Read Before Signing Up for VLA Programs

This is an important and date-relevant post because agencies are still marketing these obsolete VLA programs.

Some back ground orientation first. But for those looking for the spoiler: Don’t sign up for an expensive and soon to be obsolete program if you are the frugal type.

Merchant Center (now called Classic) is a Google inventory service that allows anyone to advertise their online inventory in Google Shopping Ads. For automotive dealers these are called VLAs or Vehicle Listing Ads.

Merchant Center Classic VLAs have been a fairly complex on-ramp for automotive dealers. The back-end integration required someone with technical ability to get your DMS to send your inventory to Merchant Center once a day. With the Paid Ads on top of that meant $$$$. Agencies are all over it.

Now: Google started to roll out a new Merchant Center Next in May 2023 on the heals of the AI craze, but you and I hadn’t been told. There is a reason for that. Google isn’t going to loudly announce something that bites the hands that feed it. And the Agencies are not going to tell you how to save your $$$. Crickets!

With Merchant Center Next there is no “integration”, nor expense.

I stumbled onto this because the other day Google would not allow me to setup a Merchant Center Classic account. I could only setup a new Merchant Center Next account. I couldn’t find any Google documentation about any of this. No agency blogs. I had to get most of my information for this post from Google AI Gemini, which told me:

Google plans to phase out the Classic version eventually.

Google AI Gemini

Gemini confirmed there was only one Google post about Next in May 2023 and it did not say much.

How it works

The new Merchant Center Next uses AI to take the inventory directly from your website – automatically. Its now possible to get your online inventory into Merchant Center Next seamlessly and for free. Do it yourself simplicity and Free clicks.

Although Gemini warns me that Merchant Center Next is currently missing some features found in Classic and goes on to say “Google plans to add these features to Next over time.” I found new features that are worth mentioning.

You can now edit details of products directly in Merchant Center Next. That is a big deal because editing a product (errors) in Classic required a manual update in the DMS (about 5 emails) and then a resync – and then waiting a day to see the updated information. Big deal indeed!

Bottom Line

Merchant Center Next will get your inventory into your Google Business Profile box for free – that is where you get the free clicks.

Both versions of course are focused on Paid Ads. You are likely interested in Paid Ads to get your cars into the top of SERPs. So I recommend that you do not sign up for the expensive Merchant Center Classic if the almost cost-free Merchant Center Next will get you free clicks, and then if you opt to do Google Ads, Next will still get you into the top of page Ads.

Who else would have saved your $$$?

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