Businesses of all types and sizes have come to to rely on Google PLA (Product Listing Ads) to promote their wares, and now due to compliance with Clause 6.5 of the EU Digital Markets Act this could soon end to be replaced with Comparison Shopping Service (CSS) results.
Those with long memories will remember the days before Google PLA when the top of organic search results were spammed to hell and back with the likes of Shopping.com, Shopzilla, PriceGrabber, NextTag, and Kelkoo. Page after page of Comparison Shopping Service made it almost impossible to find a result where you could actually buy (or research!) an actual product.
Don’t get me wrong, Comparison Shopping Services have their place, but if that’s what you want you probably go directly to such a site. If you want to find an actual product from a place you can actually buy it, you’re probably on a destination site like Amazon or eBay, or you’re in the research phase and on Google (Other search engines are available, but Google has over 90% market share in the UK so we’ll stick with them for this article).
So what’s happening? Well the world has moved on since the days Google cleaned up organic search and dumped the Comparison Shopping Services downwards in favour of retailers with actual products to sell. Since then Google PLA has come in and we’re now accustomed to finding a carousel at the top of search results when we go looking for a product. Even here though, CSSs are starting to show up, but that’s just to power PLAs and you’ll see a ‘By Google’, ‘By Genie’, ‘By Klarna’ message denoting who the ad was placed though…. but crucially if you click you get to the retailer’s site.
Now, the CSSs are back and lobbying the EU to force Google to remove the product listing ad format from SERPs. It’s worth noting that this Ad format is Google’s most significant source of advertising revenue but perhaps more importantly PLAs have also become the key advertising model for almost every business wanting to be found online. Removing them would likely devastate your business if you advertise on search engines.
The CSSs argue that PLAs are a form of CSS and the CSS themselves describe the rich functionality they provide, for which PLAs are not a substitute. PLAs are not a CSS. The CSSs argue customers shopping for products should be forced to visit a CSS, instead of going direct to a retailer’s website. This would be an unwanted turning back of the ecommerce clock by more than ten years.
All of the above would be terrible news for every retailer that uses PLAs. For most, this will be their most significant source of traffic. We asked Tony Preedy, Managing Director of Fruugo for his opinion and he didn’t hold back:
Banning the Product Listing Advert format would be disastrous for the ecommerce industry. Every retailer would suffer huge damage if this selfish and partisan lobbying of the European Commission were to succeed.– Tony Preedy, Managing Director, Fruugo
Although marketplaces are not CSSs, Amazon for one would be delighted by this outcome, as it’s likely that many of the product searches currently conducted on Google would instead be done on Amazon and other marketplaces. Bad news for anyone trying to operate an independent ecommerce business and attract direct traffic to their own website.
Retailers would lose the sales attribution logic they currently use to determine their “Return on Ad Spend “ (ROAS). Instead they would be hostage to the CSSs and the terms under which they sold traffic.
In the mean time, Google are currently testing various new formats and types of SERPs in order to find the best adaptation of their products that is both compliant with the DMA and preferred by shoppers. This would see the PLAs continue in altered form. This is highly preferable to removal of the PLA altogether. Above is a screen shot of SERPs showing ‘Products’ (PLAs) as the default tab with a CSS tab added which can be seen below:
Ultimately, consumers in the main don’t want to be pushed to a CSS when they click on a product. They may even select the PLA for their preferred retailer. If they do want to use a CSS then they’ll likely use them as a destination site, but a CSS is most definitely not (in my humble opinion) a replacement for a PLA!