There’s probably never been a more exciting time for online merchants. Marketing channels abound and new ways to target, reach, and woo potential buyers pop up all the time. But it’s also a time filled with obstacles. Competition is fierce and customers have high expectations for their shopping experiences. Technology has leveled the playing field in some ways, while in others its led to consolidation that has given giants like Amazon a big advantage.
One excellent source of traffic for online merchants is Google Shopping, also known as Product Listing Ads, or PLAs. Google Shopping ads appear along the top of, or often on the upper right hand side of, a search results page when a user searches Google for a product. (Shopping ads also can be found by clicking the Shopping tab.)
Your success as an online merchant hinges on your ability to attract new customers at a reasonable cost. Google Shopping ads are one of the leading traffic sources for giving merchants an edge in a competitive landscape. Here are a few recent success stories of retailers who used Google Shopping ads. The results these merchants saw are not unheard of, but they aren’t necessarily typical either.
A company in the watersport industry who is generating $12 in revenue per click with an average cost per click of only $.24, spend $.24 and get $12 in return...not bad. A parts company who averages $12 to $14 in sales for every $1 spent with Google Shopping ads. And the coup de gras - a company in the outdoor space, who I helped generate $19,000 in sales from 165 transactions with an experimental campaign that spent a total of $67. Yes, you read that right - $19,000 in sales on $67 in total spend….no kidding. Yes this one is like the half court shot at the buzzer - doesn’t happen very often at all, but pretty cool when it does.
Want some more conservative examples? How about 300-600% return on ad spend (ROAS) on average across all the campaigns we managed last year? Would you be willing to spend $1 to get $3-$6 in sales in return? I think most merchants would. So how do you do that? That’s what this guide is all about. From set up–to ongoing management and optimization, we’ll walk you through the X Factors that will help set you up for success.
Over the past few years, Google Shopping has become an established and critically important channel for most online retailers. In Q1 of 2017, Google Shopping accounted for 52% of click share for retailers, marking the first time shopping clicks exceeded search clicks. For non-branded terms, Google Shopping click share is a staggering 75%. (Google Shopping is competitive—it’s still possible for you to promote your products profitably, but it’s not quite as easy as used to be.
It should come as no surprise that Google Shopping clicks on mobile devices are growing at an even faster pace than desktop clicks. In 2016, 29% of Google Shopping revenue came from mobile devices. That was up from 17% in 2015. Also, Google Shopping revenue accounted for 16% of online retail sales in 2016, up from 9% in 2015.
What is Google Shopping and how does it work?
Google Shopping is powered by two platforms: Google Ads and Google Merchant Center. Google Ads is where your shopping campaigns live and where you set your budget, manage your bids, gain insights, and make optimizations based on performance. Google Merchant Center is where your product feed—the details of products organized in a format Google likes—is stored.
The setup and management of Google Shopping ads is quite a bit different from the setup traditional text ads. With text ads, you create campaigns, ad groups, and ads focused around chosen keywords. With Google Shopping, Google uses your feed, your site, and your bids to determine what search queries trigger your ads. Because of this, setting up shopping ads has some strong similarities to SEO.
Success with Google Shopping usually boils down to three main strategies:
- Feed creation and optimization. Also known as feed mastery. This covers a lot of ground, including your product data, product images, and price.
- Bidding. There are several ways to bid successfully (more on that below).. Bidding can be complex—shifts in bidding strategies can double the return on ad spend for different campaigns.
- Monitoring and optimization. One of the great benefits of Google Shopping is it gives you the ability to see granular performance data and make granular optimizations. Proper monitoring and optimization can take a good campaign and make it great.
We’ll dig into the step-by-step details of using Google Shopping shortly. First, let’s lay some foundational elements that will greatly improve your chance of success.
Solid proper preparation and a clear course map are just as crucial to your advertising strategy as doing the actual work of setup and management. To give you an edge over the competition, let’s look at three important components of your strategy: goals, keywords and competition.
Setting goals keep you on track while giving you the freedom and creativity you need to problem solve and achieve what you originally set out to do. Here are a couple of things to consider when setting your goals.
- What is your target cost per acquisition (CPA)? If your average order value is $100 and your average margin is 35%, would you be willing to spend all $35 of profit from that first order to close a deal? Maybe that’s too rich for you, or maybe you’ll be willing to spend more if you know the average lifetime value of your customers. Determine what you are comfortable with and set that number as a maximum target.
- Build a customer or make a sale? There are two types of merchants: those who want to generate sales and those who want to generate customers. Both approaches can make money, but only the later can really build a lasting business and brand made up of customers you can sell to again and again—and who hopefully will refer more customers to you. Google Shopping could work for you either way, but your goal will dictate how aggressive you can be in your bidding and approach.
Keywords and top products
What do you want to sell the most? Your initial answer might be “everything,” but it’s best to think strategically in order to maximize sales.
- Entry products. Maybe you sell a certain line that isn’t your core or most profitable products but serves as a great entry point for your company. Maybe these are lower priced products that your customers need more often, or that they will need before they make a large purchase.
- Consumables. Just like companies who sell low-priced razors with the motivation of then selling more expensive blades, or supplement sellers who want to get you “hooked” on their products, it often pays to advertise products that people will order again and again.
- High price and/or high margin. The products you make the most on–either in terms of total profit or profit margin–are the products you should focus time and effort on selling through your Shopping campaigns.
- Products with low competition but decent demand. If you happen to be in this coveted position, take advantage of it.
How to get your products in front of potential customers
The length and content of a search query can say a lot about intention. Longer, more detailed searches usually indicate someone is looking to make a purchase. Someone who searches “Nike” may just be killing time, but someone who searches “Nike running shoes” is likely an active shopper, and someone who searches “black Nike Air Zoom Pegasus shoe” is probably ready to buy.
Want to know what your customers are actually searching for? Here are three great tools:
- Google Keyword Planner. This is Google’s free tool, available inside of Google Ads, under the Tools tab. You can enter words and phrases related to your product and Google will give you a slew of keyword suggestions, as well as estimated search volume for those keywords and the average cost per clicks you can expect to pay for them. Unfortunately, neither the volume estimates or the CPCs are exact, but they do get you in the right ballpark.
- SEMrush. SEMRush is a marketing toolkit that gives you detailed insights about keywords and domains. It, and provides helpful data faster and in a better format than Google Keyword Planner.
- Keyword Tool. Keyword Tool provides you with keywords related to the keywords you are targeting, pulled from Google’s autocomplete suggestions. This can be helpful in writing feed descriptions or page copy. Using some of the related words that seem relevant to what you’re selling can help you show up in a wider variety of search queries.
INever start running ads without getting a feel for who your competition is and who seems to be successful.
Start by searching Google for your desired keywords. See what pops up in the shopping results, and take note of the products, prices, images, and retailers. Look for product searches that return multiple results from the same retailer—this may just be a sign that they are really well optimized, but often it means there aren’t many other good choices, leaving an opportunity for you.
You can also use one of the tools mentioned above, like SEMrush. Type in the names of your competitors to see their ads and top Product Listing Ads placements (PLA data is only available on SEMrush’s paid plans). This will show what keywords a prospect has Google Shopping placements for. You’ll also see screenshots of your competitors’ Shopping ads, including title, price, and image.
Setting up Google Shopping
You’ll need accounts for Google Merchant Center, Google Ads, and Google Analytics to make Google Shopping work for you. Here’s a quick look at the basics of setting up each one.
Google Merchant Center
Google Merchant Center is where your feed lives. It’s also where you can set tax and shipping rules, both of which are required before running Google Shopping ads. A feed is simply data about your products presented in a format Google can read and understand. 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 in a way Google likes.
Here are a few tips for setting up your Merchant Center account:
- Have access to your domain registrar. You’ll need to verify that you own your site and then claim it for use in Merchant Center. The easiest way to do this is by logging into your domain registrar and giving Google access. This can all be done directly from Merchant Center.
- Know your tax and shipping settings. You’ll need to set up both tax and shipping rules under General Settings in Merchant Center. For sales tax, you can enter your rates directly or pick the states you charge sales tax in and allow Google to determine the rate. For shipping, you can choose between a flat rate (which could include free shipping), a rate calculated based on the carriers you use, or a rate based on a rate table or rules.
- Link Merchant Center to Google Ads. Under Settings and Ads, click Account Linking. You’ll need a 10-digit Google Ads ID, and you’ll need to be logged in with an email address that has admin access to both Merchant Center and Google Ads.
This guide focuses on Google Shopping, but it’s worth also checking out Shopify’s guide to setting up a Google Ads account. Here are a few tips on getting the basic settings in place to run Google Shopping campaigns.
- Create a new campaign. Click the Campaigns tab, then click the red +Campaign button and select Shopping.
- Name your campaign, choose your country, and choose your priority. Naming is important if you plan to have multiple campaigns, which many merchants will, for things like seasonal sales or testing purposes. You have the option of setting your campaign to low, medium, or high priority. Changing the priority is only important if you have multiple campaigns.
The default priority is low, which is fine for your first campaign. If you run multiple campaigns and if you have the same product advertised in more than one of them, Google will decide which campaign (and its corresponding bid) will show up in search results. Google shows products based on campaign priority first and bid second. So, if the same product is in multiple campaigns with the same priority level, then the highest bid will win the impression. If the same product is in multiple campaigns with different bids and different priorities, Google will go with the higher priority campaign first.
- Networks and locations. You will be opted into the Google Search and Search Partners networks by default. Search Partners include sites like AOL and other Google properties, such as YouTube and Google Maps. It’s good to keep Search Partners on to begin with, as the results can be decent and CPC usually are lower than in the Google Search Network. However, you’ll want to come back and run some Search Network reports. Also, don’t skip the location portion, or your ads will show up worldwide.
- Default bid, budget and delivery. We’ll talk more below about advanced bidding, but initially you’ll need to set a default bid. Somewhere in the $.10 to $.85 range is good, depending on the price and competitiveness of what you’re selling. This default bid only applies to products you don’t specify a bid for later. Start out with a fairly conservative bid and watch performance closely.
We recommend using accelerated rather than the default standard delivery. Accelerated delivery will get your products showing up faster and for all the queries that Google finds relevant for you. You can get data faster and find out sooner when campaigns need more budget with this setting.
- Linking analytics and setting up conversion tracking. You can generate a Google Ads tracking code and drop it on your order confirmation page, or you can pull in conversions from Google Analytics. Either way, you will want to link Google Analytics to your Ads account so you get Analytics data inside of Ads and Ads data inside of Analytics. To link your Google Ads and Analytics accounts, click on the wheel in the upper right, by your email address and account ID.
Next, click on Linked Accounts and Google Analytics and follow the steps. Then click on Merchant Center and follow the steps there. You will need to have the same email address with admin access to Google Ads, Google Analytics, and Google Merchant Center.
To create conversion tracking in Google Ads, click on Conversions under the Tools tab.
Then click the red +Conversions button,choose Website as the source, and follow the steps.
We’ll look at Google Analytics reports and how to optimize them below First, here are some of the reasons why you should connect Google Analytics to your Google Ads account.
- More options for conversion tracking. You can slice and dice your Analytics conversion data lots of different ways. Shoppers often visit your site more than once before buying. In Analytics, you can see where your ad clicks occur along the path to conversion. Did someone click on your ad first and then come back later from another source to purchase (first click). Or, did they click on your ad right before purchasing (last click). Google Analytics defaults to showing last-click attribution, or giving all of the conversion credit to the last click, but you can also see first-click and assisted conversions. Looking at the total impact on conversions is important as you evaluate Google Shopping as a channel.
- Customer engagement data. Conversions are the most important metric to show the success of your campaigns, but they’re not the only data point you should consider. Looking at engagement metrics like time on site, average pages per session, and bounce rate can also shed light on overall performance. These additional metrics provide helpful insights into your onsite experience. Taken along with conversion numbers, engagement data provides a well-rounded picture of the vital signs of your site and campaigns.
- Remarketing lists. We’ll discuss remarketing lists and how they apply to Google Shopping below but Google Analytics integration gives you ample opportunity to create new remarketing lists based on how users interact with your site. You can create lists based on pages someone visits (collection page, product page, etc.), goals they’ve completed on the site (like filling out a form or watching a video), or even time they’ve spent on your site. As we’ll see, having segmented lists rather than just an “all visitors” list, gives you more options for smart targeting later.
Setting up your data feed
As mentioned above, your data feed contains information about the products you want to sell, formatted in a way Google can read and understand. You don’t pick the keywords that trigger your Product Listing Ads; Google crawls your feed and determines if one or more of your products is relevant to a particular search query. In this regard, Google Shopping is similar to SEO. You need to structure the various elements of your feed so Google can make sense of it and find it relevant for the appropriate search queries.
Setting up your feed properly is important for three reasons: it ensures your ads show up for the right search queries, it earns clicks (to make prospective buyers want to click your ads), and it makes optimization and management easier.
You can either build your feed manually, by entering your product information into a spreadsheet according to Google’s specifications, or you can use an extension, plugin, app, or service that pulls data from your site and formats it for you.
If you only have a few products, you may choose to create your feed manually 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
Your feed will have different requirements depending on the category of products you sell. Cutting corners or missing steps can cause your feed to be rejected or cost you valuable clicks, so here are the things, in order of importance, to make sure you get right.
Your product title is, arguably, the most important element of your feed. If your product title isn’t accurate and descriptive, Google will have a hard time knowing when to show your ad. If you’re familiar with SEO, a product title is similar to a webpage’s title tag. Here are a few dos and don’ts for creating a great product title:
- Include top keyword(s). What keyword do you want to show up for the most? Include that keyword in the title.
- Use the name of your product. This may be obvious, but using the most commonly known name of your product is important.
- Use color, brand, gender, and size to differentiate. Longer searches usually indicate buyer intent. Someone searching for “blue Adidas Climalite polo” is more likely to convert than someone searching the term “shirt.” Create a detailed title for your product in order to show up in more detailed searches.
- Front load important information. Try to put the most important information first in the title tag. To attract someone searching “business cards,” you could name your product “Business Cards—14 pt. High Gloss Standard Size” rather than “14 pt High Gloss Standard Size Business Cards.”
- Use model number and other descriptors. Depending on the product, searchers could be looking for details like a specific model year or edition.
- Remember Google’s 150-character limit. There is no magic formula for the ideal length of a product title, but, usually, the more detailed the better.
Here’s a good product title example for the Bonavita 8-cup coffee maker
- Keyword stuff. Only use a keyword once per title.
- Add promotional text. “Business Cards—50% Off Now” is not allowed as a title. You can run promotions, but your title isn’t the place to advertise a sale.
- Be vague. Don’t name a product “Nike running shoes,” but rather “Nike Pegasus running shoes 2015.”
- Use all-caps. Over-capitalization will get your product or feeds disapproved by Google.
Google pays close attention to your product 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—justthink in terms of what the buyer would need to know to make a purchase.
- Think keywords.
- Front load important information. Information toward the front of the description carries the most weight, so put emphasis and attention on the opening sentence or two of your product description.
Here’s a product description for an Orca Ccoler that is decent but has a little too much fluff at the beginning. Cutting right to the features is better for a Google Shopping description.
- Keyword stuff. Only use a specific keyword once in your description.
- Be vague or poetic. Think more in terms of how would you describe your product to a person who couldn’t see it rather than telling a story about why the product is great. Stories can be effective when selling on your site or in a video, but they won’t help with Google Shopping. Your description is primarily for Google—most shoppers will never see it.
- 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 a fairly exhaustive list of categories and subcategories that your products can fall under.This is an important (and required) step in getting your products to show up for the right search queries.
- View Google’s taxonomy. Google currently has more than 6,000 categories and subcategories to choose from, so it’s a good idea to download the available Excel file and search to find the category that best suits your product.
- 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 choose the Google product category Vehicle Parts > Vehicle Parts & Accessories, but it would be far better to choose 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. You want your product category to be as specific as possible, but in some cases what you’re selling might not fit neatly into Google’s taxonomy. In that case, get as close as you can and then let your product type further clarify for Google.
Product Type isn’t a required part of your feed, but it’s worth using and getting the most from. If you had a hard time finding the right Google product category, then your product type will be especially important.
- Use your site’s taxonomy or category breadcrumbs. A product page might be structured like this: Chevrolet > Truck Parts > Door Parts > Door Handles. Layered category breadcrumbs give Google insight into what a product is—in this case, a Chevrolet truck door handle. You can just copy and paste the breadcrumbs from your product category into the 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 by typing a > between words. Say your site is structured so that the door handles are simply in Parts > Door Handles. You may want to add in some descriptive layers to your product type, like in the example above, to give Google a clearer picture of what the product is.
A product image is one of the most important factors in getting someone to click on your ad. Remember the following to make sure your images stand out:
- f shoppers can’t clearly see what you’re selling, you you won’t entice many clicks, so use images that are visible as a thumbnail.
- Google requires a white background behind your images.
- Text, watermarks, or logos are prohibited unless they appear on the product itself.
- 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, and make sure your product is shown at a favorable angle.
While a good image will grab someone’s attention, it’s usually the price that has the most influence over whether they click. This is especially true if you’re selling the exact product other retailers are selling. It’s also true if you’re selling products in an area 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, a higher price can actually help attract the right clicks. For example, a client who sells custom vehicle lights will target buyers looking for quality lights that will make their vehicle 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 you’re offering your own brand or a reselling someone else’s, you need to indicate the brand of every product in your feed. A lot of products are searched for by brand, especially by people with a high intent to purchase.
If you are selling apparel you need to provide a few additional data points, including the following (for a complete list of what is required for different apparel products, reference Google’s guide):
- Gender: male, female, unisex
- Age group: newborn, infant, toddler, kids, adult
- Size: either a number or small, medium, large, etc.
- Size type: regular, petite, plus, big and tall, maternity
- Size system: US, UK, EU, etc.
Manufacturer’s product number and global trade identification number
In North America a global trade identification number typically is your UPC code (or ISBN number for books). In the past, Google only required two out of these three fields for all products in a feed: brand, MPN, and GTIN. Now, a GTIN is required for any product a manufacturer assigns one to. If you resell products, you need to inquire with the manufacturer about GTINs/UPCs or you could have items disapproved by Google.
You can specify the rates and states in which you charge sales tax in the General Account setting inside Google Merchant Center.
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 carriercalculated shipping.
Other required information
These data points are quick and easy to add. They’re also required—if you leave one out for a particular product, that product will be ineligible for Google Shopping.
- Availability. Accepted options are “in stock,” “out of stock,” and “preorder”
- Condition. Accepted options are “new” and “used”
Google doesn’t consider custom labels when determining what search queries will trigger your ads. Custom labels are for your benefit only but can help greatly when trying to optimize bids. When making bid changes after looking at performance in Google Ads, you can group your products by brand, category, or custom label. Labels are optional, but 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, and Holiday for easy filtering later.
Quality score for PLAs
Quality score is Google’s way of incentivizing advertisers to create ads and landing pages 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 the quality score in Google Ads, it’s not clearly revealed what your quality score is in Product Listing Ads. 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 three things: your click through rate or expected CTR, your ad relevance; and your landing page experience.
How does this directly impact your Google Ads campaigns? Your ad rank—or the position your ad appears in on the search results page—is determined by this formula: Quality score x maximum cost per click = ad rank. This means that a higher quality score can allow you to pay less than a competitor and still outrank them.
There’s no reason to believe that quality score is much different for PLAs 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 have the greatest influence over relevance for a given keyword. 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, with a Google spreadsheet template, or by auto-generating it using a service, app, or extension. 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 there’s still set up work to be done. Automated options can only pull from data that is currently on your site. However, 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. T
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 set up work here, although it’s well documented. A service like DFW can be helpful for sites with hundreds or thousands of stock-keeping units (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 example, let’s say the 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, but it will do nothing to clue 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. Services like DataFeedWatch make that pretty easy. It also allows you to filter out products based on categories or attributes. The downside to DFW is its monthly fee.
Apps and extensions
The Google Shopping app for Shopify can help you get a feed up and running 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 minimal development costs. The advantage is that you won’t have to pay the monthly fees that come with a service. The disadvantage is that customization of your data is often limited and sometimes a little more time consuming with apps and extension. 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 result 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 the title recommendations in this guide, then select that instead of just your product title when setting up the app.
Once you decide on manual versus automated, log into Merchant Center. Click the Feeds option in the left-hand menu, then click the red +Data Feed button.
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 automatic uploads. Apps and extensions will create a URL where your feed will live so Google can fetch it.
You’ll then need to 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, it’s a good idea to have your feed generated and fetched on a daily basis so there is never much lag time between updates made to products on your site and those updates showing 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
SEMrush. SEMrush offers a basic free plan as well as several paid options. SEMrush gives you detailed insights about either a keyword or a domain. You can type in your competitors’ names to see their top ads and PLA placements (PLA data is only available with paid plans). This shows you what keywords your competitors Shopping ads are showing up for, and you’ll also see screenshots of your competitors’ Shopping ads, revealing title, price, and image. SEMRush is good for digging into keywords and finding helpful data faster and in a better format than what you’ll find using the Google Keyword Planner.
Bidding: The ultimate X factor
After your feed, your bids are the most important part of your Shopping campaigns. They play a key role in determining what queries you show up for and how profitable your campaign is overall. Bid too much and you’ll kill your efficiency. Bid too little and you’ll never gain any traction.
Optimal bids can be a moving target, so how do you find the sweet spot and show up for the right search queries, close sales, and generate a solid return on ad spend? Here are some tips.
The bidding trifecta
There are three main things to consider when determining your bids:
- Product price. Don’t use the same bid for a $1.35 box of screws and a $350 engine.
- Profit margin.Consider your average gross margin. Keep it simple and just looking at price—the cost of goods sold rather than a true profit margin.
- eEcommerce conversion rate. Take into consideration that your conversion rate from paid search is often going to be lower than your site average.
With these three numbers in mind, here’s the formula wto determine your maximum bid. Once you know your maximum, you can scale down from there.
Sales price - cost of goods sold = available profit
Available profit x conversion rate = maximum CPC
Maximum CPC x (between .4 to .75) = initial CPC bid
Let’s say you sell a product that retails for $100 and has a cost of $50. Let’s also say that your conversion rate is 2%, the industry average. Here’s how the calculation would work:
$100 (price) - $50 (cost of goods sold) = $50 (available profit)
$50 (available profit) x 2% (conversion rate) = $1 (maximum CPC)
$1 (maximum CPC) x (.5) = $.50 (initial CPC bid)
Remember two important points:
- Your conversion rate for paid traffic is usually going to be less than your site average. Sometimes it’s on par, but direct visitors and those who search organically for your name convert at a higher rate. Often paid traffic will convert at 10%–30% lower rates than your site average. So if your site average conversion rate is 1% then your paid traffic conversion rate may be closer to .7%–.9%. This isn’t always true. Some products in Google Shopping convert at two to three times a site’s average. In the beginning you won’t know which products will perform well, so it’s usually better to be conservative.
- You may want to bid less initially. This calculation determines your maximum bid. You may want to take this number and cut it in half initially, especially if the maximum CPC following this is north of $1.
Finding your bidding sweet spot—when to bid up, when to bid down
Often, when you first launch your campaign, you’ll need to increase your bids a few times to start gaining impressions and clicks. Don’t be afraid to bump your bids incrementally over the first few weeks. If your ads aren’t getting impressions or clicks and you’re confident in the quality of your feed, then likely you need to bid more. Try bumping bids slightly—$.03 to $.10 at a time until you start getting impressions and clicks.
It’s very rare for a Shopping campaign to hit its daily budget early on. In the beginning stages of your campaign, Google will show your PLAs more conservatively and watch how users respond to them. As your performance metrics (namely your CTR) improve , Google begins showing your ads more frequently for relevant queries.
It’s important to set a budget that gives your campaign room to grow. If your average bid is $1 and your daily budget is only $5, Google know that five clicks at your maximum CPC will wipe out your budget. This makes Google less likely to show your ads, especially if your delivery is set to standard instead of accelerated. Standard delivery means Google will show your ads evenly throughout the day to make your budget last. Accelerated delivery means Google will show your ad whenever it’s eligible to show, as quickly as possible, which is recommended, since the most important thing initially is getting impressions and clicks and finding out what works.
For a $10 item, a $.20 bid is probably high. For a $500 product, maybe a $2 bid would be on the high side. As mentioned above, margins and conversion rates are also a factor. Here are a few more points to keep in mind:
- Lower bids usually equal longer tail keywords. The keyword “business cards” will command a higher CPC than “14 pt high gloss 4/4 business cards.” Interestingly, longer queries usually will convert better. Also, with lower bids your budget goes further. So, sometimes lower bids equal more traffic and more conversions.
- Bid high for good position, branding, awareness, and competitive terms. Sometimes the keywords that convert are the really competitive ones that cost more. Or there are times when you want exposure for a particular product and immediate ROI is secondary to exposure. Let’s say you launch a new BBQ grill and you want it to show up for various BBQ grill keywords. You might bid more and focus on impressions and clicks rather than immediate conversions, especially if you have a remarketing campaign or email follow-up system in place.
- Performance bidding. Is a product selling? Bump the bid slightly to see if you can get more exposure for more keywords and sell even more. Is a product getting clicks but not selling? Reduce the bid, as you might be showing up for competitive, non-buyer keywords. Or, check the page and the competition. Maybe your landing page needs some conversion optimization, or maybe your price is too high or your competitor is running a promotion.
- Seasonal bidding. CPCs are mainly driven by competition, meaning more competitors bidding will increase maximum CPC. For seasonal products like plants, holiday decorations, sporting equipment, back-to-school supplies, snow gear, or beach attire, you’ll need a seasonal bidding plan. Some seasonal products will sell year-round but in smaller quantities and at lower bids in the off season. Have your products segmented in a way that will allow for easy increases and decreases in bidding depending on the season.
The ABCs of bidding - always be checking
Bidding for Google Shopping is not a set-it-and-forget-it process. Competition, seasonality, business goals, and product performance are all moving targets. Your bids will need to go up or down depending on these and other factors.
How often should you update bids?
- One to three times per week for the first month. If you discover that you bid too low initially and you need to start incrementally bumping bids, then making changes every few days is fine. Take into consideration that, for a lot of businesses, weekends are not accurate reflections of performance. If you make bid adjustments right before or during the weekend, you’ll probably want to let them ride for a few weekdays to accurately see how performance is impacted.
- Weekly for feeds of more than 50 products. Once your shopping campaigns are running profitably, adjusting bids on a weekly basis based on performance should be fine, depending on your overall volume. If you’re selling hundreds of products and spending north of $5,000 to $10,000 per month, checking performance daily and then making bid changes a few times per week rather than just once per week is a good idea.
- One to three times per month for feeds of less than 50 products. For smaller product feeds you should check in weekly, but likely you’ll only be adjusting bids one to three times per month.
Tight product groups
Forming tight product groups will help tremendously when managing bids and watching performance. One of the biggest keys to success with Google Shopping campaigns is to see what’s working and what’s not and then adjusting accordingly. If you have more than a handful of products, you’ll need to group them in a way that makes it easy to track performance and make changes.
In Google Ads, click on Google Shopping Campaign, then on Shopping Campaign Ad Group. While it’s possible to have just one ad group in your campaign, it’s often recommended to have multiple groups for easier management.
Clicking on Ad Group will take you to the product group area, where you can divide and subdivide your products. Just click the plus sign next to a current group to subdivide further. You have several options on how to divide your products, including brand, category, product type, and custom label.
Brand. You can subdivide your products by brand to make it easier to watch performance and adjust bids. This puts all products made by a certain brand into one group. When you click the drop down arrow next to the brand name you can see the individual products within that group. You can also see the metrics for each product, including impressions, clicks, click through rate, conversions, and more.
Category. This is based on Google product category. These categories are pretty broad and may included a lot of products in your feed in one category.
Custom label. You can give products in your feed up to five different custom labels, such as “top seller,” “back to school,” “Black Friday,” or “snowboarding gear.” These labels are used for quick reference and segmentation for bid management.
Product type. This is based on the product type specified in your feed and on your site taxonomy or category breadcrumbs. It’sa great way to segment products, as it mirrors your site in terms of product categorization.
SKU level bidding
Looking at the segmentation above, you might have one brand or category that performs well, but inside of that brand or category will be multiple products, some performing strong and others hogging budget with no sales to show for it. The best way to truly maximize your return with Shopping campaigns is to create unique bids by stock keeping unit and optimized based on performance. Whether you have your products grouped by brand, category, product type, or label, you can click on the drop down arrow next to the product group name to see all of the products contained in that group. Then you can see performance by SKU. To see conversion metrics you’ll need to click on the Columns drop down, then click on the arrows by Conversions to add the conversion metrics you want to see.
What if you could bid differently for your best customers? What if you could tell Google, “When you see a searcher like this, I want to bid more.” Say, for example, that someone has been to your site before and made a purchase. Now they are back on Google searching for a product they don’t know you offer. It makes sense to bid more for them than you would for a prospect you know nothing about.
Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs) are now available for Google Shopping ads. When first introduced, remarketing only applied to display ads. Site owners would drop a pixel in the browser of visitors to their sites and then follow those visitors around the web with ads trying to entice them back to make a purchase. Some advertisers don’t know it, but you can also use remarketing for search ads. T
You will need to add a remarketing tag to your site or use Google Analytics to enable remarketing. If you use Google Analytics, you might need to update your tracking code.
Once you are enrolled and have remarketing turned on, you can then build lists in your shared library. (Lists are basically collections of visitors to your site who meet certain criteria.) You can then advertise to your different lists in different ways if you so chose, such as:
- All visitors, to get a list of anyone who's visited your site before
- Abandoned cart, for visitors who add something to their cart and leave without buying
- Product viewers, those who got to a product product page on your site
- Previous buyer, those who have purchased before
Customer Match lists
This list type allows you to upload your customer email list to Google to “match” against its users. You can then target these users in a variety of ways and with different channels, from search to display to YouTube and Google Shopping. These lists can be useful in helping you target customers who’ve bought from you in the past, but may be searching on Google for another product they don’t know you sell. Or maybe they’ve purchased from you in the past, but can’t remember your URL or name. Using Customer Match allows you to bid more aggressively when someone on your list is searching for products on Google.
One of the best reasons to upload your customer list is so you can create a similar audience. This is where Google creates an audience that is similar in search behavior to your other remarketing lists. So you can create an audience that is similar in search behavior to your customers (similar to Customer Match) or similar to all visitors or any of your other remarketing lists. This allows you to bid more aggressively when someone behaves like your best customers.
If you have any video content on YouTube, you might also consider using YouTube lists for targeting. You can often target users who subscribe to your YouTube channel and/or those who have viewed a particular YouTube video.
Bidding: reporting and optimization
Optimizing your bids by examining reports can turn a good marketing channel into one of your best and most profitable. With Shopping campaigns there’s a lot to see and several levels to pull in order to adjust performance. These are reports you’ll want to review at least on a monthly basis. Some of most helpful information can be found in Google Ads. From your Shopping campaign, click the Dimensions tab, then click to view by Shopping and then Item ID in the drop downs.
While actual bid adjustment amounts and strategies will vary from company to company, here are some helpful best practices.
- Products with no impressions. Most likely this means your bids are too low, or that your feed isn’t providing Google with clear enough information to display your products. You can start by increasing your bids first and consider feed changes later. After increasing bids you’ll want to go back through your feed and confirm that you followed the recommendations in this guide for product titles, descriptions, and so on.
- Products with high impressions, no (or low) clicks. This is a scenario where Google finds your product relevant for different search queries, but users aren’t clicking on your listing. More often than not, this is an indication of a product price issue. See for yourself by using the ad preview and diagnosis tool in Google Ads and looking at what ads display for your search queries. Likely, your competitors are charging less than you by a significant enough amount to discourage users from clicking on your ad. This high-impression, low-click scenario can also be caused by poor image quality. Conduct searches in Google or with the ad preview and diagnosis tool and see how your images stack up to the competition. To identify these products, first go to the Dimensions tab, shown above, and click to view by Shopping and then by Item ID. Then sort by clicking on the Impressions column to filter products from high to low impressions. Look for products with less than a 1% CTR.
- Products with high clicks, no conversions. This is when Google finds you relevant and users find you attractive enough to click your PLAs but then don’t buy. Likely this is a product page issue. Check out your competition by clicking their ads and analyzing their landing pages. There are several things you can look for from a conversion optimization standpoint, but it’s best to start with the basics:
- Do they offer free shipping?
- Are shipping options listed by the Add to Cart button?
- Do they offer guarantees?
- Do they have more or better product reviews than you?
- Do they offer better and clearer product images or product videos than you?
- Do they offer financing or some other special incentive that you don’t?
It’s possible you might need to lower your bids to start showing up for longer tail keywords that have a higher probability of converting.
Also, you may need to edit your feed if you have info in your title or description that is misleading or causing you to show up for unwanted keywords. You can also add negative keywords to block unwanted search queries from triggering your ad.
Search query report
Search query reports show the actual queries searchers type into Google that result in ad impressions for you. It’s a good idea to run this report in Google Analytics, but you can also easily run it in Google Ads. In Google Analytics, click on the Acquisition tab at the left, then the Ads drop down, then click on Search Queries.
Then you can choose your date range and sort by clicks, impression, or conversions. If you are running text campaigns and Shopping campaigns, you’ll want to click on Secondary Dimension and choose Campaign.
Once you set up the secondary dimension, it’s helpful to create a filter to just look at Shopping campaigns. Click the blue link labeled Advanced, next to the search box.
Then select to include campaigns containing the name of your Shopping campaign or campaigns, and click Apply.
It’s helpful to look at a two-to-three month window to see keyword performance over time, as well as several-week and one-week windows to see trends. Look for searches approaching 100 queries with no conversions or limited revenue compared to cost. You can then consider if you need to add keywords as negatives or possibly change your feed or reduce bids for certain products.
Product performance report
Product performance reports show you what specific products are selling. When you sort by advertising campaign type you can see exactly what products are selling from your shopping campaigns. This can be used to supplement what you would find in Google Ads in the Dimensions tab, where you can see conversions by Item ID. In Google Analytics, under Conversions, click the Ecommerce drop down, then click on Product Performance.
Next you’ll want to apply a filter to show only products sold by your Shopping campaigns. First add a secondary dimension of Advertising > Campaign.
Then click the Advanced link next to the search box.
Next, filter to include campaigns containing the name of your Shopping campaign and click Apply.
Ad Extensions and Other Extras
As mentioned earlier, you can’t add promotional text to your product titles or descriptions but you can run promotions. There are two main types of promotions: promotional text and promotional feeds, aka special offers.
When you hover over a product listing image, you’ll see the product title, the price, and the domain name of the advertiser selling the product. Below the domain name you’ll see promotional text, if the advertiser has added it. In the example below, the promotional text for the Tom’s shoes ad is “Free Shipping on Orders $25+.” This promotional text is very easy to add, but when you add it, it will apply to all products in a given ad group.
To add promotional text, click on your Shopping campaign and then click on the ad group you want to add promotional text to.
Click on the Ads tab, and then click on the name of the ad to create the promotional text. The name of the ad will always be Product Listing Ad.
You have 45 characters to write something that will help entice a click. Often, a free shipping offer can work well here. Add your offer and click Save.
Promotional feeds/special offers
This type of promotion shows up under your Product Listing Ad as a special offer with a little price tag icon. When you click the icon, a description of the special offer drops down with a coupon code to enter at checkout.
To set this up, you’ll need to create a promotional feed. In order to do that you must first contact a Google Ads representative and ask to be whitelisted for promotions. Or you can fill out the merchant promotions interest form.
After that, you can create your promotions one of two ways. You can use the +Promotions tool in Google Merchant Center, which usually is easiest if you have just a few promotions. Or, if you have a lot of promotions, you can upload a promotions feed. To do that, click on the +Data Feed button in the feeds area, and chose Promotions in the Type drop down.
These special offers can attract attention and clicks and also help with conversions. For more information on setting up promotional feeds, reference the Merchant Center guide.
Product ratings can make a substantial difference in the overall performance of your Shopping campaigns. A study from BrightLocal showed that 79% of consumers trust product reviews as much as personal recommendations. Recently, Think with Google released a stat that searches including the word “best” have grown 80% in the past two years. When you add the word “best” to your search query, Google will show Shopping results with the best product reviews.
In many product searches, like the basketball goal search below, only one or two merchants have product ratings visible. This can give them a decided advantage for attracting clicks.
In other cases, most or all of the merchants have product ratings visible. This would make it difficult for a product without reviews to compete for clicks.
To get set up showing product reviews you’ll need to get approval from Google. Start by completing and submitting the product ratings interest form. Google will contact you within 10-15 days of submission with next steps for getting product reviews to appear with your Shopping ads.
Third party ratings aggregators
Google can integrate with several thrid party tools for collecting review, including Bazaarvoice, eKomi, PowerReviews, Shopper Approved, and Yotpo.
Getting the most from Google Shopping requires some time and attention to detail, but it’s usually worth the effort. Product Listing Ads work because they connect buyers and sellers in a very efficient way. This remains one of the most effective platforms to reach new buyers, even though competition is on the rise.
A Think with Google study reported that 50% of shoppers are open to buying from new retailers. Google Shopping is the perfect platform to connect interested and open shoppers with your brand and product line. If you’re looking to grow your customer base and sell more products in a proven, measurable way, there’s no better channel to work with than Google Shopping. Now go work on your feed, craft a few campaigns, and start making some sales!
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.