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Google Changes Free E-Commerce Product Listings to a ‘Commercial Model’: Don’t Everyone Let Your Jaws Hit the Floor at Once

Posted June 1st, 2012 by Andrew Goodman

Google has announced that after years of sending free traffic to many retailers through a feed-based product listing system, it will consolidate that feed-based product listing service into a single, pay-per-click service similar to what has already been running since 2010.

People unfamiliar with how business actually works appear shocked. Over at Search Engine Roundtable, we hear that some people called “webmasters” are “feeling hurt” by the change.

To review the history very loosely, many years ago, starting with something catchily named Froogle, Google began piloting a merchant feed service (aka shopping engine) that didn’t charge retailers a penny for the traffic they received. This was an obvious precursor, everyone figured, to a fully pay-to-play shopping engine model that would go along with paid listings, blended search results (largely free), and plain old organic listings (free).

No one in their right mind could have predicted that it would take Google nine years of allowing significant courtesy freebies before they tightened up and consolidated around a paid model for shopping listings.

Imagine a big truck stop with a number of pumps. For-profit trucking companies drive up every day, and fill their sizeable tanks, pay per gallon, and go merrily on their way. As a quirk, the owner had set up a small pump around the back, for family and friends and business associates to use. It was on the honor system: tell them what you used and leave a few dollars with them whenever you could. Then a few locals and a few down-on-their-luck truckers began popping in to fill up. The truck stop was doing well, so the owner kept letting it go for years as a courtesy. Then, he wanted to expand to two other locations and his bankers told him that he needed to get together some funds for the down payment, and also to begin running his existing operation in a more fiscally responsible manner. He agreed, and stopped being “Mr. Nice Guy”. The people getting the free gas up to that point shrugged their shoulders and began paying for gas. A few grumbled. That’s human nature.

One crazy old coot blogged something about how the truck stop owner was “now just like the rest of them.” He threatened to petition the Federal Highway Administration. Something about the free gas being more “relevant” to his vehicle, an older-model dark green Ford LTD with cream-colored vinyl trim.

This isn’t a big or surprising change for Google users or many Google advertisers, but the sizeable number of Search Engine Land readers (etc.) who still think life is best when it’s all organic, and Google is the organic farmer that shall feed their families in perpetuity, seem to be taken aback by it.

The organic listings aren’t going away; nor are the Adwords-driven paid listings. Nor is the shopping engine in any way deceptive: it will largely appear in a single, easy-to-understand box partway down the page. Google is adequately “disclosing” that these are paid listings, and, I expect, will continue to do so.

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