Yesterday, during a relatively calm Tuesday morning on 5th May 2020, Google did something unexpected. They announced that Surfaces Across Google was now available in the UK, five months ahead of schedule! No heads-up, no rationale as to why it was launched earlier – just a simple message in everyone’s Merchant Centre.
The funny thing is, this isn’t too unexpected or a surprise at all. Google is the master of big reveals, launching Search features and evolving products almost daily, and lets not mention He Who Shall Not Be Named, ‘CAU’. (Core Algorithm Update, sshhh).
Having said that, we are used to it and as much as we enjoy having some time to adapt to whatever Google does, we also enjoy a challenge and Google certainly can keep us on our toes.
In true-to-form style, Google hasn’t provided much information on the feature, or most importantly, the opportunity this could herald for brands and those hard-working SEO teams constantly striving for growth in an ever-challenging Paid landscape. If you listen very astutely, you can actually hear the SEO community letting out a small internal cheer; for what feels like the first time in decades Google has actually released a feature that could benefit Organic Search!
Surfaces Across Google is, in a nutshell, free Product Listings Ads (PLAs) – originally slated to be a feature on the Shopping Tab alongside paid PLAs, Google has now said that SaG can feature on Google Search and Google Images.
As we scramble on Tuesday morning to get our heads around this, the same question keeps arising: but what does it look like? Absolutely nobody knows yet. Albeit SaG supposedly launched in the US last week, nobody is yet to see a working, live example. The second niggly question is: Why Now, Google? What do they get out of it? If originally scheduled to launch in the UK in October, why surprise-release the feature globally when it’s not tested, teased and triumphed? Speculation is rife as to whether Google will earn a commission from these free PLAs and whether Covid-19 has put its hand in Google’s Paid Ads Pockets. Again, we know very little as to where, what, who, when… what day is it??
SaG launched yesterday and the minimal information provided alludes to there being two possible ways to feature on SaG. Now all of this still presents a number of questions that Google hasn’t deemed important enough to provide us answers to, but I’ll get to that shortly.
1. Utilising your current Product Feed
If you are already utilising the Merchant Centre and have a presence on Shopping PLAs, that’s all you need! Simply head to your Merchant Centre and within the ‘Programmes’ area, there will be an option for Surfaces Across Google.
The fun bit yesterday was realising that without warning, and without being asked, which let’s be honest is just polite, it seems anyone currently using Merchant Centre with a live Product Feed was auto-enrolled into SaG. The below will now be in your Merchant Centre, so if you haven’t already, go check it out.
2. Schema Mark-Up
If you currently don’t utilise or participate in the Merchant Centre programme, Google state that “having structured data mark-up on your website, you will automatically have your products shown on SaG”.
Again, vague. What mark-up? Is there a recommended format and should everyone now be utilising the superior json/ld format if we want to get a head start on SaG? Is it simply enough to utilise mark-up on your product pages?
Considering what we know so far about SaG, and with point 1 in mind, it’s safe to assume that mark-up on your product pages will suffice, as a Product Feed is true to its name – it’s a load of information about products. Yet this then poses the question: what mark-up attributes are essential? For now, we’ll have to assume that they all are.
Depending on whether you have a glass half full or empty outlook, Google did offer a sliver of insight in the form of Reviews. Google state that “you can influence your eligibility by providing Google with high-quality information that ensures shoppers will have a positive customer experience.” Translation: make sure you have reviews embedded for your products, whether that be a 3rd party platform such as Feefo, Trustpilot etc., or you utilise Google’s own Review programme. Service-level reviews aren’t going to cut the digital mustard on this one!
Any Further Questions?...
…yes, a tonne.
Again we don’t know this yet as there’s no indication of how the SaG data will be segmented within Merchant Centre and tagged within Google Analytics, if it even will be at all! Will it be attributed to Paid channels or Organic?! Will it be placed to take precedence above Paid listings? This is probably the easiest question to answer: absolutely not.
The Connected team are all in agreement that Google won’t reinvent the wheel here, so what constitutes as a well-optimised Product Feed should constitute as a good Surfaces Feed. For now, at least.
BUT, and I’m sorry to keep doing this…a Product Feed is optimised for conversion, yet from an Organic perspective we must always optimise for user-first (audience need, keyword intent, engaging TOV, valuable CTAs etc.) – will a new breed of SaG copywriters arise who can optimise the SaG Product Feed for maximum value and therefore visibility? Are we about to see a world where SEOs are now doing the dance of TWO algorithms?
It’s hard to say for definite, and I honestly wish I could answer some of the questions above! I set out to write this with only 50% of the questions in mind – even just the simple act of writing about SaG brought up another eight million questions.
With very little known and understood about SaG, we can only work with what we’ve got and because, for once, Google have done something that could benefit SEOs and Organic Search, let’s throw ourselves into this with rampant optimism!
If you are using Merchant Centre and have been auto-enrolled, keep it that way. Only by being enrolled will we collectively start to gather the data, insight and knowledge of SaG to answer the questions above. Yes, Google will gradually cascade down titbits of information as the feature evolves, but if brands want to get a head start and become a SaG pioneer, start testing now! Answer your own questions, get your own data and most importantly don’t take your eye off the data.
One final piece of advice I have is to help us understand the bigger picture here – what is Search? Is Search really a place where different types of listings, features and elements are shown depending on your query? Or is Search a destination? Is Search now not about different tactics in different channels but about bringing everything together as one to give the user a destination experience of your brand?
With this latest announcement from Google, the landscape has levelled up. Organic and Paid strategies probably never were to be treated in isolation, and they certainly shouldn’t be now.
You may also have seen in the Merchant Centre a programme called Local Surfaces Across Google. As you can imagine, we have a million questions. We’ll be coming back to that soon – primarily when our stores are back open and we know more about SaG! But a little taster…would you like to include live stock information of an individual store online and on the landscape???. Remember guys, glass half full.