June 28th, 2012

Google Shopping Site Blocks Results of Gun-Related Searches

Along with its main search engine, Google Inc. operates the Google Shopping web portal (www.google.com/shopping), where visitors can search for products offered by tens of thousands of online merchants. Google Shopping works great, unless you happen to be looking for gun stuff. You see, Google recently instituted a new policy blocking Google Shopping search results for many firearms-related products and accessories.

For example, searches for “ammunition”, “.308″, and “rifle” yield no results. This subject-matter-based filtering also stymies searches for prominent gun-makers, component suppliers, and gun accessory vendors. Google Shopping searches for “Beretta”, “Brownells”, “Glock”, “Nosler”, and “Winchester” all yielded this “fail” message: “Your search [term here] did not match any shopping results”. Google Shopping is even blocking results for “Leupold” — yet Leupold only makes optics. Whether you call this “filtering” or “black-balling”, the fact remains that Google Shopping is making judgments about what products (and vendors) shoppers will be allowed to view.

Google Shopping Portal

IMPORTANT: The firearm-related filtering ONLY is in place (for now) on the Google Shopping portal. The main Google search engine (www.google.com) still allows you to search for any keyword or search phrase. That means you can search for “rifle”, or “Glock”, or “Winchester” on the main Google search engine and you WILL get results.

Google Shopping Site Search Term Test

We did a quick sample of search terms on the Google Shopping site, testing a few dozen common terms for guns and firearms accessories. There were some surprising results, and many logical inconsistencies. “Rifle Shooting” was blocked, but “Shooting” returned results. “Reload” was blocked, but “Reloading” was allowed. Some filtering seems arbitrary. “Winchester” was blocked, but “Remington” worked. “Hornady” is blocked, but “RCBS” can be used. “Brownells” was blocked, but “Sinclair International” yielded results. “Nosler” is blocked, but “Sierra” was allowed. “Leupold” and “Weaver” are both blocked, but “Bushnell” and “Zeiss” are unrestricted. And spelling makes a difference. “Anschütz” is blocked, but “Anschutz” can be used. “Hollow Point” is blocked, yet “Hollowpoint” (as one word) is OK. You figure that out….

It’s hard to guess which search terms will work and which won’t, except you can be sure that most keyword phrases which include the terms “ammo”, “rifle”, or “firearm” will be censored. Likewise, most search terms based on cartridge types (Rimfire, 45 ACP etc.) or bullet diameters (5.56, 30 Caliber, 7mm etc.) are blocked. But you can still search for “gun”, oddly enough. And this editor can’t fathom why I can search for Bushnell, Zeiss, Swarovski, and Nikon, but not “Leupold”.

Sample Search Terms Blocked (No Results Returned)
5.56, .308, 30 Caliber, 7mm, 9mm, 1911, Ammo, Ammo Can, Ammunition, Anschütz, AR15, Barrel, Black Powder, Beretta, Brownells, Browning, Creedmoor, Firearm, Glock, Gunstock, Hollow Point, Hornady, Leupold, Magazine, Muzzle, Muzzleloader, Optics, Pistol, Reload, Rifle, Rifle Scope, Rimfire, Rifle Stock, Savage, Sig-Sauer, Shooting, Weaver, Winchester.

Sample Search Terms Allowed (Results Returned)
Airgun, Anschutz, Ballistics, Barrel, Benchrest, Bullet, Bushnell, Cartridge Brass, Gun, Gunpowder, Hollowpoint, Hunter, Hunting, Marksman, Press, Rangefinder, RCBS, Reloading, Remington, Scope, Shooter, Shooting, Shooting target, Sierra, Sinclair International, Spotting Scope, Stock, Target, Trigger, Zeiss.

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that this was NOT an exhaustive test of search terms, and Google could change or alter its “block list” at any time.

To explain its content-filtering system, Google Shopping recently sent an email to vendors around the country. As received by Hamlund Tactical and then posted on the web, that email declared:

Dear Merchant,

We’re writing to let you know about some upcoming changes to the product listings you submit to Google. As we recently announced, we are starting to transition our shopping experience to a commercial model that builds on Product Listing Ads. This new shopping experience is called Google Shopping. As part of this transition, we’ll begin to enforce a set of new policies for Google Shopping in the coming weeks. A new list of the allowed, restricted, and prohibited products on Google Shopping is available on our new policy page: http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/ApI7UWRj6OCZpd.

Based on a review of the products you’re currently submitting, it appears that some of the content in your Merchant Center account, [Vendor Name], will be affected by these policy changes. In particular we found that your products may violate the following policies:

When we make this change, Google will disapprove all of the products identified as being in violation of policies. We ask that you make any necessary changes to your feeds and/or site to comply, so that your products can continue to appear on Google Shopping.

To help you through this new set of policies and how to comply with them, we would like to give you some specific suggestions regarding the changes needed to keep your offers running on Google Shopping.

As highlighted on our new policy page http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/ApI7UWRj6OCZpd, in order to comply with the Google Shopping policies you need to comply first with the AdWords policies http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/StQ08jAzM4fVtG. We do not allow the promotion or sale of weapons and any related products such as ammunitions or accessory kits on Google Shopping. In order to comply with our new policies, please remove any weapon-related products from your data feed and then re-submit your feed in the Merchant Center. For more information on this policy please visit http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/GbBNIGHOribLzf.

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