In September 2015, Google started to require Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) for products listed in Merchant Centre feeds. These GTINs were introduced on a list of 50 brands to enable them to understand exactly what was being sold by using standardised product data, which in turn increased relevance for the user. This test clearly proved to be a success for Google, and as we move deeper into 2016, Google now requests that we must expand this beyond the 50 brands to include all products in our feeds. This means that all brand-name products within our Google Shopping feeds now require a GTIN (assigned by the manufacturer).
What Are GTINs?
Barcodes are no stranger but what exactly are GTINs? As defined in the official GS1 validation guide, GTINs are a unique and internationally recognised identifier for a particular product. It’s important to note that GTINs include UPC (in US), EAN (Europe), JAN (Japan), and ISBN; these vary depending on the type of product and target location (more information is available at Google Support 2016). GTINs are then printed on the product’s packaging in one of the following formats;
(Image: Google Commerce Blog 2015)
Those who sell brand-name products need to follow the new requirements and should check their feeds to ensure that all products are mapped with the relevant GTINs. This will therefore affect most iProspect clients. According to Google, those who won’t be affected are those selling custom goods, one-of-a-kind items, or goods produced before unique product identifiers were introduced for example, vintage items, antiques and rare books.
These advertisers should instead use the relevant unique product identifiers to ensure product data relevance.
What Actions Do We Need To Take?
If you are targeting Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, or the US, Google says GTINs (assigned by the manufacturer,) must be submitted correctly along with the corresponding Brand.
Most clients and retailers will already have this information to hand for their own inventory, both for Google Shopping and via their own internal systems. However, if you see that your feed is missing GTINs, you can request this from the client’s distributor or the manufacturer from which the products have been purchased.
Google stress that you should not create GTINs or purchase your own in order to simply fulfil this new requirement. Doing this will result in the products being disapproved!
There is a request process for manual review should you believe that items have been incorrectly disapproved or legitimately don’t have a GTIN.
When Are The Changes Happening?
As highlighted in the above, there are two dates in particular that we should keep in mind;
This period will be a time for advertisers to optimise their feeds according to the new specifications before May 16th.
After this date, you'll need to meet the GTIN requirements to continue serving ads for your products.
Why The Changes?
Ultimately the changes will help Google to make our ads richer and easier for users to find, therefore providing the user with more relevant results to their queries.
GTINs are used by Google to help them understand exactly what is being sold. By matching product feeds to the Google Shopping product catalogue and Manufacturer Centre, it is much easier for them to aggregate product information for users from multiple merchants. Using the feed to provide accurate product information (GTINs and Google Product Categories) will in theory lead to a higher click through rate and potentially higher conversions for our clients. This effectively helps to eliminate the differing product information provided by merchants. The changes will also help Google to evolve ads via YouTube, Search Partners, Image Search (in select countries) and of course in the Google SERP. By standardising product information, this will in theory help make the experience across all of Google’s products more aligned, less frustrating and more rewarding for users.
An example of this evolution is the Product Knowledge Card.
Taking ASUS, one of the 50 brands affected by September 2015’s update, as an example; we can see that since the change Product Knowledge Cards appear for most of their products, providing the user with a wealth of information.
For retailers, this means that the price of their products, the strength of the brand itself, and the service they have on offer, now play an even bigger part in performance via Google Shopping; rather than a compelling product description, or high quality image.
With the GTIN changes, we should expect to see more of these Product Cards across all devices as well as other ad formats with rich product information; much like we would see in Amazon or eBay (who also asked their sellers to use GTINs in their listings). Product data accuracy is going to be key in order to continue competing in this marketplace.
This change could provide us with a hint as to what Google have in mind for their Shopping Strategy in 2016. As mentioned, we can probably expect more use of Product Cards, but are there other ad formats in the pipeline that will utilise the standardised product information?
Can we expect Product Cards to integrate seamlessly with the ‘Buy Now’ button, further simplifying the path to purchase for users? This change leads the way to providing less friction for users having to navigate to multiple sites to both compare prices and purchase products. Of course, this might mean that retailers could suffer from a decline in traffic to site as a result of this. Users would be more inclined to stay in the Google SERP (acting as a Comparison Shopping Engine), highlighting further importance on Paid Search as a performance channel. This means that our role as a Performance Agency is given even more precedence in ensuring that our retail clients remain at the forefront of this marketplace.
Google in recent years has recognised the explosion in growth of sites and apps such as Amazon and eBay, particularly across Mobile. This update may also provide us with some insights into Google’s Mobile strategy this year. Comparison shopping and browsing is very much built for Mobile, and therefore this ad format in particular could work exceptionally well for Google and retailers if it condenses the path to purchase. If Product Cards are to be more prominent in our SERPs then this potentially limits some of the need for users to search elsewhere online. By providing more relevant answers to user’s product queries on Mobile, could Voice Search results, Google Now Cards and other Mobile Ad Formats become more prominent for Google Shopping in 2016?
Even though it might seem to be a somewhat minimal change to Google’s requirements, it could pave the way for further and much bigger changes for Google Shopping.
We believe that this is a key step for Google to help gain further control by working to improve product data accuracy and consistency across ads shown via their products. This started with the launch of the Manufacturer Centre in 2015 (where manufacturers and brands could take back some control on their product information displayed and therefore help standardise this information across shopping), then with the Top 50 Brands GTIN update in September 2015, and finally this GTIN requirement will mean that all brand-name products via Google Shopping feeds now require this GTIN update.
Overall, it’s clear that Google are using this as a way to ensure that there is standardised information provided across multiple merchants. This could make the space more competitive in terms of pricing, brand reviews available via the Product Card (again placing more importance on retailers to provide a quality customer experience), and in terms of the now fairly limiting space available via the Product Card ad format.
The key takeaway from this change is that Google are looking to provide the users with the most relevant information and reviews for products across multiple merchants. This change means that they are looking to further improve the user experience in the SERP, which should ultimately benefit merchants, retailers, users and advertisers.