By David Hunter, CEO of Epic Web Studios and ASAPmaps in Erie, Pennsylvania. He also co-founded dbaPlatform, a local SEO software.
Although Amazon looms large as retail’s giant, Surfaces Across Google may just be the thing that turns the tide in favor of the little guys. Brick-and-mortar retailers — many of which have been marked as endangered species in recent years — may discover new hope through this development. Heck, even retail startups should feel a little more confident in their chances because of Surfaces Across Google (of course, it helps to stand on the shoulders of a search giant).
But what is Surfaces Across Google? Why is it sparking such optimism for retailers? And how can retailers maximize its features for their best results? Let’s dive in.
What Is Surfaces Across Google?
Surfaces Across Google, as I’ve written about elsewhere, is less a matter of what and more a matter of where. Simply put, it refers collectively to all the places across Google’s platform where your product listings might show up — or surface. The “surfaces” include Google Search, Google Images (including Google Lens on mobile devices) and the Google Shopping tab. The best part of it is you don’t have to pay a cent to appear in any of those areas — all you need to do is invest a little effort upfront by providing Google with as much information as possible about your products. And you achieve that through structured data.
As such, Google Shopping listings displayed on Surfaces Across Google work much like rich snippets, using HTML attribute-value pairings to match the searcher’s intent as closely as possible.
See What’s In Store
Surfaces Across Google offers promise for online retailers, but what about local retailers with brick-and-mortar locations? A recently added feature called See What’s In Store (SWIS) could provide a major boost — again at absolutely no cost. As the name suggests, SWIS allows shoppers to see if their desired product is in stock at a physical location. And before they visit, they might even scope out the rest of your inventory (if you’ve uploaded it) for anything else they might want or need. Why wait for an item to ship when they can get in their car and go pick it up now?
How to Use Surfaces Across Google
Here are my top tips for using this tool.
Direct Vs. Indirect Participation
There are two ways retailers can display products through Surfaces Across Google:
1. Directly: For better control over how your product information is conveyed to, and consequently used by, Google, it’s recommended that retailers submit a product feed through a Google Merchant Center account (don’t worry — it’s free to sign up).
2. Indirectly: If you use schema markup on your website, Google may pull that data into an automatically generated product listing that has a slight chance of appearing on Google Search or Google Images. Note that only products submitted through the Merchant Center can show up in the Shopping tab.
Unpaid Standard Vs. Unpaid Enhanced Listings
Whether a listing is classified as “unpaid standard” or “unpaid enhanced” depends on your Merchant Center account status (i.e., do you have one, and do you use it?) and the amount and quality of the data you supply.
1. Unpaid standard listings are generated from the bare essential data attributes — what is this product (“id” and “title”)? What does it look like (“image_link”)? How much does it cost (“price”)? Who am I buying it from (“link”)? They do not appear in the Google Shopping tab.
2. Unpaid enhanced listings, which appear under the Google Shopping tab, are considered “content rich” and provide a fuller picture of the product in question. Depending on the product category, certain attributes may be required to be eligible for an enhanced listing (such as “size” and “color” for apparel).
Product Feed Best Practices
There are two main ways to create a product feed for Surfaces Across Google: manual and automatic. The manual method is the more cumbersome of the two by far because it demands constant updating and tweaking of a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Most modern point-of-sale software, like what is offered by Locally, a Google Partner dedicated to helping brands manage the link between inventory in store and what appears on Google, have integrations that will generate a new product feed as your inventory changes. You can also use Google’s Content API for Shopping, which allows you to leverage the entire suite of Google for Retail solutions.
Regardless of how you go about creating your Google product feed, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
• Optimize product titles, structuring them so that the product’s most important attributes are front and center (ideally within the first 70 characters) — what those are will depend on what you’re selling.
• Include the availability attribute, especially if you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer wishing to participate in See What’s In Store.
• Images are everything! It should go without saying that product images (supplied through the “image_link” and “additional_image_link” attributes) should be of the best quality and resolution possible.
Why Is Surfaces Across Google A Game-Changer?
Surfaces Across Google is a potential game-changer because it allows brick-and-mortar retailers both small and large to compete on a more level playing field. Amazon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but neither is Google or all the people who use it every day as a starting point for their purchasing decisions. For an entrepreneur or business owner, that’s empowering to know — it could even be a lifesaver.