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50%+ of a retailer’s budget is now spent on Google Shopping. How can ecommerce advertisers ensure that money is well spent? Or know that they’re driving sales on a large scale? Here’s how to master the Google Shopping feed, easily, at scale, and in a way that drives healthy returns.
How do you reach the most potential customers with one ad? What’s the one platform you can use to list ads and get loads of impressions and clicks around the web? Google Shopping is a unique advertising powerhouse. It’s unique in that it can reach just about any kind of user. It’s not just about one social platform, one industry, or one particular comparison site. It grabs users the moment they go to search for products. Desktop or mobile, branded or unbranded, whatever the demographic, Google can most likely reach them. Whether you’re selling t-shirts, family trips, or used cars —even if you’re listing ads for products at brick-and-mortar locations—Google Shopping ads can help. Plus, Google offers the analytics tools that makes managing campaigns (and quantifying returns) easy.
Always on the cutting edge, Google Shopping ads are a necessity for most retailers and brands. Okay, so you’re excited and ready to go. You don’t need to be sold any more on how amazing these ads are. But wait…
How do I get my products on Google Shopping? Google is known as one of the strictest export channels for retailers. There are several requirements each and every product must fulfill, or they risk putting the entire feed in jeopardy. You’ll need to compile a Google Shopping feed and upload that to Google.
What does this mean for sales or ROAS? How do you make sure that your ads are top-tier? It all comes down to your Google product feed. We need to make sure your feed follows requirements and is fully optimized for top performance. From data to campaigns to ROI, this is your official intro to Google Shopping Ads—also lovingly known as product ads, Google Product ads, Google Product Listing ads, Google PLAs, and… that’s mostly it.
There’s a lot to cover, so save / bookmark / ritualistically print and bind this guide as needed!
Or, you can jump ahead to your favorite section.
Google Shopping ads are well known for appearing in the organic SERP listing of Google searches. They can be served in branded, unbranded, or even local searches, giving advertisers ample opportunities to target users at every stage of the funnel. The ads can also appear in Google Shopping and on Google Search Partner websites like YouTube.
To get started, you’ll need to ensure your product feed meets Google’s strict requirements before uploading to Google Merchant Center. After the feed is uploaded, you can move on to Google Ads to start managing and optimizing your campaigns.
Unlike some channels, Google Shopping ads do require the use of two separate tools: Google Merchant Center and Google Ads (previously know as AdWords). However, this is incredibly simple and shouldn’t be cause for stress.
|Google Merchant Center||Google Ads (AdWords)|
|Manage product data||Manage ads, campaigns, and bidding|
What is Google Merchant Center?
This is where your product data feed actually lives. All of your products (including product titles, images, links, and everything else) are kept here. There isn’t much work to do on this side, as you’ll be optimizing your Google data feeds before uploading them to the Merchant Center. The data uploaded here will be leveraged to automatically generate Shopping ads—no extra writing required.
What is Google Ads?
Google Ads (long known as AdWords and changed recently for branding purposes) has numerous uses for marketers. For Google product ads, this is where you’ll decide what to do with the product feeds stored in the Google Merchant Center. Bids, campaigns, and all your other marketing tools can be found and used here.
Sign in to your Google Ads. Next, connect your Google Merchant Center account. In your settings, go to Set Up and Linked Accounts.
|What’s product data?|
In ecommerce, “product data“ or “product content“ includes all the details of a company’s products. This lists everything from product titles and descriptions to image URLs, GTINs, and more. Product data need not reflect just physical products like shoes. It can also include flights, jobs, or any other “products.” You might know this feed as the “inventory data” or “product catalog.”
Google ads are perhaps most well known for appearing in the SERP. When a user googles an item, the related product ads can appear either above the search results as images or to the side, separate from text ads.
They can also appear in Google Shopping, in participating countries, and in Google Search Partner websites like YouTube.
For Google, the fundamental differences between retail and travel ads are when and where they appear. Retail Google Shopping ads appear at the top of SERP results or in the network. Google Hotel ads surface when a user is specifically looking for hotels. These ads appear in the SERP.
Here’s how hotel ads work:
When a general hotel search is made, it usually means that the user is not yet looking for a specific hotel. In this case, a list of organic search results is shown in the SERP.
However, once the searcher clicks the “more hotels” link, they are brought to a page with even more listings and basic hotel details. At this point, they are likely to click on a specific hotel for more details which then triggers the “hotel details card” which features Google Hotel ads. Similarly, if a user searches Google for a specific hotel, the hotel details card featuring the Google Hotel ad will appear directly on the SERP on the right-hand side.
Lastly there’s “Book on Google.” This is an optional feature of Google Hotel ads that allows users to book directly within Google, erasing a lot of friction for the shopper. Because this whole process takes place on Google, it will likely decrease traffic to your website. However, it can also lead to a great increase in conversions (as it did for Hilton), especially on mobile, where users are more likely to book if there is no redirect.
What’s the benefit of Google Hotel ads?
According to Google, 60% of leisure travelers and 55% of business travelers use the search engine when planning their trips. This means Google plays a very unique, and powerful role in the travel ecommerce space. Travel shoppers are on Google during the decision making process, and they’re looking for tips, tools, and anything to make the process easier. Well-placed products make for a win-win situation.
For Google hotel ads, fluctuating data like availability, prices, and images are crucial. Always keep data up-to-date.
While Google Shopping makes it very easy to generate and deliver personalized ads, it does require one little thing to get started: product data in a Google-friendly format. This will have several absolutely necessary attributes as well as some opportunities for smart tweaks that make the ads perform better on Google Shopping.
How do I create a Google Shopping feed?
Data feed management for Google Shopping involves the following steps:
If you’re a small retailer, you may adapt and enhance your feed using Excel. However, if you’re a larger business, you’ll likely need to use software like Productsup in order to make bulk edits and maintain clear, reliable oversight of your many products.
Wait, wait, wait. slow down.
|What is a Google Shopping Feed?|
A Google Shopping Feed is simply a product data feed tailored for Google. This is a business’s complete list of products, including numerous required and optional information like title, GTIN, related image URLs, and more.
Good to know: If you’re already listing products on Facebook, Amazon, or elsewhere, your product data may be almost Google Shopping-ready, as the required attributes are often very similar. Read more about feed differences between Facebook and Google here.
Check out Google’s own introduction in the link above.
Every single ad published on Google will have these required fields. There are also further required attributes for certain categories of items, particularly those in apparel & accessories. For starters, be sure every product in your feed has these attributes.
|Required attributes for Google Shopping feeds|
|ID||Identifier string of the item|
|title||Title of item|
|description||Description of the item|
|google_product_category||Google’s categorization of an item. Read more here.|
|link||URL directly linking to your item’s page on your website|
|image_link||URL of desired image of an item.|
|condition||Condition or state of the item|
|price||Price of the item.|
|availability||Availability status of the item.|
|brand, GTIN, MPN||Item’s brand; Global Trade Item Number of the item; and Manufacturer Part Number of the item. Required if exists.|
|shipping||Specific shipping estimate of the product|
Be sure to check your feed for the most common errors, as even the smallest ones could ruin your ROI or in some cases (for specific attributes) get your feed rejected. Some of the most common feed offenders include: overlong titles, incorrect pricing formats, unnecessary capitalization, and mismatched data.
For those using Google Hotel ads, there are some additional attributes that must be included.
Once your data feed is clean and ready to be exported, it’s time to move to Google Ads.
You can create campaigns in either Ads or Merchant Center. In Google Merchant Center, you need only go to the AdWords tab and click Create Shopping Campaign. From here, enter a campaign name, country of sale, and budget. Though the Merchant Center is the faster method, the real work will happen in Google Ads.
To start within Ads, you need only click + Campaign and then select Shopping. You’ll need to then do the following:
It’s important to note that, especially for Google, not just any image will do. Be absolutely certain to follow their ad image requirements.
*For apparel products, minimum is 250 x 250 pixels
|Google Shopping ad image rules|
|Don’t scale up images||Don’t submit thumbnails||No graphics or illustrations|
|Only use photos of the actual product||Don’t use borders||No promotional text|
|Only show one product per image||No watermarks or logos||Use gorgeous images|
These strict rules are in place to ensure high quality and reliability among all of Google’s advertisers. Because the platform boasts such an incredible reach, it’s important to Google that ad images are clean and consistent. Never mess with these rules. Just take gorgeous, realistic photos, and let your products do the advertising.
Image quality matters. Users don’t click on an ad just because the title sounded cool. It was the image that compelled them to look, read, and then click. High-quality images are an absolute requirement for Google Shopping ads.
You’ll need to choose between two ad formats before you can launch your Google Shopping campaign.
Product Shopping Ads feature just one product per ad. This is most useful when users are searching for more specific items. These ads are charged using CPC.
Showcase Shopping Ads, on the other hand, are served using several images. Featuring numerous images or products can bring in users who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for. For example, when a user searches for a vague term like “picture frame,” Google will likely show a Showcase Shopping ad featuring several different products. These ads are charged using CPE.
On the other hand, there are also Local Inventory Ads. These provide local retailers the unique opportunity to reach customers that are in the area. When a user searches for a product that’s in your store, that brick-and-mortar location can show up in SERP results. Users who click on these ads will land on a unique page called the Local Storefront, that includes not only price and product details but also the exact location.
This ad type effectively adds an incredible new tool for omnichannel marketing: bring your physical products online, and direct online shoppers to your physical store. Plus, advertisers can then track clicks and measure performance. There are a few steps to get started, so refer to Google’s verification steps.
Which ad works best will depend on your audience and goals. Over 40% of queries on Google’s search engine are for broad terms. For these users who are further up the funnel, Product Shopping ads are going to be less enticing. Even if a user clicks, they might not be ready to convert. In order to succeed with these general searches, your products must be popular and competitive against the plethora of options. Or, you could increase product discoverability while also enticing that user with a plethora of options from your own Showcase Shopping ad.
There may only be three options for your Google shopping placements, but the differences are huge. In Ads, you’ll be able to choose from:
Google Shopping ads set to surface in search appear as a promotion in the SERP (search) listing. On the other hand, ecommerce marketers can also place their ads on the Google Display Network, a group of over 2 million websites, videos, and apps.
How powerful is it?
Google’s Display Network sites reach 90%+ of internet users around the globe.
If you use the Google Display Network, you can choose whether to have placements automatically allocated or you can define your own ad placements using custom channels.
In most countries, the following demographics can be targeted.
Beyond this, there’s also the option to use Audience Targeting, which you may have known in the past as “interests and remarketing.” Now, the Audiences section appears right in the page menu. Simply select the pencil icon to start updating your desired audience. There are three key ways to break down Audience’s targeting capabilities:
In 2017, Google added Similar items to their arsenal for mobile search and the Android Search app. Now when users image search products, machine vision technology identify products in lifestyle images and show the related product listings.
Used in accessories, apparel, home and garden, this is one great way to reach users who may have a clear interest in your type of products.
Eligibility and surfacing in Google Similar items depends largely on product metadata and schema markups, so be sure that products have schema.org product markup and image references. To be eligible, products must also include name, image, price, currency, and availability metadata on their host page.
There are two bid options available for Google shopping: Maximum CPC and Enhanced CPC.
Maximum CPC is the manual bidding method, where an advertiser will manually set the highest amount they’re willing to bid per click. If you select this, simply enter the maximum bid amount next to the “default bid” field. This can be adjusted later in the “Product groups” tab. Manual allocation can also be helpful to specifically target and optimize the ads or places that are proven to work.
Then there’s Enhanced CPC (ECPC), which is Google’s way of using automation to find the best possible audiences and help you get the most bang for your buck.
Automated bidding (ECPC) is a great time saver and can be set up to achieve a number of different targets or, as Google terms them, “goals.” These can be leveraged to increase clicks and site visits; they can push conversions through optimized delivery and targeting; then, there’s also the option to target based on ROAS, which simply sets bidding in accordance to the desired Return on Ad Spend.
Note that, in order to use enhanced CPC bidding, Conversion Tracking will need to be enabled. More on that below.
On top of this, there’s also “standard” and “accelerated” delivery. Standard simply means that Google will plan to distribute ads and ad dollars across the entire day. Accelerated, instead, rapidly sends out ads to use up the entire budget. This means that more will be spent faster in order to place ads in the most desirable (and clickable) spots.
Accelerated ads are generally not recommended unless needed for specific reasons. If you’re not sure which to use, stick to standard.
There are only two types of budget available in Ads: daily or shared. A daily budget specifies the amount you’re willing to spend in one day for one campaign, giving marketers the most power over their ads. This allows marketers to update their ads each day based on their ever-changing needs. The shared budget specifies an acceptable bidding amount across all defined campaigns. The main upside of using a shared budget is that it both simplifies the number of steps and it allows Google to optimize for returns across the multiple campaigns—taking a little bit of ad spend here and putting it over there as needed.
For budgets, there’s no one right choice. However, a shared budget may make it easier to manage multiple groups without worry.
Which ads are leading to sales and ROI? Which campaigns? Conversion tracking can help answer all your questions. This Google tool tracks what happens after a user has taken a specific, pre-defined “conversion action.” This could be clicking an ad, signing up to a newsletter on your website, making purchases in your app, or similar actions. You can define these Conversion Actions in Ads.
This means marketers can see what customers are doing, where, and which steps may need improvement.
If it’s not clear whether your site needs Conversion Tracking enabled, answer these two short questions: will you be using enhanced CPC? Would you like to be analyzing user behavior after they engage with your ads? If the answer to either of these is yes, enable the Conversion Tracking tool sooner rather than later.
This process will involve installing the tag on your website or using Google Tag Manager. It’s very specific, so please check out the complete instructions here.
There are numerous ways to make a product data feed stronger. There are basic best practices. There are unique responses to specific issues like low sales or CTRs. It’s worthwhile to examine your feed as well as any existing problems you may have and see where you can make healthy changes. This can greatly strengthen returns by giving Google the information it needs to better serve ads while also providing a better user experience.
Always start with the optional attributes. There’s a huge number of possible attributes that can be added a feed. It’s recommended to add as many of these as possible.
|[product_type] – your categorization of the item|
[mobile_link] – mobile landing page URL
additional image link [additional_image_link] – additional URLs of images of the item
|Price & availability|
|[availability date] – the day a pre-ordered item becomes available for delivery|
[sale_price] – advertised sale price of the item
[sale_price_effective_date] – date range during which the item is on sale
|Detailed product attributes & groups|
|size type [size_type] – size type of the itemsize system [size_system] – size system of the item|
|Tax & Shipping|
|[shipping_label] – allows you to assign appropriate labels to shipping|
[tax_category] – organize products by tax rates
[shipping_weight] – weight for the item for shipping
[shipping_width] – width of the item shipping
[shipping_height] – height of the item shipping
[shipping_length] – length of the item shipping
[min_handling_time] – indicates fastest time for shipping
[max_handling_time] – indicates slowest time for shipping
This is an attribute that can help segment products however marketers see fit. There can be up to five custom labels in a feed at a time. Each group can have up to 1,000 unique values. Once these labels are added to the feed, use Ads to change the associated actions and bids for each label. This is not only one of the most popular attributes for driving better returns, it’s also one of the most practical.
For example, here are some possible combinations.
A product title shouldn’t just be a jumble of keywords or product information. Titles should be crafted with care—and research. A strong, clickable title could include one or more of the data points below:
All of these details turn an ordinary product into something tangible and meaningful for the user. Using the exact term your audience googles will help them immediately click with your ad. Using model numbers on products that are highly specific and niche will show that this is the exact product that user is searching for.
The Manufacturer Center was designed to help marketers in brand manufacturing firms leverage how their brand and products are presented across the Google ecosystem.
|Google Manufacturer Center||Google Merchant Center|
|For brand manufacturers||For brand manufacturers and retailers|
Specifically, the tool allows brands to add product data in order to help make product catalogs fully complete. They can also monitor and better influence the way their product appears in organic listings.
A few incredible uses of the Google Manufacturer Center:
You may (and should be wondering) “why aren’t I exporting to Google Express? Isn’t that the latest ‘thing’ these days?”
Yes! This iteration of Google Express is one of the latest things enabling Google to take ecommerce in a new direction. However, many brands are simply not the ideal advertisers on Google Express. Unlike almost any other channel, retailers have absolute authority here. For now, it’s mostly large retailers, too.
While shoppers on Amazon are seeking out one particular brand they love or the cheapest version of a product, Google Express seeks to let shoppers do a full shopping trip at their favorite retailers.
Because Google handles purchasing and even shipping, they have been careful about who can list. As of now, only big names like WalMart, Target, and Walgreens can be found here. In order to get products listed on Google Express, marketers will have to join Shopping Actions.
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