By Gregg Manias

Search results in Google Shopping will soon include free listings for sellers after the search engine announced it wants to help retailers connect with consumers, even if those merchants don’t pay for advertising.

“Solutions during this crisis will not be fast or easy, but we hope to provide a measure of relief for businesses and lay the groundwork for a healthier retail ecosystem in the future,” wrote Bill Ready, president of commerce at Google, in a blog post published April 21.

That means consumers will soon see two distinct ribbons of visual results for product searches for both paid and organic results. The important distinction with the latter, of course, is it will be free to merchants.

These changes will take effect in the U.S. by the end of April. Google plans to expand globally by the end of the year.

It’s the latest evolution of Google’s so-called Froogle offering, which morphed into Google Product Search and then Google Shopping.

Now we have free shopping listings.

But Google is also likely motivated by Amazon assuming most of the market share for search queries with purchase intent. And let’s not forget all the trouble it has had in the European Union over dominance of shopping SERPs—even when shopping ads haven’t satisfied the intent of the search query.

Free shopping listings address both: they help Google better capitalize on product searches and they level the playing field a bit more, which is likely to appease regulators.

Google said existing users of Merchant Center or Shopping ads don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the free listings. (New users will eventually be able to access a streamlined onboarding process.)

But this is also another example of why every website—but particularly ecommerce sites—should implement schema markup. Those sites will soon have a big advantage over much of the competition.

That’s because schema augments the existing content and describes exactly what products and services there are and how they should be classified for ecommerce product listings. And the

more the machine knows about a product, the better it can support the contextual cues consumers search for. If they haven’t already, ecommerce marketers should add all relevant product markup, including: aggregated rating, reviews, brand, color, image and Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

Another user benefit to consider is showing reviews, which already help retailers increase click-through rates and tell the search engine whether users’ intent was satisfied. From this we can intuit good reviews will likely help retailers boost their organic results in Shopping as well.

That being said, we know the data feed we use for paid advertising will fuel these organic results, which could mean reporting in Analytics will be muddied. That’s because we may not know what came from paid versus organic unless advertisers heavily customize by adding parameters that get removed when they are applied to paid results.

Then again, it may still be possible for companies to tag their paid ads with URL parameters to distinguish those from the organic listings. A potential source of confusion could be if advertisers have campaign URL parameters in their Google Shopping feeds and then Google leverages those campaign URLs for its free listings. However, historically, Google has been smart enough to know better than to do that, so it’s probably unlikely.

Gregg Manias is a Vice President of Strategy at Acronym. He leads Acronym’s eCommerce practice with a focus on marketplace strategies including Amazon, Walmart, Ebay and Home Depot.

The hero image is not attention-grabbing enough. The color and imagery is a bit dull. Could we have something more dynamic? Either something that reads “digital marketing” or a workplace image with people in a creative meeting?