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Back in September 2015 Google started requiring Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) for products listed in your Merchant Centre feeds from a list of 50 brands. This test has proved to be a success for Google Shopping. As we move deeper into 2016, Google now requests that we must expand this beyond these 50 brands to include all products in our feeds. This means that all products within our Google Shopping feeds now require a GTIN (assigned by the manufacturer).

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Say What?!

GTINs are a unique & internationally recognised identifier for a particular product (as defined in the official GS1 validation guide). It’s important to note that GTINs include UPC (in US), EAN (Europe), JAN (Japan), and ISBN. More specifically, they are found in various types depending on your target location (more information is available at Google Support 2016)

They are also printed on the product’s packaging in one of the following formats:

GTIN examples

(Image: Google Commerce Blog 2015)

Who’s affected?

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. According to Google, those who won’t be affected are those who sell the Custom goods or one-of-a-kind items, or Goods produced before unique product identifiers were introduced e.g. vintage items, antiques, other items.

These advertisers should instead use the relevant unique product identifiers to ensure product data relevance.

Tell me what I need to do!

Google says that if you are targeting Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, or the US, then we must submit GTINs (assigned by the manufacturer) correctly along with the corresponding Brand.

Most retailers will already have this information 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 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 if you believe that items have been incorrectly disapproved/legitimately doesn’t have a GTIN.

OK, tell me when the changes are happening!…

Google Shopping GTIN Update Timeline

As highlighted in the above, there are 2 dates in particular that we should keep in mind;

  • February 8, 2016: Warnings begin. You’ll see start to see “Missing GTIN” and “Invalid GTIN” warnings in your account if you have products that don’t meet the requirements.

This period will be a time for advertisers to optimise their feeds according to the new specifications before May 16th.

  • May 16, 2016: Disapprovals begin. You’ll start to see disapprovals in your account for products that don’t meet the requirements.

After this date, you’ll need to meet the GTIN requirements to continue serving ads for your products.


Why are they doing this to me?

Ultimately the changes will help Google to make our ads richer and easier for users to find (aka more money for Google), therefore providing the user with more relevant results to their queries.

GTINs are used by Google to help them to understand exactly what you are selling by matching product feeds to the Google Shopping product catalogue & Manufacturer Centre, making it 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. The changes will also help Google to support new ad testing via YouTube, Search Partners, Image Search (in select countries) and of course in the Google SERP. An example of this is the Product Knowledge Card.

If we take ASUS as an example, this is one of the 50 brands that was affected by September 2015’s update. Since then, Product Knowledge Cards appear for most of their products which provides the user with a wealth of product information.

Google Shopping - Product Card Ad Format - Desktop

Google Shopping – Product Card Ad Format – Desktop

For retailers, this means that the price of their products, and the strength of the brand itself, now play an even bigger part in performance via Google Shopping in this ad format (rather than a compelling product description or high quality images).

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 to also enhance product data quality to improve their search results around Q4 2015).

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 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 more of a Comparison Shopping Engine) which would provide even more of an importance on Paid Search as a performance channel. This means that our role as a Performance Agency is given even more importance to ensure that our retail clients remain at the forefront in the marketplace.

Google in recent years has recognised the explosion in growth of sites & apps such as Amazon, eBay & Alibaba, 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 particularly well for Google & 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. By providing more relevant answers to user’s product queries on Mobile, could Voice Search results and other Mobile Ad Formats become more prominent in 2016?

Google Shopping - Product Card Ad Format - Mobile

Google Shopping – Product Card Ad Format – Mobile

Summary of Google Shopping GTIN Changes

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 in Ad formats.

I believe that this is a key step for Google in order to help gain further control by working to improve product data accuracy & consistency across Ads in their SERP. 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 & 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 will have the potential to show in a standardised Product Card format.

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 this ad format.

The key takeaway from this change is that Google are looking to provide the users with the most relevant information & reviews for products. This change means that they are further looking to improve the user experience in the SERP, which should ultimately benefit advertisers and retailers, as well as their customers.


Dan Roberts
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Dan Roberts

Founder & Author at PPC hubbub
Dan is a Google Shopping Specialist and was recently awarded Rising Star at The Drum Search Awards for the work delivered for his clients, agency and wider industry. Dan founded PPC hubbub after becoming frustrated with the lack of actionable insight and meaningful points of view for the industry.

LinkedIn - https://uk.linkedin.com/in/siondanielroberts
Dan Roberts
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