For several years Google has allowed all retail stores to upload inventory into their search engine. The feature was originally called Google Base, then Google Merchant Center. When consumers would search for popular product phrases, the Google SERP would always show a few product photos and links to the corresponding websites.
Getting your products listed in the SERP was just as difficult as regular SEO for your website. Generally speaking it was a lot of work.
Recently Google announced a name change and a shift in how it would operate this free product listing service... in that it's actually not going to be free any more.
Google Merchant Center is transforming into Google Shopping, and it's taking on the features, functionality, and terms of service of Google AdWords.
For some this change really hurts, and for others this will turn out to be a windfall. Let's figure out where you may stand on the topic.
First off, this change is rolling out for the Americas, if you're in Europe this change will not apply to you... yet.
Second, there are many content management systems out there that have the automatic ability to upload into Google Merchant Center. Although your website will continue to attempt an upload into the Merchant Center, Google is changing the upload directions. If your website automatically feeds product data to Google you should contact your programmer and have it disabled.
Although I cannot find any documentation on it yet, I also assume that they are deactivating the product rich snippets... therefore you can tell your programmer to remove that code from your website as well. Most shopping cart software systems don't include rich snippets, but if you do have them you might as well clean that code out.
Only a few of the retail jewelers I work with had a large enough online inventory to participate with Merchant Center. This change to paid product listings won't hurt the smaller jewelry stores, but it will hurt those that enjoyed the free advertising for many years.
On the other hand, this paid product listing does give you the ability to have your products listed even if your product SEO is terrible.
The new Google Shopping is slowly being deployed, and you might not see it yet, but when it is you will notice a subtle "Sponsored" message above the products. Surly all the big e-commerce jewelers are diving into Google Shopping and will increase their advertising budgets accordingly.
For those of you participating in AdWords already this could be a new way to attract customers, and it could be a local windfall for you. On the other hand, if you've enjoyed the free advertising from years past this major Google change will no doubt reduce your website traffic unless you start paying for it.
Right now the final outcome for good or bad is unknown. I'll keep my eye on it and let you know when conclusive results are available.