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What You Need to Know About Google's Comparison Shopping Services

Right now, your desk phones are probably buzzing off the hook, your inboxes are even more slammed than normal with promises of massive cash savings, incredible ROI, selling the impossible dream. More for less, and you don’t have to do anything to benefit, or do you?

There is a storm brewing around the opportunity to work with multiple CSS (Comparison Shopping Services) partners to enter the shopping auction on Google, opened up in response to the EU’s massive anti-competitive fine and threat that Google Shopping will be shut down in Europe.

We give you all the facts and some sage advice below, so please read on.

Keep calm. Remember only fools rush in, you need a plan

First take a deep breath, take a step back from all those emails bombarding your inbox and let’s discuss some important points. Then, once you are armed with the right information, you can make an informed, intelligent and logical decision.

Be very careful of some of the advice or promises being offered, it truly is like the Wild West out there right now.


Same-same, but different

As with many things in life, it seems we have come full circle in the world of CSE’s (Comparison Shopping Engines). To be accurate, it’s actually the age-old case of same-same but different. The old CSE guard have come together to act on Google for slowly throttling their traffic sources.

I worked for one of these businesses and we were one of Google's biggest customers. Keyword search results were dominated by the likes of Shopzilla, Nextag,, Pricegrabber.

Google Shopping (previously known Froogle and Google Product Search) had very low search volumes at that time (sub 1m vs 9m for leading site) but as soon as Google introduced the new shopping ad format in the PLA box on the main SERPS page, the landscape changed overnight.

The traditional CSE's traffic disappeared as users interacted strongly with the new visual ad format.


Google needs merchants to move spend to other CSE's, so it's offering very attractive "short term" incentives

Let’s be clear, Google are not offering promotions out of the goodness of their hearts.  They are doing it to comply with the EU and avoid further fines. 

As a consequence, you can’t expect the merchant incentives to last long, maximum 6 months I would say, although no one at Google will confirm that for us as it completely depends on the uptake.

These incentives take the form of credits on your account to a maximum of 32k Euros every 30 days (you need to be accepted to the programme and there are spend level tiers).

Once enough merchants have started spreading their budget around, then these will reduce or disappear, so you shouldn’t build your digital marketing plans around them.

Money goes to the same place in the end

What's the same, well, all the old CSEs are back in business (maybe) and all the money still goes to Google in the end; it’s just who the intermediaries are which is different, and how they operate.  


Good for the consumer but not for the competition

Throughout history, if something was bad for competition then it would normally follow that is was bad for the consumer.

In the new digital age, we see situations where the consumer experience or journey is made much better but the platform offering this improvement locks out competitors. This was definitely the case with Google Shopping.

The consumer loved the experience of seeing the specific products they wanted straight away when they searched, vs. the traditional, boring text ads, which took them to other sites, and often resulted in consumers beginning their product discovery journey again, from scratch.

They might have clicked an ad for Converse trainers but had found themselves looking at 1000s of shoes from a variety of manufacturers on – a much poorer shopping journey.

How will it work?

Google had to find a way which maintained the improved consumer experience but alleviated the EU anti-competition concerns.

For a while the eagle-eyed user will have seen the appearance of a new element on the Shopping unit on main google SERPS, “by Google”. This paved the way to Google opening up the shopping auction to other CSS (Comparison Shopping Services) Partners.

They could now bid to place merchant’s PLA (product level ads) into the shopping auction against Google Shopping, which was now a ring fenced CSE within Google.

At the same time, these CSS partners get discounted CPC rates which allow them to make margin & offer savings or budget enhancements for their client.


Consumer journey will remain the same

The consumer will click on any of the shopping ads, just like they do today and be directed immediately to the merchant’s site, just as they do today.

Nothing will change, there will not be extra clicks in their journey. They will probably never visit any of the old or new CSS partners' websites!


It’s still about ROI, not just saving money!

It's all very well rushing to get the short-term incentives as it’s a lot of money for many of our clients, a big number so sure make the most of it.

You should use the right CSE partners, those who are passing on a large proportion of the discounts they are getting from Google, which is related to the profit margin Google Shopping makes.

This can change, but is currently 20% CPC discount which can allow you to be pretty aggressive and if done right could drive your ROI higher than your current activity on Google Shopping. 


Is your Account Management from Google important to your business?

If you move away spend from Google Shopping or if you switch your account completely across to a CSE partner, then the Google account management teams are no longer incentivized to support your account (or so we have been told).


What CSE partners to use and why?

Google have really opened this up fully, maybe as a little thank you, to the old CSEs who brought the EU action in the first place. Rather than being back as the key intermediaries, the old guard CSEs are having to compete with a wide range of players.

The main players and options are:

Traditional CSE's

These guys will most likely be still taking affiliate feeds from you and trying to commercialise through content syndication or other traffic sources.

You can now start to put more budget with these guys again, but remember the products you list with them will compete with your own via other partners. You need to have a platform which can allow you to control which products are listed with which engine.


Digital ad agencies have very large aggregated spend and budgets so some are building their own CSE or partnering with a CSE partner to compete in the Google product search auction and make big efficiency savings for their clients.

They also have good knowledge of how to run shopping campaigns.


Feed optimisation and bid management platforms are all in a great position to help with this and many are becoming CSEs themselves and offer this service to their clients.

They have great tech to drive performance from content and bid optimisation in addition to all the cost savings, so can arguably deliver an even bigger uplift to ROI.


More than ever you need to test, test, test…

Google Shopping has no doubt been one of your key digital marketing channels for some time now, you have built lots of knowledge about what works, and there is a lot of history which sits in your GMC and Google Ads accounts.

Getting some short-term incentives is not enough to jump ship. 

However, when combining this with more efficient bidding, the benefits of utilising a CSS Partners' discount starts to become more compelling. But beware… you have no idea if replacing "By Google" with "By something else" will have an impact on CTR's, conversion etc.

What kind of visibility will you get? What will happen to overall traffic and revenue levels? There are a LOT of unknowns and as always you need to be analytical and test, test, test. 

Ideally, you try new CSEs alongside Google Shopping either with new budget or a proportion of existing spend. You could try it on low visibility products, on a non-core category, on low margin products or other product sets.

If you are on the Intelligent Reach platform and have the experimentation module it makes it super easy to do this in a very sophisticated but automated way. 


Be very careful and set things up properly

This all needs to be done in a certain way and anyone who thinks they can shortcut all of this is not giving you all the information. The outline below clearly shows what you need to do and any options you might have at any stage. 


1. Create a new GMC... you keep the existing history and feed untouched. This also makes sure that the new CSS partner, who might not end up being a long term partner, does not have access to something so strategically important.

Of course, if you wish, you can just link a new Adwords account to your existing GMC. We think the opportunity to optimise your feeds differently for testing is too good to pass up on and you need a new GMC to do this.


2. Create a new Adwords account.

The downside here is you start again in terms of history but maybe for the reasons outlined above this is a good idea. It is also an ESSENTIAL step if you want to continue to run your Google Shopping activity at the same time.

To qualify for all the cost savings you need your Adwords account to be in the MCC ( the master adwords account) of the CSS. So be wary anyone saying you just need to move your existing account to their MCC as it will stop all Google Shopping activity.

You can of course try this if you want and you can then move it back again if it doesn’t work but that seems an unnecessary risk to us here at IR.  


Will Intelligent Reach be setting up a CSS?

Yes. We built a comparison shopping platform some years ago, as given our backgrounds in this space we knew a lot about this and also how to run product level marketing activity.

We have our site up and running and are just going through the final stages of the setup process. It’s called Retail Heaven.

Is this too good to be true? Hear it from the horse's mouth…

You can read all about how Google are communicating this to the market here and make up your own mind.


Countries affected by change: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 




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