Ecommerce Marketing / Google Shopping & PPC

Google’s Doubling Down on Ads. Here’s How to Optimize Your Google Shopping Ads Now.

Tracey Wallace / 10 min read

Have you been watching?

Google and Amazon are in a showdown.

Just check out how their ad listings currently look:

google shopping versus amazon shopping results

Google Shopping search versus Amazon Shopping search (via Search Engine Land)

But Google isn’t stopping with a similar design. They are placing themselves firmly in the corner of businesses.

In March 2018, Google announced their Shopping Actions launch –– a tool aimed at helping retailers compete against Amazon.

In early beta programs, Google retail partners saw the average size of a customer’s shopping basket increase by 30% after joining the program.

The program at current is quite limited.

This is important for retailers and advertisers to follow so they can understand how they should divide up their marketing dollars.

The goal of Google’s Shopping Actions Program is to provide shoppers a few key benefits:

  • Universal cart checkout experience regardless of where a product is from
  • Single-click reordering
  • Integration with Google Express, Google Search, and smart speakers (i.e. voice commerce!)
  • Pay-per-sale instead of Pay-per-click

Now, getting into the program is a bit strict for most retailers. Currently the program is based only in the U.S. and while you can apply to participate, it is invite-only at the writing of this article.

That said, Google is clearly investing more and more in their ads product.

No better time, then, to do a deep dive on Google PLAs, also known as Google Shopping Ads.

Because the absolute best position your brand can be in is with highly optimized Google PLAs as they invest in the platform and help your items on your own branded site show up higher than those from Amazon.

Let the showdown begin. After all, it’s only win-win for you.

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What are Google Shopping Ads?

google shopping ads on serps

Google Shopping Ads are optimized for conversion based on factors known to engage online shoppers with a product.

These include showcasing:

  • Product image.
  • Product title.
  • Price.
  • Reviews.
  • Discounts (if they apply).
  • Locality.

PLAs display at the top of search results, above search ads.

google shopping ads above search results

Google PLAs displaying at the top of search results.

They also appear in the upper right corner of search results.

Since Google has long removed right side ads from desktop search results, PLAs are the only ads that show in this position.

google search side page results

Google PLAs displaying in the upper right corner of search results. Since February 2016, these are the only type of ads that show in this position on desktop.

Now that you understand what Product Listing Ads are, let’s talk about why they are important for your business and how to use them.

Why PLAs are Important

PLAs allow you to take up additional visual  real estate on Google’s search engine results page (SERP).

Combining a Google Shopping strategy with your current paid search and SEO tactics will help you earn the full visual real estate of Google – increasing your chance for click-thru traffic!

Google Shopping dominate serps

Example of Allied Hand Dryer using organic search, paid search, and Google Shopping to dominate the SERP.

The Difference Between Google AdWords & Merchant Center

Google Shopping campaigns are often lumped in with traditional paid search campaigns because you can manage them within the AdWords interface.

However, you actually need to use a completely different Google tool and setup to start creating your Product Listing Ads (or Google Shopping Ads): Google Merchant Center.

The shopping campaigns also function a bit differently, as well.

Google Text Ads (AdWords) use keywords for bids.

Google Shopping Ads (Merchant Center) are bid on by product or product category.

This means that Google ultimately decides which keyword or keyword group your big on a product falls into.

How Google decides what is relevant is based on information submitted through the product data feed.

This data feed includes loads of information, such as:

  • Product name.
  • Category.
  • Image address.
  • Pricing.
  • Color.
  • Size.
  • Inventory.
  • Brand.
  • Description.

The data feed for Google Shopping campaigns can be submitted through the Google Merchant Center.

How-to Setup Google Shopping:

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How to Optimize Your Google Shopping Ad Campaigns

Getting setup on Google Merchant Center is just the first hurdle.

Google Shopping / PLAs are expensive. And it behooves you to figure out how to increase your ROAS (return on ad spend) over time.

Here are 10 tactics to make sure your ads improve in performance over time, rather than become a debt center.

1. Optimize your feed with common SEO tactics.

Google Shopping pulls relevant keyword data from the data feed you submit to your merchant account –– or that you submit through the Sales & Orders app..

The keywords you include in your feed will determine how Google decides to show your ads in relevant search queries.

Therefore, you want to structure your SEO with an information hierarchy in mind.

Your product title, one the most important elements in your feed, provides insight into how this looks.

bigcommerce control panel product details

The product title should be optimized based on the type of product you are selling, but an simple way to think of title optimization is detailed below.

Google Shopping example ad product title

Example of a Google PLA where the product title has been optimized to contain brand, style, color, size and product details.

How to Optimize a Google Shopping Product title:
  1. Brand.
  2. Style.
  3. Model.
  4. Color.
  5. Size.
  6. Other important features or options.

You’ll also want to apply this same strategy when optimizing your product description.

Include relevant information such as:

  • Patterns
  • Textures
  • Shape
  • Materials
  • Technical specifications.

Google Shopping bigcommerce control panel settings

You can input all of this information for each individual product on your product information detail page.

Make sure your titles and descriptions are clear, descriptive, and useful for the customer.

Be careful not to keyword-stuff your product feed.

Brett Curry, CEO, OMG Commerce

Get your feed right! Work to properly optimize your titles, descriptions, product types and other required data points. While data feeds aren’t sexy, they are the foundation of your Google Shopping campaign. A weak or under-optimized feed leads to anemic Google Shopping campaigns.

At best your campaigns will be an uphill battle if your feed is under optimized. I could argue that bidding is where the “magic happens” for Google Shopping, but without the proper feed everything else suffers.

2. Include negative keywords.

You can optimize your product feed for keywords but you cannot actually bid on keywords in your campaigns.

However, you can add negative keywords to indicate when your ads should not show up.

Start by adding known irrelevant terms then continue to review your search terms report to identify low performing terms.

Negative keywords can be used at the campaign level, or added to specific ad groups.

Let’s say you sell shoes for women, but not men’s or kid’s shoes.

You would want to add [-mens], [-male], [-kids] and [-childrens] to your negative keyword list so your product listings don’t show for queries with these terms.

Use the proper match type to exclude keywords by one of the below based on your strategy:

  • Broad match
  • Broad match modified
  • Phrase match
  • Exact match based

Google Shopping adwords negative keyword

Add negative keywords at the campaign level, as shown here, or the ad group level.

Jan Lastuvka, CEO & Co-Founder, MonkeyData

Set negative keywords to your campaigns so that you do not pay for clicks that are not related to your budget.

For example, if you sell baseball cleats, set [-football] and [-rugby] as negative keywords so that people looking for these products do not see your ads and therefore do not potentially click on them, driving up your costs when they’re not actually interested in your products.

3. Include a product’s GTIN.

Google requires all retailers to provide a Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN), more commonly known as UPCs in the United States, on all new in-stock products advertised through Shopping campaigns.

Google states that GTINs help them determine the exact product and brand being sold, and thus increase exposure because they have more details on the product.

If you source products from local or boutique manufacturers that do not have GTINs (or other product identifiers), however, you can set the “identifier_exists” field to false. Or, simply click the “no unique product identifier” button for the specific products.

bigcommerce control panel no gtin

4. Break out your campaigns based on profit margin/performance.

Google Shopping allows you to bid on specific products instead of keywords, and the best way to do this is bucket your products into product groups.

Product groups allow you to seperate your products into relevant categories, similar to how you may categorize your products on your website.

This is useful because you can set different bids for each product groups based on their performance or their profit margins.

Google Shopping adwords ad group

Ad Groups with various biddings (via PPC Hero)

Keep the ROI of your products in mind because this will help you determine how to set you bids per product group.

This data can be used to help you adjust your campaign structure and create different ad groups.

Consult your BigCommerce analytics or Google Analytics data to see which products are selling well.

bigcommerce control panel insights

Add these best sellers to a specific ad group and raise the bids to increase exposure of these popular and profitable products.

If a product isn’t performing well in Google Shopping, remove it from its current category and place in a new ad group with a lower bid.

Google Shopping adwords product performance

Start by looking in the “Products” section of AdWords to find top or lowest performing products, which may be placed in separate ad groups for modified bids.

You can also use Google Shopping’s campaign priority to make sure the right campaigns are prioritized in Google’s auction.

Google Shopping adwords campaign priority

Where to set your campaign priority in AdWords (via Search Engine Land)

William Harris, Ecommerce Consultant, Elumynt

Get granular with your bids. Every product has a different profit margin and different profit amount in terms of dollars. You should be bidding on each product according to the amount you can afford for each product.

If you have 35,000 products, that might seem daunting to you. Hiring the right agency to manage this can usually more than make up for the cost by making each product more profitable.

5. Send your feed to Google every day.

Providing your product data feed to Google on a daily basis will ensure that all information is current and accurate.

This can help to increase the likelihood of placement, as Google favors merchants that provide consistent and clean data

It also creates a better experience for searchers, making sure that the information they see in the ad is the same information they see when they click through to your site.

Google Shopping merchant center feed

Set up scheduled fetches so that Google automatically pulls and updates your product information throughout the day. Or, use your Sales & Orders app to automate this.

6. Strategically select your product images.

Ensure that each product has a relevant, targeted image.

Use photos that differentiate your product from others listed in Google Shopping ads to help your ad stand out among the competition.

When selecting images, consider the following to have a properly optimized image:

  • Use high-resolution images.
  • Use images that match your various options.
  • Don’t use images with texts or watermarks.
  • Test product images vs lifestyle images.

Google Shopping image results

Notice how the highlighted ad contains background details, making it stand out among the other bike that are on a simple white background.

Aaron Agius, Managing Director, Louder Online

Obviously, when you’re optimizing your PLAs, you want to do things like keep your feed updated and take SEO best practices into account.

But one really simple thing I’ve seen make a big difference in people’s campaigns is changing up the images they use so that they stand out from competitors.

So many people either use manufacturers’ stock photos or try to replicate them, that a really easy way to drive clicks and sales is just to use a different angle, background or photo style.

7. Make your products eligible for ratings & review count.

Google can show a star rating and review count under your product’s title in the PLAs.

The ratings and reviews are aggregated from multiple sources, such as your site, third-party aggregators, editorial sites and users.

Google Shopping review extensions

Example of PLAs with ratings and review count included.

These ratings can help make your ad stand out and showcase the quality of your product.

For a rating to show on your ad, you must have at least three reviews on any single product and at least 50 reviews across all products.

How to Get Reviews:
  • Ask your customer for reviews on product they’ve purchased through BigCommerce’s build-in comment system or using a third-party service.
  • This will help you grow your overall review count and make your products eligible for this feature.
  • Once you’ve amassed enough reviews to be eligible, you must send a request to Google to have reviews added.

Michael Ugino, Co-founder, Sellbrite

Be sure your store will benefit from Google Seller Ratings. Apply to be a Google Trusted Store, and use a review tool like TrustPilot or Yotpo to drive reviews for your products.

Also, optimize your data feed! If you’re sending Google incorrect information about your products, like the wrong pictures, wrong categories, it can really stall your ROAS.

8. Optimize feed for automated extensions.

Google Shopping utilizes automated extensions that show promotional messaging in PLAs.

Automated extensions use information you submit to Merchant Center and through your data feed to show free shipping or price drops.

Ensuring these messages can be found in your feed will increase likelihood of extensions being added to your ads.

It’s possible to add other types of promotional messages, such as percent off or BOGO. To do this, however, you must follow some strict guidelines and request access from Google.

9. Implement a remarketing strategy.

Adding a remarketing campaign to target visitors who viewed your product from a shopping ad is a great way to improve your ecommerce conversion rates.

You can create custom image ads or dynamic product ads to serve visitors who did not initially convert on your site.

Product image ads are a great choice because they show the latest product a visitor viewed helping you keep your brand and products top of mind.

Google Shopping product remarketing

Example of a product ad remarketing ad.

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We’re seeing ridiculously high returns on ad spend (the range of 16x-32x!) using Remarketing and Customer Match Audiences for Google Shopping.

If you’re limited by budget (which is generally the case), this really is your lowest hanging fruit by an order of magnitude.

10. Include store integrations.

Finally, use integrations with your store to help manage and keep your Google product feed up-to-date.

Apps like Google Shopping by Sales & Orders makes it easy to keep your Google Shopping campaigns functioning and accurate.

Catalin Zorzini, Founder, Ecommerce-Platforms.com

My best advice for selling here is integration. Once you establish a presence on Google Shopping and build your own brand, it’s actually not that different from managing your online store.

Accepting payments and completing orders should come easy, but it’s your ecommerce platform that dictates how easy it is to integrate with your online store and make sure that all the right details are displayed on the Google Shopping pages.

For example, BigCommerce has most of the functionality built in for your own use. This ensures that customers won’t be disappointed when you’re out of stock or if your product details conflict with what actually comes with an item. Not to mention, you can spend more time discovering other marketing tactics through Google Shopping.

Executive Summary

As Google continues to heavily invest in their sponsored ads (both text and Google Shopping Ads), especially in the face of Amazon’s dominance on search and revenue through their own sponsored product listings, it’s imperative brands optimize for Google PLAs right now.

Why?

Because ever new investment and update by Google to their ads products helps to increase your visibility, driving more sales to your owned website where you can capture emails, drive retention and build your brand equity.

Here’s a quick checklist on how to optimize your Google PLAs.

If you’re already optimized, then go ahead, sit back and watch the Google v. Amazon showdown.

Google Shopping Optimization Checklist:
  1. Optimize your feed with common SEO tactics.
  2. Include negative keywords.
  3. Include a product’s GTIN.
  4. Break out your campaigns based on profit margin/performance.
  5. Send your feed to Google every day.
  6. Strategically select your product images.
  7. Make your products eligible for ratings & review count.
  8. Optimize feed for automated extensions.
  9. Implement a remarketing strategy.
  10. Include store integrations.

Have you seen particular success with a Product Listing Ad campaign? Let us know in the comments below.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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