Home Marketers Why It Matters That Google Merchant Center Is Ditching The Word “Feed”

Why It Matters That Google Merchant Center Is Ditching The Word “Feed”

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Some advertising and ecommerce pros were surprised recently to log in to their Google Merchant Center and see the “Feeds” tabs gone.

Feeds have been the “beating heart” of Google Merchant Center, as Smarter Ecommerce head of insights Mike Ryan put it to me.

Feeds is (was) the term for structured data added by the merchant account to the platform, such as the product catalog feed. There are also specific feeds for Amazon, Google, Meta and more.

But there might also be feeds of data on product details and category information, out-of-stock and promotional changes or creative elements for ads.

For ecommerce outsiders, it sounds nitpicky. But there’s a thriving cottage industry of companies dedicated solely to feed management: Feedvisor, Feedonomics, Shoppingfeed, ChannelAdvisor and VersaFeed, to name a few.

In ditching the word feeds across its Merchant Center UI, Google is sending a message that ecommerce insiders hear all too clearly: Google will value its own data collection and algorithms, rather than information its fed by any given account.

What’s in a word?

The disappearance of the word “Feeds” is a sign Google is becoming less reliant on information provided by the brand or merchant to inform its marketing services. Rather than rely on the account’s product feed, for instance, Google Merchant Center pulls data from the site and app and interprets it for itself.

“I’m one of those people who think that words have value,” Ryan says, “and I think that’s a striking tonal or strategic shift for [Google].”

But feeds aren’t going away entirely in Merchant Center – yet. They’ve been renamed “data sources” and are buried in a more obscure location in the settings section.

The new data sources language underscores that brand-provided feeds are no longer the defining stream of data, just another option among others. Instead of Feeds, there are now data sources “Provided by you” and “Found by Google.”

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And although it can feel like overreaching to focus on a slight word change, similar changes by Google have carried weight.

Ryan pointed to 2018, when Google AdWords dropped “Words” to become Google Ads. That was a harbinger of Google Search moving away from keyword matches to focus instead on what it calls “broad match,” which also shifted power to Google’s algorithm and away from advertiser control.

Comic: Welcome AboardThere are other examples, too. In the new Google Analytics (GA4) and Google products like Performance Max, tabs that once would have been called “Analytics” now go by “Insights.” It’s a seemingly innocuous change but represents a structural overhaul to how advertising and analytics work.

Rather than analytics data that can be exported in spreadsheets and added to a brand’s CRM, platforms now report Insights, which are interesting or actionable reports based on aggregated results from the campaign.

For instance, campaign analytics might show 50,567 device or cookie IDs were targeted and later converted. Whereas insights might inform advertisers that there were more than 45,000 total conversions, 10,000 each in Chicago and Dallas, and those conversions over-indexed to women coming from social media.

Insights can be more complex and involve other data sets, like Google, Amazon or Meta incorporating their own first-party data or a retailer layering in its data for sale. But the main idea is to keep a stream of useful campaign reporting that spurs additional ad spend, without the user-level specificity that comes with analytics.

Unfeed the beast

The change from Analytics to Insights is akin to the end of Feeds in other ways, too.

Kirk Williams, founder of the paid search agency ZATO who runs a Merchant Center Mastery account, posted a video describing Feeds as “almost like a spreadsheet, where the different rows and columns are your product attributes.”

Instead of managing these data feeds like they’re livewires, Google is pushing advertisers to think in terms of data sources. Don’t bother micromanaging a price and promotion feed – just update the price on your site and Google will absorb that information because it analyzes your site and almost everywhere else your product is listed.

And Google isn’t really getting rid of feeds yet, Williams added. “It still gets that stuff wrong all the time,” he said about the data found by Google.

But that isn’t going to stop the speculation. Especially not in an industry that’s now into week three of losing its collective head over The Trade Desk using the word “premium” in some of its content marketing.

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