If you have a Google Merchant Center account and you promote your products on Google Shopping, you need to know about Automatic Item Updates.
This has always been the case, but it is even more important now as Google has changed the way its Merchant Center works in relation to Automatic Item Updates – they are now turned on by default.
In fact, in October/November 2017, Google automatically switched on Automatic Item Updates even on Merchant Center accounts that previously had the feature disabled.
Here’s everything you need to know about Automatic Item Updates:
- What are the Automatic Item Updates
- The benefits of Automatic Item Updates
- What has changed?
- What are the actions the merchants need to take?
- Things to pay attention to
- Make the most out of Automatic Item Updates
What are the Automatic Item Updates
Automatic Item Updates happen when Google uses the information on your website to automatically adjust the price and availability of products you promote on Google Shopping.
In other words, it is a feature that corrects inaccuracies in your data feed to cover periods of time between updating the pricing or availability information on your website and uploading a new data feed to Google Merchant Center.
Here's an example:
- You upload your latest data feed to Google Merchant that includes Product A with a price of $29
- You then decide to increase the price of Product A to $39
- Before you update your data feed, a customer sees an ad for Product A. As you haven’t yet updated the data feed, that customer will see the price at $29 in the ad.
- The customer then clicks on the ad to go to your landing page where they see the updated price of $39.
Google Automatic Item Updates would catch this by updating the price in the ad. It does this by extracting the updated data directly from your website instead of from the now out-of-date data feed. As a result, when the customer sees your ad, they will see the updated price of $39 even though you have not updated your data feed.
The benefits of Automatic Item Updates
Improves the user experience. This is because users are less likely to encounter discrepancies between what they see on a Google Shopping ad and what they see when they click through to the landing page, i.e. the price and availability information will match.
Improves website conversions. After all, the user probably doesn't understand the legitimate technical issues that can cause a discrepancy between what is on your Google Shopping ad and what is on your landing page. All they see is a different price or incorrect availability information and, as a result, they lose trust.
Automatic Item Updates bridge this gap to smooth out the user experience and help you win the conversion.
Fewer Google Merchant dissaprovals. In addition, Google monitors your account for the accuracy of your data feed. If it identifies a high number of price or availability discrepancies between your website and data feed, it may take action including suspending your account.
What has changed?
Previously, you couldn't use the Automatic Item Update feature in Google Merchant Center if you didn't have structured data markup in the code of your website.
Structured data markup is sometimes called rich snippets and is a way of marking up the HTML code of your website to make it easier for Google to extract data. Google then uses the extracted data to display information to users in a variety of ways.
Here is one example for a movie – Google extracted the information highlighted in the red box by using the structured data markup in the website’s code.
Here is another example for a recipe:
Schema.org is one of the most commonly used forms of structured data markup.
As a website owner, structured data markup gives you greater control over how your website appears in search results. In the recipe example above, for example, there is a star rating plus number of votes, cooking time, and calorie information. This makes the website stand out on the search results page and can encourage users to click.
Previously, structured data markup was the only way Google got information for Automatic Item Updates, but this has now changed.
If you don't have structured data markup on your website, Google can now get the information from your website in other ways. It doesn't give all the details of this, but it is likely to involve analysing the page source code to find price and availability signals. Google says it also uses machine learning to extract product data and has checks in place to minimise inaccuracies.
From Google's perspective, there is now no reason for merchants to have the Automatic Item Updates feature switched off. This is because there are now no technical barriers to using the feature, i.e. there is now no requirement to have structured data markup on your website.
It still gives you the option of turning Automatic Item Updates off, but it has also changed the default setting to on.
In addition, Google automatically updated the Automatic Item Updates setting for merchants that had the feature switched off by turning it on. In other words, if you don't want to use the feature and previously had it disabled, you must now manually switch it off again in Google Merchant Center.
What are the actions the merchants need to take?
What you need to do depends on which of the following scenarios applies to you:
1. You have structured data markup on your website and already use Automatic Item Updates so have the feature switched on
You don't need to do anything.
2. You have structured data markup on your website but previously had Automatic Item Updates switched off
Google is likely to have automatically switched Automatic Item Updates on in your Merchant Center account. You can leave them switched on but if don't want to use the feature, you will need to switch them off manually.
3. You don't have structured data markup on your website
Automatic Item Updates will have previously been switched off, but Google is likely to have switched them on as part of this change to its system. You have several options available in this situation. The first is to opt out by switching Automatic Item Updates off again. If you like the feature, however, you can leave them switched on to allow Google to use other signals on your website to get price and availability data. You can also decide to implement structured data markup on your website.
To change the Automatic Item Updates setting, login to your Google Merchant Center account and click on the three dots icon in the top right of the screen. This drops down a menu which has an Automatic Item Updates option.
Things to pay attention to
You will need to monitor the accuracy of your Google Shopping ads if you don't have structured data markup to ensure Google extracts the right information.
You should also regularly check for errors in your Google Merchant Center account. To find the error report, go to Products and then Diagnostics. Make sure you check and fix errors regularly as Google can stop updating your products if it detects too many errors.
Also, you shouldn't use Automatic Item Updates as a replacement for uploading up-to-date data feeds. Automatic Item Updates fix minor discrepancies that happen relatively infrequently. It is still essential, however, that you update your data feed in Google Merchant Center regularly.
Make the most out of Automatic Item Updates
There is little downside to ensuring Google always has the most up-to-date pricing and availability information for the products you promote in Google Shopping. The main thing you need to check, as stated above, is the accuracy of the data Google extracts.
The best way to maximise the benefits of Automatic Item Updates, however, is to implement structured data markup on your website. If you are not doing this already, it will require resources and effort, but it will give you the full benefits of the feature.
Unless you have manually switched off Automatic Item Updates since November 2017, it will be switched on in your Google Merchant Center account. If you don’t want to use the feature, you will need to switch it off manually.
The feature does bring benefits and it also helps Google get a better understanding of the accuracy of your data feed compared to your website’s landing pages. The best way to make the most of Automatic Item Updates is to implement structured data markup on your website.