Since Google’s big shift toward a more open Google Shopping – free listings via Surfaces Across Google – a few notable changes have been announced.

Google Merchant Center updates

Every year, Google makes changes to its Merchant Center product data specifications with the goal of creating a better experience for shoppers. This year’s focus was on improving data quality.

The update announced some immediate changes as well as some coming in the fall.

Immediate updates

Installment and subscription_cost attributes

Values for the installment and subscription_cost attributes will be accepted for wireless products and services in approved countries for Shopping ads online.

Product_detail attribute

Previously an attribute exclusive to Shopping Actions, product_detail now applies to free listings, Shopping Ads, Shopping Actions, and dynamic retargeting ads on the Google Display Network. 

This optional attribute can be used to provide technical specs that aren’t covered by other attributes. It lets you provide readable, structured data and enhances Google’s ability to surface individual products based on user queries.

Product_highlight attribute

Another attribute that was previously exclusive to Shopping Actions, product_highlight now applies to free listings, Shopping Ads, Shopping Actions, and dynamic retargeting ads on the Google Display Network. 

This optional attribute lets you add short sentences to showcase your product’s most important features.

product detail an product highlight in google shopping
Product_detail and product_highlight in use on Google Shopping

Sale_price annotations

Google has toned down the requirements for displaying sale price annotations in Shopping ads.

sale price annotations in google shopping

New standards for annotation to show:

  • The base price must be valid
  • The base price (or a higher price) must have been charged for a period of at least 30 days (does not need to be consecutive) in the past 200 days
  • The sale price must be lower than the base price
  • The discount of the sale must be greater than 5% and less than 90%

Fall updates

These next updates are set to go into effect starting September 1, 2020.

Category-specific requirements for Google product categories

Products that fall within certain categories – including some sub-categories of Media and Apparel & Accessories – will require additional attributes and/or a combination of unique product identifiers. If these required attributes (such as gender, age_group, size, color, etc.) are not provided, your products will remain eligible but their performance may be limited. Similar products that do include the required attributes will be prioritized above those that are missing them.

Description attribute

The description attribute will be required for all products. Products without a description will still be eligible to serve, but their performance may be limited. Similar products that do include a description will be prioritized above those that are missing one.

Material, pattern, and image_link attributes

Products with more than one value submitted for material, pattern, or image_link attributes will receive warnings. If your product contains multiple materials or patterns, you’ll be able to specify more than one material or pattern value using slashes and hyphens (not with commas). The additional_image_link attribute can be used to submit additional images.

Surfaces Across Google expansion

Up until now, the caveat to Surfaces Across Google – the promise of free listings – was that these free listings would rarely appear on Search results pages… more specifically, only the products of certain categories would appear in “Popular products” modules under highly-targeted conditions.

That's all changing, as Google is adding product knowledge panel buying options to the mix.

Knowledge panels are a type of rich results module found on Search results pages that display “official” information on people, places, businesses, products – generally any known thing. They’re automatically generated with vetted information and can be modified by verified entities.

Product knowledge panels include key information and options to buy the product.

Right now, product knowledge panel buying options are all sponsored links – but soon these listings will be free. Google plans to roll this change out first on mobile, later on desktop.

product knowledge panels surfaces across google free listings
Source: Google

Why it matters

This is Google's first consistent product "surface" on Search driven exclusively by merchants’ product feeds. Once a product has a knowledge panel, anyone marketing it on Google will soon appear as a buying option. Not to mention, product listings see far more engagement when served on Search results than they do when served on Google Shopping.

This presents more options to shoppers, gives more opportunities to merchants, and further breaks the mold that we all thought Surfaces Across Google was bound to.

More on knowledge panels

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

Ad labeling changes

Over the years, Google has developed its products with such a fluidity to their methodology that some elements of their presentation take a while to catch up. This next change is an example of that, as it was first noticed on mobile devices in late 2019. 

A few days ago, Google changed the way Search ads are labeled on desktop browsers.

google shopping ads label change update
Shopping ads on Google Search results pages
  • They removed the “Sponsored” tag that was commonly found above ads on Search results
  • The “i” icon remains on its own to the right – it now gives users more ad control and info on why they might be seeing those ads
  • Ad module titles now start with “Ads • ” and no longer link to Google Shopping

This has yet to reach Google Shopping, where the “Sponsored” tag and the old “i” icon remain over Shopping ads. Additionally, ads within Google Shopping don't show sale price annotation.

google shopping promoted ads
Shopping ads on Google Shopping

Why we care

Before Google’s pivot to free listings, Google for Retail’s offerings seemed a bit scattered. Not to mention, most consumers probably couldn’t tell apart a Shopping ad from a regular Shopping listing. That all changed for merchants when Google expanded Surfaces Across Google.

Now it’s clear. Anyone can freely market all of their products on Google through Surfaces Across Google, boost their best products through Shopping ads, and even sell directly on Google through Google Shopping Actions.

Interface updates like this ad labeling change, although subtle, address remnant inconsistencies and help shoppers better navigate the Google ecosystem.