Back in April, I wrote a post here on Rio’s Blog about Google Universal Search and how being found in search engines has become much more than SEO (search engine optimization). There are dozens of ways that you can promote your products, or yourself as an artist, without all the technical mumbo-jumbo that most people associate with search engine marketing. In that last post, I focused on images and how they can be optimized for search. Today, I’ll go over a different option that is also very good for selling jewelry—Google Merchant Center.
Google Merchant Center is not all that new. It had been around for years under the name Google Base before it became Merchant Center in 2010. You can use Merchant Center to tell Google about the products you sell, which they can then display in Google Shopping, in Product Listing Ads, and Google Commerce Search.
What’s great about Merchant Center is that you don’t need any programming skills whatsoever. All you need to do is provide Google with a “product feed,” which is really just a spreadsheet of product information that can be used as a database. If you can use Excel, you can build a product feed. You’ll just need to create a Merchant Center account (if you have an AdWords, Google Analytics, or Google Webmasters account, I recommend using the same credentials) and download their feed template. Open it in Excel (or your favorite spreadsheet application) and start filling in your product information.
The standard template has 17 columns of data, most of which are pretty basic information such as the product’s title, description, price, a link to the product page on your website, and a link to an image of the product. There are also, however, a few fields that might not be as obvious and are very important. These are known as the “unique identifier” fields, and it is very important that you fill them in correctly.
Google doesn’t want to have a bunch of duplicate listings, so they need a way to identify when multiple people are selling the same product. They use information such as brand name, manufacturer part numbers, and UPCs to identify each unique product and they group the listing accordingly. This information is required and, if you don’t enter it correctly, your entire feed can be suspended. This system works great for merchants whose products actually have affiliated part numbers etc., however, many jewelers are selling one-of-a-kind items that won’t have part numbers and UPCs associated with them. That’s okay–Google has an option for custom items as well. In that case, you’ll need to create an additional field in your feed titled “identifier exists” and give the product a value of “FALSE.”
These feeds expire after a month, and you can specify an expiration date even earlier than that, so be prepared to make this a regular business process. If you’re a larger company, you have some options to make this easier. In the past, I’ve used a database tool like Microsoft Access to build queries that create new feeds based on up-to-date product data. Even better, if your budget allows it, a developer can build an XML feed that pulls data directly from your website and submits it to Google automatically through an API.
So what happens to your products once they’ve been submitted to Google? First, they’ll be available on Google Shopping and Google Commerce Search, which are great ways to get exposure for your products across a variety of publisher websites. More exciting than that, you can create Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for these products that will show up in Google web searches.
What are PLAs? They are an extension of AdWords that allows you to attach a specific product to a web search. Let’s use a search for “pearl earrings” as an example:
See the red box with listings that include images, text, and prices? Those are PLAs, and they link directly to your product pages for those items. They are part of the AdWords program so they aren’t free, but they can be a LOT cheaper than regular text-based advertising and there are a lot of case studies that show PLAs outperform regular ads. For jewelers, PLAs have another benefit: the image. Jewelry is a visual medium, and it is hard to sell jewelry using only words. By placing a high-quality picture directly on the web search results page, you are more likely to pique a viewer’s interest, get the click, and convert the sale.
I know this may be new territory for many of Rio’s friends, so I’d love to be a resource to help you move forward into it with confidence. If at any time you have questions about Google Merchant Center, or problems getting your account working correctly, comment about it here and I’ll be happy to work through the issue with you.