Strategies for Optimizing Your Google Shopping Feed and AdWords Account

If you’re in e-commerce, chances are you’re familiar with the concept of product listing ads (PLAs), specifically Google’s PLA offering called Google Shopping. But here’s a little background, just in case.

Google Shopping ads are cost per click (CPC) ads that merchants purchase through AdWords and appear on Google search results pages. What sets them apart from a standard text ad is that they

  1. Display an image of the product with pricing, and
  2. Are managed in a completely different way within Adwords

Here’s an example for the search “wall clocks”:

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Although it is common practice to simply link your product feed to Google Merchant Center and start running a Google Shopping campaign in AdWords, it’s no longer enough to just set it and forget it. In order for ads to be displayed correctly, both the product feed and AdWords account needs to be properly set up, managed, and optimized on a regular basis.

Key Areas to Optimize in your Feed

The Google product category – Google has a master list of product taxonomy (classifications) that they have standardized. Often, the e-commerce platform export that is used to transfer the product feed to Google Merchant Center isn’t aligned with Google’s taxonomy, so the information shows up incorrectly, in the wrong place, or not at all.

This categorization process is how Google serves ads, so it’s critical to tell them what specific category your product belongs to. For example, if you want to sell sunglasses, you need to tell Google that your product belongs in “apparel and accessories,” then “clothing accessories,” and then you’d select the actual category “sunglasses.”

Titles – Product titles are perhaps the number one place to optimize for better performance. It’s very important to keep a close watch on which keywords are triggering certain products to display and use that data to test and refine product titles. For example you might find that the search term “reclaimed wood table” is converting well for your product titled “recycled barnwood table.” As a result, you might consider changing the product title to include the word “reclaimed” in order to optimize your Google Shopping ad.

Color – The color associated with your product should be something that Google understands. If you have a product in a color that you’re calling “heather,” you might be better served by renaming it “light forest green” in Google.

Size, Gender, Age – With apparel specifically, all of these categories need to be reviewed and, if necessary, revised to ensure that each category has the appropriate information. For example, if you have both adult and kids’ clothing, make sure that you use the age field to let Google know which is which. The risk of not doing this would be displaying kids’ clothing to searchers looking for adult apparel.

AdWords Account Optimization

In the initial Google Shopping campaign setup within AdWords, the system creates an ad group called “All Products.” Essentially this is one ad group that contains all of your products. If products aren’t segmented into subcategories, you will only have one set of statistics that reflect your entire product offering. Without knowing which categories, price points, colors, or individual products are performing well or poorly, there is no way to optimize.

To obtain more precise information about your campaigns, it’s important to break down the “All Products” category into more relevant subcategories that mirror the categories and subcategories on your website, for example: jeans, swimwear, sunglasses, shorts, skirts, accessories, etc.

This makes it possible to run specific category promotions and to establish a cost per acquisition for each product category. Subcategories also help companies determine which categories have the best ROI and which products or categories justify higher bids. Additionally, these sub-categories produce hard data that can support either expanding or shutting down a campaign.

Evaluate Each Subcategory

Once you’ve created your categories and subcategories, it’s important to drill down into each one in order to evaluate what’s happening on the product level. For example, in the T-shirts ad group, you might see that red T-shirts are selling well, whereas blue shirt sales are down. You’ll want to separate out outlier products (either good or bad) so that you can adjust bids and micromanage to your advantage.

Your AdWords account also allows you to run a search term report so you can see what exact keywords people are searching for. If you discover that people are searching for “cat T-shirts,” but you do not sell cat T-shirts, or plan on doing so in the future, then you’d be able to exclude those search terms in AdWords in order to better refine your results.

As a best practice, it’s ideal to check your Merchant Center feed fairly often. This will depend on how frequently your company enters new products into the system, but the goal is to quickly identify any feed errors that may be hurting your Google Shopping performance. Google is all about giving searchers the most relevant results possible. To the extent that you can continuously optimize your feed and Google Shopping campaigns, you will likely realize higher click-through rates and a significantly better return on ad spend.

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