e-Commerce, from Google indications to improve product information

Reading time : 5 minutes

Digital commerce is now a daily reality in almost all the world, and the pandemic has made clear the usefulness of this system: according to the latest statistics, in the last year has made a virtual purchase about 39% of the world population, amounted to almost 3 billion online buyers; in Europe alone, at the end of 2020, the total value of the sector reached 717 billion euros (about 13% more than in 2019).

It is therefore crucial to be present at best in this scenario, and Google offers some guidance to improve communication with potential customers through the unique identification of products.

How to improve product info

The article published on the official Google Search Central blog, in fact, leads us to the discovery of basic guidelines to provide better information on products to buyers, divided according to the type of activity carried out.

As Randy Rockinson, Product Manager for Product Data at Google Shopping, writes, Google’s mission is to “organize worldwide information” and organizing product information for buyers and retailers is an essential part of this mission.

If we think that, according to recent analyses, in the course of 2020 80% of the 4.5 billion users connected to the Internet on a global scale performed at least one online search for products or services, we can understand how important it is not only to be present on Google, but also being able to be noticed by those who are potentially interested in what we have to offer.

On Google several channels for shopping

The search engine is pushing a lot on its role in E-commerce, and the post recalls the new experiences introduced in recent times to “allow brands and retailers to list their products for free on Google”both in the classic Search through a product knowledge panel and in the Google Shopping tab.

But there is one aspect that those who do business in this area cannot and must not overlook: “clearly identify the products mentioned” to help users to find the best content and products in the Search. For this reason, Rockinson has written a quick guide to provide manufacturers, retailers and publishers with the right guidance to ensure that Google “understands the products they are selling or referenced to”.

How Google identifies online and offline products

Before explaining the practical aspects of optimization, the Shopping Product Manager opens a (useful) parenthesis to clarify how Google can accurately identify the products available to buyers: ie, “based on accurate and reliable product data”, thanks to which the algorithm “combines offers to products and products to relevant search queries”.

E-commerce sites, therefore, have the task of “providing clear product identification” to simplify the understanding of Google, using for example “Unique product identifiers such as the GTIN code (Global Trade Item Number), Manufacturer Part Numbers (MPN) and brand names” within their product sheets.

Best practices to identify products

Rockinson then goes into the details of best practices in the use of product identifiers, which must meet three basic requirements.

  • Uniqueness. Each product should have a unique identifier, which “can be shared consistently and accurately across the ecosystem and identify a product in trade in both the physical and digital worlds”.
  • Verifiability. The identity of a product (for example, who is the producer) and other product data “must be verifiable through a reliable source”. This allows marketplaces to verify that product data “is accurate and complete through global registries, organizations that have issued and manage identifiers”.
  • Global coverage. E-commerce makes the world more connected, and relying on an identification system “that can be used across the ecosystem globally helps keep product identification without interruption for interested parties in all countries”.

GTIN for Google

The GTIN is a worldwide unique 14-digit number that identifies items, products or commercial services. Google adopted the use of GTINs as a standard in 2015, “so that retailers could reach more online customers”.

For products sold through a variety of sellers and markets, product registration with the GS1 Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) system “provides internationally recognized standard identifiers for the unique identification of products both in physical stores and on e-commerce platforms”. Registration also allows consumers to identify the source of the product.

How to optimize product info

At this point, Rockinson offers more specific guidelines on how to optimize product information to improve communication with Google and, not secondary, that with users to the main “parties” interested in this operation: brands and manufacturers, retailers and third-party sellers, online publishers.

Product identification, the tips for brands and manufacturers

We start with those who actually produce the product that sells directly, without intermediation, that is brands and manufacturers (manufacturers), who first have at their disposal Google Manufacturer Center to “send product data free of charge and, as part of this process, to share product information so to uniquely identify products to Google”.

These suggestions ensure that Google understands the data provided:

  1. Associate the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) code to all products. In order to use Manufacturer Center, each product must have a unique GTIN code.
  2. Do not reuse product identifiers. Gtins “should never be shared between multiple products and a single product should be clearly associated with a single GTIN”. The reuse of GTIN can make the data of the catalog of the marketplace obsolete and incoherent, creating confusion. Taking product identifiers from unauthorised sources (for example, identifiers sold through bankruptcy procedures) risks “establishing identity on the basis of a previously registered product or company”.
  3. Follow the best practices for product identifiers for custom products. In certain situations (for example, craft products, customisable products or one-off products), a brand may “adopt a proprietary approach to solving product identity by managing their products with unique Stock Keeping Unit numbers (SKU) or Manufacturer Part Numbers (MPN). The key “is that manufacturers incorporate the principles of uniqueness, verifiability and global reach to ensure that the benefits of having product identifiers materialise”.

Product identification, tips for retailers and third-party sellers

Retailers “should ensure accurate identification of the product on their websites“. In addition to the general guidelines on GTIN, Google recommends:

  1. Send high quality product data, implementing structured data to be sent to Google in a product feed or adding the markup of structured data to the website.
  2. Provide a GTIN, if there is one. Retailers “must provide GTIN when selling products with GTIN, which can be included in both the product feed and the structured page data”. If a product does not have a GTIN, “third-party retailers and sellers must rely on the brand and manufacturer’s article code to identify the product.
  3. Use valid and unique GTIN. Again, it is suggested not to reuse existing GTIN for a new product; in addition, retailers “do not have to invent GTIN and do not have to register their GTIN with GS1, unless they are also the manufacturer of the item”.

Product identification, tips for online publishers

The last focus is dedicated to publishers creating content “such as product reviews or sharing the latest offers for a given product”, because the accurate identification of the products present is also important in these cases, because “this allows users to find such reviews when searching for products on Google”. Specifically, Rockinson’s advice is:

  1. Use the exact product names. Publishers must write the exact name of the products mentioned on the page, because this “makes it easier for users and search engines to figure out exactly which product you are referring to”.
  2. Use structured data. Again, the invitation is “add structured data, including GTIN, when reviewing products” because it allows search engines to “better understand when to show pages in search”.
  3. Use valid and unique GTINs. GTINs “must never be invented or borrowed from other products just to provide a GTIN identifier on the content”.

The importance of these tips

Precisely identifying a product “is fundamental in business, because it ensures that companies and consumers accurately understand the origin and unambiguous identity of that article”, writes Randy Rockinson, and this also applies to the Web and Google Search, “where an accurate understanding of a product helps to show the right product to the right user at the right time“.

For those who work in the online shopping industry, therefore, it is crucial to be able to optimize the identification of products for search engines and marketplaces, so as to make it easier for potential customers to discover and then purchase such items.

This work bears fruit at every stage of the sales funnel: in the beginning, when users use generic search terms, it can help for example search engines to provide accurate product data and match the product to the query. But it is also useful at a more advanced point, when customers are already specifically looking for those products, because that information can serve to build a product knowledge panel that appears in SERP and prompts people to make a purchase decision.

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