As a retailer, you already know that Google Shopping is a highly effective way to reach new audiences and sell products without breaking the bank. Today, most Google Shopping optimisation tips revolve around the Google Ads campaign strategy: bid management, campaign structure, budget setting, and so on. But what people often overlook is an equally essential component of a successful campaign: optimising your product feed. In this complete guide to Google Shopping optimisation, we’ll be covering both of these fundamental elements. Our goal is to show you why they’re important and equip you with concrete, actionable steps for making the most of your Google Shopping initiatives.
Let’s get to it!
- What exactly is Google Shopping?
- Benefits of Google Shopping to merchants
- Google Shopping terminology
- How to get started with Google Shopping
- Key elements of Google Shopping optimisation
- How to optimise your data feed [both free and paid]
- How to optimise your Google Ads campaigns [paid only]
- Content experimentation [paid only]
- Take Google Shopping optimisation to the next level with Intelligent Reach
What exactly is Google Shopping?
Google Shopping is a service that lets consumers discover, compare, and buy products via Google. It has evolved from what was previously known as Product Listing Ads, which allowed merchants to bid on specific search terms in order to promote relevant products in their inventory.
Google Shopping’s discovery phase works a lot like regular organic search: It pulls up a list of items from different retailers that correspond to the keywords used. From here, potential buyers can sort, filter, and narrow their search based on different criteria to facilitate comparison shopping.
In the past, Google would only display products from advertisers who paid to get their items listed. That all changed in May 2020, when Google launched free product listings. These look and function very similarly to the paid ads but surface the products organically. This helps retailers without any advertising budget get a slice of the comparison shopping pie. (Think organic search results vs. sponsored ads.)
Benefits of Google Shopping to merchants
If you sell anything on the internet, Google Shopping is one of the most powerful tools for reaching potential buyers.
Here are some of the benefits of Google Shopping for ecommerce businesses.
We don’t have to tell you just how popular Google is. It absolutely dominates the search engine game with a 92% market share, processing over 8.5 billion searches every day. In a 2021 survey, 68% of consumers said they turn to Google when shopping for a specific product.
Google is an inherent part of our daily lives, easily accessible at all times on any device. Being visible on Google Shopping gives any retailer an unprecedented level of potential exposure.
Product listings aren’t limited to just the dedicated Google Shopping hub. Depending on the nature of the search and how your product feed is set up, your items can appear within Google properties like:
- Google Search
- Google Shopping
- Google Images
- Google My Business
- Google Maps
- Google Lens
By carefully managing your product feed and shopping campaigns, you can secure broad exposure across Google.
Unlike other advertising methods—where your ads are competing for the user’s attention—Google Shopping displays your listing to people who’re actively looking to buy. They’re typically either researching a product, comparison shopping, or hunting for the best offer.
Such pre-qualified shoppers are more likely to engage with your listing, leading to more website traffic and higher conversion rates.
As an extension of the above, your products will typically only be shown if they’re relevant to the user’s search. This lets you carefully adapt your listings towards a specific shopping intent by working with product titles, descriptions, and other feed attributes. The end result is a better match between a shopper’s needs and the retailer’s products.
If nothing else, having your items regularly pop up in related results across Google grants you a degree of brand awareness. If you’re a new ecommerce store, this may be a cost-effective way to gain initial traction. If you’re an established brand, being present in Google Shopping lets you stay top of mind.
Remember that Google Shopping isn’t only for paying advertisers. Even if you have no budget for product promotion, you can get decent exposure simply by ensuring that your product listings align with the user’s search intent.
In order to get their ads accepted or have their listings show up organically, merchants must comply with rather strict guidelines from Google. These apply to the merchant account itself, the ad campaigns, and the quality of your data feed.
By enforcing these quality standards, Google Shopping nudges merchants to up their game. The end result is a better shopping experience for the buyers and higher conversion rates for the sellers.
Google Shopping terminology
Before we move on, it’s important to understand some of the terminology around Google Shopping.
Google Ads vs. Google Shopping Ads
First off, let’s clarify the relationship between regular Google Ads and Google Shopping Ads (formerly known as “Product Listing Ads.”)
Standard Google Ads are any text-based ads that show up in SERP during a search. They can be used for general branding, company messaging, special promotions, and so on. There’s isn't always a purchase intent behind these ads.
Google Shopping Ads, on the other hand, are a subset of Google Ads dedicated exclusively to promoting individual products rather than top-level brand info. A typical Google Shopping Ad will include a product name and image, retailer website, and price information. Their primary purpose is to drive traffic to the retailer’s site with the intent to buy the product.
Image source: DisruptiveAdvertising
Google Shopping Ads can appear across a wide range of Google properties and are more noticeable due to their use of images. These ads are far more effective at driving clickthrough and conversions than ordinary text-based ads.
The effectiveness of your Google Shopping Ads depends in large part on a well-maintained, optimised product feed, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Local Inventory Ads
Local Inventory Ads (LIAs) are a special type of shopping ads that trigger based on location. This typically involves “near me” or “[product type] in [area]” types of searches. Unlike other shopping ads, LIAs’ goal is not to drive people to a website but to a physical store.
“Near me” searches are on the rise, which makes LIAs especially attractive to retailers with brick-and-mortar stores. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, our guide to LIAs and their usage is a great place to start.
Surfaces across Google
This term refers to all the Google properties where shopping ads may show up, depending on the search and filtering options. We’ve covered them in our post about Surfaces across Google and organic product listings.
Google Smart Shopping
Launched in 2018, Google Smart Shopping campaigns let Google take over paid campaign management on behalf of the merchants. Smart Shopping uses AI-driven algorithms to adjust bidding, ad placement, and other campaign parameters.
This takes some degree of control away from merchants but makes it much easier and faster to get started with paid Shopping Ads. Read our previous post for specific tips on making the most out of Smart Shopping Campaigns.
How to get started with Google Shopping
So what does it take to start using Google Shopping?
There are generally two or three top-level steps, depending on whether you’re only interested in free organic exposure or want to manage paid campaigns.
1. Set up a product data feed [both free and paid]
The quality of your product data feed is paramount. It is the foundation of your entire presence on Google shopping.
The data in your product feed is what Google uses to populate the individual ads, identify which searches to display the ads for, and so on.
In short: Poor-quality feed = poor shopping ad campaign performance.
Creating a product data feed
A product feed is essentially a CSV, XML, JSN, or TXT file that contains all of your product information. Rows are individual products, columns are all of the attributes for each of the items.
There are three main ways to create a product feed:
1. Manual setup
Yup, this is as cumbersome as it sounds. You’ll have to personally add every product to the sheet (along with every conceivable attribute), make sure everything is properly formatted, and keep this sheet updated on a regular basis. It’s slow, labour intensive, and prone to human error, especially if you have thousands of items to manage.
2. API connection
If you’re selling on a compatible ecom site like Shopify, you can plug the background data directly into Google’s Merchant Center via API. This will feed the right product info to Google and keep it aligned between the two platforms. But it will often require further manual optimisation, for instance if Shopify uses data fields that aren’t relevant to Google.
3. Feed provider
Finally, you can turn to a third-party data feed management company like Intelligent Reach. These types of services will import or scrape your source product data to form a so-called “master feed.” This master feed is then cleaned up, optimised, and tweaked for each individual shopping platform.
There are numerous advantages of using a data feed provider.
First, these specialist providers know the exact format used by each shopping site, so you don’t have to re-learn the fundamentals every time you want to open a new channel.
Second, they keep your feed maintained and optimised when your inventory and product info changes.
Third, once your master feed is set up, it can be used to automatically create dedicated feeds for dozens of ecommerce or and shopping platforms in addition to just Google.
Finally, Intelligent Reach lets you run content experiments in order to make each individual ad more effective at getting clicks and conversions.
For retailers selling hundreds of products across multiple channels, data feed providers are practically a must-have.
2. Create a Google Merchant Centre account [both free and paid]
Once your feed is ready, you’ll need to sign up for a free Google Merchant Centre account.
This will involve providing Google with information about your business, selecting the type of checkout you’ll be using, and integrating any third-party platforms.
Most crucially, the GMC is also where you’ll upload your above product data feed, so that Google has the information it needs in order to generate and display your ads.
Luckily, Google has a robust setup guide to walk you through the entire process.
If you’re only interested in getting free organic exposure, you’re now done! Your free product listings should soon start showing up across Google properties.
If your goal is to run paid advertising on Google, there’s one more step.
3. Sign up for Google Ads to set up your campaigns [paid only]
Google Ads provides merchants with an advertising budget with the ability to gain additional exposure. Signing up for Google Ads lets you set up, customise, and run paid ads for any products in your inventory.
There’s a thorough guide to setting up Google Ads that will help you get started.
Once your Google Ads are up and running, you should integrate them with your Google Merchant Centre account. This allows your product data feed to be used in your advertising campaigns.
Key elements of Google Shopping optimisation
Getting your feed and ad campaigns up and running is just the start.
In order to get the most out of your efforts, you must continuously experiment and optimise every aspect of your Google Shopping strategy.
In practice, this means focusing on the following three pillars.
1. Data feed optimisation [both free and paid]
This is the cornerstone of your entire Google Shopping strategy.
Whether you’re hoping for free organic exposure or spending money on paid ads, your success will be limited without an optimised product feed.
2. Campaign management [paid only]
This has to do with the nature of your Google Ads setup itself: the campaigns you run, how you structure them, your bidding strategy, the KPIs you measure, and the custom labels you use to keep things organised.
3. Content experimentation [paid only]
Paid advertising campaigns are all about getting the best Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS), otherwise known as “getting more bang for your buck.”
Content experimentation is an essential part of that effort. This involves testing variations of your product titles, images, category types, descriptions, and other attributes to see what drives more traffic and conversions.
Let’s now have a closer look at each of the above pillars.
How to optimise your data feed [both free and paid]
Did you know that according to Intelligent Reach insights, 80% of ecommerce products are either invisible or have very limited visibility on Google due to poor data quality? You do now!
This means it’s impossible to discuss Google Shopping optimisation without focusing on the underlying data feed. If your data feed isn’t up to scratch, everything else is doomed from the start.
Maintaining a healthy, high-quality data feed means paying attention to the following:
- Ensuring the feed uses the right format
- Providing accurate, rich item attributes
- Filling out every mandatory field
- Using optional attributes to further enhance the listing
- Making product attributes relevant to shoppers
We’ve covered data feed enrichment in more detail previously.
Provided that your feed is in good shape, here are three things you can focus on to further optimise its effectiveness.
1. Optimise your product titles
Your first order of business is to focus on product titles.
The title attribute is the most important text element of a shopping ad. That’s because:
- It determines which searches your products show up for in the first place.
- It impacts whether and how potential buyers interact with your ad.
Even though product titles can be up to 150 characters, the first 70 characters should contain all the critical information. That’s the part of the title people are guaranteed to see on any screen. As such, try to fit every primary keyword and descriptor into these first 70 characters.
But how do you know which keywords to prioritise?
Here are some ideas:
- If you’ve been running ads for a while, start by consulting your Google Search Terms Report. This tells you which searches your ads are more likely to show up for and helps you identify patterns to follow.
- If you’re just starting out, study how other players in your vertical are structuring their product titles.
- Enrich your descriptors based on insights from Google Trends.
In general, think like your customers. What product aspects would they consider the most important? What would get them to click on an ad? Which product information is a must-have in your space and which descriptors you can afford to drop or deprioritise?
Once you have your list of product descriptors, it’s time to put them together. You can treat your product attributes as LEGO blocks that can be assembled in any number of ways.
The insights you’ve gathered from Google Trends, Google Search Terms Report, etc. will be very helpful in deciding which of the LEGO pieces go where.
In the end, the only way to know for sure what works is to run content experimentation tests. Campaign performance is affected by seasonality, special promotions, events, competitions, and so on. Only by having a robust testing plan in place can you reliably measure and identify the best-performing approach. But we’ll get to that shortly.
2. Optimise your product images
While your product title ensures your ad is surfaced, it’s the product image that’s likely to drive further engagement.
The product image is the largest, most attention-grabbing part of your ad. It’s as close as online buyers will get to physically experiencing the product. This makes the image a huge decision factor, so it’s worth focusing your efforts on getting it right.
When optimising your product images, pay attention to the following:
- Google’s guidelines: In order to be shown, your image must fulfil Google’s exhaustive minimum requirements.
- Image basics: Make sure your product images accurately and fully represent the items in your inventory. For instance, if there are multiple colour variants, you should have images available for each.
- Image quality: Don’t undersell your product by serving low-detail, poor-quality images. Use this opportunity to display your items in all their glory using professionally edited, high-resolution photos.
- Lifestyle vs. product: Google usually frowns upon lifestyle images and instead prefers clean product shots against a white background.
- Additional images: You can use the [additional_image_link] attribute to display extra product images. Use this to provide shots of the product from different angles and close-up views.
3. Optimise your product types
To be clear, the [product_type] attribute is optional.
But just because you don’t have to use it, doesn’t mean it’s wise to skip it.
The product type is what helps Google better understand your categorisation and determine which queries your items are most relevant for. Google lets you use up to 5 attributes per product. We suggest using these tactically to help the algorithms surface your products to relevant shoppers.
To optimise your product types, focus on:
- Search intent: Start with the buyers’ search intent in mind and use product types that reflect their main needs and pain points. This increases both the chance of initial exposure and subsequent clicks.
- Product focus: The types you use should be closely tied to the product itself rather than reflecting broad navigational categories like “Under £5” or “Bestsellers.”
- Granularity: Be as specific with your product type categorisation to help both Google and buyers understand exactly what they’re buying. At the same time, you must avoid adding too many levels in your category strings to avoid overwhelming people with superfluous details.
- Purchase intent: If possible, try to use the attribute to nudge people towards a purchase by adding seasonal or promotional aspects (e.g. “Christmas,” “Halloween,” etc.)
How to optimise your Google Ads campaigns [paid only]
The next step in optimising your Google Shopping ads is to evaluate the way you structure and manage your paid campaigns.
Let’s look a bit more closely at what this entails.
1. Use custom labels
Google allows you to use up 5 “custom label” attributes in your feed to help segment products into various groups. These are designed to help you better manage your paid campaigns and bidding.
More specifically, they allow you to:
- Make your bidding more granular
- Easily adjust campaign structure on the fly
- Run content experiments on separate groups to optimise their performance
Custom labels might look something like this:
Here are some best practices to help guide your own custom labelling:
- Add critical attributes like stock quantities, margins, and live performance data (impressions, clicks, etc.). This lets you be more granular in your Google Ads campaign structure.
- Align your custom labels with your overall strategy and goals. This may include labels based on margins/profit, seasons, performance KPIs, stock levels, demand, and so on.
- Use dynamic custom labels that are driven by product performance. At Intelligent Reach, we have a Data Connector feature that facilitates this.
We’ve gathered more tips on using custom labels to optimise your Google Shopping performance.
2. Set up your Google Shopping Ads campaign structure
When it comes to the exact campaign structure, there’s no universal approach that will work for all companies. But generally speaking, you want to take the following into consideration:
- Feed size: Your campaign structure will depend on the total number of items, how many are in each category, their conversion data, and so on.
- Margins by category: Different product categories may have very different profit margins. Segmenting your campaign accordingly will give you better control of ROAS targets.
- Stock quantity: If stock quantities typically vary, it may make sense to group items accordingly.
- Internal targets: Some products may warrant additional ad budget based on internal performance targets and KPIs.
- Historical performance: Grouping based on past performance can make things more transparent when managing budgets and ROAS.
- Search volume: You can split the campaign into groups based on forecasted search volume from your keyword research.
3. Decide on automated vs. manual bidding strategy
In terms of bidding strategy, you have the choice between setting things up manually or letting Google’s algorithm-based Smart Shopping do this for you.
Here’s how they compare:
For most retailers, we strongly recommend using Smart Shopping. It’s automatic, quick to set up, and continuously optimises your bidding in the background, so you’re free to focus on more important things.
In April 2022, Google will begin rolling out an upgraded concept called Performance Max. It will build on Google Smart Shopping and Local campaigns to offer retailers even more ways to improve their ads performance.
4. Optimise your Google Shopping Ads
Once your overall campaign and bidding structure is in place, you’ll move on to the fun part: Monitoring and optimising the ads themselves.
We’ve already discussed the main product feed components that affect your ads and their appearance. For additional tips, check out our article about improving your Google Shopping Ads for visibility and conversion.
If you run Local Inventory Ads, we have a helpful guide to tracking and optimising your offline footfall.
5. Best practices for campaign optimisation
To keep your campaigns in good shape, stick to the following principles:
- Pacing: Don’t change your ROAS targets too often. You should aim to do this every 7 to 14 days, so that the optimisation algorithms have time to adjust.
- Analysis: Don’t react too quickly to early performance indicators. Give your campaigns time before evaluating their true success. Link your Google Ads and Google Analytics and keep track of any significant product- or market-level changes using Google Ads Notes and Google Analytics Annotations.
- Data attribution: If possible, use Google Ads’ Website Conversion Tracking Tags instead of the outdated Last Non-Direct Click model. The former has a longer conversion window and is better at identifying the true impact of ads on final conversions.
- Statistical significance: If certain campaign groups don’t have enough traffic to yield statistically significant results, consider consolidating campaigns or tracking micro conversions (e.g. items added to basket).
- New features: Google and third-party optimisation specialists constantly release new features and bidding strategies. Keep tabs on these developments so you can be the first to capitalise on them.
- Continuous improvement: Don’t treat any of your campaigns as fire-and-forget. Monitor their performance at all times and find ways to improve.
If you need even more practical info, we’ve gathered no fewer than 14 tips for optimising Google Shopping campaigns.
And speaking of continuous improvement...
Content experimentation [paid only]
We’ve now come to the last pillar of a successful Google Shopping optimisation strategy: Content experimentation.
In a nutshell, content experimentation is about constantly testing the impact of making tweaks to your product feed. The idea is to measure how these changes affect your Google Shopping clickthrough, conversion rates, ROAS, and so on. This lets you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Will putting colour ahead of the brand in the product title make a difference? Which product image gets the most clicks?
The only way to answer these questions is to run deliberate, measurable tests. These fall into three broad types:
1. Before & After tests
This method is the most straightforward. Here, you’ll run a campaign for a certain period, implement a change, and then run it again for a comparable period. Then you’ll compare the “before” and “after” performance.
Unfortunately, while easy to implement, this type of test is also the most inaccurate. That’s because it’s susceptible to seasonality (e.g. Black Friday promotions or summer slumps), which is difficult to adjust for.
2. A/B tests
In an A/B test, you serve two different versions of your content in parallel. Typically, your traffic is split 50 / 50, with each group seeing either the A or the B version. This virtually eliminates any seasonality factors and is a far more reliable way to measure the true impact of your changes.
3. Multivariate tests
This is a more advanced version of the A/B test. Instead of simply serving two different types of content, multivariate tests allow you to test tweaks to multiple parameters at the same time. This lets you arrive at the best possible combination of elements.
It’s a good idea to run content experimentation tests continuously, with e.g. quarterly test cycles where you tweak, measure, and roll out winning variations to the rest of your product feed.
The problem? Doing content experimentation manually is practically impossible. You simply can’t hope to keep track of variations, seasonality patterns, and KPIs in a consistent, aggregate way.
That’s why data feed providers like Intelligent Reach have Content Experimentation built into their service by default. This lets you continuously optimise and improve your data feed without having to proactively initiate and monitor the process.
Take Google Shopping optimisation to the next level with Intelligent Reach
As you’ve gathered, driving successful Google Shopping campaigns isn’t a walk in the park. You must ensure your product feed is error-free and optimised, set up the right campaign structure, and constantly test your content to discover what works.
Intelligent Reach is designed to make the task of running Google Shopping campaigns a lot easier. We help ecommerce businesses fuel their revenue growth through hands-off product feed management and built-in testing and optimisation.
With Intelligent Reach, you can:
- Easily create accurate, attribute-rich product feeds for Google and 1,500+ other channels
- Run powerful A/B and Multivariate tests directly via the platform
- Improve performance through automated feed optimisation and experimentation
- Spot, visualise, and fix any feed errors at scale
- …and much more
We offer a free product feed review to help you identify errors and areas of improvement.