Free Google Shopping Ads Vs. Paid Ads

The need for advertising your business is a given if you want to experience growth. Your ads help you reach and connect with your audience, guiding those who would benefit from your goods and services to your website. For small businesses that are highly budget conscious, there may be some concerns about the expense of advertising and free product listings will naturally hold appeal.

Google has made it possible to have unpaid, organic listings in its shopping search results, but how effective are free listings compared to paid ads? How do the two options compare and what do you gain with each?

Both free product listings and paid shopping ads serve the same purpose of driving customers to your website. The key difference however is that free product listings offer less control than paid ads, which provide you with numerous tools that can be used to optimize their performance. That doesn’t mean that the free ads have nothing to offer; free ads can be very effective and, of course, the price can’t be beaten.


Google Shopping Listing

With Google’s free listings, your products may be seen all across Google, everywhere from Google Search to Google Images, Google Lens to the Shopping tab. These free listings are available in two formats: enhanced or standard. Each type of listing is displayed differently across Google, and both have their own requirements.


  • Enhanced Listings

    • Product data attributes must be submitted in the Merchant Centre
    • These listings require more data attributes and higher data quality standards
    • Enhanced listings appear in the Shopping tab, Google Search, Google Images, Google Lens, YouTube, and more


  • Standard Listings

    • Fewer product data attributes are required
    • The product data attributes may be submitted in Merchant Centre or through a structured data markup
    • Standard Listings are shown in the All and Image tabs of Google’s search results and have a simpler format


Free Listing and Paid Ad Locations

Free listings appear in several places in Google search results. When using the All tab, they typically appear multiple times, grouped by price or type. Under the Images tab, they will appear below the paid ads and may have a Product tag in the bottom left corner. In the Shopping ad, they follow the paid ads and look very similar, but are somewhat larger.

The free listings row will be marked with “about this page” at the top right, while the paid ads are easily discernible by the “Sponsored” notation.

The paid and unpaid ads will look similar to the average consumer as they scroll through search results, though they are formatted somewhat differently. The paid ads will sit at the top and sides of the search results, with the free ads following beneath.


Setting Up Enhanced Free Product Listings

Setting up your enhanced free product listing requires you to do the following:

  • Prepare a Merchant Centre account
  • Prepare the product feed
  • Add your product data
  • Verify and claim your website


To break it down in more detail, we can review each step of the process.

  1. If you haven’t already done so, you need to sign up for Merchant Centre here
  2. Enter all necessary business information, including the name of your business, the country, time zone, etc.
  3. Specify where your customer should be checking out, selecting all that apply: on your website, on Google, at a local store
  4. Choose the third-party platform(s) that apply, such as Shopify and PayPal
  5. Enter additional information that is required for the enhanced free product listing, including tax information, shipping info, and website URL
  6. Start the feed creation process by selecting Upload Multiple Products
  7. Give your feed a name
  8. Select Google Sheets: this is the easiest method to create your feed
  9. Select Generate a New Google Spreadsheet from a template
  10. Click Access Google Sheet, where you will add your product data, including as many attributes as possible (see below)
  11. Verify and claim your website 
  12. These steps need only be completed once


The attribute that you should be including are:

  • Standard Listing
    • ID
    • Title
    • Link
    • Image_link
    • Price
  • Enhanced Listings
    • Description (all products)
    • Availability (all products)
    • Condition (used or refurbished products)
    • Brand (items with a clear brand or manufacturer association)
    • GTIN (for products, if applicable)
    • MPN (if no GTIN)
    • Multipack (if the product is a multipack)
    • is_bundle (if your product is a bundle)
    • Colour (for Apparel and Accessories)
    • Size (for Apparel and Accessories)
    • Age-group (for Apparel and Accessories)
    • Gender (for Apparel and Accessories)
    • Item-group_id (for product variants)
    • Shipping (when you need to override shipping settings in the Merchant Centre)
    • Tax (when you need to override tax settings in the Merchant Centre)


While paid ads may give you some additional control over your ads, Google Free Shopping Ads are another great way to increase conversions, as they appear at the top of the search results for those who are ready to make a purchase. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunities they present.

Christian Thomson

Christian is a British-born entrepreneur and founder of Marwick. For over 19 years, Christian has successfully helped businesses excel in digital marketing. Founded in 2012, Marwick has grown from a start-up to the 11th Fastest Growing Company in Canada in 2020 and expanded into the UK in 2019.

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