3 Steps to a Winning Google Shopping Strategy

The world of paid digital advertising is changing fast. Over the last year alone, marketers have had to adapt to big changes on Facebook’s platform. They now have to reckon with the continued growth of Amazon, which is taking an ever-larger bite out of online advertising budgets. Even Google, long the alpha dog in digital marketing, is altering its approach with the changing times.

Over the past few years, an interesting trend has emerged. Google Shopping ads steadily are increasing their search engine results page (SERP) share when compared to text ads. Shopping ads typically have higher engagement rates — probably because Google users like pictures more than text ads — and come at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).

In response to this change, digital ad budgets are shifting dramatically. Traditionally, these would be pretty evenly split between text ads. As SERPs have changed, however, ad spend ratios in some business sectors have ballooned to as high as 90/10 in favor of Google Shopping.

If you’re working on an e-commerce marketing campaign, these developments underscore the importance of optimizing for Google Shopping success. Here are three steps you can take to get started.

Step 1: Determine Your Ideal Cost per New Customer

Before you launch your first campaign, it’s important to define the parameters for success and failure. These will serve as a useful guide as you experiment with bid strategies and your cost for conversions.

To measure your return, you first must determine how much you’re willing to spend for each new customer. This number naturally will vary, depending on the type of business — and if you are using the value of each transaction, the lifetime value of a customer, or something in between.

Profit margin will play a major role as well. A brand might have an average profit margin of 60 percent to work within, for example, while a reseller might have only a 20 percent profit margin.

Sellers also must decide if they’re looking to optimize for profit or for customer volume. For example, you can make US$500 from five customers at $100 profit each, or on $1 of profit from 500 customers.

While the higher per-sale profit might seem more attractive, it actually can be deceiving. By lowering your per-sale price and reducing your profit per-sale, you might be in a better position to achieve enough sales volume to end up with more total profit.

Once you’ve set the financial boundaries for your campaign, it’s time to start optimizing your product offerings.

Step 2: Audit and Optimize Your Google Shopping Feed

Most e-commerce platforms have the ability to generate a product feed that can be sent directly to the Google Merchant Center. Before you pull the trigger, however, you should audit your feed to ensure each product is sending the correct search signals.

These are the most important areas to watch:

  • Product Categorization: The general rule here is to be as accurate as possible. For example, a spoon should be classified as a spoon rather than dinnerware. Otherwise, your products may not appear when shoppers are searching.
  • Product Attributes: Depending on your product offerings, these could include color, sizing, material or gender. Remember, if your target shopper is searching for a green cashmere women’s sweater, you need to provide the right information to appear on the SERP.
  • Product Titles and Descriptions: People search differently when they’re using a search engine versus when they’re on your site. As a result, your onsite product titles and descriptions might not be search-friendly. The challenge here is that whatever is on the site will be what’s passed through to the merchant center.

    Fortunately, feed-management platforms like Feedonomics, GoDataFeed or Feed Logic can act as a go-between for your site and the Google Merchant Center. This allows you to retain your onsite titles and descriptions, while at the same time delivering optimized search info for Google Shopping. Feed managers also can provide simultaneous customized feeds for other platforms like Facebook, Bing, or dynamic remarketing vendors.

  • Product Photography: Because Google Search is so visually focused, product photography plays an important role in conversions. Your onsite photos should look good and be free of watermarks or other text. Your photos also should align with the search results you’re targeting.
  • Product Diversity: With Google Shopping campaigns, product price has a large impact on ranking factor. For example, larger price-point items relative to the competition come with higher click costs and lower click-through-rates. This likely is because Google believes your higher-priced item will receive fewer clicks than competing items, and Google in turn will make less money (remember, Google makes its money off clicks).

    On average, 60 percent of the time users will buy a different product than the one they clicked on initially. Just because they clicked on a cheaper, lower-margin product doesn’t mean that’s what they ultimately bought. To account for those factors, send Google a full range of products rather than focusing on the higher-margin, more expensive ones. This strategy will help your overall click costs balance out.

  • Site Optimization: The ultimate goal with Google Shopping ads is to drive high-quality traffic to your site, so the site can act as the salesperson. However, if your site’s not well designed, your conversion rate will suffer. Keep in mind, the first thing your Google Shopping visitors see will be a product page, so give yours plenty of attention. Use recommended products or breadcrumb trails so visitors easily can browse and discover new products.

Step 3: Begin Your Campaign

Now that you’ve established a budget and optimized your product feed, it’s time to start advertising. Many marketers choose to use automated bidding platforms to run their campaigns, but we’ve found this approach has a couple of important limitations:

  1. Shopping tends to be more fluid than other ad categories. Marketers need to monitor their search query reports actively to see what they’re actually showing up for. That’s something automated system can’t do.
  2. When you adjust bids on shopping ads, you’re making those products eligible to show in different searches. Low bids will show for more specific searches, while higher bids will show up in much broader searches. Automated platforms don’t have a good handle on this subtlety.

For a Google Shopping campaign, you’ll want to have as much control over the process as possible. To accomplish this, consider running one product line, category or brand per campaign with ad groups made up of single item IDs. Other marketers find this approach cumbersome, but it can be useful for two important reasons:

  1. The level of control and insight gained using this approach drives the best performance possible by identifying what’s being clicked on versus what products actually are being purchased.
  2. This process will allows you to maintain a much more precise return on advertising spend (ROAS) goal.

As your campaign continues, make sure to audit your search query reports regularly. This will reveal which of your products are showing up based on search terms. The info also will enable you to continue optimizing your feed while making informed adjustments to your bidding strategy.

Give Your Customers the Information They Need

It’s becoming increasingly clear that e-commerce operations no longer can rely on text ads alone to drive traffic.

As Google Shopping continues to grow as a share of SERP, marketers must provide Google the information shoppers need to make purchasing decisions.

With the right product optimization and a disciplined campaign strategy, you’ll begin seeing real results.

Brandon Bauer is manager of enterprise strategy at Logical Position. As a 10-year veteran of the search engine marketing industry, he has made substantial contributions to its enterprise team. In particular, he drew on his personal passion for video to help pioneer Logical Position's YouTube advertising service. He's also grown some of the company's largest accounts while helping other team members implement strategies for their clients.

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