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.

Product Listing Ads: The Power of Segmentation

This is a guest post by James Kelly, Senior SEM Analyst of National Positions.

Product Listing Ads have grown immensely in popularity over the last year and many articles have been written detailing the importance of getting them live. At this point the real question is how to maximize exposure and profitability for your ecommerce marketing campaign.

Feed and bid optimization is the first place that many people look. Both of these are of critical importance, but I find that advertisers spend so much time worrying about these issues that the actual campaign structure is often ignored. The decision on how to structure and segment your PLA campaigns will dictate your ability to analyze and optimize the campaigns over time.

Google provides us with the ability to segment PLA’s by product type, condition, brand, ID or custom fields within your feed (adwords_grouping & adwords_labels). The first pitfall that many advertisers encounter is choosing conflicting segments, so that any single product could have as many as five or six bids coming from different targets. While campaigns built in this way may appear incredibly detailed, they are unwieldy and are difficult to manage effectively.

Targeting

With this in mind, a good first step is choosing a primary targeting method. Each product will inevitably have multiple targets, but there should be one targeting method that you intend to use for the majority of your bid optimization that will have higher bids relative to your secondary targeting methods. The idea here is to try to remove as much of the conflicting bids as possible so that you can actually dial things up when they are converting, or down when they are not. If a single product has six bids and no rhyme or reason as to which one is highest, it will be very difficult to do something as simple as lower the bid on that product by 50% without also lowering the bid on all related products with similar targets.

My primary targeting method of choice is the adwords_labels field filled with a unique ID for each product. In this case, I have the ability to control my bid for individual products to avoid missed opportunities and wasteful spending. Targeting each product individually can allow greater levels of control, but it can be difficult to account for new products or changes in the feed, which is why additional targeting is required.

Secondary targeting methods can be thought of as catch-alls, whose main purpose is to pick up any products that have not been picked up by your primary targets. I generally use a product type or brand as the secondary targeting method depending on what makes more sense for the particular client. The secondary target must have artificially low bids so that they do not overlap any of your primary targeting. I have heard clients express concerns that the bids are too low, but with proper execution, the secondary targets should be more of a safety net than an active target. If you notice that a secondary target is receiving significant amounts of traffic, this should be a sign to take a look at your primary targets to see what is leaking through. To err on the safe side, I also use an all products target with a much lower bid (sometimes a penny bid) to ensure that I have basic coverage for new products that may not have other targets.

Campaign Structure

Once the various levels of targeting have been sorted out, the last remaining question is how to structure the targets into campaigns, ad groups and targets. With a smaller product count, I typically create a unique ad group for each product containing my primary targeting method in a single campaign. Secondary targets will also have unique ad groups so that all bids can be managed from the ad groups tab.

Accounts that have tens of thousands of products will more than likely need additional structure in place, if nothing else to avoid the 20k ad group per campaign limit. There are two approaches for breaking down these larger catalogs. The first is to create multiple campaigns (possibly broken down by product type or brand) so that you can keep your bids at the ad group level. The second option is to create ad groups for each product type/ brand with targets for each individual product within that ad group. Product level bid optimization would need to be done on the target level in this second option.

No matter how you decide to segment your PLA campaigns, it is important to have a primary targeting method in mind to avoid overlapping bids. Structure provides control over the bids, which will give you the ability to affect your positioning and profitability in the long run.

James Kelly, author of this blog post, is an Ecommerce Channel Manager and Senior SEM Analyst for National Positions, an industry leading internet marketing company with over 1,000 clients around the globe including Wal-Mart, Land Rover, Club Med and Samsung. The National Positions SEM department in particular has been experiencing rapid growth by providing significant revenue increases for many small and medium size businesses.