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Google Drops Alcohol from Product Listings

Posted on  | July 16, 2012   Bookmark and Share
Written by | Ian Griffith

Last month, without much notice, Google dropped all wine, beer and liquor from their product listing service. This move was in connection with a change to their free Google Product Search service which is becoming a paid advertising service called Google Shopping. Google Products represented between 10-15% of eCommerce revenue irrespective of the size of a store’s website. This policy change has left retailers scrambling to make up for lost online sales and could raise the cost of operating online.

Google Product Search (Base) was one of 3 listing options available to retailers on Google’s homepage. Organic Search (SEO); the result of Google’s relevance algorithm, and Search Marketing (SEM); known as AdWords, are still available for online liquor stores seeking access to Google’s traffic. But, Google Products was an opportunity for retailers to break through the clutter of review sites and comparison shopping engines. Retailers were able to present products, sometimes directly on Google’s homepage… and it was free!

The reason for the ban is that alcohol belongs to a class of products that Google identifies as “not-family-safe”, which means they are intended for adults. While the current AdWords policy allows for advertising some not-family-safe products including alcohol, Google has launched their new service from a conservative position. The new policy requires that products not only comply with AdWords policy, but they must also be family safe. When this inconsistency is pointed out to Google the response is that policy may change as it becomes workable to allow other classes of products. Indeed the policy on AdWords has evolved from not permitting alcohol, to permitting wine but not beer and spirits, to currently permitting liquor ads if accompanied by an age gate.

For the optimists who hope this ban will be overturned, the future could include a product listing service on Google for liquor stores; however those listings will operate on a cost-per-click basis like AdWords. As retailers in other industries have pointed out this will likely favor larger stores. To prepare for this future, retailers should link their Merchant Center accounts with their AdWords account. It will likely be stores that are building campaigns on AdWords that are the first to notice the change in policy as Ad Extensions for Product Listings become available for their new campaigns.

For the pessimists, and those looking at contingency plans, new sources of traffic need to be found. There are certainly other product listing services worth exploring that operate on a cost per click basis. In some cases you may find yourself paying a shopping site to pass on traffic from the top of Google’s search results. However, if your search ranking is strong it probably doesn’t make sense to pay a shopping site to compete against yourself. An investment in search engine optimization will go a long way to improve your organic search results, and extending the size and breadth of your product offerings will likely bring you more “long tail” searches.

While finding new traffic is a critical tactic for retailers, stores would also do well to pay attention to their existing customer base. Try looking for more repeat business instead of relying on a steady stream of new customers.


7 Responses to “Google Drops Alcohol from Product Listings”

  1. WWWW #41
    July 18th, 2012 @ 8:50 am

    [...] announced that alcohol products have been dropped from it’s products listing [...]

  2. michael garry
    July 18th, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    Hi Ian, just wondering if BevMedia has any plans to revise their support pricing in lue of the google changes. We are one of the little guys who do no advertising and when we did advertise showed a negative ROI. First it was wine-searcher who changed their policy against virtual inventory and now google has offically killed our web sales. I like having the website for our local customers and for reference but I’m trying to decide if the cost is worth it.

  3. Jerry Griffith
    July 18th, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

    Any thoughts on how Google’s new policies on alcohol affect alcohol-related products? I produce and sell a wine carrier, Bag O’ Wine Insulated Carrier on It’s identified on a Google search. The search also takes the searcher to my website Your comments will be appreciated.

  4. Ian Griffith
    July 18th, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    Michael, we need to talk about your overall marketing strategy. Bringing in new customers is only one part of the business of selling online. Getting them to your site to place their first order is not enough. Capturing repeat business from these customers is even more important now.

    I’ll ask Samantha to review your site traffic and compare it with benchmarks we have from all our sites. This should point to a clear path on how to make up the difference in traffic and sales. My suspicion is this will include more email marketing but it is really powerful to see how your site compares with other sites on key metrics.

  5. Vim
    July 24th, 2012 @ 11:44 am

    This can’t be too surprising given he number of kids online in this day and age.


  6. Google Bans Alcohol Ads… Sort Of - Corkscrew Answers
    July 24th, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

    [...] of ammunition with this issue continuing to come up over and over again. Hopefully, Google will get this inconsistent ban reconciled in short [...]

    July 27th, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

    [...] For more on how Google works and what will happen to the ads on the websites you search, follow this link. [...]