Setting your brand apart from the rest is practically the definition of marketing. Given the strict parameters of advertising on Google, the gatekeeper of the vast digital market, it can be a struggle.

It’s no wonder, then, that on my last Econsultancy post discussing niche site strategy, a commenter wanted to know how to get that attractive, Google-branded check mark that distinguishes one PLA (Product Listing Ad) from the lineup. 

Google Trusted Stores checkmark

For those of you who don’t know, this check graphic designates a Google Trusted Store. It’s an ecommerce certification.

Google grants this badge to sites that prove that they’re fast and reliable shippers with a record of positive customer feedback.

Google will even reimburse a dissatisfied customer up to $1,000 if an ecommerce site violates this Google-bestowed trust.

In exchange for the endorsement, businesses give Google access to a significant amount of their data: items sold, shipping times, customer emails, feedback, and so on.

Google uses this stream of info to tabulate and broadcast info like shipping times and customer feedback to site visitors, continually verifying that the store meets its standards of good quality and service.

In his October 2011 post about the launch, Chris Lake wondered, would the badge improve service and satisfaction? And more ominously, would sharing data and metrics with Google become compulsory?

In the two years that have passed, Google has accrued an increasingly comprehensive view of the inner workings of many online businesses through its Trusted Stores channels.

On the marketing end, we have accumulated real experiences and data about the costs and benefits of the badges, which this post will break down.

As you can see in the PLAs above, there is still a sizable holdout of stores that have not added the badge. Given that PLAs have had a 600% increase in global traffic in the last year, you may want to get on the bandwagon.

If you still aren’t convinced, I’d argue that joining is probably inevitable, so doing so sooner rather than later gives you an edge. 

Benefit: cashing in on Google’s name

If you’re a recognizable brand like Macy’s or Amazon, the Trusted Store badge will be less impactful. The biggest advantage the certification offers is credibility for first-time customers of smaller brands. SmartSign fits this profile.

We have thirty-some niche sites, none of which are household names.  After adding the Trusted Store badges over a year ago, we didn’t see any immediate bump in revenue (unlike the ecommerce sites featured in the Trusted Stores marketing video for merchants, which attribute big gains to the badge).

Our revenue has grown since the implementation, but it’s impossible to attribute that to any one particular thing.

Still, we’ve seen many positive customer mentions of the added feeling of security that comes with the badges, and common sense tells us the value of a trusted third party’s endorsement.

Cost: technical difficulties

Actually applying for the Google Trusted Stores certification requires high-level technical know-how. A partner and programmer at SmartSign, Abhay Purohit, shared that the major unforeseen difficulty in getting the badges was the unexpected need to convert all of the sites to doc-type files.

This added a month onto the application process, which took three months in total.

To get the badge, you’ll also need to set up an in-house delivery system (just once, while the badges are being added), to transfer your information routinely to Google.  

After implementation, there aren’t any specific technical demands, but you’ll need someone around to monitor and troubleshoot the daily release of information.

Benefit: an edge on the competition(for now)

As you can see in the row of PLAs above, the site with the badge stands out from its competitors. If you look at the Trusted Stores widget on a site, you’ll see another advantage of adopting early. 

The badge tallies the number of transactions since its implementation. If you join before your competitors, you can build an order history, which communicates competence and reliability to customers. 

Google counts your certified orders by the tens of thousands (then it jumps into bigger increments). We got a head start on one of our competitors:

Ultimately, though, it’s likely that the playing field will level. Order history and reputation will hit a threshold and depreciate in value after a certain number of transactions.

But if you’re in a small segment, it could prove invaluable. 

Cost: problematic shipping averages

Pride yourself on offering artisanal or custom products? Unfortunately, that could actually hurt you when it comes to the Trusted Stores badge.

The problem stems from the automated calculation of your average shipping time, which is displayed when a customer hovers over the Trusted Stores widget on your page.

Take, for example, the products offered on this custom parking signs page. There’s a range of customizable design options; if someone orders from this selection, it will take more time than shipping a pre-made stock item.

In these cases, the average time to ship listed by the Trusted Store misrepresents true shipping estimates. Take, for example, a hypothetical pool cue store. Ordering a stock cue would take one week, and a custom cue would take three.

If the site had a Google Trusted badge, customers would expect a shipping time of two weeks, which would always be inaccurate.

The problem is not just that it might take the manufacturers longer to make the item, either. Custom items often require customer input.  

In the case of MyParkingSign, the customer must approve an emailed proof of the custom sign before it gets made and shipped. Often, a customer takes a while to get back to the art team after the email is sent.

Maybe they’re not in a hurry; maybe they’re on a business trip. But all Google can see is the date ordered and the date received. So even if you’re offering a service or custom product that customers love, your Trusted Stores badge would show a lower average than a competitor that has more limited options.

Hypothetically, this is also a way that a competitor could sabotage you, or a tech-savvy customer could claim a product deficiency in order to get a refund. 

Cost or benefit? Giving Google your information

I suspect it won’t be long, and perhaps just a couple of years, before the Google Trusted Stores badge becomes ubiquitous, and you must have one simply because you cannot be the only site without one.

In that scenario, the badge will be about as distinguishing as gold stars for participation in elementary school. Like it or not, we’re seeing more evidence that Trusted Store badges do create (another) inevitable dependency on Google, as Lake foreshadowed.

As these badges pick up, Google has a rapidly growing flow of inside business information. Google could use this data for any number of things.

It could create wonderfully efficient, tailored tools for businesses, or it could potentially use this data to guide rankings. Ultimately, we don’t know—but chances are, we will find out.