Google is dropping its commission fees for retailers selling their products using the Buy on Google platform.

The company announced the decision late last week, while also revealing that it would be adding integration for third-party services like Shopify and PayPal to make using the platform easier than ever. 

For now, the commission-free program is starting with a pilot test which will be expanded to all U.S. retailers by early 2021. 

Why It Matters

When paired with Google’s recent decision to include free product listings in search results, it is clear that the search engine is hoping to make it convenient and easy for businesses to transition to online sales. 

The decision also gives Google a leg up on many other online sales services, such as Amazon. The massive name in online shopping typically charges retailers between 8% to 15% in fees per item sold. 

With the ongoing wave of COVID-19 infections occurring across America, the removal of fees could open the door to an alternate revenue stream for many small businesses that are struggling at the moment. 

Focus on Small Businesses

Speaking of small businesses, Google will also be adding a filter to the Google Shopping tab which will allow shoppers to specifically buy from SMBs. 

“While we still have much work ahead of us, our goal is to make digital commerce more accessible for retailers of all sizes all around the world, giving consumers more choice and more ways to find the best products, stores, and prices,” Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, said in the announcement

Google appears to be testing the idea of “upgrading” Google My Business profiles with a special “Google Guaranteed” badge for a $50 monthly fee.

Twitter user Tom Waddington shared a screenshot for a promotional page within the GMB dashboard offering the profile upgrade.

What Is Google Guaranteed?

The search engine has been playing with the “Google Guaranteed” badge since last year, though it has typically been used in Local Service Ads for home services businesses. 

To be eligible for the badge, businesses must meet a number of criteria including certification, licensing, and background checks. 

The idea appears to be to inspire more confidence in brands listed in Google’s local results by highlighting those who have been vetted. 

Why Would Anyone Pay For This?

On its face, the idea of paying $50 a month for what amounts to a stamp of approval sounds a little silly. However, the badge comes with some backing which may help customers feel more at ease.

Along with the Google Guarantee badge, businesses which pass the screening process are also backed with a customer satisfaction guarantee. If a customer finds your business through the search engine and is not satisfied with the results, Google will refund the amount paid up to $2,000.

Along with this aspect, there is always the issue of getting ahead of your competition. Any little advantage can be the key to standing apart from your competitors.

Just an “Experiment” … For Now

When asked about the program via email, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Journal:

“We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers, merchants, and users. This experiment will show the Google Guaranteed badge on the business profile. We don’t have anything additional to announce right now.”

A lot has changed at Google over the past few years, but one thing remains the same – the majority of people will click the top link on any search result page. 

A new study of over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that an average of 28.5% of users will click the top organic result for a given search. 

From there, the average CTR for results sharply declines. Listings in the second place receive an average of 15% of clicks, while third place falls to 11%. 

By the time you get to the last listing of a results page, links receive only a 2.5% click-through rate. 

You can imagine what the CTRs for anything after the first page would be like. 

Other Factors Influencing Search CTRs

Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of variance in the actual click-through rates for some results pages. In the study, Sistrix found click-through rates for listings in the first position swung from 13.7% to almost 50%. 

While the relevance of the top listing has some effect on its CTR, the study suggests another major factor is the SERP layout. 

For example, search results including sitelinks extensions significantly outperformed those without. 

On the other hand, the study found that search results including featured snippets had a significant negative impact, dropping click-through rates by at least 5% on average. 

Similarly knowledge panels reduced the average CTR from 28% to 16%.

In these situations, the researchers believe users don’t feel the need to investigate further when provided with quick answers directly within the search results pages:

“The CTR in the first two organic positions drops significantly compared to the average. Many users appear to find the information they are looking for in the Knowledge Panel – especially on their smartphones, where each time a page is loaded it takes a lot of time.“

For more information, you can explore the full study report here.

Google is launching a new way to promote your brand with smart campaigns in Google Maps called Promoted Pins – and they are free for advertisers through September. 

Until the end of September 2020, advertisers running smart campaigns who also have a GMB listing will not be charged for any clicks, calls, or sales generated from these pins. 

Promoted pins help showcase specific or unique services your business offers, like curbside service, delivery, or pickup. 

“Every month, over 1 billion people use Google Maps to see what’s around them, search for businesses, and find directions. Promoted pins on Google Maps help your business stand out during these moments by displaying a prominent, square-shaped Google Maps pin.”

The company says the decision to make the ad unit free came from wanting to help small businesses get back on their feet after the nation-wide lockdowns. 

Promoted pins have already started rolling out to smart campaign advertisers and should be fully available within the next few weeks.

Google My Business has long let businesses mark their profiles with the special services or offerings your business provides in the real world. But, what about your online services?

When it comes to GMB attributes, online services have been the glaring omission for many businesses.

That is finally changing, as Google is introducing four new attributes you can add to your GMB listing – all of which highlight online services you provide. 

The four new attributes appearing for use in GMB profiles include:
Online care

  • Online appointment
  • Online estimates
  • Online classes

Anyone can add these attributes to their listing. Once added, the tag may appear in search results when relevant. 

For example, here is how the “Online Care” attribute appeared in a search result:

These attributes join the long list of existing tags businesses can add to their listings, including “WiFi available,” “outdoor seating,” “cash only,” and many more. 

With many consumers still preferring online or contactless shopping options, these tags can be an important tool for signaling that you can help. 

How To Add Attributes To Your Google My Business Listing

The process of adding attributes to your current GMB listing is quick and easy. Simply follow the steps below:

  • Sign into the Google My Business app or website
  • Select the location you would like to manage if you have multiple locations
  • Click “Info” from the menu
  • Find “Add Attributes” then click “Edit”
    • Here you can either scroll through the list and select those which apply to your business, or search for specific attributes
  • Once you have selected all the attributes you wish to add, click “Apply.”

It is important to note that you may not have access to specific attributes depending on which industry you are in. For example, home repair services like carpenters or plumbers are unlikely to find the “Online care” or “Online classes” attributes.

Google released a few sneaky updates to their advertising policies which could have a dramatic impact on many advertisers in the near future.

Among the announcements are new regulations which allow the platform to pause ad accounts under investigation and significant revisions to its Misrepresentations policy.

Pausing Ad Accounts

While giving an update about plans to verify advertisers on the platform, Google included a statement suggesting they may pause accounts believed to be breaking rules.

As the statement says:

“We may temporarily pause accounts to conduct investigations if we identify potentially harmful advertiser behavior. Paused accounts cannot run any ads.”

While this is in line with Google’s past policies, the surprising addition is a note that the company will take the same action for ad accounts which do not complete the identity verification process after it rolls out.

Changes To The Misrepresentation Policy

Another big change to Google’s ad policies is an extension to what types of ads are blocked for “misrepresentation.”

Beginning in July, these policies will be amended to include a “Clickbait Ads” policy which intends to prevent ads from using sensationalized imagery or text which is purposely vague to drive engagement.

Specifically, Google says it will block ads including these types of clickbait text or imagery:

  • Claims of secret or scandal revelations
  • Language that implies the click will give context (i.e. “click here to find out” or other similar phrases)
  • Imagery featuring altered body parts, mugshots and disaster photos
  • Before and after imagery of the human body

Additionally, the company will block ads using negative life events to evoke emotion, such as:

  • Ads related to potentially traumatic events like accidents, illnesses, bankruptcy, arrests, and more.
  • Ads using imagery to provoke extreme emotions like fear or shock.

What This Means For You

The result of these announcements is relatively limited to a few specific industries – specifically those which provide support or solutions during major negative life events. Under the new rules, ads for bail bonds, diet pills, funeral services, and even law firms will be very tricky – if not outright impossible – to run.

Additionally, the announcement that Google will pause ad accounts which are not verified or are under investigation ups the stakes for failing play by Google’s rules.

Google is making a change to how featured some featured snippets function by taking users directly to the associated text when clicked. 

Featured snippets are the highlighted search results that appear at the top of some results pages, showing a specifically relevant bit of text.

The company announced the update through its Google SearchLiason Twitter account, which posted:

“As we have done with AMP pages since December 2018, clicking on a featured snippet now takes users to the exact text highlighted for HTML pages, when we can confidently determine where the text is.”

While it is a relatively small change, it makes featured snippets even more useful to searchers (and thus, more essential for businesses to put in place). 

Surprisingly, the company says there is no additional code or special markup needed to prepare your featured snippets for this change. 

Instead, the search engine is essentially using a trick that highlights specific text by tweaking the URL for each snippet.

As Roger Montti explained over at Search Engine Journal, this is a feature previously used for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which has the dual benefits of being easy to implement and trackable.

Google appears to be testing the idea of integrating its normal web search into search results on YouTube. 

Reddit users have been reporting seeing results and links to traditional web pages when doing searches on the video platform, as you can see in the screenshot below:

YouTube Showing Google Search Result

As you can see, Google places a single web page result among the video results, with an option to click the link or jump to a search directly on Google. 

The test appears to be limited, with many (including myself) being unable to replicate it. However, there are enough reports to conclude this is a legitimate test and not a glitch or hoax. 

So far, reaction to the move has been mixed. Many have decried the potential new feature as “annoying” and said they would “ryin the YouTube experience.”

However, there have also been those who see potential in the concept, saying it could make it easier to leap to Google when YouTube doesn’t provide the results someone is hoping for.

As one user described:

“Sometimes I’m looking for a tutorial but I want a video explaining it, and if it doesn’t exist now I have the option to do a quick Google search in the app.”

Personally I see some utility in integrating a single, non-obtrusive link within video search results. Obviously, those searching on YouTube are primarily looking for exclusively video content, but there are certainly scenarios where users are moving back and forth between YouTube and Google. This would be a convenient option for those situations.

Google will soon be updating their search ranking algorithm with a new ranking signal. This new signal will combine a number of existing signals with a recently introduced metric known as Core Web Vitals. 

The search engine says the goal of the new update is to better rank pages based on the quality of users’ experiences with the site. 

In addition to the new ranking signal, the company announced a few other changes it will be making to its systems in the coming future:

  • Incorporating page experience metrics into rankings for Top Stories in Search on mobile
  • Removing the AMP requirement for content to be shown in Top Stories

The “New” Ranking Signal

While the new signal is being called the Page Experience Signal, it actually combines a few existing search ranking signals with the recently introduced Core Web Vitals details. The metrics being brought under the umbrella of Core Web Vitals include:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPS-security certification
  • Following intrusive interstitial guidelines

As the company said in its announcement

“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile.”

How To Monitor Your Core Web Vitals

To help prepare webmasters for the coming update, Google has also created a new report section within Search Console. The goal is for the new report to replace the need for a suite of tools aimed at specific issues such as page speed and mobile-friendliness.

The tool can also filter data based on those which are “Poor,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Good.”

When Will The Update Happen

While the update doesn’t really change all that much regarding how webmasters and SEO specialists should approach managing sites, the company sees it as important enough to give a significant notice ahead of the release. 

In fact, Google says these changes to the algorithm will not be happening before 2021. Additionally, the search engine will provide another notice 6 months before it is rolled out.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted or changed almost every part of our daily lives in some way, and that holds very true when it comes to online search. 

Google has been tracking these shifts from the initial outbreak to our current time where over 4 billion people are staying home around the world and many in America are returning to work. 

In particular, Google says it has seen five key trends reflecting how online search behavior, consumers’ interests, and purchasing behavior have shifted over the past few months.

The five key trends in online search after COVID-19 include:

  1. More consumers are relying on multiple devices
  2. Increased reliance on Google search
  3. People are using online tools to create and develop virtual relationships
  4. Routines are adjusting to reflect being at home
  5. People are increasingly practicing self-care

Let’s dig into what these trends really mean and reflect:

Multiple Devices

With the huge jump in people working from home or spending extra time relaxing inside, Google has seen a similar increase in the amount of content consumption. Specifically, the company says staying home has led to at least a 60% increase in the amount of digital content watched in the US.

This means many consumers are relying on one device to indulge in their favorite content online while using another device to browse products, look up information, and connect with friends. 

Increased Reliance On Google

The search engine has seen a massive increase in searches for critical information and a wave of content designed to inform the public about safety, updated business practices, and other essential needs.

For example, Google has seen that online search interest for terms like “online grocery shopping” and “grocery delivery” grew 23% year over year in the US. 

Online medical needs have also skyrocketed, with online search interest in telemedicine climbing by 150% week-over-week. 

Building Virtual Relationships

Businesses may be opening, but many are still practicing social distancing which keeps them away from friends and family. In lieu of being able to spend time with loved ones, people are finding new ways to build relationships online:

As of April, Google Meet has hosted at least 3 billion minutes of video meetings, with nearly 3 million new users joining every day. 

Online search shows increased interest in digital recreations of normal social events, such as a rise in search interest for “virtual happy hour” or “with me” content which shows people doing ordinary tasks like cleaning, studying, or cooking. 

Changing Routines

As social distancing and quarantine continues for many, online search interest has shown that many are adapting their typical routines to be internet-first.

For example, search interest for “stationary bicycles” and “dumbbell set” has continued to rise while many try to stay healthy from home. 

Google also reports that search interest for “telecommuting” in the US has continued to grow since it reached an all-time high on Google and YouTube in March.

Practicing Self-Care

To help cope with the mental and physical toll of the COVID-19 epidemic, many are turning to online search to assist in practicing self-care from home. 

Some examples of this from Google’s report include:

  • Views of mediation-related videos are 51% higher in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Searches for “bored” spiked significantly and have remained heightened since March. 
  • Searches for at-home activities such as “games,” “puzzles,” and “coloring books” have remained increased since March. 

Read the Full Report

The full report includes additional data as well as recommendations for responding to these changes to online search over the past few months. You can read the entire 39-page document here (PDF).