Over the past few years, Google Shopping ads have risen to the top of ecommerce marketing strategies around the world – not to mention the top of search results. In 2014, Product Listing Ad (PLA) impressions grew by almost 120% with click-through rates roughly 50% higher than regular text ads.
This trend has continued and retailers now say the majority of their search traffic is coming from PLAs. More importantly, PLAs generate traffic from people who are actively looking to buy products and this means the purchase intent and conversion rates that come from Google Shopping traffic are major opportunities for online retailers.
In this guide, we’re going to show you how you can get started with Google Shopping and see why retailers are so excited about Product Listing Ads.
What is Google Shopping?
Google Shopping is the result of two platforms coming together: AdWords and Google Merchant Center. When people turn to Google in search of products like men’s running shoes, women’s winter coats and widescreen TVs, they’ll normally see product listing ads (PLAs) instead of the usual search ads for service-orientated or non-commercial queries.
These ads are designed for online retailers selling physical products and they’ve become a crucial channel for ecommerce brands, as well as the biggest names on the high street.
As we said in the intro, Google Shopping ads – or Product Listing Ads (PLAs) – tend to boast impressive click-through rates and conversion rates, compared to regular text ads for retail queries. This is because Google Shopping ads tend to show for people with a very high buying intent who are looking for specific products.
Which means, if your Google Shopping ad gets clicked, there’s a very high chance you’ve got the sale.
To get your products showing up in Google Shopping, you’ll need to create a product feed, containing all of the necessary data about your products. This is what Google uses to create your Product Listing Ads so it’s important you get this step right – something we’ll explain in more detail shortly.
First, let’s talk about Google Shopping Ads and marketing goals.
Getting started: Setting your goals
To make a success of Google Shopping you need to make sure your products are seen by people at the crucial moment – and this means knowing your keywords, who you’re competing against and how much to bid.
You also want to make sure you’re making a profit from this advertising strategy, which means you need a clear set of crucial figures, including sales targets, costs per acquisitions, etc. – as well as knowing what your most profitable products are and when they’re most valuable to you (something that might change if you start selling online in much greater volumes.)
How much are you willing to pay for a customer?
Cost per acquisition (CPA) is how much you pay to turn a user into a paying customer. Initially, you might be thinking you want this number to be as low as possible but you actually want to find that sweet spot where you’re spending enough on each lead to maximise conversions without paying more than you need to beyond this point.
Always keep in mind that you’re paying for clicks, just like any other kind of PPC strategy. Once a user clicks your PLA, you’re out of pocket if you don’t turn them into a customer, so it’s sometimes worth spending a little more to seal the deal. Don’t just set a single CPA either because leads from some campaigns are going to be more valuable than others. You probably want to be spending more on leads for your most profitable products than those from less valuable items.
What kind of customer are you targeting?
For most retailers there are two types of customers: one-time buyers and repeat buyers. Which type of buyer you’re targeting depends on a lot of variables: the products you’re selling, quality of your customer service, price competitiveness, brand reputation and various other potential factors – including visibility and your follow-up marketing efforts.
What you need to do is calculate a target customer lifetime value (CLV) for each of your target audiences. In some cases, this might mean you’re willing to spend more on turning certain leads into customers if their projected lifetime value is high enough.
Just remember to factor in the costs of managing these customers on a long-term basis.
What are they searching for?
With Google Shopping, you’re not bidding on keywords in the same way you’ll be used to with regular text ads in AdWords. However, you’re still aiming to get your products seen by the people who are most likely to buy your products and this means you need to understand which queries trigger your ads and the intent behind them.
For example, you might decide purchase intent changes across the build-up to Christmas as create three separate campaigns for the same product to match the changing needs of people searching for your products.
Negative keywords are also important for Google Shopping, allowing you to prevent your ads from showing for queries you don’t want to target. So make sure you do your research, figure out what kind of queries are going to trigger your ads and verify this after they go live.
Getting started: Creating your account
To get started with Google Shopping you’re going to need three accounts: AdWords, Google Merchant Center and Google Analytics. AdWords is where you manage your PLAs and advertising strategy, Google Merchant Center is where your product feed is stored and Google Analytics provides data insights into what users are doing once they click-through to your site.
Creating a Merchant Center account is easy enough but there are a few things to prepare before you start. First, you’ll need access to the domain of your website so you can verify it in Merchant Center. The most common way to do this is by uploading an HTML Google Shopping fil to your website via FTP but you can also use the following options:
- Place an HTML tag on your homepage.
- Verify through your Google Analytics account.
- Use Google Tag Manager to connect your website’s URL to your Merchant Center account
Once your site is verified, you can start thinking about your product feed.
Getting started: Creating your product feed
Your product feed stores all the information about your products, which Google uses to match your listings with user searches. Unlike regular search ads, where you choose and bid on keywords, your Google Shopping ads will be matched to keywords automatically by Google and this is why it’s so important that you set up and optimise your product feed correctly.
A good product feed needs to meet the following criteria:
- Show the right products for the right keywords
- Maximise clicks
- Simplify account management and optimisation
There are two ways to create a product feed for Google Shopping. Your first option is to manually enter your product information into a spreadsheet and submit it in Merchant Center. Otherwise, you can use a third-party extension, or app to pull all of your product info directly from your website.
There are pros and cons to either approach and there are a few things to keep in mind about this:
- Product volume: If you only have a few products, manually submitting details is relatively simple but it can be time-consuming if you have a large catalogue of products.
- Product additions: If you’re adding new products to your inventory on a regular basis, your feed will also need updating.
- Complexity: Third-party options are often easier to work with if you’re not comfortable with spreadsheets and data formatting.
- Integration: Third-party tools need access to all of your product info, which may involve some development work to make things compatible.
- Flexibility: If you want full control over your product feed – like setting up rules with your feed – you’ll want to create one manually.
Whether you create your product feed manually or by using a third-party option, the key thing is to make sure all the necessary information is submitted in the correct format. If you get this wrong, your feed could be rejected by Google or your PLAs won’t perform as they should.
Here are the most important elements of your product feed.
Product titles for Google Shopping are very much like page titles for SEO. These are one of the most important items on your product feed, which Google uses to match up your items with relevant queries – so they need to be accurate and informative.
Keep these following tips in mind:
- Include your main keyword: Are you aiming for “women’s jacket”, “women’s summer jacket” or something else?
- Name the product: Include the brand, model and full product name.
- Product details: Include details like colour, size, gender and anything else that separates different versions of the same product.
- Product numbers: For items like consumer goods where people might search by product number, include these in your titles.
- Start with the most important info: Your product titles contain quite a lot of details – so start with the most important info. For example: “Nike Air Zooms – Women’s Size 9 – Pegasus 35 Premium – Pink, Grey”.
- Stick to the 150-character limit: Remember you’ve only got 150 characters available to include all the key info in your product titles.
What you don’t want to do is include any promotional text in your title – for example, 50% Off Your First Order. You can add promotional content later but this isn’t the place for it. Also, avoid vague product names like “Nike Running Shoes” (see the example above) and only use your main keyword once in the title.
Finally, don’t include any all-caps text in your titles as this is likely to get your PLA or feed disapproved by Google.
After your product titles, product descriptions are one of the most important elements in your product feed, allowing Google to confirm the relevance of your listings while also giving users more details about your product.
The key thing is to make your descriptions concise, compelling and accurate for both users and Google. Also include your main keyword in the description and any additional keywords that naturally fit into the text.
Once again, start with the most important information first and avoid any long-winded sales fluff. Stick to the facts, highlight the key benefits and let the product speak for itself.
Google Shopping has an extensive list of product categories and you can only choose one for each listing – so choose wisely. This is another signal the search provider uses to match your products to queries which means choosing the right product category is pretty important.
There are currently more than 6,000 product categories in Google Shopping and you’ll need to download Google Taxonomy to get a full list of them all. Product categories are broken down into subcategories – eg: Clothing & Accessories > Jewellery & Watches > Watch Accessories. You may find multiple product categories are suitable for the same listing but you’ll need to decide which one is the most appropriate and stick with it.
You can change the product category for any listing by editing and resubmitting your product feed.
While product type isn’t a required field in your feed, we strongly recommend you include this – especially if you have trouble with selecting the right product category or find multiple categories match the same product. This gives Google another helping hand in matching up your PLAs to the most relevant queries and this can only be a good thing for your click-through rates (CTRs) and conversions.
Your product images are perhaps the most important feature of your PLAs when it comes to encouraging users to click your listing. Above all, you need to make sure you have quality product images that show the best of your items and encourage people to buy from you, but there are also some image guidelines from Google that you need to follow:
- White backgrounds: All of your PLA images need to show your product item against a white background.
- No text or logos: You can’t overlay your product images with text, logos, watermarks or anything else obtrusive.
- Size: Google recommends using 800 x 800 images but they must be at least 250 x 250 pixels.
- Accurate: Images for each product must be accurate, including images for different versions of the same product (eg: colour, patterns, special edition items, etc.)
Also, make sure your images are visible and compelling in thumbnail format. You don’t want to spend money on high-quality product images to find out they don’t look the part in smaller sizes.
Once your product image has captured someone’s attention, the first thing they’re going to look at is the price. Of course, cheaper prices often come out on top when the same product is being compared from different retailers. So someone searching for an iPhone X knows they’re getting the same item regardless of who they buy it from and it only makes sense to go for the cheapest options.
However, not all searches that trigger PLA ads are queries for specific products. For example, someone looking for a new home audio system probably cares about sound quality, size and specifications – all things they might be willing to spend more on if the right features are offered.
Finally, you’re also required to include the brand of every product in your feed, whether it’s your own brand or not. Obviously, this helps Google match listing to queries but it’s also worth remembering that a lot of queries include brand names – especially those from people with a high purchase intent who know what they want to buy.
This is precisely the kind of lead that makes Google Shopping so appealing to online retailers.
Getting started: Creating your first campaign
To create your first Google Shopping campaign, you’ll need to head over to AdWords and click the Campaigns tab. Next, hit the blue + button and select New campaign to get started.
This will bring up the following box where you’re asked to define your campaign goal:
Only three of these goals are applicable to shopping campaigns: Sales, Leads and Traffic. However, you can also create a campaign without setting a goal by clicking the Create a campaigns with out a goals’ guidance tab and selecting Shopping from the list of campaign types:
If you’ve already linked your AdWords and Merchant Center accounts, you should see your MC account appear in the box asking you to select your account. If you’ve got multiple MC accounts, then you’ll need to choose which one is appropriate foe this campaign.
In the next box, you’ll need to select which country products for this campaign are being sold to. You can only select one country for each campaign and you can change this after the campaign is created – so keep this in mind when you’re creating campaigns for Shopping.
On the next page, you’ll be prompted to set your account details and your settings for bids, budget and targeting. First, you’ll need to name your campaign but you’ll notice an Additional settings link below this box.
Click this link and you’ll see an additional box appear with options for inventory filters, local inventory ads and campaign URL options.
Here’s a quick explanation of what these settings will do for you.
- Inventory filter: By default, this is set to No filter which means all products available in the country selected for your campaign. However, you can select Filter to only show products that meet certain conditions – for example, product category, brand and custom labels.
- Local inventory ads: An ad format designed for promoting products sold in physical stores.
- Campaign URL options: This allows you to set URL parameters for tracking user page visits.
All of these options are unselected by default and you probably won’t need to change this for the majority of campaigns. Or, more specifically, you’ll know when/if you need to use them.
In the next section, you’ll be asked to define your bid settings in three areas: Bidding, Budget and Campaign priority. First, you’ll want to select your bid strategy and you’ve got four options to choose from here:
- Manual CPC (default): You set your own maximum cost-per-click (CPC) for your ads.
- Target ROAS: Sets bids to help you get the most conversion value while maintaining your target return on ad spend (ROAS).
- Maximize clicks: Sets bids to help you get the most clicks within your budget.
- Enhanced CPC: Adjusts your manual bids up or down to help you increase conversions.
While Manual CPC gives you more control over your daily budget, Enable Enhanced CPC is selected by default, which allows AdWords to automatically adjust your manual bids to try and maximise conversions. You’ll have to decide whether you want to give AdWords this control and it might require some testing to confirm your settings are getting the desired results.
Whether you choose to use manual bidding or one of the automated bidding options, depends on your campaign goals and approach to account management. Keep in mind that you can also automate bidding yourself with your own scripts and algorithms, although this will involve some additional programming work.
Setting your budget is simple enough but it’s important to remember that you’re entering an average bid for how much you want to spend each day. Over the course of a month, you won’t pay more than your daily budget times by the average days in a month but your ad spend can be more or less than the budget you set on a day-by-day basis.
You’ve also got the option of selecting two budget delivery methods: Standard and Accelerated. Standard spends your ad budget evenly over time while Accelerated spends your budget more quickly with the aim of maximising early conversions.
The last setting in this section is Campaign priority, which allows you to choose which campaign places a bid when you have multiple campaigns for the same product in the same country. This is set to Low by default but you can also choose Medium and High to give certain campaigns priority over others.
After your bid settings, is a section labelled Targeting & Scheduling settings and the first box you’ll see is called Networks. This is where you choose whether you want your product listings to appear on Google Search partner sites, including YouTube, Google Images and a range of third-party sites. By default, your campaigns opt in to show on partner sites so you’ll need to uncheck the Include Google search partners box if you want to opt out.
In general, PLAs on partner sites receive more impressions but significantly lower CTRs and most of Google’s consumer partner sites are in the US. However, partner sites can be useful if your aim is to build brand awareness and you use the right targeting options to limit which partner sites your PLAs appear on.
Finally, you just need to define your location targeting, which should be set to United Kingdom by default. You can also select cities and areas to target or exclude, giving you more control over where people see your PLAs.
This can be useful if you don’t deliver to certain parts of the country or you want to create campaigns to boost sales or brand awareness in specific areas.
Getting started: Setting your bids
Bidding is something of a science for any kind of AdWords campaign and you’ll want to optimise your bid strategy over time to improve results. In the meantime, there’s a simple formula you can use to get things started.
Sales profit x conversion rate = Max bid
Let’s say you’re selling an item at £100 and you make £75 profit from each sale. To keep things simple, we’ll say you have a conversion rate of 2% (ecommerce average is around 2.35%) and you can calculate your max bid like this:
£75 x 0.02 = £1.5
So your maximum bid for this kind of item will be £1.5 but you don’t really want to start at your maximum. Start by bidding 50%-75% of your max bid, which is this case will be anything from 75p to £1.13.
So the two formulas to keep in mind are:
Sales profit x conversion rate = Max bid
Max bid x 50%-75% = Starting bid
As we say, this is only to get you started and you’ll want to refine your bid strategy to get the best performance for each product. The key mistake to avoid at this stage is setting the same bid for every product because some are more profitable to you than others.
Google Shopping ad formats and extensions
Crucial to getting the most out of Google Shopping is knowing when and why to use the different ad formats and extensions you have available. In this section we’re going to run through your options and explain when you’ll want to use each of them – starting with regular Product Listing Ads.
Product Listing Ads (PLAs)
These are the regular Google Shopping ads you’ll be creating for the bulk of your strategy and there are three key “enhancements” you can use to help boost CTRs, which are essentially ad extensions for Google Shopping.
- Merchant Promotions: Allow you to place special offers on your PLAs – things like “Free Shipping Over £50” – which users can see when they click on the special offer tag that appears on your listing.
- Product ratings: Place a product rating on your PLAs based on Google Reviews and third-party sources.
- Google Customer Reviews: Unlike Product ratings, Google Customer Reviews allow you to collect feedback from your customers, which can appear on your product listings where relevant.
None of these enhancements come as standard with Product Listing Ads and you’ll need to sign up for participation. You can find all the details you need by visiting this Google Support page and clicking on the relevant section for each enhancement.
Showcase Shopping ads
Showcase Shopping ads allow you to group together related products and these are ideal for generic search terms like “mirror”, “leather sofa” and “winter coat”. With Showcase Shopping ads you can show users that you have an entire range of products that might take their fancy and encourage them to click-through to your site.
Again, you’ll need to meet certain requirements to be eligible for Showcase Shopping ads but you can find more information about this here.
Local inventory ads
As we mentioned earlier, local inventory ads are designed to show users that you currently have the item they’re looking – in stock, in their area. These are ideal for last minute purchases for important events like Christmas, particularly if you want to get customers coming into your store. Use local buying intent to your advantage – especially for popular items that people might struggle to get elsewhere or miss out on if they hesitate.
Putting It all together
With your Merchant Center account all set up, your product feed and a good understanding of which Product Listing Ads you can use, it’s time to put everything together. Advertising on Google Shopping is different in practice to the other kind of strategies you’ll be using with AdWords but the overall principle is the same: get your ads seen by the right people, at the crucial moment and make sure the follow-up messages and user experience on your landing pages make it difficult for users to resist hitting the buy button.
With an effective Google Shopping strategy in place, users are already itching to buy before they even land on your site – and this is why retailers are investing more in Product Listing Ads every year.