This is a guest post from Anthony Capetola, Marketing Manager at Sales & Orders, a marketing software platform for eCommerce businesses.
It’s important, if not essential, for eCommerce companies today to have a presence on Google.
For one thing, it just makes sense that a company would want to be present on the most-used search engine in the world—more than three-quarters of all searches are performed on Google. It becomes even more imperative when you consider that 36 percent of all product-related web searches are conducted on search engines (with Amazon being the only platform on which more product-related search queries are made than search engines—the rest of these searches happen on retailers’ sites).
And while coming up in the results for Google searches is beneficial for your eCommerce company, specifically focusing on building up your presence on Google Shopping can do wonders for your brand in engaging and converting your target audience. According to the data we collected at my company Sales & Orders in 2018, a growing number of eCommerce brands are hopping on the Google Shopping bandwagon—to great success.
An over 100 percent increase in impressions coupled with a 90 percent increase in ad spend is indicative of this rise in total retailers selling on Google Shopping. And even though total ad spend did drastically rise, sales, revenue and return on ad spend also jumped, 20 percent, 20 percent, and 22 percent, respectively.Richard Aviles, Sales & Orders
Ad performance has also seen a rather substantial jump, as retailers had their conversion rates in Google Shopping increase by 13 percent and overall average order value went up by nine percent.
What’s more, Google Shopping has proven to be much more effective than traditional text-based Google Ads for generating visibility and conversions. We’ve found that retailers see an 8x better return on ad spend with Google Shopping over other paid marketing methods.
The numbers are big, but the results aren’t all that surprising. The entire purpose of Google Shopping is to connect searchers looking to make a purchase with brands offering the products they’re looking to buy. So if a person is using Google Shopping to conduct a search or using commercial intent keywords (like “buy” or “free shipping”) when searching on Google, there’s a pretty good chance they’re looking to buy—and a good chance they’ll make a purchase when they find what they want.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll choose your products—or that your products will even appear on their Google Shopping search results. In order for your eCommerce company to reap the potential benefits of Google Shopping, you need to have a solid and strategic approach to the platform.
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of how to get set up on Google Shopping and get your products listed. We’ll also cover five more advanced strategies for maximizing your ad spend and revenue on the platform.
There’s a multi-step process in getting started with Google Shopping, but overall, it’s fairly straightforward.
(Note: Moving forward, we’ll assume that you already have a Google account set up for your eCommerce business. Also, while you don’t need to have a Google Analytics account to get started with Google Shopping, we advise that you do so before going any further.)
The first thing you need to do is create a Merchant Center account.
This process involves submitting basic info about your business, including your eCommerce store’s name and website, as well as your company’s physical address and contact information.
From there, you need to verify that you actually own the domain from the previous step. If you have a Google Analytics account, you can complete this step by syncing your GA account with your newly-created Google Shopping account. You can also verify your domain using Google Tag Manager, or by adding the HTML tag provided by Google onto your eCommerce website’s code.
Once you’ve verified your eCommerce website and, thus, your Google Merchant Account, you then need to link your Google Ads account to your new Merchant Account (if you haven’t already done so).
Within Google Ads, set up a template around which you’ll base your future Google Shopping campaigns. Create a Google Ad campaign, select “Sales” as your campaign goal and “Shopping” your the campaign type.
Then continue setting up this template, using placeholder information to fill out forms relating to bidding, targeting, and scheduling of your future ads. This will all be changed at a later date once you’re ready to activate your individual Google Shopping campaigns.
After you’ve completed these preliminary steps, you’re ready to get to the “meat” of the process: Creating your product feed.
Before we discuss how to create a Product Feed, let’s quickly explain what, exactly, your Product Feed is. According to Google:
“A feed is a file made up of a list of products which use groupings of attributes that define each one of your products in a unique way.”
So, your product feed will include all the products you intend to promote on Google Shopping—and should include all applicable info for each one. Here’s just a sample of the type of data you need to include in the spreadsheet for your product feed:
Even though you’ve synced your website with your new Google Merchant Center account, you still need to input your products’ information into what’s called your data feed—and subsequently upload this feed into your Merchant Center account.
This is where things start to get a bit more intensive.
Your approach to creating your product data feed can ultimately make or break your Google Shopping endeavor. In fact, if you create your data feed in a way that doesn’t align with Google’s specifications, Google may not even approve your feed in the first place—meaning you won’t be able to use Google Shopping at all.
Unlike with standard Google Ads, you don’t choose the search terms where you want your products to show up. Rather, Google’s algorithms decide this based on the information present in your product data feed. So if your data feed is poorly assembled, Google’s algorithms won’t know to display your products when potential customers use the search terms that really ought to bring them up.
Moreover, if your product listings don’t provide the information your potential customers are looking for, those customers will likely overlook your listings—and may end up going with a competitors’ products instead.
So, again: It’s vital that your product feeds are created with both Google’s algorithms and your customers’ expectations in mind.
Now, let’s dig into the specific information you need to provide. We’re providing a basic overview of the required and suggested information to provide within your data feed, here. For a more in-depth and technical dive into this info, check out Google’s guide on product data specifications.
You need to create a unique title and ID for each of your individual products to be displayed on Google Shopping.
When creating an ID code for your products, we suggest using the product’s SKU, as this will allow for uniformity between your Google Shopping account and your eCommerce website. Once you’ve tagged a specific item with a given ID, you should only use that ID for that specific item—and should always use that ID for that specific product.
Much like the product IDs, you also want to ensure that each product title is unique to the specific product in question.
There are a few things you can do to optimize your product titles for visibility and engagement.
First, use a specific and descriptive title—while also being as concise as possible, as the maximum length is 150 characters. For example, using the title “Basketball shoes” isn’t going to generate near as much attention as “Nike Kyrie 5 basketball shoes.” The less generic your product title, the more likely you are to grab your audience’s attention.
While you can technically create titles up to 150 characters in length, Google truncates anything after 70 characters—meaning your audience will only see these first 70 characters. So it’s important to frontload your product titles with the most important information—and leave specifics for individual products toward the end of your product titles. While people searching won’t see the final 80 characters of your product title in the search results, Google will still pick up this information for ranking purposes—which can be highly effective in engaging customers searching for high-intent, longtail keywords.
One exception is when a product is known or defined by its model number, production year, or similar identifying information. Then you will want to make sure those specifics are in the first 70 characters so customers can see them. That will help potential customers know instantly that your product is exactly what they’re looking for.
For example, a customer using the search term “1998 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card” is specifically looking for cards released in 1998—not any other year.
There are a few things to avoid doing within your product titles, as well. Google could penalize you for using these; and even if they don’t, your customers may be turned off when they see them. Things to avoid include:
- Being overly promotional or sales-y (e.g. “BUY NOW: 1998 Upper Deck…”)
- Unnatural keyword stuffing
- Non-branded “extras” (e.g., ALL CAPS, overuse of punctuation, etc.)
The product description section of your Google Shopping listings allow you to explain in a bit more detail what your product is, and the value it can bring your potential customers.
It’s also the second-most important part of your product listing in terms of getting the attention of Google’s algorithms. (The title is first.) Since you aren’t bidding on specific keywords, Google will look to the keywords and phrases in your listing to determine whether your product aligns with a given search term.
There are actually two parts to the process of creating your product descriptions.
The first part is a “blurb” of sorts for your products. While you have some freedom in terms of how you approach this, your best bet is to do so much like you did your product titles. That means:
- Be descriptive, yet concise
- Use relevant keywords
- Avoid sales-y copy
- Avoid using all caps, promotional phrases like “free shipping,” or any information that’s not related directly to the product
Basically, you want to use this opportunity to provide the fundamental information your customers are looking for when they’re debating whether to make a purchase.
As the above example shows, you can be a bit creative in your approach to writing your product descriptions—but you should be judicious when doing so. Overall, it’s better to focus on being informative first, then inject creative copy into your descriptions as appropriate.
The other part of creating product descriptions involves providing more granular information about the item in question. Some of the key information to provide here include:
- Product condition (new, used, refurbished, etc.)
- Color or color scheme
- Material(s) used
- Product size/dimensions (and measurement system used)
- Age range/requirements
You aren’t required to identify these (and other) specifications, and they may not be applicable to all of your products. While it’s up to you to decide what additional info to include, it’s best to include all pertinent specifications for each product you offer.
Product category and type
Next, you need to categorize your individual products according to Google’s product taxonomy. This taxonomy covers an enormous breadth of categories and subcategories, and can be viewed in this spreadsheet provided by Google.
After you identify the main category in which a given product belongs, you need to further classify the item based on more specific characteristics.
A few examples of how this might look:
- Home & Garden → Kitchen & Dining → Barware
- Sporting Goods → Athletics → Baseball & Softball
- Sporting Goods → Outdoor Recreation → Equestrian
It’s important that you choose the most applicable categorization here, as you can only categorize each of your products one time. For example, you wouldn’t be able to label a men’s bathing suit as both “shorts” and “swimwear”; you’d have to choose one or the other.
While your choice of product category must align with Google’s taxonomy, you do have the ability to manually input your product types on your own. This, of course, depends on the specific items you offer within your eCommerce store.
Here’s an example of how that might look (with product type being listed in bold):
- Apparel & Accessories → Clothing → Swimwear → Nike Swimwear
- Apparel & Accessories → Clothing → Swimwear → Polo Swimwear
Again, the way you categorize a product allows Google to better identify what it is, and also makes it easier for your customers to find exactly what they’re looking for. Without this critical step, your products could easily get lost among a sea of relatively similar items offered by a variety of other brands.
Tip: Use your eCommerce website’s breadcrumbs to structure your product types on Google Shopping.
The images you use are arguably the first thing your potential customers will notice when they see your listing on Google Shopping—so you need to be sure the photos you provide are high quality and showcase the important details of your product’s appearance. This may involve taking photos of your products from different angles, multiple levels of zoom, and within different contexts, as shown in this example:
Note that you won’t actually be uploading these photos to your Google Shopping account, but rather, you’re linking to existing photos on your eCommerce website. To that end, you need to be sure your website’s product pages include a robust collection of excellent product photographs.
One last thing to point out here is that Google will not approve product listings if your accompanying photos feature or focus on anything not directly associated with the product. This includes:
- Standalone images of your logo
- Doctored photos of your product
Technically, Google only requires you to provide two key pieces of price-related information:
- The price of your product
- The product’s currency code
As applicable, you can also provide the following. While these are optional, if they do apply to your products, you should absolutely include them.
- Sale price, and timespan of the sale
- Unit pricing for bulk orders
- Installment options
- Info related to your loyalty program (e.g., points attributed per sale, etc.)
You need to keep your audience informed whether your product is in stock or not. The last thing you want to do is get a customer ready to make a purchase… only for them to find out that the product they wanted isn’t actually available right now.
If a product isn’t currently in stock (or, similarly, is yet to be released), you should make that crystal clear to your potential customers. If possible, provide information as to when said products will become available in the future as well.
Finally, if you plan on discontinuing a product in the future, you should make this known to your customers within your product listings. This can instill a sense of urgency within your audience, ideally getting them to take immediate action.
The final two essential pieces of info to include in your product listings revolve around shipping and sales tax.
For shipping, you need to clarify:
- Where your products are able to be shipped
- The cost of shipping the product to a specific location
- The dimensions of your product and its packaging
You should also provide the cost of sales tax for customers in different geographic locations and/or jurisdictions, as well as any other extra costs accrued due to taxes (e.g., additional tax on shipping, etc.).
While this may seem like a lot, believe it or not, everything we’ve discussed thus far is the bare minimum needed to create an engaging presence for your brand on Google Shopping. Once your Product Data Feed is as robust and complete as possible, you’re ready to develop ad campaigns on Google Shopping.
1. Use a solid campaign structure
Your Google Shopping ads refer to only one product at a time. (In contrast, you can create text-based Google Ads that link out to product category pages or other landing pages on your eCommerce site.)
Because the goal is to promote individual products to customers using Google Shopping, you should aim to get as specific as possible when you develop your individual ad campaigns on the platform. Luckily, Google makes it relatively easy to get started in this regard.
First, create a new ad group.
After you set up your new ad group, you have the option of having an “All Products” set up, which will lump all of your products together, or you can choose to go through the process of subdividing your products into more manageable product groups. We recommend the latter, as it will help you immensely in refining and optimizing your advertising strategy.
You can subdivide your product groups based on the following characteristics:
- Item ID
- Product Type
- Custom labels (e.g., best-sellers, seasonal products, etc.)
- Condition (new, used, or refurbished)
- Channel (Is the product available online or in your brick-and-mortar store—or both?)
Let’s say you want to focus on one product group for all products belonging to a certain brand. First, you subdivide for the brand you want. In doing so, you can assess the performance of your ads for this specific brand on Google Shopping.
You would then set a group-based max cost-per-click for all products within this group. This is especially helpful for those who may not have the time or resources to manage things more granularly.
However, we always recommend getting even more granular. You can take your brand product group (or any other product group) and subdivide it even further to the “Item ID” level.
This now allows you to track performance stats for every single product individually, giving you the granularity you need to make even more informed decisions about bidding and product management.
In the end, your campaign would wind up looking something like this.
Now you can set unique bids for each product and analyze the metrics at the product level. This level of insight can be paramount in helping you grow and improve performance.
2. Focus on the right KPIs
To piggyback off the last point, you need to have a clear idea of the key performance indicators to assess once a campaign goes live. The three main KPIs to keep an eye on are:
- Impressions. Are your product listings showing up for related and relevant search terms?
- Click-through rate. Are potential customers clicking on your product listings once they show up?
- Conversion rate. Do your audience members end up buying the products in question once they click through to your website?
(Quick note: While we haven’t mentioned it yet in this article, it’s worth pointing out that you aren’t selling your products directly on Google Shopping. Rather, each product listing will include a link to the product’s page on your eCommerce website—which is where the actual purchase happens.)
If you are struggling with any of those KPIs, here’s a quick look at what that most likely means—and a remedy to the problem.
If a specific product listing is generating a low amount of impressions (or none at all), it’s likely a sign that your product title, description, and/or categorization are “off” in some way. If you can’t seem to find anything objectively wrong in those areas, you may need to increase your bidding to get your product to show above your competition.
You can check your search impression share and search lost impression share to see whether you’re missing out on impressions due to poor ad rank. A high “search lost impression share” rank means Google has determined that other listings competing for a given search term are higher in quality than yours.
Low click-through rates
If your click-through rates are low, it means a lot of people are seeing a listing, but not many are clicking on it. That may mean your listings aren’t engaging your audience—despite being picked up by Google’s algorithms. Or, it may mean you’re bidding too high on an item that your audience isn’t interested in purchasing in the first place.
Low conversion rates
If a listing is generating a ton of impressions and click-throughs that don’t ultimately end up resulting in a sale, the problem may lie within your actual eCommerce website. Of course, this could be due to a variety of issues—a discussion which goes beyond the scope of this article.
Good performance on a listing
On the more optimistic side, if you notice a given product listing is performing quite well, you may want to consider increasing your bid on that listing. Since it’s generating the amount of engagement and business you’ve been hoping for, you want to ensure said listing is as visible as possible.
But… you also want to be careful not to bid too heavily on a single listing, as that can cause the listing to appear for more broad—and potentially irrelevant—search terms. While it may seem counterintuitive, if a listing is already ranking for a specific, longtail keyword, your best bet is to keep your bid where it currently is—and potentially even lower it slightly over time.
3. Modify your bidding strategy by device, location, and time
Another contextual approach to bidding involves looking at when, where, and how your audience is engaging with your product listings on Google Shopping.
You should consider:
- The device(s) your target audience typically uses when using Google Shopping and/or engaging with your brand
- The time of day, week, month, and year that your audience is looking to purchase your products
- The demand for specific products in various geographical areas
To dig into this data for your campaigns, you can use the reports from Google Ads.
In digging deeper into this data, you’ll be able to further optimize your bidding strategies accordingly. As mentioned in the previous section, this often involves increasing your bid when demand/engagement is highest, and keeping your investment low when it’s not likely to pay off.
(This data can also help you better understand your customers’ behavior, overall—and tailor your offerings to better suit their needs. You could even take this information and use it to help guide some of your segmentation strategy with your email marketing.)
4. Implement remarketing strategies
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention remarketing as a viable means of engaging (and re-engaging) your Google Shopping audience.
Remarketing for Google Shopping ads can be extremely effective, to the tune of incredible 10 percent CTRs and 206x return on ad spend.
When remarketing via Google Shopping, you have two main options.
Your first option is to create remarketing audiences, which allows you to target specific customers based on previous actions they’ve taken on Google Shopping and your eCommerce website. You can then adjust your bid amount for these individuals accordingly—meaning they’ll be more likely to see your product listing when using the same (or similar) search term in the future.
For example, let’s say you sell men’s running sneakers, and your product listing appears fifth when a first-time prospective customer searches for “men’s running sneakers.” The individual clicks on your product listing, then clicks through to your product page and adds the product to their cart—but they don’t go through with a purchase.
They’ll then be added to your remarketing audience focused on cart abandoners. In turn, the next time they search for “men’s running sneakers,” your product will likely appear higher in their unique search results—making them more likely to reconsider going through with their purchase from your brand.
Your other option is to use display remarketing. With this option, ads featuring your products will be displayed in Google Ads on third-party sites to people who’ve engaged with your listing on Google Shopping and/or your on-site product page.
In either case, the goal is simple: Get prospective customers back on track and heading toward the conversion.
By creating campaigns targeting specific individuals who have engaged with your product listings in specific ways, you enable them to pick up right where they left off with your brand—and keep them moving in the right direction.
5. Pay attention to negative keywords
With traditional Google ads, you decide what search terms will lead to Google displaying your ads. With Google Shopping, Google’s algorithm makes that decision. And it doesn’t always get it right—so sometimes, your products will appear in the Google Shopping results when a customer isn’t actually looking for products like yours. Those are “negative keywords.”
As an example, searching Google Shopping for the word “bat” returns product listings for:
- Baseball and softball bats
- A replica of Negan’s barbed-wire bat from The Walking Dead
- Halloween decorations featuring everyone’s favorite flying mammal
From the customer’s perspective, two of these three results will be irrelevant: If they’re looking for a baseball bat, they’re not going to want to check out TV show memorabilia or Halloween decorations. Basically, this means the companies offering these latter two items are losing money whenever an uninterested searcher accidentally sees and clicks on their product listing.
Moreover, search terms that are related to your product—but don’t often result in click-throughs or conversions—can also be considered negative keywords.
Say you specifically sell women’s running sneakers, but it turns out that the majority of people searching for “running sneakers” are looking for men’s running sneakers. Unfortunately, your product listing may appear for these queries simply because your product title includes the phrase “running sneakers”—despite the fact that most people using this term aren’t looking for the products you offer.
With all this in mind, there are two action items for you to take here.
- Identify negative keywords for your specific products within Google’s Keyword Planner. This involves assessing the performance of each keyword phrase for which a given product appears, and determining which of these phrases is irrelevant, ineffective, or both.
- Add these irrelevant/ineffective keywords—whether broad match, phrase match, or exact match—to your negative keyword lists within the Keywords tab in your Google Shopping dashboard.
It’s an in-depth process to generate a presence on Google Shopping, and it won’t happen overnight. But, if done correctly, it can lead to massive growth for your company in terms of visibility, engagement, and revenue.
It’s simple: The people using Google Shopping are actively looking to make a purchase, or at least, they’re moving closer to making a purchasing decision. If you can get your products in front of them during these moments, you stand a pretty good chance of earning their business.
From there, you create a feed of your products that features key details including:
- A unique product ID
- A product title that’s specific and descriptive
- A product description that explains what the product is and gives a customer all of its key information
- Product categories based on Google’s taxonomy, and product types based on your own, more granular categories
- Product photos that properly showcase your product
- Product pricing, which can also include things like sale prices
- Product availability, to let customers know if something is out of stock
- And logistical information like shipping costs and sales tax
Once you have your products with Google Shopping, you can run ad campaigns to give them more visibility to potential customers. Some tips to maximize those ads are:
- Solid campaign structure. Set up individual ads for your products so you can monitor what’s performing better or worse.
- Focus on the right KPIs. Keep a close eye on impressions, click-through rates, and conversion rates. And if you’re lagging in one of those areas, diagnose the problem to try to improve your results.
- Modify your bidding strategy. Check your Google Ads reporting to see what devices your target audience uses, the time of day they’re engaging, and where they’re located—then target your ads accordingly.
- Implement remarketing strategies. Use remarketing to have your products appear higher in searches for people who’ve demonstrated a prior interest—or have your products appear in Google Ads on third-party sites.
- Pay attention to negative keywords. Make sure you’re not wasting money or incorrectly skewing your stats by having your products show up incorrectly for the wrong keyword searches.