google shopping ads 101

A dominant force in SEM went into full release in 2014 when Google enacted the migration of the former Google AdWords Product Listing Ads to the now Google Shopping system. Although PLA’s do exist as the terminology of the product ads themselves, Google Shopping was aimed at refining the process of creating and optimizing this crucial advertising campaign – which is used exclusively by ecommerce businesses worldwide to promote products on the Google search engine.

Here are some helpful tips for getting started and making the most out the Google Shopping experience for your ecommerce store.


It Begins at the Shopping Cart Level

The springboard for a successful Google Shopping experience starts out with the ecommerce website itself and the platform it is built on.

  • User Experience: First and foremost, a vital aspect of Google Shopping success is the loyalty and trust built between merchant and consumer. However this is not a brick and mortar store. The face of your business is the online storefront, its functionality and its aesthetics. A product ad on Google is merely a link, and without a great website to link to, that link can simply spell an expense without a sale.
  • Mobile Friendliness: If you’ve been around the internet lately you may have come across the allegedly catastrophic Mobilegeddon. What was this exactly? A Google Algorithm update poised to penalize the organic search results for websites that are considered “mobile unfriendly.” Before this was even a thing, a mobile friendly website was (and still is) a majorly important part of website optimization. More people are searching for products online using mobile devices. This article from the Official Google Shopping Blog gives some great insight into the relationship between mobile friendliness and responsiveness, and a retailer’s ability to generate more traffic and sales.

Pro Tip: Avoid pop-up ads, coupons, or newsletter sign-ups inside the shopping cart. They often distract the consumer and even, at times, drive them away. Using banners, buttons, and other forms of hard-coded communication have a tendency to work in favor of making a sale.


The Feed & The Data

How does one import the product data from one’s store to actually create Google Shopping ads? This is where the Merchant Center comes into play. Merchants and advertisers are required to build Product Data Feeds which, when accepted by Google Merchant Center, send the required product information to Google AdWords. Attributes such as Price, Condition, and Availability are just some of the over 40 attributes that can added to a Product Data Feed.

  • A Clean Data Feed: Google Merchant Center has a built-in feed diagnostics tool which, as of very recently, gives a full analysis of the quality of that data feed and its components. When building a feed itself, it’s vital that you follow Google Product Feed Specifications. The really nice thing about Merchant Center is that it allows you to upload a Test Feed, making it easy to diagnose and troubleshoot product data related issues before a live feed goes into effect.
  • Keyword Density: The Product Title and Description are the attributes of a product that have the most direct effect on the “ranking,” placement, or even appearance of a product ad. Product titles are the acting keywords for a product ad. Product descriptions follow right behind, adding another layer for keyword density. Product Title’s should be optimized to include the most descriptive words for that specific product without missing out on the common language widely used by today’s consumer.

Pro Tip: Product descriptions should be kept neat and simple. Even though Google allows for up to 5000 characters in a description, it is actually the first 200 characters where keywords from the product title should be repeated. This can add a little extra power behind a product ad’s ability to rank among its competitors.”


Managing One’s Inventory

It’s a general best practice for any business, both online and curbside, to keep a neat and tidy inventory. This ties directly into advertising on Google Shopping. Having a strong, back-end application that records inventory and sales data is part of the backbone of a successful online store. But how does this translate into optimizing Google Shopping?

  • Data Feed Attribute: I will refer back to the Availability attribute for a product data feed. It is one of five major attributes that if not kept in check and updated as necessary can cause the disapproval of items in your feed. Keeping an accurate account of a store’s inventory is the only way to stay on top of this and to know when exactly to make the required changes to a feed. If the attribute in your feed does not match up to what is listed on the website, it can be immediate grounds for disapproval.
  • Dropshippers: A large number of ecommerce businesses out there are dropshippers. Dropshipping is unique in that the retailer does not hold the inventory – the manufacturer or wholesaler does. This creates a bit of a gap that a powerful online inventory management system can fill. As with the above tip, a system that can account for dropshipping can make it easier for the retailer to stay on top of updating and optimizing a product data feed.

Pro Tip: A SKU or Stock Keeping Unit is the common language used to uniquely identify products in an ecommerce store. A SKU, however, is not an attribute that can be listed in a Google Merchant Center Feed. To be able to match SKU’s with what is reported by Google Merchant Center, a merchant or advertiser must look to Google Analytics.

Ultimately, Google Shopping success relies heavily on how controlling you are when it comes to campaign management and optimization. Though starting from the bottom means building a rich digital experience for customers, all roads still lead to optimization.

One of the best things to constantly be aware of is your Product Data Feed. Staying updated with Google Shopping policies and changes to product feed requirements or Google product taxonomy is the maintenance side of product listing ads. The most recent update to these will go into full enforcement in September 2015.


Campaign Structure & Bidding

When Shopping campaigns are built within AdWords, they can be broken down into several, more easily managed groups and categories. Some of these breakdowns include splitting products up by Brand or Google Product Category. This also leads into another important factor of Google Shopping known as Bidding. Bids are the price merchants and advertisers pay to gather clicks on product ads using what is called CPC, or Cost-Per-Click.

  • The Breakdown: The deepest level of subdividing a Shopping campaign reaches right down to the product level itself, or more commonly referred to as ID-level. Although more difficult to manage, this campaign structure offers an amazing quality of control over your spending. However, for stores with tens of thousands or even millions of individual products, managing campaigns at this or any other level of subdivision presents its very own set of difficulties and complexities. Large retailers generally solve this by contracting the efforts of Google Certified Professionals.
  • Bids That Matter: A term we started using more recently to describe the proper way of bidding on Google Shopping campaigns is called Meaningful Bidding. What does that mean? Well, consider this scenario:
    • Evan owns store A and promotes on Google Shopping. Beverly owns store B and also promotes on Google Shopping. Evan chooses to set high bids on all products in hopes of getting more sales. Beverly takes a different approach by factoring in her costs of selling goods and starts setting individual bids on different products. Whose store wins?

It’s not actually a competition, but what Beverly did is an example of Meaningful Bidding. It is the practice of bidding according to the possibilities of profitability. Evan chose a strategy that is commonly employed by beginners to Google Shopping, something we like to call Whitewash Bidding. The biggest problem with Evan’s strategy is that although he may make sales, those sales may not translate to profitable revenue, or even worse, they may lead to loss because the combined internal cost of selling products and the ad spend itself produces negative revenue.

Pro Tip: Advertising with Google Shopping requires a daily budget that represents the total amount that can be spent gathering clicks on product ads. As a general rule for determining how much to set a daily budget to, use this principle: For every thousand products promoted, set a daily budget of at least $10.


Taking It Up A Notch

Saving money isn’t just a practice, it’s a trend that is carried down generation to generation. Now, more so than ever, consumers are looking for ways to save a few bucks. For merchants and advertisers, Google Shopping presents a fantastic solution to showcasing sales and deals with Promotions.

  • Promotional Text: Product Ads can contain messages that highlight discounts consumers can get when they choose to purchase from a store. If you have a deal or a sale going on, do not miss out on adding the promotional text to your product ad(s).
  • Special Offers: Different from Promotional Text, Merchant Promotions or Special Offers can blanket an entire campaign, while Promotional Text can only be applied at the ad level. Merchant Promotions are uploaded via another Data Feed into Merchant Center. This will then add a small price tag icon to product ads describing the available deal or discount. Merchants and advertisers are required to complete the Merchant Promotions Interest Form before being able to start utilizing this tool. It is currently only available in the US, Australia, Denmark, France, UK, and India.

Pro Tip: When building feeds for Merchant Promotions, consider building more than one and using them as templates throughout the years for different holidays, especially if the promotions target different sets of products on your website. Also consider starting a promotion as much as three months prior to the date of the holiday and then extending that promotion for some time after the holiday.


Final Thoughts

Among the current AdWords ad types, Google Shopping ads and campaigns are by far the most complex, requiring a plethora of components to ensure the ability to succeed. It is an ongoing process to optimize these campaigns for profitability. There are no “quick fixes.”

Always keep a trained eye on campaigns. Watch for trends of failing and winning products.

From now on keep this term in mind: Ad Waste. One of the biggest killers to profitability with Google Shopping is wasted advertising dollars. If products are not performing admirably, shut off the ad, review the product data, make necessary changes, and try again. If you notice this as a common occurrence or find specific products that simply “don’t sell,” then reallocate that budget to products that do, especially the top performers.


About the Author: This is a contributed post from Anthony Capetola, the Chief Marketing Officer for Sales & Orders Management Software for Google Shopping. Anthony shares pro tips for your Google Shopping campaigns, ecommerce shopping carts and inventory management to help you reach success with Google Shopping. 

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