If you’re retailer, Google Shopping is one of the most important things to get right in your paid search program. And if you’re not, it’s usually impossible to promote your products or services with Product Listing Ads (PLAs).
So for those of you who aren’t managing (or planning to manage) any Shopping campaigns: I’m afraid you might as well skip this part of the audit series. However, the next part about bid management should appeal to all advertisers and agencies, as should all previous parts you can find above 😉
And for those of you that want to know all about how to achieve success with Shopping campaigns, this post is divided in the 4 following parts:
- Why use Google Shopping? Because it works, it’s growing and it keeps getting better.
- How to get the most out of Shopping Campaigns? It all starts with a great product feed. Next to that, I’ll talk about campaign structure and optimization best practices.
- Shopping resources and tools. Especially when it comes to Shopping, there’s nothing wrong with some external help of specialized agencies or a data feed management tool to get the best results from PLAs.
- Your Audit Checklist. As with all parts of this series, the post ends with a checklist to use for your own account(s).
As Simon Sinek says: let’s start with why. Why is it that important to get the most out of Google Shopping?
Although you have much less control over which product will show for a specific search query, almost every Shopping campaign I’ve seen outperforms its non-branded text-based counterparts.
In the first place, it’s probably because a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s a lot more than the 95 characters you get in a text ad.
Secondly, not only does the user see the actual products before clicking on them, prices are also shown next to each product.
So whatever product the user decides to click on, (s)he has been able to easily compare the products and prices before the click. This could make it a much more qualified click than a click on a less specific (or harder to compare) text ad.
Just take a look at the SERP below after a search for ‘juicers’:
Not only are the PLAs in the top right (they also appear in top positions above the organic results by the way) the most noticeable part of the SERP, the same advertiser can easily show multiple PLAs, as Walmart does in the example above.
If the same advertisers also has a text ad for that keyword, he has taken up even more of the coveted real estate on the SERP.
Shopping campaigns outperforming their non-branded text-based counterparts is not just my personal experience, it also clearly shows in Merkle | RKG’s Q4 2014 Digital Marketing Report, where we see the following PLA Performance vs Text Ads:
The most interesting comparison is for non-branded performance, as PLAs mostly show for non-branded queries (unless you’re a manufacturer). Looking at the yellow charts above we see the following differences:
- PLAs had a 5% higher non-branded CPC
- PLAs had a 130% higher non-branded CTR
- PLAs had a 9% higher non-branded ROI
- PLAs had a 30% higher non-branded Conversion Rate
- PLAs had a 12% lower non-branded Average Order Value
Obviously, your PLA performance may vary, but it’s rather exceptional to see PLAs perform worse than non-branded text ads for the same advertiser.
If that’s your case, and you followed all the advice below, the most common reason for underperforming PLAs is when an advertiser isn’t competitively priced while the consumers are very price-sensitive.
In those situations it’s hard to make Product Listing Ads work, as a user can directly compare prices on the SERP.
It’s growing, fast.
More and more paid search clicks for retailers come from Google Shopping. Looking at the Q4 2014 Global Digital Advertising Report by Adobe Digital Index and the mentioned Merkle | RKG report, we see the following stats:
Both show almost identical growth rates when it comes to ad spend on PLAs: 45%-47% YoY growth in Q4 2014.
So what does that mean for the percentage of clicks coming from PLAs for retailers?
According to Adobe, Google Shopping produced 20% of all retailer paid search clicks and for the clients of Merkle | RKG it was even higher: 30% (Google paid search clicks only).
Let me bombard you with stats once more, but possibly the most interesting one. Below you’ll find the PLA share of non-brand Google paid search clicks, per industry, also from the Merkle | RKG report:
As you can see, PLAs produce between 31% to 71% of non-branded paid search clicks for retailers, depending on the industry.
These are impressive numbers and we can only expect the importance of Shopping campaigns to grow.
If you see lower click shares coming from PLAs in your account, there may be interesting opportunities to get more of these profitable clicks by following the advice in the rest of this post.
For advertisers outside the US it’s important to note these are mostly US based numbers, so it could be lower for countries where Google Shopping is less evolved.
It keeps getting better
Since their introduction as a beta in the US in 2009, PLAs have come a long way. Just take a look at the most important updates in the table below (click for a larger, more legible version) and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that Google is committed to make Shopping campaigns an even bigger success. In 2014 they almost averaged 1 big Shopping improvement or expansion a month.
So now that it’s clear that it works and that it’s growing and improving all the time, it’s time to go into best practices to help you achieve the best possible results from your Product Listing Ads.
How to get started with Google Shopping?
Just in case you don’t have PLAs running yet and you’d like to get started, this is what you need:
- Advertise in one of the countries that show PLAs, you’ll find the most recent list of countries on the official support page.
By the way, be sure to read all parts of this official support page if you’re new to Shopping campaigns. Or even better: read the 4 modules of the Shopping Advertising exam study guide. To get the most out of your PLAs, you really need to know exactly how things like product groups, campaign priorities and custom labels work and how to navigate within your Merchant Center and Shopping campaigns.
- Sell products that are eligible for Google shopping, which is almost anything you can put in a box and send to a customer, except restricted products.
- Follow the Google Shopping Policies.
- A product data feed in a tab delimited txt file, a Google spreadsheet or an xml file that contains the attributes Google specifies. You can read all about creating a great feed below.
- A Merchant Center account in which you’ll upload your feed at least once every 30 days.
- Linked AdWords & Merchant Center accounts.
- Set up a Shopping campaign in your AdWords account (after all of the above are in place). Also more about campaign structure and bidding best practices later in this post.
How to get the best results from Shopping Campaigns?
It all starts with a great product feed
Your product feed is the most important factor when it comes to success on Google Shopping. As Google likes to say: your feed should be as fresh, accurate and comprehensive as possible. This is what they call high-quality product data.
As you’ll see below, there are certain attributes of the feed you’ll like to optimize regularly, based on search behavior, just as you would optimize your website for SEO purposes.
So it’s best if the person or team running your Google Shopping campaigns can also make changes to the feed, or can at least suggest changes that will be implemented by someone who manages the feed.
Below, I’ll go deeper into detail about best practices and requirements for the most important feed attributes.
But first, be sure to have these 2 links in your bookmarks to refer to whenever you’re improving the feed, so you’re always using the most recent feed specification:
3 Required attributes to keep optimizing:
Below you’ll find the “big three” that highly influence your visibility and CTR (next to price): title, description and image.
These are the ones you’ll want to keep optimizing for better results. Hopefully, the recommended size, do’s and don’ts below will help you do just that.
This also means you should regularly analyze the search terms report within your Shopping campaigns to guide your product feed improvements and to find negative keywords.
Recommended size: your title can be up to 150 characters, but it will get truncated after 25-30 characters on the SERP and after 70 characters on google.com/shopping. So front-load your titles with the most important words.
Do’s: keyword-rich; clearly describe the product; include the brand (even if it’s already in the brand column); include the category (even if it also has separate columns); make it match with the product title on the landing page; use simple color names, which means converting too specific color names to one of these 11 colors, possibly adding ‘light’ or ‘dark’ before them (if applicable): black, blue, brown, gray, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow.
Don’ts: keyword stuffing; your brand name (unless you’re a manufacturer); all capitals; exclamation points; promotional text (e.g. “Free Shipping”); use of words with low search volume (e.g. SKU numbers, too specific color names).
Recommended size: your description can be up to 5,000 characters, but Google recommends to keep it between 500 and 1,000 characters (and 500 should be more than enough). The description only shows on google.com/shopping and gets truncated after 170 characters. So make sure the most important words are in the first 170 characters of your description.
Do’s & Don’ts: same as for title, but you have the room to use full sentences in the description. The best way would be to treat it as a very long search ad. This means using relevant keywords, mentioning features, benefits, USP’s, call-to-actions, etc. Furthermore, the following information should not be in your description according to Google:
- Links to your store or other websites
- Billing, payment, or sales information
- References to internal categorization systems, e.g. “Toys & Games > Toys > Baby Dolls”
- Comparisons to other products beyond the item you’re selling, e.g. “even better/faster/larger than X”
- Details about other products, accessories, or similar items available
Recommended size: the link itself can be up to 2,000 characters. The image should be the largest, highest resolution, full-size image you have for the product, but no larger than 4 MB or 64 megapixels. Google recommends at least 800 x 800 pixels. Minimum size is 250 x 250 pixels for apparel and 32 x 32 pixels for other industries.
Do’s: high quality images that differentiate you from the competition; show the product clearly (white background is usually best); test different product angles.
Don’ts: low resolution images; watermarks; logos; odd backgrounds; multiple products in 1 image; stock photos everyone is using; cluttered images.
To get an idea of how you’re currently doing when it comes to the attractiveness of your titles, prices and images and of the optimization of your feed in general, you can compare your CTR to the benchmark CTR and monitor your Impression Share in the Product groups tab of your Shopping campaigns.
But first, make sure your budget and bids are high enough to ensure a decent Impression Share.
Required and recommended attributes to increase data quality
The attributes below don’t need to be optimized continuously, but need to be as complete and accurate as possible.
- ID: your internal and unique ID for each product, max of 50 characters.
- Link: the landing page of the product, its content should obviously match with other attributes like title, description, price, availability and image_link.
- Condition: new, used or refurbished.
- Availability: in stock, out of stock or preorder.
- Price: the actual price obviously. Being competitively priced is even more important within Product Listing Ads, as users can compare prices directly on the search results page.
- Brand: simply enter the brand name of the product. For some brands it’s best to use the most used version of the brand (e.g. ‘Tommy Hilfiger’ instead of ‘Hilfiger Denim’)
- GTIN or MPN: the corresponding unique product identifier of the product like a UPC, EAN, JAN, ISBN or MPN number. Submit the ‘identifier_exists’ attribute with a value of FALSE if your product doesn’t have a GTIN or MPN (e.g. for custom-made products).
- Google_product_category: Select the most relevant category from Google’s product taxonomy.
- For apparel products: gender, age group, color, size, material, pattern, etc. are recommended attributes to add for apparel products. If you sell apparel, be sure to read the Submit apparel products guide by Google.
Attributes to customize AdWords organization & bidding:
When you create product groups in AdWords to bid on, most of the feed attributes you can use are more or less fixed: Item ID, Brand, Category (based on the Google product taxonomy) and Condition.
However, if you want to have more freedom in how you organize and create your product groups (and with that, how you differentiate your bids), you can use one (or both) of the attributes below to do so:
- Product_type: this is your category of the item, so you can provide your own classification next to Google’s (which is fixed and according to their product taxonomy).
Be sure to provide full strings separated by “ > “, e.g.: Home & Garden > Kitchen & Dining > Appliances > Refrigerators
- Custom_label_0 through Custom_label_4: Use up to 5 custom labels for extra categories such as best sellers, seasonal products, promotions or for margins.
For inspiration, see the examples below from the official support page (“How to use custom labels”):
Next to having a great product feed, don’t forget to:
- Start with using test data feeds to check your data feed for errors first. Once you are happy with the feed processing results, you can upload the same file as a normal feed.
- Upload your feed regularly in Merchant Center. At least once every 30 days, but daily would be better (and more often if needed).
- Make sure to regularly check in Merchant Center for possible errors and missing attributes. You’ll find such updates and warnings in the Diagnostics and Feeds tab of Merchant Center.
After reading more than a 1,000 words about product feeds, it’s time to reward you with an example merchant center feed (Google spreadsheet) that should clarify and summarize all mentioned attributes and best practices above. Enjoy and feel free to share!
Campaign Structure & Optimization
Organizing and optimizing your Shopping campaigns is totally different from regular keyword-based search campaigns. As mentioned before, you really need to know exactly how product groups, bids and campaign priorities work to fully understand the different organizational strategies.
And as often in PPC, there’s not just 1 right way to organize your Shopping campaigns.
However, if you know beforehand which attribute(s) of your feed will mostly determine the bids you’ll set at the product group level, the table below can help you with your first organizational choices:
Next to the basic choices above (that don’t include the cool things you can do with campaign priorities) there are quite some other things to consider when organizing and optimizing Shopping campaigns:
- There seems to be a 10,000 product limit per campaign in AdWords (although you won’t receive any warnings). So if you have more than 10,000 products in your Merchant Center feed, it’s probably best to organize your campaigns in such a way that each campaign targets no more than 10,000 products.
- The order in which you choose your initial product groups is important, so draw out your structure before creating product groups. Since every product group is a subset of the former group, it’s hard to reverse your initial choices.
- Use ad groups if you want different negatives, different mobile bid adjustments or different promotional messages for different product groups, as these are set at the ad group level.
Realize users only see your promotional message when they hover over your product image and that they apply to all products in your ad group. So as Google says: “These messages shouldn’t be used as ad text, but rather as actionable alerts that differentiate you from the competition.”
- Next to the Product groups tab, don’t forget to regularly use the Dimensions tab in your Shopping campaign to view performance data by all available dimensions and product attributes, even down to the individual item:
- Be careful not to blindly raise your max. CPC to the Benchmark max. CPC. Before increasing bids for better results, make sure your product feed and structure are as good as they can be and that your daily budget is high enough. If you still miss a lot of Impression Share or if your product groups perform great and you want more volume, then increase your bids cautiously.
Note: during peak seasons, you may want to quickly and aggressively increase bids for maximum exposure.
- As mentioned before, regular analysis of the search terms report is essential. On the one hand to guide the optimization of the titles and descriptions in your feed, on the other hand for query mining, both negative and positive:
- Add negative keywords for queries that are irrelevant and/or significantly underperforming.
- If you see high-volume queries that perform well, make sure they’re also active in a regular search campaign. If not, add these as new keywords to see if you can get even more clicks from these queries by adding a text ad on the SERP.
- Use all the ‘extra’s’ that are available in your country, such as:
- Dynamic Remarketing: as a retailer with a product feed in Merchant Center, it’s very easy to retarget your site visitors on the Google Display Network with ads that automatically contain the products they viewed on your website.
- RLSA: ask your Google rep if you don’t see the ‘Audiences’ tab in your Shopping campaign to enable this, as you’ll want to be able to bid differently (usually higher) for users that already visited your website.
- Merchant Promotions: currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia and India.
- Product Ratings: currently available in the US, UK, Germany and France.
- Local Inventory Ads (if you have local stores): currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Japan.
- Google Trusted Stores: currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Japan.
Advanced Shopping campaign structures
Most advertisers start to organize their Product groups based on category or brand and have just 1 Shopping campaign for all their products. And often, that’s fine.
But if you have a lot of products, sales or other factors that influence performance, you’ll want to get more advanced in your organization and bidding by using the campaign priorities setting.
In this video (just a little over 4 minutes): How to Best Structure your Google Shopping Campaigns by Merkle | RKG you get a great and quick overview of 3 campaign organization strategies and the advantages of using this Shopping campaign structure (using priorities):
A very interesting variation on the structure above that you should definitely check out is Taking Google Shopping to the Next Level by Martin Roettgerding.
In a 27 minute video (scroll down to see it), Martin shows you how to use campaign priorities to be able to bid the highest on the most specific queries and lowest on the most generic queries, even if all these queries match the same product.
The structure looks like this (taken from his corresponding SlideShare presentation):
And an example of the outcome of this campaign structure looks like this:
Agencies, Data Feed Management Services & Tools:
You may not have all the (optimal) resources or technology for managing product feeds and/or Shopping campaigns.
As these are essential to retailer success with PPC, you can reach out to one or more of the approved Google Shopping Partners to help you with this. Shopping Partners consist of specialized agencies as well as feed management services.
If you want more choice in tools for product feed management (besides Google Shopping Partners) you could also search for ‘product data feed management’ and check the organic search results. A safe choice would be Google’s own Channel Intelligence (acquired in 2013), as they’re obviously specialized in feeds for Google Shopping, but also many other Shopping Engines.
When it comes to tools for more efficient management within AdWords, the Optmyzr Shopping Campaign Tools could save you quite some time. Check out the demo videos on the Optmyzr website to get an idea how these work.
Just as your product feeds should be, I tried to be as fresh, accurate and comprehensive in this very long post about Shopping campaigns.
However, if you have any comments, questions, suggestions or experiences you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!
Google Shopping Campaigns: Your Audit Checklist
Merchant Center – Product feed:
Is your feed fresh and does it contain all products you want to advertise for, i.e. does it match with the contents on your website (prices & availability especially)?
Are all the required and recommended feed attributes as accurate and comprehensive as they can be, based on Google’s feed specifications?
Are the titles and descriptions of your feed user-friendly and do they match search behavior? Regular query mining should guide your feed improvements.
Do you use and test the highest possible quality product images that distinguish you from the competition?
Do you use the product_type and custom_label attributes to be able to bid based on your own categorization?
Do you upload your feed as often as you should, given changing prices and availability? At least once every 30 days is required, daily is usually recommended.
Do you regularly check the Diagnostics and Feeds tab in Merchant Center for warnings, errors and missing attributes?
AdWords – Structure, optimization and bidding:
Do you make sure each Shopping campaign targets no more than 10,000 products?
Does your structure focus on product lines, profit margins and best sellers?
In case you have seasonal items and/or flash sales: do you promote these with separate campaigns, using different campaign priorities?
Do you take full control of ad serving with all 3 campaign priorities (Low, Medium and High)?
Do you run search query reports to find negatives to exclude irrelevant or poor performing queries?
Do you run search query reports to find new keywords for your regular (text-based) search campaigns?
Do you use the Benchmark (CTR & CPC) and Impression Share insights to guide your optimizations?
Do you use the insights from the Dimensions tab to guide your optimizations?
Do you use separate ad groups whenever you want to have different negatives, mobile bid adjustments and/or promotional messages for your product groups?
Do you use all additional Shopping (related) options that are available in your country, such as Dynamic Remarketing, RLSA, Merchant Promotions, Product Ratings, Local Inventory Ads and Google Trusted Stores?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know