In others, it may mean taking full advantage of an opportunity your competitors don’t know about – yet.

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