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.