When will a Comparison Shopping Service (CSS) save you money?

A comparison shopping service or CSS allows your products to be displayed alongside Google’s price comparison engine advertisements in Google Shopping across Europe. 

This effectively introduces another provider into your online advertising process, in addition to Google. You might think this adds to your costs rather than delivering savings, so why might you consider CSS for your business? 

Some CSS providers say they can reduce the cost per click (CPC) by 20% compared with Google Shopping. However, as a chargeable service it’s important to know a little more about how different CSSs work and their billing models to know when they will become cost-effective for you. 

How does a CSS work?

You have probably noticed the blue labels at the bottom of shopping ads which might read ‘by Google’ or by X, Y, or Z Shopping, for example. If you click on the blue label you can access the CSS website to compare products. If you select the product title or image you’ll go directly to the seller’s product page. 

Before a European Commission ruling in 2017 Google Shopping showed in search results but others were not allowed to do the same. This was felt to give Google a monopoly over this search result space and Google was told to allow other price comparison services. This made Google Shopping just one of many CSS providers.  

Google’s response to the ruling was to offer other CSS providers incentives to advertise on Google Shopping. It gave them significant advantages in bidding power and visibility and allowed them to offer a CPC discount. 

Google says that your CSS providers will never be second-priced against themselves in the auction for keywords, irrespective of the number or identity of the CSSs used. So, in principle, you will always pay only what you need to beat your closest competitor. 

How you use a CSS

Your CSS advertisements will still bring people to your ecommerce website. You will need to create a Merchant Center yourself or with your CSS partner. You can then upload the same feed you would use for Google Shopping, so on the face of it very little has changed, but your Merchant Center is registered to your CSS account instead of Google. 

When your product receives a click from a Google Shopping campaign, 20% of the cost per click goes to Google Shopping and 80% goes to Google. The cost of a click from a CSS advertisement campaign means that 0% goes to the CSS partner and 80% goes to Google. But does it actually save you 20%? 

The challenge is that the saving is theoretical rather than real – the advantage in the auction for your chosen keywords is not listed anywhere so it’s not really a discount that will be refunded. In simple terms, what you pay will depend on the quality of your advertisement and your ranking bid, which will be affected by what others are bidding.  

Google charges a CPC to the CSS that placed a winning bid on your behalf. What you pay for the click to your CSS partner will depend on the billing agreement you have with them. 

The CSS providers are funded through a monthly service fee, a percentage of your pay per click (PPC) spending, a fixed CPC by category, or commission if the click results in a sale, so you will need to choose a billing model that is right for your business. 

Of course, you can run advertising campaigns with Google and your CSS partner at the same time to compare your own results. However, this won’t help you to understand how other CSS providers might be performing compared with each other or with Google. 

Getting started with a CSS

You can convert your existing Google Merchant Center, in which case you won’t be able to run comparisons with Google Shopping, or you can create a new one but you won’t be able to include previous product data or search results, for example. 

Depending on your decision, you can then run: 

  • single or multiple CSS only campaigns 
  • Google only campaigns 
  • hybrid CSS and Google campaigns.  

A single CSS only campaign will help you to benefit from the ‘discount’ and make your process more manageable. Different CSS providers specialize in different industries and products. If you’re a retailer with a varied catalog of products, working with different CSS partners can give you access to a wider market. 

Google only campaigns will suit you if your budget is small, making any discount you might otherwise receive marginal. 

If you are concerned about losing valuable clicks then a hybrid campaign is worth considering. If you maintain identical bidding in duplicate Google and CSS campaigns you can run them side by side to monitor and manage your results. Alternatively, your CSS can be your main campaign with Google Shopping as a fall-back, with lower bids so your results will be cost effective and reliable. 

Managed CSS – some CSS providers offer a fully managed service where they will create your Google Ads account and Merchant Center to upload your product feed. However, you might not have access to these accounts or the tools they use to optimize performance or report on your results. There will be additional costs for this service and you could lose momentum and valuable data if you choose to change CSS partners in the future. 

Price comparison services – price comparison services such as Kelkoo or Pricerunner can run a Google Shopping campaign for you when some of your products have little or no exposure. They can provide a low CPC but they will take a significant margin. In most cases it will be more cost-effective to run your own campaigns. 

Work with a paid search business partner

At Williams Commerce our team of paid search marketing experts will manage your PPC advertising so you can be confident it is generating leads and revenue to meet your goals. 

As a Google Premier Partner, our award-winning team of certified digital marketing experts deliver growth for dozens of clients across multiple sectors. We can create exciting new PPC campaigns that are optimized to enhance your marketing efforts. 

Ask about our free PPC audit. 



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