Google Adds Merchant Ratings to AdWords

Posted on Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEM

Yesterday, Google announced a new feature to AdWords that could have a big impact on both e-retail and brand advertisers.

Merchant star ratings from Google Products will now be displayed under the advertiser’s URL.  Here is an example:

Clicking on the link to the 1,967 reviews takes the user to the merchant’s page on Google Products:

Google has given Sierra Trading Post a merchant rating of 4.7 out of 5.  Google calculates a merchant’s rating based on an aggregated collection of reviews from a variety of sources including re-sellers, product comparison sites, review aggregators, and Google checkout.

Merchant ratings could become an important differentiator on non-brand keywords or searches for popular items.  For example, this search for [computers] puts Dell and HP at the top and both have a rating of four stars.  Could a consumer be influenced by the fact that Dell has 6,000 reviews compared to 760 for HP?:

Some important points about this new feature which Google is referring to as “seller rating extensions” as outlined in the AdWords blog announcement:

  • Only online stores currently rated in Google product search will be included
  • Merchants must have an average rating of 4 stars or higher
  • And have at least 30 reviews
  • Merchants will only be charged when users click on the headlines.  Clicks to the reviews will not be charged.
  • Merchant ratings will only appear to English-language users searching on Google.com
  • Only ads that are targeted specifically to the U.S. will include the merchant ratings.
  • You do not need to opt into this product.  If you meet the requirements, the distribution is automatic.
  • Unlike other ad extensions, if you want to opt out of Merchant Ratings, there is a separate form that needs to be submitted.

This could be a great opportunity for online retailers to leverage their positive customer sentiment and stand out from the crowd.  Beyond what Google outlined in their blog post, there are some subtle nuances to be aware of:

  • Google can include the seller rating extensions on any type of search.  In other words, if Sierra Trading Post were to advertise on their own brand {Sierra Trading Post},  a brand they carry {Columbia sportswear}, or a general keyword like {men’s hiking boots}, Google would include their merchant rating below the ad copy.
  • From our research, we have not seen merchant ratings appear with any other ad extensions.  For example, if your ad includes sitelinks or product plus boxes, your merchant ratings will not appear (and vice versa).

Since this a very new product that we have little control over, we are still developing our best practices and, most importantly, we are monitoring our data to gauge the impact.  Here are some tips to consider in evaluating it for your campaigns:

  • Take a look at your reviews and your competitors’ reviews.  Are they positive? How many reviews do you have versus your competitors? What is your rating versus competitors?
  • Watch your metrics closely to see how this change impacts your performance.  How is this impacting your CTR and conversion rate?
  • Place a renewed focus on reputation management.  With this new feature, you need to focus not only on getting reviews on your site for the brands you carry, but on the web for your online store, itself.

While this is an exciting change with great potential, we do have some concerns:

  • Advertisers don’t get charged for the clicks on reviews/rating hyperlinks, but these links also take potential customers away from your landing page and out of your designated conversion path
  • If our initial observation that you can’t serve all extension types at once is correct, you’ll have to test which extension, including Merchant Ratings, will bring you better results.
  • Your competitors’ ratings are appearing right next to yours, even on your own brand terms.  How will it impact you if your competitors have a better rating, or more reviews?
  • There are so many ways for your paid ads to stand out now – product plus boxes, Google checkout, Sitelinks, one-line Sitelinks, vertical image listings, location, etc. – how much will Merchant Rating differentiate you?
  • What does this mean for comparison shopping engines?  They often supply many of the reviews that go into the merchant rating, but they are not eligible to show a merchant rating of their own.  This seems to put the comparison shopping sites at a disadvantage compared to direct retailers.
  • Will we see any reporting on clickthroughs to the reviews page though Google Analytics or AdWords?  This data would really help in measuring the impact of this new feature.

My first thought was that this new feature would improve CTR for retailers with high ratings and lots of reviews.  But it could end up reducing CTR by diverting traffic to the review page rather than our landing page.  Will those customers ever come back?

What effect do you think this will have on your accounts?  For online retailers with positive ratings, do you think this will improve CTR and conversion rate? Or just get lost in the even-more cluttered search results page.

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15 Responses to “Google Adds Merchant Ratings to AdWords”

  1. patrick says:

    Seems like a lot of questions marks around this new ad extension for advertisers. My biggest concern is that the rating link takes users away from the conversion funnel.

  2. Bradd Libby says:

    Seems like it takes up a lot of visual real estate (if 3 or 4 ads have these ratings shown, it bumps one ad below-the-fold) for limited information. If I want to visit Bizrate or Epinions, I can do so myself.

    Further, the top ratings shown for even 5-star sites is sketchy. Here are some of the featured quote from the ratings associated with an ad placed by Amazon.com: “PROS: Availability + selection + price = Awesome!”, “Very good transaction and return policy.”, and “BAD, HORRIBLE customer service!!!”

    Here are two of the featured quotes from the ratings associated with an ad placed by Zappos.com: “Great selection, great prices!” and “Furthermore, the packaging was so cheap and flimsy.”

    The rating for Finishline.com was 4.5 out of 5 stars, but when I clicked on the ‘rating’ link, 2 of the 6 featured quotes were negative and 7 of the top 10 reviews were 1-star.

    If I was Amazon, Zappos.com or FinishLine.com, I’m not certain I’d want Google to link to negative reviews directly from the ad for which I’m paying.

  3. Marlahrd says:

    I am furious with Google for instituting this policy without notice to advertisers. I have one bad review (of course on the first page of reviews) from a purchaser in India who provided a bad address, and his packaged was returned to us, twice. However, we still provided a complete refund. However, I am stuck with a slanderous review (says my site is “bogus”) and an non-functioning Google Checkout email address. So much for Google’s suggestion to pay attention to customer service and contact your purchaser. The reviewing system is unbalanced, with all the power in the hands of any purchaser, with no power to the merchant who tries to do everything to correct problems, and do the right thing for the consumer.
    My response is to drop Google Checkout as a purchasing method and stop advertising with Google Adwords. How long will it be before Google actually listens to the advertisers who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising with them?

  4. Westsider says:

    Agree 100% with you Marlahrd. We noticed this new policy just appear this week. One of our new competitors has 5 stars and lots of reviews. It makes them look like they’ve been around for years when we’re the ones with the most solid reputation in our industry. We’ve been advertising on Google for years and have literally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with them, but are now considering withdrawing our AdWords campaign completely because of this new feature. It creates more work for us not to mention competitors or one disgruntled customer being able to completely trash your ad campaign and reputation.

    More than anything it seems like a very backhanded way to force users to offer Google Checkout or register in Google’s Products database or else you risk having a highly less effective ad campaign. Big monopoly issues here and I think this might just be the line Google has finally crossed that is going to launch a full fledged investigation into their practices. This is very similar to the Windows controversy from years past of forcing PC makers to put IE on the OS.

    Unfortunately, Google will probably get away with this for years before they are sued and by then the damage will be done to reputable businesses like yours and mine. Not to mention loyal customers of theirs. But does that really matter to them?

  5. This benefits large companies who choose to pay for all the comparison sites. I have a small company and do not think shopping.com and the rest are worth the money. This just helps large competitors that have a larger marketing budget.

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  9. Memory Foam says:

    Interesting. Seems from the comments that these periodic updates from Google force their customers to scramble every couple of years of so. As usual, it’s part of a bigger strategy that gives another avenue for increasing click-throughs and hopefully conversions. Overall I’m in favor.

  10. Tim Knight says:

    VerifiedFeedback.com is now a 3rd party supplier of reviews into the Google seller rating program. Its takes around 4 to 4 weeks to get the the reviews to show up next to your adverts once you hit the 30 reviews threshold. Stars help lift CRT by anywhere from 10% to 22%.

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