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Google Merchant Center: Complete introduction

Google Merchant Center: the what, why, and how to master it

Whether you’re a small local shop or an international corporation, in order to advertise on Google, you’ll need to work with the Google Merchant Center. Here’s everything you need to know to get started as well as some tips to make the most of the popular platform.

What you absolutely must know

What is the Google Merchant Center? The GMC is every advertiser’s portal for businesses to sell  on Google. It’s where users can upload their product catalog for later generating ads across the Google ecosystem. This include ads that appear on: Google SERP, Google Shopping, Youtube and other Google Search Partner websites as well as the Google Display Network.

In other words: the Google Merchant Center is where product data feeds live. Google Ads (previously known as AdWords) is where that product data gets transformed into ads and campaigns.

In order to get ads approved and served on Google, the product data feed must be correctly filled out and submitted. Whether you’re an agency, small business, or global enterprise, Google has the same requirements. While Google’s requirements change every once in a while, there are certain attributes the Google Merchant Center product feed must have:

  • ID
  • Title
  • Description
  • Google_product_category*
  • Link
  • Image_link
  • Price
  • Availability
  • Brand, GTIN, MPN
  • Shipping

Note that there are also certain attributes that are required based on country or category. Find the complete introduction to Google-ready feeds here.

What is the “primary feed?”

Sometimes, businesses will opt to submit more than one product feed. This additional data can make product data and the resulting ads even more powerful. In this case, the “primary feed” is the feed that includes all of the required data listed above. Additional information can be submitted in the form of “supplemental feeds.” This might contain data related to specific countries or languages. They are also highly useful for keeping local inventory data up-to-date, but they are by no means required.

To link products in a supplemental and primary feed, just be sure those products are listed with the same ID attribute.

Is Google Merchant Center free?

YES. The GMC itself is completely free to use. However, in order to start listing ads through Google Ads (again, previously known as Adwords!), you’ll start paying, usually on a CPC or CPE basis.

Set up an account

Step 1. To get set up, you’ll need to provide Google with some basic information about your store. This includes:

  • Country in which the business is located
  • Shop name
    • The store name entered during this stage will show up next to your product listings, so be sure you enter this information exactly as you would like it to be displayed.
  • Website URL
    • Similarly, Google mentions that the URL entered here for your shop website should include a prefix (like http:// or https://). Skipping this could lead to an error later on, so be sure to do it correctly now.
  • Primary users

To get started, find their sign up page here.

Step 2. Site verification can get a bit trickier. Verifying your site shows Google that you do, in fact, have the authority over the website provided. If you’ve already verified your website with Google, Google should be able to associate it through your Google Account without any extra work.

For those who are doing this for the first time, there are four options:

  • HTML file upload, where you simply upload a particular HTML file to your server
  • HTML tag, for those able to edit HTML code of a site’s index page
  • Google Analytics, for those who are already using Google Analytics.
  • Google Tag Manager

Most businesses will opt for the HTML file upload.

Agencies

For agencies, this can get a little complicated, as they likely won’t have direct access to the website and shop in question. However, all they must do is have clients verify and claim their website through the Google Search Console accounts—or, agencies can also perform the process themselves through the Google Search Console. The verification can then be shared through the Search Console.

Large scale product management

Companies needing to manage products on a large scale (marketplaces, multi-country retailers, feed management companies) for more than one domain will need a special account. These groups should set up a multi-client account. This is necessary for different clients to be able to use a different store name and URL. See if this is applicable for you here.

Step 3. Upload your product data feed! The specific details and settings details here will depend mostly on your business and catalog size.

 

Small business:

(selling less than a hundred products)

Create a product feed right within Google Merchant Center. Just click the + button and select Google Spreadsheet to create a feed right here.

Medium / large business:

(advertising more than a hundred or two products)

Create a file externally (where you have more control) and then upload it. To do this, select that + button again, but then select “scheduled fetch,” so the Google Merchant Center can fetch your product data from another site at a predetermined time.

Businesses with very large feeds:

 

Files over 1GB will need to be manually uploaded to Google. This is for every time any changes occurs. Select the + button and choose “Upload” to upload the file directly.

Options for fetching a Google-ready feed:

  • FTP/SFTP (Most common): File Transfer Protocol and SSH File Transfer Protocol are two of the most common ways to upload data to the Google Merchant Center. These are protocols that simply make it easier to transfer files from one networked computer to another. This is a popular option for GMC users because data managers can easily update their file using a third-party management solution while still scheduling completely automated updates. All you need to do is send the existing, Google-ready product data feed to an FTP server.
    • FTP accounts can be created from within the GMC by selecting the SFTP/FTP/GCS section. For Productsup users, they can also be easily generated within the platform.
  • Google Sheets: It’s possible to register a specific Google Sheet for Merchant Center, meaning that file will be directly connected to the GMC account.
    • A Merchant Center add-on can also help make the process much easier. It has two key, very cool, features: crawl your site to auto-populate or update columns as necessary; and directly submit the Sheet to Google Merchant Center. If you’re going to use Google Sheets, this can make the updating and uploading process go quicker.
  • Google Cloud Storage: This is similar to using FTP but through the Google Cloud Storage. Every Merchant Center account will automatically be given a Cloud “bucket” for storage. Benefits of using this option include up to 10 gigabytes free bucket space, better security, and compatibility with a number of cloud storage tools and libraries. However, this solution is directed at developers, so it will require more technical know-how than the other options.
    • These can also be created within the GMC by selecting the SFTP/FTP/GCS section.

Step 4. Connect to Google Ads so you can manage all related campaigns. Most marketers will already have an Ads account set up. In this case, you need only go into the Merchant Center and link the existing account.

If your business doesn’t have an existing Google Ads account, you must set one up now. Take the first step over here.

Tips to optimize your GMC account

Keep your feed up-to-date

How often should you schedule updates and when should they occur? This depends entirely on your particular shop. However, most medium and large sized businesses will export their feed everyday or every other day. What is most important is that the time makes sense with the business’s particular schedule.

If products are updated each day at noon, the feed should be exported shortly thereafter, not at 10 AM, right before the products are updated.

Automatic Item Update

Google Merchant Center also provides users with Automatic Item Updates. This lets Google regularly update advertiser’s Google Shopping ads based on the shop website’s Structured Data Markup. Should a product’s status change in some way, that change will be noticeable in the data markup, which Google can detect and then integrate. Of course, advertiser’s should still submit regular updates of their product data feed, as not all changes can be easily and reliably gleaned through the automated updates.

For example: Product data uploaded to the Google Merchant Center lists a book as $5. However, the updated priced is now $7. Or, perhaps even worse, that $5 book has been out of stock all day.

How Automatic Item Updates help your Shopping ads:

  • Users who click through an ad only to find it’s out of stock can’t make a purchase. That’s a wasted click and a dissatisfied user. Automated updates could have prevented that out-of-stock item from being advertised.
  • A user who clicks on the book’s Google Shopping ad will find a higher price on the landing page than on the ad will be less likely to convert, resulting in fewer sales.

To enable Automatic Item Updates, you’ll have to first implement valid structured data markup on your landing pages.

Note that information on the landing page must not be dynamically served—such as varying prices based on the user’s location.

Landing page best practices

A landing page may be up-to-date and perfectly clean, but what if it isn’t crawlable and accessible? With the hundreds of products available on any online store, it’s not uncommon for some pages to experience issues. Google outlines some best practices and optimal configurations to ensure your pages are always accessible.

  • Use structured data markup. This is already required for Automatic Item Updates, but it can also let advertisers show how values in the product data feed correspond to the landing page itself. That means Google can clearly see which numbers should match and avoid any confusion.
  • Let Google’s crawlers in your site’s robots.txt file. This is how Google reads data on your landing pages, so, in case of any errors, be sure they are able to crawl your site properly. This includes not limiting the rate at which Google can crawl your site through the Google Search Console. Instead, let the crawlers work at their own pace by selecting “Let Google optimize for my site” as the crawl rate.
  • Check your URLs. Some of the most common errors are simple 404 (page not found) and invalid URL. Make sure URLs are valid and that the page is live.

Customer reviews and “seller ratings”

Google customer reviews collects ratings from users who have purchased on your site, and they can be used to build seller ratings to be displayed on your site. Once you have the basics set up in Google Merchant Center, consider enabling this tool. The ratings are collected and displayed in a Google Customer Review badge of 1-5.

Of course, even if you collect the ratings, displaying the badge is completely optional, meaning advertisers lose nothing by collecting ratings. On the contrary, high ratings can instill confidence in users and push even more sales, and low ratings should signal possible problems, showing advertisers where they could take action to provide a better customer experience.

Merchant Center Promotions

What’s better than a discounted price on a product you’re pining for? A big, juicy “special offer” sign. Could a promotion be any more tantalizing? Google offers this option under their Merchant Center Promotions, which can boost CTR and increase conversions. This is because such offers stand out from the crowd and catch the user’s attention.

These can be created one of two ways: through a Merchant Promotions feed, uploaded directly to the GMC, or within the GMC itself through the menu on the left hand side. For businesses adding Merchant Promotions to a large number of items, it is recommended that they use a feed.

Manage feeds better with dedicated software

Businesses with more than a hundred products, or those with high expectations and serious marketing tactics, will need to use external product data management software in order to prepare and send data to the Google Merchant Center. This software can help ensure that product data is more easily entered and cleaned as well as optimized and exported. Especially because businesses are likely exporting data not just to the Google Merchant Center but also Facebook, Amazon, and other channels, a third party tool is crucial to making product advertising scalable and sustainable.

Productsup can help combat a number of problems advertisers face when listing ads on Google Shopping: clean, check, and optimize your Google product data feed with rules and analysis tools; and keep your ads up-to-date by scheduling uploads as often and whenever suits your business best.

Beyond all of the above, there are plenty of opportunities to optimize Google Shoppings using product. For example, complete and import optional product attributes, use Custom labels for better campaign control, and, of course, make every title compelling and informative. Not sure how to create a Google Shopping feed or need tips on how to perfect it? Learn the ins and outs on Google Shopping feeds over here.

How to hook up a third-party data management platform to your Google Merchant Account

In general, leveraging a third-party product data management platform shouldn’t add any work to do in the Merchant Center. This is because the feed is optimized before being submitted. The Google Merchant Center will simply pull the optimized feed rather than the original, unoptimized feed.

How it works with Productsup: All you need to do is ensure that you’re sending the editing, final feed to the right feed destination, and that the Google account is pulling that feed. With Productsup, that could mean you send an edited, Google-specific feed to an FTP server. Plus, Productsup users can send their files via FTP for free (and with ease). Then, within the Merchant Center, simply schedule the time and location for Google to fetch the file.

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