20 Google Shopping Hacks to Try Today

By Todd Chambers June 15, 2018

Google Shopping is fast earning a reputation as a core element in every retailer’s performance marketing activity.

Since becoming the latest addition to the search giant’s paid-ad armoury in 2013, the initial grumbles from SEO veterans has done little to prevent spend on Shopping or Product Listing Ads (PLAs) growing year, on year, on year.

For a current view of the landscape, look no further than analysis of over 19 billion user interactions, captured by e-commerce tech group Sidecar, which shows retailers dedicating over half of their annual AdWords budget to the format in 2016. This culminated in Shopping ads overthrowing their plain-text counterparts as the tool of choice for retailers.

Shopping has been known to work wonders for sellers of niche products, whereas anyone advertising a service must head to other forms of inventory to get their message across. Even so, with its ability to breeze over sizes, colourways, availability and other information, Shopping is getting cosy with the groups demanding a more enhanced presentation of what they can offer.

All sorts of advice about setting up Shopping campaigns reverberate around Google’s various AdWords helplines as well as agency blogs just like ours. Today, we want to dig a little deeper into the mechanics of the engine to give you a stack of pointers to chase down your early trials and tests.

Primed to blast the misconceptions and make you reconsider where your time, resource and money is best spent, here are 20 quick hacks to put into practice today:

1: Learn your title combinations

Every good Shopping campaign starts with the creative, in this case the data that helps Google match products with queries. The SEO within PLAs creates something of a hybrid between paid and organic search, making feed creation and optimisation absolutely essential.

The titles of your items are a good place to start with any large-scale tweaking. For this, it pays to come up with a hierarchy to dictate which bits of information need to go where. Going with the logic of putting your most important details first, here are a couple of options to roll with:

Strong brand name (e.g. Nike, Fender, Apple) = Brand name + product + attribute (see below)

Unknown brand name = Product + attribute + brand (see below)

Not only will the ordering influence which terms you show up for, getting a system for titles can save you a lot of time when it comes to tweaking your ads. For an extra boost in visibility, try incorporating a search term or even a product category.

2. Get the picture perfect

Where possible, use a different type of image to your competitors. By this logic, it’s possible that a real-life snap of an item might draw more eyeballs than one against a plain white background, like the image on the left:

Is this always advised? Well, we can’t deny that most of the Shopping ads you see are on a white background. This is pulled straight from an advertiser’s domain, where an image like the one on the left would look a tad strange.

Google has also been known to take down products with images that feature text over them. However, some appear to be passing through the barrier, allowing eBay sellers to make small ground on this tweak.

3. Save time on product descriptions

One of the easiest ways of approaching feed optimisation is by starting with the description of the product. On the contrary, recent tests show that even a completely irrelevant description will do little to harm your performance on certain items.

For specific queries, where people know what they want, think about what they’re looking at. Do they really want to know the brand ethos of the manufacturer of the trousers they’re comparing prices on?

While we wouldn’t advise joking around with this, you have to wonder if chopping your verse down by a few words will push you over the line.

4. Consider the landing

So your Shopping campaign is working well and people are clicking through to your site. It’s idyllic to think that every click on a PLA leads to a sale of the item in question. In fact, tests show that only happens in 34% of cases, with the majority of conversions being on products that weren’t advertised.

There are many ways to optimise on the unpredictability of what happens next. One way about things is to have the user directed to a landing page for a product category, which gives prominence to the item they clicked. That allows them to enquire about further details as well as look at what else is around.

5. Get sneaky with impression-based campaigns

We’re not quite done with the 34% stat… If most of your PLAs are being used to drive traffic, why not point them to high-margin items once they’re on your site?

Tailoring your web pages to feature products that are priced higher will naturally give you a better ROI than simply focusing on the items that are being clicked on (usually those priced a bit more competitively).

Of course, you can’t direct the user to a different page entirely, but it might be wise to grill your designer for ways of getting the big earners in the shop window.

6. Get reviewed

Customer Reviews are not in the list of essentials needed to start a Shopping campaign but they sure help when it comes to getting seen above some tight competition.

You need to have a minimum of 50 reviews across your catalogue for this to be counted, while each item must have gained at least three reviews to have its rating displayed on Shopping Ads.

With Google winding down its Trusted Stores certification for more emphasis on its review system, there’s never been a better time to get rated.

7. Troubleshoot

Most Shopping users will have experienced issues with their feed which lead to zero impressions. To save you a bit of time trawling through the AdWords Merchant Centre forum, here are the prime suspects:

  • Invalid URLs (the dreaded 404)
  • Missing information (titles, descriptions, availability, price, GTINs)
  • Promotional or keyword-stuffed text
  • Text overlapping images (the rules are inconsistent but even a border can set this off)
  • Low bid range

An extra factor to keep in mind is price matching. Google needs the prices on your site to replicate those on the ad, so applying your site-wide 10% off to your ads will ensure everything runs as it should.

8. Pair feeds with structured data markup

On the subject of little tweaks, why not take advantage of free tools like Google’s structured data markup, allowing you to benefit from automatic item updates?

This function pulls the data from your site and applies it to the relevant Shopping ads, saving you a fair bit of time as well as reducing your chance of suspension.

9. Price it right

If you’ve been overwhelmed by the performance of your top earners on Shopping and you’re not afraid of upping the price to capitalise on a surge in business, you might want to think again.

Research shows that drastic increases in the going rate of goods can seriously hamper things on an impression level. Of course, price is one of a few factors used by Google to define a prominent listing, but don’t be mistaken for thinking that even a small increase across hundreds of items won’t carry impact, as the loss may outweigh the return.

10. Allow mid-range converters a chance at the top tier

Moving away from the feed and onto your bid management, we have the separation of campaigns which return well, return to some extent, and return poorly.

While there might be plenty of reasons why a low seller cannot become one of your big guns (it could be that bit too niche, or maybe you can’t compete with others on price), it pays to push your ‘mid tier’ every now and then.

One way to do this is by determining a goal for the CPA of an item that is returning a little below the top earners  – say, with an ROI 3x above the sale price. Increase the bid by 3-5% for every product that surpasses it, depending on the existing amount on the table, and see how things do.

11. Trust a robot

Uh-oh – programmatic technology messing with your tried and tested bidding strategy? A quick trawl around the comments on some of the articles aligning PPC with automation suggests that not all members of the old guard like the sound of that. But are they right?

In short, probably not. Automation has changed advertising as we know it; picking display off the canvas and helping it forge a reputation as a highly effective, efficient machine. Lots of tools can help you automate your Shopping bids; even Google has its own via features like Target Return on Ad Spend, making it a no-brainer for retailers with huge campaigns and lots of segmentation.

12. Stamp out the negatives

We all know about using negative keywords to prevent your products from showing up in queries where they have no hope of converting. Where possible, assumptions over what may not work should be avoided at all costs. The same applies to aggressive usage of negative keywords, although some experts have reported success off the back of this.

For identifying those undesired terms, consult with the AdWords Search Terms report or take to the search blogs to see where your bids are best avoided.  

13. Benchmark yourself against the norm

Competitor analysis is made easy with Google’s benchmarks for click-through rates and the cost per click. Anonymised advertiser data pulled straight from Shopping users can give you a rough idea of what to bid on, based on the recent auctions of similar items.

It’s common for advertisers to sidestep this and simply pay what they can afford, and there’s nothing wrong with this. In some cases, increasing the bid rate to reflect Google’s standards can have an adverse impact, especially on ROI. For example, upping the bid on a range of products could see them competing with high-end items, where advertisers naturally pay more to land a bigger deal.

The key here is gradual increases or decreases with specific products to determine a winning formula.

14. Read the script

If you’re yet to have a crack at using AdWords scripts with your Shopping campaigns then we’d certainly advise doing so. You can develop your own rules for automating certain process, but that might defeat the object. Instead, why not do a quick search and see what you can find?

Take this blog outlining ways to avoid duplicating product targets and examining the contents of the ‘everything else’ bucket. Information on using said scripts can be found here.

15. Promote it

Put things on a pedestal with Google’s Merchant Centre Promotions, which allow you to apply visible tags that alert the user to benefits like free shipping or discounts.

Many have reported a lift in CTRs off the back of this method of incentivisation. However, it’s best to trial things with a small promotion and ascertain the value in terms of clicks, conversions and ROI.

16. Segment a poor mobile effort

Advertisers tend to segment their Shopping campaigns according to their rate of selling and also the country in which they target. Some go one step further with segmentation of their mobile efforts, which does make a fair bit of sense when you read into things.

For one, mobile campaigns have a rep for converting much lower than those on desktop. The former only drove 29% of all revenue from PLAs in 2016, so it might be best tackling that beast on its own.

Try separating mobile and desktop traffic to adjust bids according to product groups rather than campaigns, and generally drill down into why things might not be working on a device.

17. Talk your language

While basic segmentation is good for identifying your shoes from your shirts, custom labels allow you to apply tags to categories that make sense to you.

Apply additional information like ‘big earners’ or ‘clearance’ to get your own view of the proceedings. Here are a few examples:

Custom labelDescriptionValues
Big earnersTop Sellers
custom_label_1SeasonAutumn, winter, spring, summer
custom_label_2Type of saleLimited availability, spring sale, summer sale

18. Go local

When it comes to segmentation by geo, it pays to drill down into specific cities and regions to avoid generalising on what people are likely to spend.

For instance, you can use Google’s bid adjustment tool to dedicate more budget to heavily populated and connected areas while taking things down a notch in places with lower average order values.

19. Bid for every product

While grouping items makes reporting easy for some of the larger retailers, this might not be the best way to expand those margins and keep everything as cost effective.

Small and mid-sized retailers should consider assigning a different bid for every product according to what they feel they should pay out. We’re not going to side-step around the fact this could take ages for any company with an extensive catalogue, but it’s in these instances that agencies and tools really prove their worth.

20. Remarket to the masses

Search expert Larry Kim claims “ridiculous” ROI off the back of targeting audiences that have expressed an interest in buying with you. Enabling remarketing on Google Analytics is as simple as flicking a switch and it’s highly advised for Shopping campaigns.

After turning this on, you’ll want to separate the remarketing audiences to ramp things up on Shopping, which can be done by the new audience builder (admin > remarketing > audiences > new audience) within Analytics. Head over to Shopping to complete the process by adjusting your bid for the new audience.

That’s our lot for this time. If you have any further questions regarding the Shopping feature or wish to share a tip of your own, please get in touch via *insert field*.

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