Your data feed is simply information about the products that you want to sell formatted in a way that Google can read and understand. As we mentioned before, you don’t pick the keywords your Product Listing Ads show up for.
Google crawls your feed and determines if one or more of your products is relevant for a particular search query. In this regard, Google Shopping has similarities to SEO. You need to structure the various elements of your feed so that Google can make sense of it and find it relevant for the appropriate search queries.
Setting up your feed properly is important for 3 reasons:
- To show up for the right search queries
- To earn clicks (to make prospective buyers want to click your ads)
- To make optimization and management easier
There are two main ways to build a feed: Manually, by entering your product information into a spreadsheet according to Google’s specifications. Or, by using an extension, plugin, app, or service that pulls data from your site and formats it for you.
If you only have a few products, then you may choose to just manually create your feed using a Google Spreadsheet. If you have hundreds or thousands of products, then a manual feed is probably out of the question.
13 key feed elements
Regardless of how you create your feed, whether it’s with an app or service or manually, there are several things you have to get right. Depending on the category of products you sell you’ll have different feed requirements.
Cutting corners or missing steps can cause your feed to be rejected or cost you valuable clicks in the long run. Here are the things you have to get right initially if you really want to be successful. For the most part, these are entered in the order of importance in terms of impacting your results.
Your product title needs to be accurate and descriptive or Google will have a hard time knowing when to show your product ad. Your Product Title is arguably the most important element of your feed. If you’re familiar with SEO, your Product Title would be similar to the Title Tag of a page on your website. Anyone with SEO experience knows the weight that the Title Tag carries.
Here are a few quick do’s and don’ts for creating a great product title.
- Include top keyword(s) - what keyword do you want to show up for most? Include that in the title if it’s accurate.
- Use the name of the product - obvious, but using the most commonly used name of your product is important.
- Use color, brand, gender, size to differentiate - longer searches usually indicate buyer intent. So someone searching for “blue Adidas Climalite polo” is more likely to convert than someone who just types in “shirt”. Create a detailed title for your product in order to show up for more detailed searches.
- Front load important information - try to put the most important information first in the title tag. If someone usually searches for “business cards” you could name your product “Business Cards - 14 pt. High Gloss, Stand Size” rather than “14 pt High Gloss Standard Size Business Cards”.
- Model number and other descriptors - possible searchers by a prospective buyer like model year or edition.
- Remember Google’s 150 character limit - there is no real magic formula for ideal length of a product title, but usually the more detailed the better.
- Keyword stuff - only use a keyword once in the title.
- Add promotional text - a product title of “Business Cards - 50% Off Now” is not allowed as a title. You can run promotions, but your title isn’t the proper place for promotional text.
- Be too vague - don’t name a product “Nike Running Shoes” name it “Nike Pegasus Running Shoes 2015”
- Use all CAPS - improper use of CAPS will get your product or feeds disapproved by Google.
While not as important as your product titles, your product descriptions are crucial components of your feed. Google pays close attention to your descriptions to help determine what keywords will trigger your product listing ads. Get this wrong, and you could miss valuable impressions.
- Concisely and accurately describe the item - there’s no need to write a novel here. Just accurately and thoroughly describe the item. Think in terms of what the buyer would need to know to make a purchase.
- Think keywords - also think in terms of keywords. Other than the title, the product description is the most important part of the feed in determining what keywords you’ll show up for.
- Front load important information - information toward the front of the description carries the most weight. Put emphasis and attention on the opening sentence or two of your product description.
- Keyword stuff - only use a specific keyword once in your description.
- Be too vague or poetic - think more in terms of how would you describe this to a person who couldn’t see it rather than telling a story about why this product is great. Stories can be effective for selling on your site or in video, but won't help with Google Shopping. Most shoppers will never see the description. This is primarily for Google.
- Be too long winded - while there doesn’t seem to be a penalty for extra long titles, they don’t help either. Concise, descriptive, accurate descriptions help create shopping gold.
Google Product Category
Google has created a fairly exhaustive list of categories and subcategories that your products might fall under. This is one more way for Google to know exactly what your product is. This is an important (and required) step to getting your products to show up for the right search queries. You don’t get to define your own product category you have to pick from Google’s list of categories.
- View Google’s taxonomy - You can download Google’s taxonomy here. Warning there are currently 6,215 categories and subcategories to choose from. I recommend downloading the excel file and using search functionality (ctrl + f for PC, or command + f on a mac) to find your category.
- Choose the best category - You can only choose one so chose wisely. As an example, let’s say you sell visors for motorcycle helmets. You could simply chose Google Product Category: Vehicle Parts > Vehicle Parts & Accessories. But it would be far better to chose Google Product Category: Vehicle Parts > Vehicle Parts & Accessories > Motorcycle Accessories > Motorcycle Protective Gear > Motorcycle helmet parts & accessories > Motorcycle helmet visors.
- Get as close as possible and let Product Type do the rest - As in the example above you want to get as specific as you possibly can, but in some cases your product might not fit neatly into a category. In that case get as close as you can and then let you Product Type further clarify for Google.
This is the next layer for making your product offering clear to Google. If you had a hard time finding the right Google Product Category, then your Product Type becomes especially important. While this isn’t a required part of your feed, I highly recommend using it and getting the most from it.
- Use your site’s taxonomy or category breadcrumbs - When you look at a product page you might see the following breadcrumbs – Chevrolet > truck parts > door parts > door handles. That can be a great Product Type as the layers of your category breadcrumbs gives Google insight into what your product is. In this case it’s a chevrolet truck door handle. Just copy and paste the bread crumbs into your product type field on your feed.
- Be as descriptive as possible - If your site taxonomy isn’t helpful or isn’t descriptive, you can add in your own layers just add a > and spaces between words. Say that your site is structured so that the door handles are simply in Parts > Door handles. You may want to add in some descriptive layers, like in the example above, to give Google a clearer picture of what the product is.
The image is one of the most important factors in getting someone to click on your ad.
- Visible in a thumbnail - If shoppers can’t clearly see what you are selling you you won’t entice many clicks.
- White background - Google requires a white background behind your images.
- No text, watermarks or logos - Text, watermarks, or logos are prohibited unless they appear on the product itself. You can’t overlay your image with text or watermarks.
- Compelling - Follow good merchandising principles. If you’re selling clothes, show them on someone who looks like your ideal customer. Make sure the lighting is good. Make sure your product is shown at a favorable angle.
While the image will grab someone’s attention, it’s usually the price that has the most influence in making someone click. This is especially true if you are selling the exact product that other retailers are selling. It’s also true if you are selling products where customers are price sensitive. In these cases, having a higher price can severely handicap your listing.
If your product is unique or has obvious advantages over the competition, having a higher price can actually help attract the right clicks. For example, we have a client who sells custom vehicle lights. They target buyers who are looking for quality lights that will make their vehicles look unique. They are not targeting bargain shoppers.
For this client, many high-end consumers will use the same search queries that bargain shoppers use. In this scenario, a higher price relative to the competition can help them get clicks from the right buyers.
Whether it’s your own brand or you're reselling another brand, you need to indicate the brand of every product in your feed. Google requires Brand in most cases, and a lot of products are searched for by brand. Especially from people with a high intent to purchase.
If you are selling apparel you have a few additional data points to provide, including the following. For a complete list of what is required for different apparel products, reference this Google guide:
- Gender: male, female, or unisex
- Age Group: newborn, infant, toddler, kids, adult
- Size: actual size of product
- Color: color of product
- Size Type: regular, petite, plus, big and tall, maternity
- Size System: US, UK, EU and more
MPN & GTIN
Manufacturer's Product Number and Google Trade Identification Number. In North America GTIN is typically your UPC code or ISBN number for books. In the past Google only required 2 out of these 3 fields for all products in your feed: Brand, MPN, and GTIN.
Now, GTIN is required for any product that the manufacturer assigns a GTIN to. As a rule of thumb, if you resell products, you need to inquire with the manufacturer about GTINs (UPCs) or you could have items disapproved by Google.
The best way to set up sales tax is in your general account setting inside Google Merchant Center. There you can specify the rates and states in which you charge sales tax.
Again, it’s better to set up rules in Merchant Center than to fill in fields for each product. Inside Merchant Center you can set up free shipping, flat rate shipping, and carrier calculated shipping.
Other required information
These data points are quick and easy to add, but they are also required. If you leave these out on a particular product, that product will be ineligible for Google Shopping.
- Availability - accepted option are “in stock”, “out of stock”, “preorder”
- Condition - accepted options are “new” and “used”
Custom labels are for your benefit only but can help greatly when trying to optimize bids. Google doesn’t consider custom labels when determining what search queries will trigger your ads to display. When looking at performance in AdWords and making bid changes you can group your products by brand, category or by custom label.
Labels are optional and completely up to you. In many cases it helps to create labels that describe attributes to your product that might make optimization easier later. You can add labels like top sellers, spring category, holiday, etc. for easy filtering later.
Quality Score for PLAs
Quality Score is part of what makes AdWords great. It’s Google’s way of incentivizing advertisers to create ads and landing pages that users love. This leads to more ad clicks and happier users. For text ad campaigns, you can see your quality score for each keyword.
While similar in nature to AdWords’ quality score, for PLAs, it’s not clearly revealed what your quality score is. That said, each product in your feed will have a quality score for relevant search queries.
Your quality score for text ads is determined by 3 things:
- Your CTR or expected CTR
- Your ad relevance
- Your landing page experience
How does this directly impact your AdWords campaigns? Your Ad Rank - or the position your ad appears in on the search results page - is determined by this formula: Quality Score x Max CPC = Ad Rank. This means that a higher quality score can allow you to pay less than a competitor and still outrank them.
For PLAs there’s no reason to believe that quality score is much different than it is for text ads. The main difference would be feed relevance rather than ad relevance. Your Product Title, Description, Google Product Category, Brand, and Product Type having the greatest influence over relevance for a given keyword. I mention this to give further motivation for creating a great feed. Your long term CPCs will be impacted by the quality of your feed.
How to set up your feed
First you need to decide if you are creating your feed manually using a Google Spreadsheet template, or if you want to auto-generate a feed using an extension, app, or service. Usually the determining factor is the size of the inventory you want to promote.
If automated sounds like the best option for you, then you have several options. “Automated” is a bit misleading as you will still have set-up work. Automated options can only pull from data that is currently on your site. It’s important to note though, that all of the above feed recommendations still hold true. If your current product titles, descriptions, images and other attributes aren’t optimized then your automated feed won’t perform like it should. There are no magic pills here. Good data in, good data out.
Services. DataFeedWatch works with almost any shopping cart platform and is fairly easy to set up. DFW will pull product data from your site and format everything according to Google’s specs. There is some setup work here although it’s well documented. The downside is that you will pay a monthly fee as long as you use the service. This can be helpful though for sites with hundreds or thousands of SKUs or where SKUs are changing or being added frequently.
One of the biggest benefits of a service like DFW is that it allows you to stack and combine attributes to optimize your data. For an example, let’s say that your product descriptions on your site contain only sales copy, like “you’ll love these new shoes the moment you slip them on and go for a run - guaranteed or your money back.”
This might help woo customers to purchase, but it will do nothing to cue Google in on what you are selling. It would be better to combine attributes like brand, title, color, size, and other specs into a useful product description for Google. Services like DataFeedWatch make that pretty easy. It also allows you to filter out products based on categories or attributes. Don’t want products under a certain price point in your feed? Just filter them out.
Apps & Extensions. The Google Shopping app for Shopify can help you get a feed up and running pretty quickly. It will then update your feed when you update products on your site. If you’re using another shopping cart platform, you’ll likely find apps or extensions that work in similar fashion. Most require just a one-time fee (if any) and possibly some development costs (usually minimal). The advantage is that you won’t have to pay the monthly fees that come with a service.
The disadvantage is that customization to your data is sometimes a little more time consuming with apps and extension. Or often it’s limited. If your product titles and descriptions are currently optimized on your site, then an option like this can be great. If you need to combine attributes to make for useful titles and descriptions, then choose an app, extension or service that allows for easy customization.
If you are using the Shopify app you can choose to use the actual product title or the title tag for the product. Your title tag is what appears in the tab of your browser and in search results pages. Title tags significantly impact search engine optimization so having a detailed title tag can serve you well in many ways. If your title tag is optimized in line with title recommendations in this guide, then I would always select that instead of just your product title when setting up the app.
Once you decide on manual vs. automated, login to Merchant Center. Click the “Feeds” option in the left-hand menu, then click the red “+ Data Feed” button.
Then if you are going manual, choose “Google Spreadsheets”. If you are going with a service or extension you can choose either “Automatic Uploads schedule fetch” or “Regular Uploads” depending on the specifications of the app or service you are using. Then click on the “Generate a new template” option to start working on your spreadsheet, or enter the url for the automatic uploads. Apps and Extensions will create a urls where your feed will live so that Google can fetch it.
You’ll then create a schedule for when your feed will be updated. This is important because feeds are set to expire after 30 days. If you use an app or extension we usually recommend having your feed generated and fetched on a daily basis so that there is never much lag time between updates made to products on your site and those updates showing up in your feed.
If you use a Google Spreadsheet you can set it to automatically fetch or update on a regular basis. If you update the price on your site and don’t update your feed you’ll run into product disapprovals and, if you don’t correct the issues, a possible account suspension.
Tools of the craft
Next to looking at data inside of AdWords and Google Analytics, I use SEMRush.com the most. They have a basic free plan as well as paid options. SEMRush.com will give you detailed insights about either a keyword or a domain. I use it for both keyword and competitive research.
From a Google Shopping or PLA perspective I like to type in our competitors to see their top PLA placements and Ads (PLA data is only available with paid plans). This shows what keywords your competitors Shopping ads are showing up for. You’ll see screenshots of your competitors Shopping ads revealing title, price, and image. I also find SEMRush really helpful for digging in to keywords and finding helpful data faster and in a better format than what you’ll find using the Google Keyword Planner. You’ll find some helpful keyword data even with a free plan.
Use this to see how well optimized your product pages are for your desired keywords. As we mentioned in the Quality Score discussion, it’s most likely in your best interest for your product pages to be relevant for your desired keywords. Following the suggestions provided by the Moz On-Page Grader to help with SEO can also have some benefits with your Shopping Campaigns.
About The Author
CEO of OMG Commerce Brett Curry leads a team of SEO and SEM professionals who manage Google Shopping campaigns for ecommerce companies of all sizes. Brett is also the host of the eCommerce Evolution podcast aimed at bringing you what's new and what's next in the world of eCommerce - eCommerce Evolution.