Seven Smart Standards for Google Shopping

This is a guest post by Jacques van der Wilt, the founder of WordWatch and DataFeedWatch.

Google Shopping replaced the free Google Product Search in October 2012. If you look at a Product Listing Ad (PLA), you immediately see why this ad-type is much more powerful.

Results from various agencies shows that these picture-ads outperform text ads on conversion rate and cpc. American merchants are already spending up to 30% of their budget on Google Shopping.

If you are getting started with PLAs, go by the Seven Smart Standards below to get the most out of your Google Shopping campaign.

1.  The Basics: Get ’em right
Before you start bidding, make sure that you have covered the basics:

  • Export your product feed to your Google Merchant Center (GMC) and link your GMC to your AdWords account.
  • Make sure that your feed is updated on a daily basis, so your ads always reflect your current offerings.
  • The feed has to meet all Google’s requirements. If it doesn’t, Google just won’t show your ads. Check for errors in your Google Merchant Center and use a data feed optimization tool if you need to solve any. This includes assigning the proper Google Categories to your products. The more specific the sub-category, the better your conversion rate.
  • Remember to organize your sales funnel. No matter how grand your campaigns may be, you need to convert visitors to buyers on your website.
  • Have tracking code for AdWords & Analytics installed on your site.
  • Google doesn’t want you to shout and will not accept Titles in UPPER case or with exclamation marks!!!
  • Product Listing Ads on Google’s Search Engine Result Page (SERP) generate the major part of the traffic generated by Google Shopping. Only a small part originates from the Google Shopping site. So when you start optimizing your feed and your campaign, focus on the SERP!

2.  The Picture: Worth more than a 1,000 words
The pictures of the PLAs are powerful. Everyone’s eyes are drawn to it. The picture may be more important for an apparel merchant than for a shop selling widgets, but still: it is human nature to judge a book by the cover. So make every effort to get the best possible pics of your products. Also: if you have several pictures for each product, make sure that the best one is the one that is shown in your PLA.

3.  The Title: Make me beautiful
Titles may be less powerful, but remember that a PLA only has 3 components and this is the second one. So make ‘m work. Make them compelling. Include the brand if it adds value (What is ‘501’ without Levi’s). And put the most important message in the first part: Google will allow you up to 70 characters, but on the SERP, everything after approx. 30 characters is cut off.

4.  The Price: Less important than you might think
On Google Shopping, consumers will actively sort on price and if your product is not among the cheapest, it will not make the buyer’s shortlist. But on the SERP, price comparison plays a much smaller role. People see 8 products at the most and they can only sort on price visually. So don’t focus too much on competing on price: Bidding 10% more to make sure your PLA always makes it to the SERP, will probably cost you a lot less than sacrificing your gross margin. If you advertise the same products on other Comparison Shopping Engines, price is of course still important.

5.  The Bids: Follow the money
The key to setting bids is to create product targets that have a similar conversion rate. But you have to bear in mind where you make your money and apply several of the following strategies:

  • Brand & Product type: this makes sense when you get started. Products of a similar type or brand may have similar conversion rates. So set a bid for each brand or product type (or combination of the two) and then start optimizing based on the results.
  • The 80/20 rule: Most shops have a few products that generate a large part of the revenue. Each of those products should get their own product target (use the ID-attribute) so you can monitor and optimize your best selling products.
  • Gross margin: If 2 products have the same conversion rate, but a very different gross margin, you don’t want them to be in the same product target: You want to bid more on the product that makes you more money.
  • AdWords Labels: you may find that the blue shirts have a much higher conversion rate than the other colors. Or the large screens do better than the small ones. In that case, you want to increase your bid for the blue ones or the large ones. AdWords enables you to set a bid for any attribute, if you add that attribute to your data feed as an AdWords Label. So modify your feed to include your favorite attribute and use it to create a separate product target.

6.  The Losers: Take ’em out
You should not advertise all your products. Analyze your data and ask yourself: which products are really making me money? Take the losers out of your feed and stop wasting your money there. Examples:

  • Seasonal products: don’t sell winter stuff in April
  • Cheap products: the CPA often exceeds the gross margin. So you lose money every time you sell an item.
  • The Unsellables: some products just won’t sell. Maybe Google is not the right channel, maybe these products have a bad landing page, maybe you just can’t compete for these products or maybe they are sooooo 2009.

You have 3 ways to deal with that:
a. Find out why they have a poor performance and fix it.
b. Put your losers in separate product targets and make sure you don’t end up losing money on them
c. Exclude them from your feed completely and focus on your winners.

7.  The Feed: Foundation of it all
Getting Google to accept your feed is just a start. But once you have figured out how to deal with the previous 6 items, it’s time to optimize your feed, so that it serves as a perfect foundation for your AdWords campaign, the product pages on Google Shopping and PLAs on Google’s result page. Applying the knowledge of the previous points to the feed, would lead to the following data feed optimizations:

  • Modify your feed to match Google’s format.
  • Assign the right Google Category to your products
  • Use your best picture as the primary image_link
  • Rewrite your Titles for maximum impact
  • Create AdWords Labels or AdWords Groups in your feed
  • Exclude your poor performers

Data feed management can be done in many different ways, but there is one guiding principle: you need to optimize your feed continuously to run a successful campaign on Google Shopping and other Shopping Channels.

About the Author
Jacques van der Wilt has worked in online media for more than 20 years. He has held leadership positions in both the US and Europe. In the past 10 years he has worked as an entrepreneur and founded several start-ups. He is also a mentor at accelerator Startupboothcamp. As founder of WordWatch (automated bid management) he became an expert in search engine marketing for medium sized advertisers and with its spin-off DataFeedWatch (a web-based tool for merchants to optimize their data feed for Google Shopping and other comparison shopping channels) he established a leadership position in managing data feeds and Product Listing Ads campaigns.