On 21st April, Google announced that it would be free for merchants in the United States to list products on Google Shopping from the week commencing 27th April, with the change rolling out to the rest of the world “before the end of the year”.
The move was framed as a measure to help retailers that are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic to “reconnect” with consumers online at scale. Interestingly, Google implied that this change had already been in the works but had been brought forward as a result of the crisis, writing that it was “advancing [its] plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google.”
On top of this, Google announced a new partnership with PayPal that would allow merchants to link their accounts and speed up the onboarding process – an important step for businesses that can’t afford to waste any time in getting additional sources of revenue up and running.
Taken together, what will these changes mean for businesses in the current crisis – and further into the future? And how will they affect search marketers and the wider search landscape? We turned to some experts to get their thoughts.
Giving Google a boost in the product search race
Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics:
I believe this announcement means Google has realised that it’s losing out in the race to become the top destination for product search – where consumers go to research products and make online purchases. And while it’s positioning the news that it’s making its Google Shopping product listings free in order to help smaller retailers caught up in the COVID-19 crisis, Google must also have one eye on the likely ecommerce boom that’s going to happen as ‘locked down’ consumers are forced to make purchases online rather than going to physical stores.
In the end, Google Shopping has become a pretty light-weight product search engine and ecommerce marketplace. Right now, Amazon and eBay are the dominant players in this space. In fact, it’s unclear if Google Shopping is even number three in the United States, where it’s also competing with the likes of Walmart and niche marketplaces such as Etsy for product search traffic.
In most of its other key markets such as general web search, video search, maps and local search, Google is still number one. And that’s a nice position to be in before starting to monetise a service. With Google Shopping I think it’s introducing free product listings to try and retain and increase its market share. Many other services from Google are free – it’s something the company often does to capture market share.
I also believe that the current positive run that Amazon has in the stock markets is an important factor. It seems analysts and investors find KPIs like “number of sellers” or “number of SKUs” in a marketplace much easier to understand than the obscure patents that Google has in areas such as Natural Language Processing or similar.
Levelling the playing field for small businesses
John Earnshaw, Chief Product Evangelist at Pi Datametrics:
This will immediately have the most beneficial impact on small and perhaps medium sized businesses as it will quickly and effortlessly put them on an almost level playing field with bigger players in ways that would previously not have been possible. This is especially true with improved PayPal integration. The timing of this initiative could not have been better.
Matt Brown, Director of Media at Syzygy:
For companies that historically hadn’t gone near Shopping campaigns, like a new online retailer, what a wonderful opportunity. The biggest barrier to entry (cost) just got thrown out the window. But this is not an approach to be undertaken without thinking of how it impacts on other channels and touchpoints.
If you had relied on Shopping campaigns previously, and haven’t been prioritising SEO, you could be in for a rough ride – standing out in the virtual space is a different beast to typical storefronts, and it can require continual maintenance.
An opportunity for retailers whatever Google’s motives
Wesley Parker, Managing Director at Clicteq:
There is a saying that “you only know who is swimming naked when the tide goes out” and the coronavirus pandemic has been that tide for the UK brick and mortar retail industry, with numerous household name retailers collapsing into administration.
Google’s announcement to make results within the Google Shopping tab free is an unprecedented move to react to what is an unprecedented time. This will provide a great opportunity for brick and mortar retailers to go digital and help stem losses and keep their business afloat by getting their products in front of millions of readers until we are through to the other side of this crisis.
But make no mistake, even though this is a great PR move, this space is going to be freemium and will be a gateway to help generate interest in Google paid shopping campaigns as it responds to Amazon solidifying its dominance in shopping. Brands will also have to think about their strategy for earning this space, once it becomes more clear how you rank.
How will listings be ranked in ‘organic’ Google Shopping?
From an organic perspective, a big question is – under the paid-for layer – if these are truly organic results, how will they be ranked?
That last bit for me is the most interesting question.
Building ‘one’ view of search
For SEO, this news further highlights the need to be closer to PPC teams. Building this ‘one’ view of search means, regardless of whether things are paid for or organic, you’re ready for the inevitable changes that Google consistently throws our way, from algorithm changes to updates.
From a PPC perspective, we now have to consider what will happen to those budgets previously spent on shopping campaigns? Often clients don’t switch media money into SEO-driven retainers. That money has to stay in media, perhaps in PPC campaigns. If that happens we can expect to see our CPCs fluctuate: higher demand for less inventory will mean a price increase.
So what do brands need to do? Here are five things you need to consider now (not tomorrow!):
- Where will you shift your PPC budget? Think broader terms, protecting your brand, and alternative channels rather than a gold rush to seize this opportunity
- Prioritise SEO. If you haven’t, you’re in trouble – you need to get a hold of your SEO roadmaps and make sure they are main priority
- If you haven’t run Shopping campaigns before, then you need to get all the essential components ready, such as your feed. Make sure they are in as robust a state as they can be before activation
- Build a ‘one search’ approach. SEO and PPC – whether at one agency, between two, or in-house – should have a fully joined-up approach that maximises your organisation’s visibility.
Be ready for your competitors. If you’re doing the above well, so are they! You need to be prepared for their activity – as it will impact your own plans.
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
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