Changes to Google Shopping: what you need to know

On January 31, Google imposed new requirements for price comparison websites operating within its Comparison Shopping Service (CSS) programme. Here’s how it affects UK retailers.

After being hit with a record-breaking £2.1bn fine by EU regulators in 2017 for abusing its dominant position in online search, Google made the decision to invite competitors into the precious Google Shopping ad space on its main search page.

This reprimand was driven by complaints from price comparison websites, who petitioned for the EU to step in after seeing their sites drop significantly in Google’s rankings after the launch of Google Shopping in 2012.

The CSS programme is based on an auction model – whoever is willing to pay the highest cost-per-click (CPC) will appear at the top of the search results.

Previously, brands could only buy this ad inventory directly through Google, but through the CSS programme comparison websites can now bid on behalf of their retail clients.

Nike CSS

Precious ad space

One of the key requirements of the CSS programme was that businesses applying needed to have a price comparison website, but the bar was set low in terms of what functionality was needed.

This led to the creation of more than 100 new price comparison websites in the UK alone.

Mainly created by digital marketing and feed management agencies as a vehicle to win and retain retail clients, many sites provided limited use to consumers.

So, on January 31, Google instigated a phased approach of minimum requirements that will suspend CSS websites unable to offer basics such as correct currency, wide product selection and filtering options.

“Google will suspend CSS websites unable to offer basics such as correct currency, wide selection and filtering options”

The results will be an improvement for everyone as comparison sites with limited functionality and value will be discontinued.

However, problems will likely continue until the number of CSS partner sites has been dramatically reduced.

Digital marketing agencies who joined the CSS programme are now being faced with a difficult choice.

Should they invest further in a comparison site that is not their core business or get in touch with one of their agency rivals and migrate their clients into a competitor’s CSS account?

It’s imperative for retailers to understand how their digital marketing agency is dealing with these changes. It may well present a risk to their online marketing strategies for 2019.