For businesses struggling to survive during the current global pandemic, a little extra help is on its way, and it’s all thanks to Google.

The search engine giant had already planned to launch a completely free version of Google Shopping at some point, although it wasn’t scheduled to be launched any time soon. But in light of the current situation, Google has decided to roll out the new initiative early. And the hope is that it will allow thousands of businesses to keep operating in spite of social distancing and lockdown restrictions.

Business owners with long memories will almost certainly recall that Google used to operate a free product search function in the early part of the millennium. But the technology was far from reliable in those days, and web searchers would often find themselves directed to pages with no products in stock. In many cases, they were even taken to the wrong web pages altogether! So in 2012 Google switched to paid-only listings and tightened up its procedures.

More recently, Google had taken the decision to re-introduce free listings on its Shopping channel, but this wasn’t scheduled to begin until much later in the year. But as more and more bricks-and-mortar shops have seen their sales figures crash and burn, there’s been a frantic scramble to get products online. And Google has made the decision to help struggling businesses by rolling out the new initiative early. In fact, it’s going live across the US this week, with plans to extend the initiative worldwide within the next few weeks.

As soon as the new Google Shopping initiative goes live in the UK, any businesses that rely on selling goods online will be able to list their products completely free. And that can represent massive savings, as well as offering beleaguered businesses the chance to boost their sales. This will enable smaller concerns, that aren’t usually able to get their products seen, to compete on a more level playing field with bigger organisations. And that’s good for small businesses, as well as giving customers more choice.

But of course, for those businesses who have big marketing budgets, there will still be the option to pay for top placements. And just as with the current Google Ads system, paid-for ads will feature at the top and bottom of the shopping results. There’s even some consideration being given to including paid-for ads within the results, which is something that Amazon already does to good effect.

Bill Ready, the President of Commerce at Google HQ, says he hopes that the new initiative will help shoppers to quickly and easily locate the products they’re searching for. But the intention is also to bring relief – and indeed, hope – to the many small traders that are struggling to keep their head above water in the current climate.

But it’s not just altruism on Google’s part. The search engine giant has seen massive competition from Amazon in recent months. In fact, Amazon has really caught Google on the back foot, thanks to the way it organises its product searches and advertising campaigns. By requiring businesses to pay to feature on its shopping pages, Google has actually put itself at a disadvantage. And introducing free product listings is a deliberate attempt to break Amazon’s influence with shoppers and reposition Google as an effective alternative.

Once the new initiative goes live in the UK, businesses will be able to take advantage of enhanced visibility across Google’s shopping pages. And it’s a win-win for businesses and consumers. Customers will benefit from much more choice. And smaller concerns will be able to demonstrate the availability of hard-to-source and high-demand products, even when bigger suppliers have run out of stock.

Google has gone to great lengths to ensure the success of this new rollout. The organisation has collaborated with Shopify, and other big e-commerce companies, to make sure that the majority of businesses that use these platforms can take advantage of free Google Shopping listings as quickly as possible. And there’s a partnership with PayPal too, which will enable merchants to link up their accounts, enabling quick and easy online payments.

As businesses gear up to get ready for the launch of free Google Shopping listings, a clear and well-crafted strategy will always yield the best results. It’s anticipated that there will be a flood of merchants hoping to capitalise on the updated platform, which could well lead to an initial drop in overall sales. But as the dust settles, those businesses which have done their research are bound to pull ahead – and that’s where we can help.

If you’d like to know more about free Google Shopping ads, and how they can help to raise your brand’s profile, we’re here to help. Get in touch with us to find out how we can get your products in front of keen, motivated buyers, and keep your business afloat during these unprecedented times.