A former teacher, Matt now specializes in R&D for ecommerce business owners and helps guide merchants in understanding the importance of this digital-first world.
It’s no secret that ranking highly on Google is a key method for gaining visibility for your company - no matter what industry you operate in.
For ecommerce companies that, by nature, operate completely online, ranking highly on Google is absolutely essential.
But there’s more to it than simply ranking high on Google for search terms related to your brand’s products; for an ecommerce company to be truly successful, it needs to rank highly for terms used by individuals who are currently in “buying mode.”
This is where Google Shopping ads come into play.
More and more, the modern consumer has come to rely on Google as a means of conducting product searches.
According to data collected by Business Insider, search engines share of initial product searches increased from 28% in 2016 to 36% in 2017; while this is still behind Amazon’s share of product searches, the increase caused the online retail giant’s share to fall from 55% to 49%.
Additionally, search engines have become the most popular means of conducting product searches via mobile device: Business Insider estimates that search engines will be responsible for 50% of all product searches by 2021.
As these trends continue, it’s safe to say that Google will continue to focus on optimizing its product search functionality in the coming years, in order to cater to the expectations of the modern consumer. For ecommerce companies, this means the time to jump on the Google Shopping bandwagon is now.
In this article, we’re going to discuss how you can utilize Google Shopping Ads to not just increase your brand’s visibility, but also to get your products in front of those who are actively looking to make a purchase.
Before we dive in, though, let’s explain exactly what Google Shopping is.
What Is Google Shopping?
Simply put, Google Shopping is a search engine focused specifically on showcasing products related to an individual’s search terms.
For consumers, Google Shopping works in one of two ways.
If the searcher actively intends on looking for products to purchase (as opposed to using Google’s main search functionality for a variety of purposes), they can specifically conduct a product search by clicking the “Shopping” tab after typing in a search term (in much the same way as you’d conduct a Google Image or Google Maps search).
(Caption: Using Google Shopping to search for “sneakers” brings up the above results.)
If, on the other hand, an individual searches for a product-related term using Google’s basic search tool, a sample of products will appear in addition to website-related results:
(Caption: Notice that users can also click “Shop for ‘sneakers’ on Google” to conduct a Google Shopping search.)
As we’ll discuss momentarily, Google Shopping ads (also referred to as Product Listing Ads, or PLAs) must be purchased by the company offering the product being featured. In other words, your products won’t appear organically in Google Shopping - even if your site happens to rank #1 on “regular” Google.
Once a user clicks on a PLA, they’ll be presented with additional information about the product, including its:
- Name and description
- Specifications and attributes
- Customer reviews and ratings
All of the information presented within a PLA will need to be provided by the product’s provider. We’ll circle back to this a bit later on in this article.
First, let’s dig into why, exactly, you absolutely should be using Google Shopping Ads to generate revenues for your ecommerce company.
Benefits of Using Google Shopping Ads
We’ve already alluded to two of the main reasons using Google Shopping can benefit your business.
For one thing, search engines are being used more and more by individuals looking to make a purchase. Furthermore, Google Shopping allows you to gain visibility from searchers with a high probability of converting.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these points.
Google Shopping vs. Other Product-Related Platforms and Directories
One thing we need to clarify, here, is that Google Shopping is technically a Comparison Shopping Engine - not an online marketplace.
The main difference between the two: while marketplaces (such as Amazon) provide a platform on which companies can sell their products, Google Shopping acts as a directory that connects consumers with appropriate ecommerce sites. That is, companies don’t sell their products directly on Google Shopping - they simply use use it to advertise their brand’s products.
While there are a variety of other Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) - such as Shopping.com, PriceGrabber, and Nextag - in existence, Google Shopping is by and large the one ecommerce companies should be focusing on to increase sales.
For one thing - and you probably don’t need us to tell you this - Google is most-used search engine in the world, accounting for nearly 75% of all web searches. From a “numbers game” standpoint, it simply makes sense that you’d want to have a presence on Google Shopping.
It’s also worth noting that, as we said earlier, users can retrieve Google Shopping results with a single mouse click after conducting a product-related search in “regular” Google. In contrast, using one of the other CSEs mentioned above requires users to take an extra step (i.e., navigating to the site in question) in order to conduct a product search. While it’s not exactly a major burden to take this extra step, Google Shopping provides the path of least resistance to individuals searching for a specific product.
Need more proof that Google Shopping is the way to go? Check out our US Google Shopping Growth Analysis Report for Q3 2017, which found that ecommerce companies that utilize Google Shopping saw:
- A 44% quarter-over-quarter increase in revenue, and an 11% year-over-year increase in revenue
- An 18% quarter-over-quarter increase in Average Order Value
- A 7% year-over-year decrease in cost per conversion
An optimized presence on Google Shopping can lead to huge gains for your ecommerce business - likely much more so than any other CSE around.
PLAs vs. Text Ads
Another point to clarify is that product listing ads are not synonymous with text ads via Google Ads.
To be clear, Google Shopping Ads/PLAs are much more effective than text ads.
Case in point:
- PLAs are 73.2% more cost-effective for attracting qualified customers
- PLAs generate 45% more revenue than text ads
- In 2016, ecommerce ROAS for PLAs was eight times that of text ads
One of the main reasons for all of this, as we’ve alluded to, is the fact that PLAs typically appear for search terms used by individuals specifically looking to make a purchase. In contrast, text ads may appear when individuals are simply seeking information about a topic or product, but aren’t exactly looking to make a purchase. In other words, while text ads may increase a brand’s visibility and reach, PLAs are the better option for actually increasing sales numbers.
Now that we have a solid idea of what Google Shopping is, and how using it can positively impact your ecommerce business, let’s go over how to actually create a presence on the platform.
Getting Started With Google Shopping
To begin the process of getting listed on Google Shopping, you’ll need to set up an account on Google Merchant Center, as well as Google Ads.
(While not necessary, we also recommend you create a Google Analytics account, as well.)
Let’s walk through the process of setting your account up for each tool.
Google Merchant Center
Setting up an account on Google Merchant Center is pretty straightforward.
To begin, click “Sign Up” on Merchant Center’s main page:
You’ll then be asked to fill out some basic information about your ecommerce store and website:
After you’ve input this information, you’ll be asked to agree to Google’s terms of service.
Once you’ve done so, you’ll be asked to verify that the website address you entered actually belongs to you. There are a number of ways you can do so:
- Upload an HTML file to your website
- Add an HTML tag to your website’s home page
- Use your existing Google Analytics account to verify
- Connect your URL via Google Tag Manager
(As a quick note, the company name and website I included above aren’t actually real. That said, the following screenshots might not be exactly what you see as you register your actual store’s account.)
After you’ve connected your website, you’ll be ready to flesh out your Google Merchant Center account.
Before you begin adding your products, though, there are a few more basic tasks to complete revolving around your company’s name, address, website, and logo:
You’ll also want to define your tax and shipping settings, as well:
Within these sections, you’ll define terms for your company’s logistical processes, such as free shipping thresholds, estimated delivery times, and cutoff dates for holiday shipping.
Your next order of business will be to link your Merchant Center account with your Ads account. To do so, click the vertical ellipsis in the right corner of the screen, then click “Account Linking”:
This will bring you to the following section, where you can easily link your Ads account:
We’ll discuss how to upload product information via Google Shopping Feed momentarily. But first, let’s look at how to incorporate Google Ads into the mix.
Once you connect your Merchant Center and Google Ads accounts, you’ll want to hop over to Google Ads to create your actual Product Listing Ads.
First, create a new campaign, and specify Shopping as the type:
You’ll then be asked to choose a goal: Sales, Leads or Website Traffic.
(Note: For the purposes of this guide, choose Sales.)
You’ll then need to define your bid settings:
As well as your targeting and scheduling settings:
Finally, you’ll need to create an ad group, and set your bid amount:
A few things to note:
- By default, your PLAs will be presented on Google search partners, as well. Typically, CPC on these sites is lower than that of Google Shopping, so you probably want to keep this option checked at first. As time goes on and you’re able to gauge the effectiveness of your ads on these partner sites, you’ll of course want to make changes accordingly.
- Also by default, your ads will show on all devices, unless you specify otherwise. Again, we advise you keep this option as is for the time being - but also remember to assess how a given campaign performs for specific devices as time goes on.
- Be sure to specify the locations you want your PLAs to appear in, so that you don’t end up wasting money from your ad budget on clicks from users in countries your company doesn’t currently do business with.
Once you’ve set up your Merchant Center account and connected it with Google Ads, you’ll be ready to begin adding your products to your store’s profile.
Creating Product Feeds in Google Merchant Center
If you take away one thing from this guide, let it be this:
The quality of your product feed is the determining factor of how effective your PLA will be.
The reason for this is essentially two-fold:
For one, you don’t define which keywords your PLAs show up for - Google does. That said, a poorly-developed product feed will make it nearly impossible for Google’s algorithms to understand what your product is, and what it relates to - meaning it’s not going to rank very highly for the terms you’d hoped it would.
Secondly, even if your not-exactly-optimized PLA does show up when a user searches for a relevant term, they probably won’t end up clicking it if it doesn’t catch their eye. This, of course, is especially true if the products you sell are offered by a number of competitors.
With this in mind, then, let’s go through all of the information you’ll want to include within each of your product feeds.
Product Title and ID
Each product within your store needs to have a unique title/name, as well as a unique SKU for identification purposes.
With regard to your product’s name, here are a few best practices:
- Be Descriptive and Specific: For example, rather than naming your product “HDMI Cable,” you’d want to name it “HDMI Cable - Black - 3’ Length.”
- Include Relevant Keywords First: As with the example above, you want to include the product name first, and add the descriptive aspects of the item to the end of the title.
- Use Specific Identifiers When Able: Model numbers for items such as appliances and replacement parts, or yearly descriptors (e.g., “2017 Hess Truck”) can be huge for visibility.
Of course, there are a few “no-nos” here that will end up getting you punished by Google’s algorithms:
- Add promotional content to your titles
- Stuff keywords nonsensically
- Use all capital letters (unless it’s part of the branded name of the product)
It’s also worth noting that Google places a 150-character limit on product titles, which is a decent amount of space to work with. Do your best to take advantage of this space - but don’t feel the need to use all 150 characters if you’re not adding anything of value.
This is where you can go into a bit more detail with regard to what your product is, and what it does.
The dos and don’ts of product descriptions are essentially the same as with the product title:
- Be descriptive
- Include the most important information first
- Use relevant keywords and specific identifiers
- Don’t unnaturally stuff keywords
One thing to note, here, is that product descriptions on Google Shopping should err on the side of conciseness. Rather than flexing your creative copywriting muscles and getting fancy, use this space to provide the important information your potential customers will need in order to make a purchasing decision.
That said, you certainly would do well to include use case examples within your product description, as well as any unique benefits your product offers over similar products offered by your competitors.
Detailed Product Descriptions
Google also allows you to provide information regarding a variety of other characteristics which may or may not apply to your products.
This list includes:
- The Product’s Condition: Choose between new, refurbished, and used.
- Appropriate Age for Use: Choose from Newborn, Infant, Toddler, Kids, Adult. Note that you must also specifically designate your adult-themed products as such in a separate category, as well.
- Color: Denotes the product’s color. This is especially important for companies that offer the same product in multiple colors.
- Gender: Choose between Male, Female, and Unisex.
- Material: List the primary material used to create the product.
- Pattern: Define the pattern scheme of the product, such as Solid, Stripes, Checkerboard, etc.
- Size: Typically reserved for clothing, be sure to define not only the product’s size, but also the system used to define size (e.g., US, UK, EU, JP, etc.). Additionally, define the Size Type, choosing from Regular, Petite, Plus, Big and Tal, and Maternity.
- Multipack/Bundle Information: If more than one of the same item (or more than one type of item) are included in a single order, be sure to designate this.
As we’ve discussed before on our blog, a high-quality product photo is essential in order to catch the eye of potential customers.
While you can include multiple photos to be included carousel-style on your product’s Google Shopping page, only one photo will show within the initial search results page. So, while you obviously want to ensure that each photo is high in quality, you want to be absolutely certain that you select the best photo as your product’s “main” picture.
Note that you won’t actually upload the image file into your Merchant Center account. Instead, you’ll provide a link to the product’s image file(s) on the actual product’s page.
(For a much more in-depth discussion on product photographs, check the link above.)
Product Page Link
As we mentioned earlier, you’re not actually selling your products on Google Shopping. Rather, Google Shopping acts as a directory which points individuals toward your actual website.
So, within your product feed, you need to include a link to your product’s actual web page. Note that this link needs to specifically direct users to the page for that exact product (and not a collection or category of products).
While not necessary, you should also include a link to your mobile-optimized product page, as well.
As you surely know, the price of an item - and other cost-related information - plays a huge role in whether or not an individual will decide to make a purchase.
While you’re only required to input your product’s price and currency code (e.g., USD), there are also a number of suggested categories that we’d advise you to fill out, as well:
- Sale Price (and Sale End Date)
- Unit Pricing Base and Measure (If Applicable)
- Installment Options (If Applicable)
- Loyalty Points Collected With Purchase (If Applicable)
This is pretty straightforward:
For every item you advertise, you need to list whether it is in or out of stock at the current moment.
Or, if you’re advertising a soon-to-be-released item, you can define it as a pre-order - allowing customers to purchase it in advance. Additionally, you’ll want to determine the date you’ll be releasing the item, as well. If you plan on intentionally taking a product off the virtual shelf in the future, you can also set an “end availability” date (creating a sense of scarcity in the process).
(Note: While feed management tools come in handy for a variety of reasons that we’ll discuss in a bit, it’s worth mentioning that such a tool comes in handy to automatically update the availability status of an item.)
Product Category and Type
For Product Category, you’ll use Google’s product taxonomy to define your product as specifically as possible.
For most products, Google actually requires you to be more specific. The example provided on Google’s Support page provides the following example:
“Use a specific category to help ensure that your ads are shown in the most relevant situations. For example, an MP3 player charger, use the MP3 player accessories category: Electronics > Audio > Audio Accessories > MP3 Player Accessories (232). Don’t just use: Electronics (222).”
(Writer’s Note: MP3 player? Guess Google’s protocol hasn’t been updated in a while…)
Note that you can only place an item in one category, as well. For example, you wouldn’t be able to categorize a wristwatch as both a watch and an alarm clock. Again, choose the most accurate and descriptive category and subcategory, here.
(Note: Google’s Product Category List is huge. That said, rather than scrolling through each category via dropdown menu, check out the listing via spreadsheet available here.)
You have a bit more freedom when it comes to inputting Product Type, as this depends on how you categorize your products on your website. Again, be as specific as possible, here.
For example, if you sell guitar equipment, your taxonomy may look something like:
Guitar Strings > Electric Guitar Strings > Ernie Ball Electric Guitar Strings
This is good practice not only when working with Google Shopping, but also for your ecommerce site in general.
Earlier, we mentioned that you need to include the item’s SKU, which refers to your company’s unique identification number for the product.
If applicable, you’ll also need to include the following information, as well:
- Brand: The name of the brand that creates the product - whether your own or a partner company’s
- GTIN: The product’s Global Trade Item Number. This could refer to its UPC (in US), EAN (in Europe), JAN (in Japan), or ISBN (for books)
- MPN: The product’s Manufacturer Part Number, which will be provided by the manufacturer
While these identifiers are required when applicable, you’d want to include them even if you didn’t absolutely need to. As we mentioned before, consumers will sometimes use these unique identifying numbers when searching for an item; as long as you’ve filled out these sections as applicable, there’s a good chance your product will show up for these search queries.
As you’ll recall, you’ll have already defined most of your shipping rules while setting up your Merchant Center account.
Still, you’ll want to double-check that you’ve filled out the following information:
- Geographic area(s) you ship to
- Cost of shipping to (geographic area)
- Package dimensions (length, width, height, and weight)
Again, while defining these attributes is optional, we recommend doing so for the sake of clarity, which in turn will allow potential customers to place trust in your company (over a competing company that hides such information).
Again, you’ll have likely already defined these attributes when you set up your Merchant Center account, so we’ll be quick here.
There are four “optional” (read: “required for our purposes”) sub-attributes to fill out, here:
- Geographic Region
- Tax on Shipping
Of course, all of this information is highly dependent on your company’s situation, so be sure to look into this thoroughly before moving forward.
Before we move on, it’s worth mentioning that Google provides a spreadsheet to be used as a guide, complete with examples, on its support page here.
A Quick Note on Feed Management Tools
Needless to say, there’s a lot of information you need to cover regarding each of your products. And, of course, the more products you offer, the more information you’ll need to input into Google Merchant Center.
With a feed management tool, most - if not all - of the process of inputting your product’s data into Merchant Center is automated (that is, as long as the information exists on your store’s website in the first place). While you’ll of course want to manually double-check that all fields have been completed, using a feed management tool will definitely allow you to save a ton of time and energy.
Another way in which feed management tools offer assistance is with regard to certain data that fluctuates or changes over time. The main thing that comes to mind, here, is availability: with a feed management tool, you won’t need to go into your Merchant Center profile and manually change a product’s availability to “in stock” or “out of stock,” as it will automatically be updated through your website.
Essentially, using a feed management tool ensures that your product information as listed on Google Merchant Center aligns exactly with the information presented on your ecommerce site. Without this alignment, there’s a pretty good chance that potential customers will decide not to trust your brand - and will almost certainly take their business elsewhere.
Google Ads Bidding for Google Shopping
As we discussed earlier, with PLAs, you don’t bid on specific keywords that you’ve defined (as you would with text ads).
Instead, gaining visibility on Google Shopping requires you to use strategies from both your organic search and paid search playbooks.
First and foremost, as we dove into above, you need to be sure your product feeds contain as much information as possible about your products. This allows Google to crawl your site and determine which search terms your products should potentially show up for.
Provided that your product feeds are optimized, your next order of business is to set up your bidding strategy.
Your main goals here are to:
- Maximize visibility for your products (especially for searches with a high probability of converting)
- Maximize your return on ad spend (ROAS) for your bids
- Maximize your overall profits relating to your Merchant Center initiatives
Now, it’s important to note that, while you’ll be setting your maximum bid amount, you don’t want to come out of the gate spending a ton of money, here. That said, your initial “maximum” bid should be much smaller than the actual maximum amount you’d consider bidding for a specific product.
Here’s how to determine both your potential maximum bid, as well as your actual maximum starting bid:
First, make sure you have an exact monetary amount nailed down as your profit per item. To get this number, simply subtract your cost of goods sold from the price at which you sell the item in question.
From there, take this number and multiply it by your conversion rate (as a percentage). For example, if you make $100 profit per item sold, and you convert 3% of your potential customers, the formula would be $100 x .03 = $3. In this case, $3 would be your actual maximum bid - meaning you should never bid more than $3 for the item’s PLA, no matter how popular it is (unless, of course, you change the item’s price, as well).
Now, to determine your maximum initial bid, you’ll want to take a fraction of the maximum bid you calculated using the above formula. Typically, you’d want to set your initial maximum bid at anywhere from 40-75% of your actual maximum. Using the example above, your initial bid for our hypothetical item would be anywhere from $1.20 to $2.25.
Of course, you’ll certainly want to reassess and adjust your bids as time goes on, once you have a better idea of how the item’s PLA is performing.
For the first few weeks your PLA is running, you won’t want to change your bid all that much. First of all, your sample size will be much too low to be telling of how the PLA will perform over time. Along with this sentiment, certain circumstances - such as weekends and holidays - may skew your initial results (e.g., if you begin running an ad the Friday before Labor Day, the results you’d see over the course of the next week almost certainly wouldn’t be representative of what you’re likely to see during a “typical” week).
(For a detailed look at how Sales & Orders can help you weather the holiday storm, check out this case study from House of Holiday.)
The above being said, you’ll want to check your PLA’s performance at most three times a week for the first month or so - and try to make only one adjustment each week. Again, you don’t want to jump to conclusions (good or bad) and change your bid based on such a small sample size, as doing so may backfire in the long run.
Moving forward, owners of smaller stores (those that offer less than 50 products) will want to check in on their PLA’s performance on a weekly basis, and - unless a major revelation or “lightbulb” hits - make around two to three adjustments per month. For those who run larger stores (50+ products), weekly adjustments should become routine.
Resources for Advanced Bidding & Optimization Techniques
We at Sales & Orders have created a ton of resources revolving around Google Shopping bidding and campaign optimization techniques.
Here, we’ll provide a list of these resources, along with a summary of what you can expect to learn from each of them.
- How To Advertise Online And The Best Digital Platforms To Use: As the title suggests, this article provides the pros, cons, and nuances of various online advertising platforms, such as Facebook and other social media, display ads, and, of course, Google Shopping.
- Building a Top Performers Campaign: In this video, our Marketing Manager Tony Capetola explains how to create a campaign focused specifically on your top-performing products. In doing so, you’ll not only be able to focus on optimizing your PLAs for these top performers (and increase the already-high revenues generated by these products in the process), but you’ll also be able to identify why these products perform so well in the first place. In turn, you can then apply what you’ve learned to your other products in order to increase their level of profitability, as well.
- 3 Easy Google Shopping Campaign Optimization Techniques: In addition to providing more information regarding how to build top-performer’s campaigns, this article also explains how to implement what we call “Pure ID-Level” structure, which enables you to develop campaigns for individual products. This article also addresses how to segment, analyze, and optimize campaigns depending on the type of device your target customers typically use.
(For a deeper look into how Sales & Orders helps companies implement Pure ID-Level bidding, check out our work with Brands Cycle and Fitness.)
- 9 Key Ways to Optimize Your Google Shopping Campaigns: While the above guide provides some beginner- to intermediate-level tips for optimizing your Google Shopping campaigns, this one dives deep into even more advanced techniques, such as utilizing custom location targeting and ad scheduling, implementing a negative keyword strategy, and remarketing.
- Target & Bid VS. Bid Only: How Each Affects Your Google Shopping Campaign: Speaking of remarketing, this post details your two options when creating a remarketing campaign: Target and Bid, or Bid Only. This article discusses the pros and cons of each option, and helps you determine which is the right choice for your current situation.
- How To Supercharge Your Google Shopping ROI with Negative Keywords: If the above post merely whetted your appetite for more info on negative keywords, this guide has you covered. Take everything this post has to offer, and you’ll never end up wasting ad budget money on poor-converting keywords again.
- Google Shopping Campaign Priorities Best Practices: While, as we’ve said, you can’t define which keywords you want your PLAs to show for, you can identify which ad campaigns you’d like Google to prioritize for related search terms (e.g., if you include one product in multiple campaigns, you can tell Google to prioritize the more profitable campaign.) In this article, we outline the best practices for doing so.
- 5 Ways to Fix Bad Conversion Tracking in Google Shopping: You’re probably well aware that technical glitches aren’t exactly uncommon in the world of ecommerce. You also know that such glitches aren’t exactly good for business, either. This guide will help you avoid instances in which your conversion tracker hinders your ability to get a true understanding of how your Google Shopping campaigns are performing.
- 4 Ways to Prep Your Google Shopping Campaigns Well Before Holidays: We alluded to the fact that the coming of holidays (no matter which ones) will affect the performance of your Google Shopping ads in one way or another. In this article, we discuss how to utilize Customer Match for Google Shopping, as well as how to approach Pure ID-Level and Device-Pure campaign restructuring with a focus on catering to the needs of holiday shoppers. We also mention the importance of keeping an eye on your competitors’ pricing strategies during the holiday season.
(For more holiday-related Google Shopping strategies, download Sales & Orders’ Definitive Google Shopping Holiday Optimization Checklist)
- How To Advertise Online And The Best Digital Platforms To Use: As the title suggests, this article provides the pros, cons, and nuances of various online advertising platforms, such as Facebook and other social media, display ads, and, of course, Google Shopping.
- Using ROAS to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Ad Campaigns: We mentioned ROAS (return on ad spend) in passing earlier in this guide. For a more thorough explanation of what ROAS is and why it’s a valuable metric to track to assess the quality of your various ad campaigns, check out this post.
(Check out this case study from Good Start Packaging, which provides real-world insight into how ROAS correlates to other important metrics.)
Don’t worry; this guide isn’t going anywhere.
While getting up and running on Google Shopping is certainly a time-consuming venture that requires a decent amount of time, energy, and attention in the early going, your efforts will all be worth it once you start gaining visibility on the search engine behemoth that is Google.
And, once your PLAs are all set up, you’ll simply need to revisit them a few times a week to assess their performance, and to make tweaks and improvements as necessary. Of course, the more experienced you get with all that Google Shopping has to offer, the more routine this whole process will become.
If you need any additional assistance with Google Shopping Feed Management, be sure to check out how Sales & Orders can help you out.