google shopping ads 101

Online retailers have a few different choices when it comes to buying ads on Google. Traditional Google Search Ads are great for targeting keyword searches, but the newly updated Google Shopping Ads specifically reach shoppers ready to buy. Sellers now have a more direct link to buyers.

Of course, Google Shopping Ads are quite distinct from their Search Ads. The difference is not only the end goal (making a sale vs. attracting a visitor), but also the internal mechanisms of how they work. Leveraging Google Shopping Ads requires a separate strategy than other, broader online ads.

So in this guide, we give you a crash course on Google Shopping Ads — what they are, why they’re unique, and when it’s smart to use them.


What are Google Shopping Ads?

Google Shopping Ads are part of the suite of features from Google for Retail. You may recognize them by their old name, Google Product Listing Ads, or PLA. Today, what we call Google Shopping Ads are simply the newest iteration of Google Product Listing Ads.

Essentially, they’re special ads for search results pages that cater specifically to ecommerce. Rather than an ad that looks like a search results entry, Google Shopping Ads are a miniature product card with an image, title, price, brand, and other information like ratings or “free shipping.”

Clicking on the Shopping Ad takes the user directly to your product page, where they can use your checkout as a regular customer. This lets you take advantage of your own product page design and payment gateways for extra sales strategies like CTAs and enticing product descriptions.

The idea is to help connect shoppers with the products they’re looking for, rather than unrelated and noncommercial content. To do this, they must work a little differently than Google Search Ads.


What is the Difference between Google Search Ads and Google Shopping Ads?

Aside from the obvious difference in appearance mentioned above — Search Ads look like search entries and Shopping Ads look like product cards — the two advertising methods have some operational differences as well.

For starters, there are different requirements to use each. Virtually anyone can buy a Google Search Ad, but only those who have an account with the Google Merchant Center (linked to your Google Ads account) can run Google Shopping Ads.

Moreover, Google Shopping Ads only appear on product and retail-related queries, while Search Ads show up on all searches. That means if someone searches for shopping-related keywords, they receive both Search and Shopping Ads; if they search for non-retail keywords, they receive only Search Ads.

Paid Google Shopping Ads also appear more prominently on the Shopping tab in Google. There, they have a dedicated space at the top of the page above the “Free Listings,” which are normal, unsponsored product cards. This makes Shopping Ads more relevant to people using Google to shop online.

But one of the most significant differences lies in how bidding works. For Search Ads, you bid on the keywords for searches you want to appear in. For Google Shopping Ads, you bid on the product itself, and Google automatically aggregates the data in your product feed to determine which search results it appears in.

This puts a lot of emphasis on the product feed if you’re using Google Shopping Ads. With Google Search Ads you have more control over when your ad appears, but with Shopping Ads it all depends on how well you build your feed, specifically the wording in your product title and descriptions.

An expert tip for Google Shopping Ads is to embed your target keywords within your product feed to ensure you’re matching with the right types of customers. From there, Google’s algorithm handles the rest.

Despite their differences, both ads use a pay-per-click (PPC) system, so you’re only paying when users actually engage with your ad.


When Should You Use Google Shopping Ads?

To put it simply, Google Search Ads work better for shoppers at the top of the sales funnel, for goals like raising awareness and establishing brand value. You’re able to target users searching for general topic categories or still in the midst of product research before they’re ready to consider particular products and where to buy them.

Google Shopping Ads, then, work better for shoppers in the mid-to late-stages of the shopping funnel, the decision-making, and ready-to-buy phases. Most of the people who use Google Shopping are already prepared to buy, making Shopping Ads a shortcut to shoppers with purchase intent.

In general, Google Shopping should be treated as its own selling channel, a place for retailers to set up shop just like Amazon or Walmart. The advantage, though, is that you can still leverage your own product page design, checkout system, and other features of your CMS for on-site sales rather than relying on another channel’s features.

So the best use of Google Shopping Ads requires active involvement in Google Shopping. First and foremost, you need to register at the Google Merchant Center to even bid on Shopping Ads.

Additionally, it helps to familiarize yourself with Google Shopping — the layouts, the user experience, the types of shoppers it attracts — so that you can optimize the appearance of your Shopping Ads.


How to Manage Google Shopping with Other Channels

As we mentioned, Google Shopping is most effective when you treat it like an independent channel. The problem then becomes how to simultaneously manage Google Shopping, your own site, and any other channels you’re selling on.

Multichannel selling is quickly becoming the norm as a means to reach new customers and diversify your markets. But every new channel means more work for management and maintenance. If you don’t scale properly, you won’t have enough resources to give each channel its due.

Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. Ecommerce management software like Ecomdash can automate much of the busy work and consolidate all the need-to-know information from multiple sites into a single dashboard.

Ecomdash creates a home base from which you can manage all your sales channels, shipment tracking, data analytics, listing content, and more. It also automates time-consuming tasks like auto-updating stock levels and helps with inventory management with a real-time database and stock renewal alerts.

If you decide to use Google Ads, you can also take advantage of our partnership with Google to more easily integrate Google Assistant and list products directly on Google Shopping from your Ecomdash dashboard. Click here to start your free trial — no credit card needed.


Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published June 2015 and was updated in November 2021 to reflect more accurate and relevant information.

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