Episode 48: Fashion SERPs and Google Partner programme changes

Play this episode:

Or get it on:

What's in this episode?

Mark Williams-Cook and Rob Lewis will be covering:

Fashion SERPs: The big shake up in how fashion SERPs are shown in the US and what you need to do

Google Partner programme changes: What you need to know about the new requirements to be a Google Partner.

Show notes

Edit: Since the recording of this show, Google has confirmed that the Partners must reach an optimisation score of 70% to maintain their status.

Sam Pennington, Head of SEO for Misguided Twitter:

A new way to find clothes on the web:

Google Partner Programme changes:


MC: Welcome to Episode 48 of the Search with Candour podcast! Recorded on Friday the 14th of February 2020, I got it right this time! So it was brought up by some very careful listeners last week, when I was a little bit ill, that I introduced that the podcast was being recorded in November 2020, so I'm pleased to say it is actually February and I am competent today.

So, today we're gonna be talking about fashion SERPs in the US, there's been a big change there and massive change, Rob is here with us again to talk us through the big changes in the Google Partner Program.

RL: Hello!

MC: So fashion SERPs. So search engine result pages for people searching for clothes, shoes and that kind of stuff. I was actually wanting to cover this an episode or two ago but didn't get the chance so I want to cover it now. This was a change that was announced by Google on the 15th of January, so almost a month ago and they did a post called, “A new way to find clothes, shoes and more on search” and I'll just read out for you some of the post and this is on the main Google blog, just to give you an idea of what they're introducing. So Google says: ‘when you're shopping online for something to wear, like a jacket for winter or dress shoes to match a new outfit, it can be useful to see style options across lots of different stores. but with the numbers of options online, it isn't always easy to know what's out there, find inspiration, compare your choices and decide what and where to buy. Search has always let you find links to different products and stores but starting today and rolling out this week in English, in the US…” - so at the moment, this is only a change that's rolled out in the US, not the UK, but I suspect this will be coming to the UK as well - “'ll begin to see clothes, shoes and accessories from across the web in one place on search, on your mobile device, so you can easily browse lots of different stores and brands at once” and they've given kind of an animated screenshot of a mobile search result and what it will look like.

So what's kind of functionally changing here - whereas before if you were searching for some winter jackets you would get obviously your shopping ads and you would mainly get a list of websites and the top brands that performing, now you're actually getting organic product listings that are showing prices, reviews and you're seeing visually all of these products and you can actually filter them. So in the example of winter jackets, you can filter to men and women, puffer jackets, active jackets and so the idea is that the shopping experience is a little bit more visual and it's not so much tied up with the few brands that are ranking at the top and I think that's something we've we've always seen a lot of.

Google knows people use Google Image Search directly sometimes with shopping intent and we've started to see them adding schema rich information to the Google image results about, for instance, if products are in stock so you can click on it and buy it because some people will do things like search for a jacket and they'll just scroll through Google images looking for something they like.

The post from Google goes on to say: “To start browsing just search for clothes or accessories like running shoes, women's leather belt or wide-leg pants, Google identifies popular products from stores across the web and brings them together in a new section on search. You can filter by style, department, size, type, look and multiple images of the product and if you want to learn more or you're ready to buy, you can easily visit a store's website. Once you know what you want to buy, it can sometimes be hard to uncover all the different stores that carry an item, so you can pick exactly what you want. With this new experience, we've done the hard work for you by bringing products from many stores together. You'll also have quick access to reviews, in case you need help making a decision.”

Lastly, they say: “To make this feature possible, Google indexes and organises products from over a million online shops and updates this information regularly. just as we don't charge sites to be a part of the Google search index, participating retailers appear in this new feature for free. retailers can learn more about what types of products are eligible to appear on this shopping experience and search” and they give you a link so we'll do a link in our show notes at, where you can have a link to this post and more information.

So I think it's quite a big change and it's probably not good news for stores that were organically ranking for quite generic terms, near the top because it means there's going to be a bit more competition there for them. But Google's gambling this will be better for users.

Very kindly, I dropped a line to Sam Pennington who's the head of SEO for Missguided, just to ask him what his thoughts and opinions were on this and he was kind enough to give us a reply. So this is what Sam from Missguided said, he said: “The new Google Shopping feature is interesting; it's a free version of Google shopping for organic results, which runs directly through the submission of a product feed within the Merchant Center as you would normally with Google's PLA ads.” - so their product listing ads - “Google suggests that it is designed to make shopping easier for the consumer and will contain multiple images and multiple filtering options for smaller brands that cannot compete with the big players on PLA budgets or struggle with ranking organic results as they are lacking resource, it opens up the market for a wider range of players. However, this also raises some major questions. Where in the SERP will this sit? Google seems to take over all of the first page with “features” from PLAs, PAA’s - so that's people also asked results, Twitter images, featured snippets and video, so where amongst this will the feature sit? And will it spell the end to another organic position on page one?”

So that's quite a trend we've seen especially with paid search in encroaching in different areas on search results, where the classic organic listings are becoming less prevalent. Sam goes on say: “Google is also determined to reduce duplication from within the SERPs” So Sams referencing here, we've had a couple of updates from Google where they've specifically said they're trying to reduce the same results, from the same domain coming up and we've heard the featured snippet update, where you can no longer rank on the first page of Google and have the featured snippet. So Sam goes on to say about reducing duplication for when the SERP, so how will they prevent this from happening within PLA? So product listing ads. So he's asking the question there if you have a Google Shopping feed for your products, is it a good experience for the user and how Google handle it if they are showing your product in a paid-for ad and then the same store below that, in a very similar format as an organic listing, so essentially seeing the same thing twice. Or even the product page ranking organically alongside the feature, will they remove or restrict it only to be available once as per the new features snippet rule? So that’s a really interesting question. Google hasn’t given us any information on that, so that would be very interesting to see how that pans out and if they do start applying these new duplication rules to this feature. Sam says, I also think there'll be a long teething period here too as people might not optimise the PLA feed for the organic aspect of queries and there will be a whole new feature to learn the optimisation process of. What does it use to rank the products within the feature? Our reviews and ranking factor for it, but some fast fashion retailers do not have reviews any longer etc. Sam's gut instinct is that Google is using this new feature to make more of the Google Images feature that they have, which I mentioned earlier. It's a way to monetize a huge part of the crawl they do on all E-comm sites which returns images and products data, that they currently process and do not use. It will allow for this new feature to pull related images of products into a carousel at the top of Google Images and provide a visual shopping experience.

As I said earlier, I think this is really good. We've seen that behaviour a lot with E-comm clients where customers are very visually centred and I think because that's the way we developed these shopping habits is visually and Sam closes with, “But I think there'll be an implication on a lot of e-commerce sites off the back of this and a potential loss of sessions but overall, it'd be hard to estimate what impact this be in terms of sessions and revenue until it's been widely adopted.” So I said we'll link to the post, I think this is quite a major change, especially if you've got clients working in fashion or you are a fashion business in the UK. I think you'll find this is probably gonna roll out in the UK next, so it's good to get ahead of this and as Sam suggests, a really good idea to look at Merchant Center and think about that optimisation process.

Google partner program changes. So it was yesterday Rob, 13th of February?

RL: Yes.

MC: We got an email, as many agencies around the world did, announcing the changes to the Google Partner Program. So the Partner Program, we're a Premier Google Partner, it's part of their Google Ads certification for agencies and there are some pretty big changes basically, come isn't there?

RL: Yes.

MC: You may have seen, if you follow us on Twitter, we've already had some conversations with this about people. the reaction that I've seen from agencies, understandably, I think it's been a little bit negative and we just wanted to talk through with you. Rob can take you through what the Partner Program is and what's gonna be changing with it.

RL: Sure. Well, in short, the biggest benefit of being a Google partner is that you get to display a nice shiny coveted badge on your pitch materials, on your website, to say that you are a Google partner and there are a couple of different levels to partner status. The most common is premier partner status and to earn that you have to demonstrate good client retention, so you have to have long-term clients in your Google Ads accounts and you have to take regular Google exams as well and have Google certified individuals. But I guess the most important factor is you have to have a certain level of spend going through your client accounts each month.

MC: So I always kind of joked to people about this when they're saying you know, you've got Premier Partner, it's like yeah we give a lot of money to Google, but actually while we joke about that, there is some logic there in that, if you have clients that are spending lots of money on Google ads and that's slowly increasing, it's likely that they're doing well and they're seeing return and not losing loads of money because they haven't stopped.

RL: Absolutely, it's the retention as well - that’s a good word to sum up how they factor in whether you should be a premiere partner or not. But you can only really retain a high level of spend for so long if you're doing a good job on the account, which yeah it makes perfect sense. So agencies that have a Premier status, it's really useful for advertisers who are looking to recruit an agency to help them with their pay-per-click management because it demonstrates that the agency has a reasonable amount of experience, in not only retaining clients but confidently managing vast levels of spend. Similarly, it’s a really good badge for agencies to have; it's useful for pitching as I say, you know if you're going against several agencies and you're the only agency that has premier Google partner status, then it's going to make you look better and make you stand out.

There are a few other benefits as well for agencies; silly things really, like having a nice plaque in the posts being delivered to say, well done you're a premier partner.

MC: Did we ever get a plaque?

RL: We got a nice book!

MC: So if anyone from Google's listening, we would like our plaque.

RL: Maybe they stopped giving you a plaque’s actually, not sure, I’ll have a look into that, that’s an interesting one. But you know, you get high-level account management as well, to a certain extent.

MC: You get beta access as well because I knew we were doing things like when the expanded text ads came out we had that ahead of time, so there are a few things, you can be the guinea pig in a way because something like the expanded tech side was almost a no-brainer right, that helped.

RL: We've just been approved some really exciting ones actually, but we aren’t allowed to talk about it because NDA, but they're exciting!

MC: Super exciting.

RL: And actually, just to clarify, just because your Google partner doesn't mean that you're affiliated with Google in any way. You basically have a badge of honour to say that Google approves of you, but agencies that say they work directly with Google, you know they are affiliated with - they're not. They just have a nice shiny badge of approval from Google basically, which is still good.

MC: There are some agencies that do work with Google, but that's not what the partner badge is.

RL: Yes, that’s not that.

MC: And I think it's worth pointing out as well that the Google partner badge does not have anything to do with SEO. I've seen some interesting placement of the partner badge before in relation to SEO services, so the partner badge is - you know the criteria are pretty clear, what you get it for and it only applies to Google Ads.

So what are the changes? What's changed? So we are Premier Partner, everything's happy, lots of other agencies are very happy that they're Google partners and Google's said ‘we're changing some stuff’ - I think it's from June.

RL: That's right, yes.

MC: So what's changing?

RL: Well the changes have caused a bit of a stir amongst many self-respecting agencies because the biggest change relates to how Google assesses account performance and account health. So before, it was based on the revenue growth and retention of your company's clients and your company's growth overall, in terms of revenue and the number of advertisers, so if your client base is growing, if you're retaining your clients, Google says yes, this is a healthy indicator of how well you are keeping your clients and how well you’re growing them and how well things are going.

MC: So there's symptoms and signs of things that are going well for the client, in a tangible, they're making money.

RL: Well, tangible outcomes is how it's based on. So that sounds good, that makes sense, that's how it's always been.

MC: I can almost see where you're going to lead with this.

RL: However the new change is now based on optimisation score of an account and I'm just going to read what Google has said: “Based on account optimisation score found in the recommendations tab, apply Google's recommendations to improve your account performance. Dismissing recommendations will not count towards the account optimisation requirement.” Now, that latter one that I just read about how dismissing recommendations will not count towards the account optimisation requirement, I've only just seen that notification come up today, there is a bit of a discussion yesterday over whether or not you could dismiss those recommendations to influence your optimisation score because that's what you can do within the recommendations tab, you can dismiss them.

MC: And it puts the score up.

RL: Yeah.

MC: So it's worth saying, if you haven't listened to it, I've just checked our site - it was Episode 38, which we recorded and we published on a 2nd of December last year, we did a whole episode called “The devil that is Google Ads optimisation score” and Rob took us through, in depth, about how optimisation score works and the real headline of that is that Google, the optimisation score is not related to account performance.

RL: No, it's related to whether you adopt what Google wants you to adopt and ultimately the biggest influence of optimisation score are things that influence spend such as, your budget.

MC: Increasing your budget, broad keywords that, that kind of stuff.

RL: Yes, opting into display partners, those sorts of things. So in a nutshell, if you don't apply Google's recommendations then you run the risk of losing Google's premier partner status. So in my mind you have a couple of options here, as an agency, and those options are as follows, one) do what Google tells you to do, apply the recommendations for the sake of maintaining your premier Google partner badge or two) do what's best for the client and use your experience and expertise as a pay-per-click manager and data analyst to do what is best for the account. Those I think are the main options and I think if Google decides to stick with this and if what they're saying is as how it comes across, you're gonna get two types of agencies; you're gonna get those that show that badge with honour and say we're at Google premium partner or you're gonna have agencies that have the clients best interest at heart. That’s what it seems like to me.

MC: I think it's becoming, not so secret now, that maybe the future Google has as a vision for Google ads, is less of a role for agencies because they want clients to directly put their money into Google and they want things to be managed by AI and they want stuff automatically managed. And I think, I mean myself I think, as a business owner, spending money on Google ads that's potentially dangerous because the function of the agency, the value that an agency generates is essentially - apart from understanding the intricacies of the ad system and your business - is that they are there to protect your interests, because very plainly the end of the day it's in Google's interest for advertisers to spend more money, whereas it's in the agency or freelancer or your internal ads specialists interest to try and manage that spend as efficiently as possible. So yeah that is a very interesting and quite binary, as you say, decision path that Google's putting us down. My thought on it is, it's going to come down to - because they haven't defined how many of these optimisations score changes you need to apply. So for instance we had a quick discussion earlier where we saw where they rated us for that and they say we're fine and we certainly don't just tick everything they say, so I think maybe there's room, at the moment breathing room there to still sit in the middle and retain that status and do a good job but that's very opaque as to what the actual standard is and how that may change, because this is quite a bold step.

RL: Yeah.

MC: So it wouldn't be a big step to start tightening the news on how many of those changes you must apply to reach that criteria.

RL: Certainly whenever I have my regular calls with our Google Account Manager, one of the first things they do is direct me to the recommendations tab and look at my overall optimisation score and say why haven’t you applied these? So they're targeted as well, they have their targets, this is their method of trying to get people to press that apply button I guess and the only advice I think I have for advertisers here, actually more so for the clients, is to be wary of emails that Google may send, saying “you have a low optimisation score act now”, and before acting on them yourselves or before you get angry at your agency or your pay-per-click manager, have a discussion with them about what it could mean and what the actual best things for your account are.

MC: So if you haven't listened to it, do check out episode 38 because we go into optimisation score and discuss that a bit more detail.

RL: So Bing has also been carrying out, what I can describe some questionable practices, lately. The other day I was optimising a Bing account and a pop-up appeared in the top right hand corner and it said “get your ads in front of more customers by adding new keywords” and that's fine, Google does that, Bing does that.

MC: I was going to say, that sounds fair enough to me. Sounds like the kind of data they should be providing, I suppose.

RL: Yeah, but I mean in most cases you look through the list of keywords they're suggesting and they're just so broad and in many cases not even relevant to the industry, so you have to be careful. But this pop up made me make me look twice, because normally when you have a pop up notification or some kind of prompt, the button on the left is normally apply and that will be green or whatever to symbolise yes, go ahead and the button on the right will be white or grayed out and it will be the dismiss button. In this case the button on the left which was green basically said view the recommendations and the button on the right didn't say dismiss, it said apply and it was grayed out. So I almost pressed that grayed out button because it said dismiss. In fact there is no dismiss option, it was either view the recommendations or apply.

MC: Essentially that's a bit of a dark design pattern.

RL: Yeah.

MC: Yeah, so we'll put the screenshot in the show notes at but looking at it now - yeah it's the left side, “click this” which is view and then it feels like the other option should be “dismiss”.

RL: Because I've warned people about it they'll probably look at the image of think, well yeah it's obvious just don't press it, but actually when you're in the zone, when you're optimising, when you see these things, you're used to dismissing things all the time and where I would normally expect a dismiss button to be, in that dismiss colour, it just - to me, it was just so dangerous. So imagine pressing that button and adding 989 key words that have nothing to do with your industry.

MC: When Bing is giving you recommendations, are they choosing phrase match, exact match kind of thing or?

RL: They are mostly broad.

MC: They're just gonna smash in a thousand broad match keywords?

RL: Yeah, basically.

MC: Ok, so that's gonna basically decimate your budget.

RL: Yeah. To dismiss that I had to click on the burger icon and click on hide.

MC: Hmm, that's interesting.

RL: Yes, so be careful!

MC: I think more of these podcasts just seem to be us telling people to be careful when it comes to ads, when it comes to applying any kind of recommendation that these systems give you.

So all of these platforms have got their reasoning for supplying this information and trying to get users to do this and I think there is, you know when they provide data saying - for instance when you set up a Google Ads account, when you go through the additional options to say you would like to manually control the cost per click, it gives you that big scary warning saying that the account performance may well be lower on manual cost per click and that might may well be true actually for the majority of customers, being that the majority of people may be experimenting with PPC aren't professional, they are not an agency and so in some cases they actually might be better off letting Google manage at least some of that, maybe not following the optimisation score.

But certainly for those people who are spending any significant time or investing any significant amount in Google Ads, if you're working in houses as a digital marketer, freelance or an agency, these recommendations in our experience, certainly in my experience certainly yours, are not the optimal things to do because again the big disjoint is they're not ever in context of the business that they're serving. So they're purely from the side of “here's a bunch of stuff you can try” but they're not looking at that we're having conversations with people about you know cadence of people signing up and lifetime value of customers and and thinking about those things, not just traffic numbers, spend, conversions.

RL: It's interesting because all of these tactics, to me, seem to suggest a short-term profit boost for Google, for Bing, but not a long-term customer retention in itself. I mean we hear so many stories about new advertisers saying “oh I tried Google Ads and it didn't work” and it didn't work because they tried setting it up using…

MC: I guess with the the automated machine learning stuff, it's very beneficial for Google to have more and higher quality accounts start using that system, because the more people they push through it, the more data they get and you know it has certainly improved over the years and we do use some of it. Obviously we don't have every single campaign managing manually, we are letting Google do bits now because it's got to the stage on some bits where it's good. So I guess they have done some calculation on the flack they'll take versus the catch up of when they're performing at least adequately with these systems.

RL: Yeah.

MC: But that’s not yet, so be careful. Cool thank you for taking me through that and everyone else Rob.

I think that's everything we have for today. Next week I'm gonna bring you some announcements about new speakers we have for Search Norwich and of course the latest Search news for you. We are going to be back next Monday, which will be the 24th of February so our last episode for February. As usual if you do enjoy this podcast and you're listening on the web, you can subscribe to it on iTunes, Spotify, Google podcasts, pretty much anywhere I can put it and apart from that I hope you have a really great week and we will catch you later.

RL: Bye!

More from the blog

Get in touch

Please call us on
+44 (0)1603 957068

or email
[email protected]

Alternatively, if you fill and send this form we will get back to you shortly:

Artboard Created with Sketch.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


Thank you for your enquiry, we will take at look at your request and get back to you shortly.