As the world’s most popular search engine, Google is one of the primary tools online shoppers use to find products. Experiences like Google Shopping, Google Express and the Google Home smart speaker have bolstered the internet giant’s status as an e-commerce powerhouse, facilitating seamless product discovery and purchase across a variety of online retailers.
Historically, it was these retailers that were responsible for providing the product content Google used to power its various shopping experiences. Now, however, manufacturers are beginning to demand more control over how their products appear and perform online. They want consistent branding, in-depth analytics, and tools to increase their sales from preferred retail partners.
Google Manufacturer Center was developed to meet these demands. Manufacturer Center is a free platform that brands can use to submit authoritative product content, create ads, and monitor performance across Google experiences. It is an indispensable tool for manufacturers that want to leverage Google as a sales and marketing channel.
To better understand Manufacturer Center and its importance for brands, we recently interviewed Anand Vora, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google. According to Vora, Manufacturer Center offers a number of key benefits, and it has already started to deliver real results for the manufacturers that have taken advantage of it.
“We [have] brands – large brands, like Johnson & Johnson – that saw double-digit improvements in both impressions and clicks as a result of sending data into Manufacturer Center,” said Vora. “Brands like Safavieh, which is a manufacturer of home furnishings like rugs and lamps, also saw double-digit improvements.”
Read the exclusive interview below to learn more about Manufacturer Center and why it’s important to your brand’s e-commerce success.
An interview with Anand Vora,
Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google
Why did Google develop Manufacturer Center?
Vora: All the product data within Google Shopping and Google Express – the titles, descriptions, images and more – have been coming to us from retailers. That was fine for a while. However, we realized that when there were multiple retailers selling the same product, our systems didn’t know whose information was the most accurate.
So for some product detail pages, we were taking a title from one retailer and a description from another, and creating these experiences that left no one happy. Retailers were unhappy, manufacturers were definitely unhappy, and I think most importantly the consumers were unhappy.
We created Manufacturer Center a couple years ago as a way for brands to submit their authoritative product information into our system. We can then prioritize that over the information we get from retailers.
In return, we provide some analytics to the manufacturers. We’re also creating ad experiences that are designed specifically for manufacturers to connect with their customers and to drive sales to their retail partners.
What makes product content so important to customers? Why was that a focus for Google?
Vora: From a Google standpoint, everything is always focused on the user and how to make the user experience as optimal as possible. There’s research out there that shows that a lack of great product content can lead to significant issues, such as abandoned shopping carts and returns for products that were bought online. Product content can also influence whether or not a consumer is going to shop from a retailer again in the future.
With that in mind, we thought about how we could create more consistency for our brands and make sure the consumer experience is as great as possible. We realized that there needed to be more done to give brands – who often have the content sitting in their own walls – an opportunity to share it with Google, so that we can represent their products as accurately as possible.
Over the past few years, control of product content has largely shifted from retailers to brands. Why do you think this shift has occurred?
Vora: Historically, the retailers were the ones selling the products, so they wanted control over how everything looked. The reality, though, is that retailers are swamped, right? They have a lot of priorities on their plates.
There’s also the recognition, from a brand perspective, that different retailers are presenting their products in different ways, and that’s confusing for a customer. So being able to create more consistency is really important from a brand standpoint.
As more and more shopping continues to shift towards at least being digitally influenced, if not outright happening within the digital experience, I think brands have recognized that investing in product content is a core competency that they neglect at their own peril.
Now, the actual investment and figuring out the right team structure for product content is something that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and it is a very cross-functional effort. It needs marketing, it needs clients, it needs design work, it needs all sorts of parties involved. The most successful companies, I think, are the ones that don’t ignore the problem – or the potential problem – that product content poses, but try to actually tackle it head-on.
"There’s research out there that shows that a lack of great product content can lead to significant issues, such as abandoned shopping carts and returns for products that were bought online."
How does Google leverage Manufacturer Center content?
Vora: In general, all of the content that is related to Manufacturer Center feeds our shopping catalog, which powers our shopping experiences across devices and channels, whether it’s Google Express or the Shopping app or even Google Voice – shopping experiences using Google Assistant on Google Home, for example.
There are a few specific ways we use this content.
One way is actually a little bit more invisible. We know that not all of the searches that happen on Google are product-specific. Sometimes they’re attributes about a product – “waterproof laptops,” “lightweight phone cases,” and things like that. If we don’t have that type of attribute in our system from the various retailers who are selling a manufacturer’s product, we don’t know if that product is actually relevant to the consumer’s search. All of the data that’s submitted to Manufacturer Center is an additional set of signals that our algorithms look at to figure out, “Is this the right product for the consumer to see within Google Shopping?”
The other way we use this data is by actually surfacing it to the consumer. Right now, what is shown to the consumer is mostly on Google.com/shopping, where titles, descriptions, images and more can be influenced by what’s in Manufacturer Center.
On Google.com, when we’re really sure about the specific product the consumer is searching for, we’re trying to surface a product card experience. This won’t necessarily surface if you search for something generic, like “TV,” but if you search for a very specific TV, like the Sony Bravia X850e, we’re trying to surface a product card experience, and the product details within that experience flow in from Manufacturer Center.
We’re also using Manufacturer Center as a starting point for the new ad experiences that I alluded to earlier, so we know what products a manufacturer has that they may want to bid on. Later they’ll also have to set up an account and a shopping campaign within AdWords.
What are the benefits of using Manufacturer Center?
Vora: In terms of benefits for brands, one is the free platform, from our perspective, but two, they get a more consistent branding experience because we can prioritize their data. Three, we give them analytics they’ve never been able to see before.
We also tend to see better performance in impressions and clicks from brands that submit data to Manufacturer Center. But sales are what ultimately matter most to manufacturers, so we also have exclusive ad opportunities that are designed to help drive sales.
In terms of analytics, what types of insights do brands get through Manufacturer Center?
Vora: Right now, we’re providing the total number of clicks and impressions across all the retailers who are selling a manufacturer’s products on Google Shopping, all the way down to the GTIN (or UPC/barcode) level. We don’t surface the number clicks that went to Retailer A versus Retailer B, but we do provide the total number of clicks in aggregate so brands can calculate their click-through rates.
We’re also providing category benchmarks of click-through rates and impressions for the top five products in a category. We provide this on a weekly basis for either the last four weeks or the last 12 weeks, and it’s very powerful information that manufacturers have never been able to see before.
Also, we recognize that GTIN-level information can be a little too granular sometimes. You probably don’t really need to know whether size 7 shoes perform better than size 8. You just want to understand how this line of shoes is performing compared to another line that you manufacture. So, later in this quarter, we’re going to be rolling out some new analytics, which will include more category-level comparisons for your products.
We’re also going to be providing the search queries that resulted in consumers seeing a manufacturer’s product, so basically supplying some insight into consumer behavior. We’ll also provide some competitive insights – basically what competitor products consumers were shown when they saw that manufacturer’s products.
And then, lastly, we’re also going to be providing pricing insights. These will be in aggregate and not retailer-specific, but we will give the average clicked-on price and the average impressed price, and if we have MSRP information, we can compare that.
So again, the manufacturer gets more insight into how their products are performing on Google Shopping.
What types of results have brands seen by using Google Manufacturer Center?
Vora: The most important result, I think, for most brands, would be hard sales, and at this point, the Manufacturer Center results that we’ve shared haven’t focused much on sales, because we don’t always have all of that information shared with us. That being said, I think some of the new ad experiences that are tied more directly to sales will help show the sales impact of participating in the ad experiences and having data in Manufacturer Center.
With that being said, we do have brands – large brands, like Johnson & Johnson – that saw double-digit improvements in both impressions and clicks as a result of sending data into Manufacturer Center. Brands like Safavieh, which is a manufacturer of home furnishings like rugs and lamps, also saw double-digit improvements.
Now, if you’re starting with great content, the move from an A- to an A may not necessarily be a super large jump in percentages, but there’s still benefit in terms of having a larger say in how your products are represented and being able to have an understanding of how products are performing on Google Shopping.
Otherwise, you’re relying either on your retail partners to share this information with you, or, if you have a direct-to-consumer experience, you may have some insights based on how your direct-to-consumer channels are performing, but it’s a limited purview into how the overall product is performing.
"We do have brands – large brands, like Johnson & Johnson – that saw double-digit improvements in both impressions and clicks as a result of sending data into Manufacturer Center."
What tips do you have for brands and manufacturers that want to maximize their use of Manufacturer Center?
Vora: One of the things that we’ve seen is that the companies that have had the most success with Manufacturer Center tend to be the ones that work with third parties. It’s totally fine to use Manufacturer Center on your own, and we have a number of brands that do that. But we do recognize that it’s one additional thing on top of the list of 25 other things that a manufacturer probably needs to get done every single day, whereas there are third parties out there that manufacturers are often already working with that can help manage and optimize their product content. So I think working with a third party is a great choice.
Beyond that, it really depends on a couple things.
One, as far as how much content to submit, we recommend that you get the basics right first. For Manufacturer Center, we need a GTIN, a product title, a brand name, an image link, a description, and a unique identifier, which would basically just be that GTIN repurposed. I would totally recommend focusing on those attributes first, and as you have those mastered, you can think about some of the additional attributes, such as multiple image links, feature descriptions and more.
We see some manufacturers that submit all the information for all their products all at once, and others that start with just their most important products and then add additional information and products over time, and that’s totally fine. It really just depends on the appetite and the bandwidth that the manufacturer has to work with.
The last thing I’d say is that right now, Manufacturer Center is live in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S., and by the end of Q2 we are looking to launch in Spain, Canada, India and Japan.
So if manufacturers are selling in those different markets, they’re welcome to have separate accounts for every country, or submit separate feeds for every country into one global account, or create regional accounts – for example, a Europe account with the feeds for France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Spain, and then a separate one for Asia, which might have India and Japan, and a separate one for the Americas, which might have the U.S. and Brazil. It’s totally up to the manufacturer.
What additional points you want to make about Google Manufacturer Center?
Vora: The really exciting part right now is some of the ad experiences that we’re building, that are going to require Manufacturer Center as a starting point. Ultimately, we want to help manufacturers get connected with their customers throughout their purchasing journey. We know that we haven’t necessarily done a great job of that to-date, so that’s partially why I’m really excited about some of these experiences that we’re building.
I also want to touch again on why working with third parties is helpful. When there’s someone like OneSpace who can ensure a manufacturer’s content is primed, on-point and ready to go, it gives manufacturers one less thing to worry about, and they can focus on other things.