Google has now introduced a new filter in Google Search Console that allows you to track free product listing performance, a feature that I have requested for years now.
This is a big deal, yet many are unaware of the reasoning behind this, and what the new Merchant listing filter in Google Search Console actually represents. In my opinion, this is partly Google’s fault, but also related to the complexities of SERP features.
Within this article, I’ll be running you through the new reporting that has now been introduced to GSC, which features are now being tracked separately, and what this means for SEO and eCommerce SEO strategy in particular. But first, here are some important definitions.
Product snippets vs. Merchant listings
As a starting point, it is important to understand the difference among both product snippets and merchant listings with respect to the filter naming in GSC. Google has their own definitions within their documentation, but I prefer my own definitions for each.
Product snippets: this filter represents standard organic web page listings. The product snippet filter is an extension of the URL, title and description that appear for organic results, including elements such as a rating, review count, price or stock availability. Product snippets appear only within the 10-blue-link results.
Merchant listings: this filter goes beyond standard organic web page listings, involving representation of URLs from your website within features such as a popular products grid, product knowledge panels, along with areas such as Google Images and Google Lens.
Previously, the merchant listings data was only accessible through the product results filter. This meant that both product snippets (for standard organic web page listings) and merchant listings were combined under the same filter, making it impossible to distinguish the source of data collection.
Google’s goal is that sometime in 2024 the product results filter will be deprecated, with users then able to rely solely on the segmented data for both product snippets and merchant listings.
What is an example of a merchant listing?
The best example of a merchant listing (with respect to the filter naming), is for Google’s popular products grid. This is a feature that I’ve written about extensively in the past, which you can read more about in this article from 2019.
The popular products grid, which can sometimes also show in a carousel, is a SERP feature that appears mostly in US search results. Within the grid format below, selecting a product on desktop unveils a scrollable feed which features a collection of stores to shop from.
For the first example shown for the website Grooves.Land, a URL to the product page from the Logitech product is presented, and this is the URL that will surface within the merchant listings report in GSC.
As mentioned, this data was previously recorded in GSC within product results, mixed in with standard web page listing rich results. Now that it is separate, we can gain a better understand of the features that are driving traffic to our clients websites.
Previously, there was a way to preview some of this data within merchant center, but that wasn’t overly accessible to SEO professionals in most cases (being outside of GSC), along with there being reason to shift the report to GSC through less reliance from Google on using merchant feeds as the only source.
Another issue with the merchant center reporting was that it wasn’t overly helpful. While it would show both clicks and impressions, it wouldn’t show the URLs themselves (product names instead) and didn’t have any additional information by query or ranking position.
Another new report (aside from the filter)
Along with the new search appearance filter for merchant listings, you’re now able to an overlay of impressions for all pages that are marked as valid. This report was introduced in September of 2022, with the ability to show impressions being the new addition.
Here’s what this looks like for a large-scale eCommerce site:
So for the 307,000 valid pages that are shown within the report, I’m able to select the checkbox and show how many impressions are being triggered, representing a different view to the search appearance filter, with the same impressions data.
The core importance of this specific report is to flag whether there are issues related to your merchant listings and to provide feedback into which issues are leading to invalid items. Issues that can arise in this report include missing feed fields such as “availability”, invalid string lengths for “description”, missing the “gtin” and more.
My biggest gripe with the naming of the merchant listings search appearance filter (being the same in the ‘Shopping’ report) is that the placement across the various surfaces such as popular products and product knowledge panels don’t relate sorely on Merchant Center feeds anymore. This is why I would recommend Google change the search appearance filter name to something like “free product listings”.
Validating hasMerchantReturnPolicy and shippingDetails issues
If you have the merchant listings report showing in your Google Search Console account, then there’s a good change that you have “hasMerchantReturnPolicy” and “shippingDetails” issues flagged in the report.
For some sites (especially if you’re servicing the US), then there is plenty of reason for why you’ll want to ensure both issues aren’t just false flags in your account. You can first establish whether the rich results for delivery price or returns policy are showing in the US.
If the GSC report is still flagging both issues but Google is showing the data correctly in their search results, then it’s likely because of the implementation method. For example, it is possible to set each setting within Merchant Center, whereas the GSC report is based on Structured Data.
If the settings are correct in Merchant Center but GSC is flagging issues within the report, then you can safely ignore this. Just make sure to use a VPN and surface your page in the US if you’re not located there in order to validate the issue by seeing whether the rich results appear.
Impact of using AggregateOffer instead of Offer
An issue that I stumbled across recently while working with a large eCommerce client involves the downside of using AggregateOffer instead of Offer within your Product structured data.
A key section from Google’s technical documentation states that AggregateOffer shouldn’t be used to describe product variations, with AggregateOffer being used in instances where a product is being sold by multiple merchants, which isn’t always applicable to the situation.
When using Google’s rich results test, you’ll be able to see if a product page is eligible to show merchant listings alongside product snippets when inspecting the URL. Here’s what this will look like if AggregateOffer is showing within the product snippets tag (which would be the only one showing):
Because AggregateOffer is showing in the structured data, this means that the site wouldn’t qualify for merchant listings. The impact of this can be quite widespread depending on the market a site is operating in, with the inability to rank within both Popular Product units and Product Knowledge Panels.
So if each of the above features are important for the success of your eCommerce store, then you will want to look into an alternative approach to using AggregateOffer, with the example used in Google’s documentation being an aggregator site, which again is unlikely to be relevant to a lot of sites.
Importance for eCommerce websites
The ability to track performance within the merchant listings search appearance filter is a big win for large-scale eCommerce sites, especially if the US makes up a big portion of their market focus.
Interestingly, Google has decided to include a merchant listings tab for non-eCommerce sites in GSC in some instances (I see it for online marketplaces sometimes), but without impressions appearing. This doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me currently, but perhaps Google has something in the works.
For large-scale eCommerce sites, they are now able to move away from the limited reporting that was available in Merchant Center for features such as popular product grids and allow them to assess the keywords that their website URLs are showing in free product listings for.
Overall, the new addition in GSC should be seen as a big win for reporting and measurement, and should be top of mind for any SEO professional that either works in-house for an eCommerce store or for external consultants that manage the SEO for these types of sites.
Now that merchant listings are appearing in Google Search Console, we are able to gain a much more effective understanding of how URLs from eCommerce websites are appearing in search results, and how often users are clicking on those URLs.
Here are some of the key takeaways from my post that are important to keep in mind:
- Google has introduced new search appearance filters in Google Search Console for both merchant listings and product snippets. Each filter was previously tracked together within the product results filter, which will be deprecated down the line.
- It is important to understand which features of Search are measured within each filter. For the merchant listings filter, this is the one that can create confusion, and I would recommend reading the definitions I’ve created above.
- The major benefit to the merchant listings filter is being able to assess performance in features such as popular product grids or carousels, along with product knowledge panels. Both features can be highly visible on both mobile and desktop and can trigger high impressions and clicks.
- Google introduced another report in September of 2022 that relates to the latest search appearance filter addition. This report (also named ‘Merchant listings’ under the Shopping drop-down) features all of the valid items on a website, with the new additional overlaying this data with impressions.
- If issues are being flagged within the merchant listings report but Merchant Center has the details set correctly, then you can ignore this. This is because the GSC report is only picking up on the Structured Data method, which isn’t the easiest method of implementation and can be ignored.
- Being able to separately track free product listing data in GSC is a big win for eCommerce websites considering that is was impossible to accurately distinguish this data in GSC prior to the update.
It is great to see Google make this new addition in GSC, but just make sure that you understand the data that you’re viewing in there. This post should help with your understanding, but feel free to reach out to me on twitter if you have any questions.