Simply put, Google Shopping is the best AdWords tool for e-commerce businesses to sell more stuff and make more money online.

With traditional Search and Display ads, users click on your ads before they have all the relevant information they may need before purchasing one of your products. Google Shopping campaigns allow you to put your products in front of ready-to-buy audiences across devices.

Google Shopping is the internet’s version of window shopping. By displaying all the important information before a user clicks, you avoid most surprises (like sticker shock and misused keywords) that would cause them to bail before a purchase and increase your conversion rate.

Today we’re going to cover getting set-up with Google’s Merchant Center, and how to launch your first Shopping campaign. Let’s dive in! In this post, we’ll outline step-by-step:

The AdHawk e-Commerce Google Shopping Guide

google shopping guide


Already set up with Google Shopping? Head down to Step 4 to learn more about bid strategy & optimization tips.


Step 1 – Getting Started With Your Merchant Center

Many e-commerce store owners talk about Google’s Merchant center like it’s the elephant graveyard from the Lion King – a daunting and potentially dangerous direction for your e-commerce business. This is true if you embark on this journey alone. But, we’re here to walk you through how to master the Merchant Center and start reaching a more engaged, relevant, and ready-to-buy audience. 

The best place to start is populating your Merchant Center with your precious product to start selling on Google Shopping. The Merchant Center is where your product data feeds live—aka that giant “spreadsheet” that contains all the products you sell. Each item has a number of attributes that help shoppers find exactly what they are looking for: 

  • ID
  • Title
  • Description
  • Google Product Category
  • Product Type
  • Availability
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Size
  • Condition

These product attributes in the Merchant center are your Store’s online foundation – the brick & mortar, if you will. Unlike Search campaigns, the ads for your Shopping campaigns will be automatically generated by Google using the information in your data feed. What does that mean for you? It means you don’t have to spend any time writing ads that sound more like you’re selling your soul instead of premium T-Shirts. 

Google Merchant Center Setup

Getting set up with a Merchant Center account is a multi-step process—so let’s get started:

  1. Open Your Merchant Center. Once you’re there, log in with the same Gmail email you use to sign into Google Analytics & Google AdWords.
  2. Begin the setup process by filling in your store name and website URL. Fill out your ‘Contact Details’ section and click ‘Continue’.
  3. The next page will ask you to review and accept the Merchant Center Terms and Conditions. Click ‘Continue’.
  4. The last step in the Merchant Center setup is to verify your website URL and “claim your website.” Click ‘Finish’ and you’ll be taken to your Merchant Center Dashboard.
  5. Once you land on your Merchant Center Dashboard you will be able to submit your data feed, promotions feed, and more.
Pictured: your future money printing machine


Step 2: Understanding the Required Data Feed Attributes

The most successful Shopping campaigns start with a perfectly filled out data feed. There are lots of different attributes that you can include in your data feed, and today we’re going to cover the ones that are absolutely necessary.

id – The ‘id’ is the identifier of the item. According to Google, the identifiers for each item have to be unique and cannot be reused between feeds for the same country in the same language. For example, ‘ada123US’.

title – The ‘title’ refers to the title of the item. Google recommends including the color and brand in the title to differentiate between products.  For example, ‘Women’s Purple Nike Sneakers’.

description – The ‘description’ is how you will explain the item to potential customers. It’s important to use this attribute to explain the item’s most relevant characteristics.

link – The URL that directly links to your item’s page on your website, it’s also referred to as a landing page. The product on this page needs to be identical to the product in the ad.

image link – The URL of the image of the item. This is the first image a user will see on product detail pages.

condition – The current state of the item. You must select 1 of 3 options: new, refurbished, or used.

availability – The current availability status of your items. This will indicate to users that your items will be delivered within a reasonable amount of time. You must select 1 of 3 options: pre-order, in stock, out of stock.

price – The cost of the item. The price needs to be featured prominently on the image link/landing page.

brand – The brand or manufacturer of your item. This information is important from a buying standpoint to assess quality.

GTIN – The Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) of your item. The GTIN can consist of one of the following formats: UPC (in North America / GTIN-12), EAN (in Europe / GTIN-13), JAN (in Japan / GTIN-13), ISBN (for books), or ITF-14 (for multipacks / GTIN-14).

identifier exists – The attribute used when unique product identifiers or GTINs do not exist. For example, custom handmade goods like scarves or wallets would have an ‘identifier exists’ attribute with a value of ‘FALSE’.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it covers everything you need to hit the ground running. Be sure to check Google’s guide for a deeper dive into key attributes for you data feed.

Step 3 – Submitting Your Data Feed

Your Merchant Center data feed powers the information in your Google Shopping campaigns and is widely considered to be the biggest pain in the ass when it comes down to Google Shopping. Good news is that it’s not nearly as bad as some folks make it out to be.

The most important thing to remember is keeping your information as current as possible. If an item goes out of stock, update your feed.  If you just snapped some fresh new photos of your items that look amazing, update your feed. If you just received a fresh shipment of Yeezy Boost 350s, for the love of god update your feed! You get the idea.


There are three ways to update and upload your product feed:

1. Direct Upload

Direct Upload is the easiest way to upload your data feed to Merchant Center if you’re starting out for the first time. It will only work for files under 20 MB.
To utilize the Direct Upload feature, follow the steps below:

  1. Sign-in to your Merchant Center account and click ‘Data Feeds’
  2. Locate your feed from the list of registered files, and click on ‘Data feed name’ in the ‘Name’ column. ‘Data feed name’ link should be associated with the file you would like to submit
  3. Click ‘Manual Upload’ on the next page
  4. Click ‘Select file’ in the pop-up window
  5. Find the file you would like to upload and click ‘Open’
  6. Click ‘Upload and process this file’

This upload may take several minutes depending on the size of your file and may take up to 24 hours for your items to be updated in your account.

2. FTP and SFTP Upload

Leveraging FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Upload and SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) are effective options if your business contains a diverse product library. Both FTP and SFTP allow file sizes up to 1 GB.

Though the two are very similar, SFTP uses encryption to secure your data while it’s being transferred while FTP upload is not. We agree with Google 

Getting set up with FTP and SFTP is a bit trickier than Direct Upload. We would cover each step in the process, but Google has done a lot of the work for us. Follow their instructions to ensure successful setup

3. Schedule Fetches

The key to Direct and FTP is staying organized. Make a list, check it twice, have some candy canes. The real pain in the ass is keeping the data feed up to date.

At a minimum, your feed needs to be updated once every 30 days, but the best rule of thumb is to update it to reflect any big change to your inventory/business (items in stock, items out of stock, etc.). This can get exhausting if you have to update multiple times throughout the week, and that’s a big reason why businesses turn to Schedule Fetches.

Schedule Fetches takes the burden of constantly updating your data feed manually away by allowing you to create an uploading schedule that’s hosted on your website.

To create or edit a schedule for your data feed, follow the instructions below:

  1. Sign-in to your Merchant Center account
  2. Click the ‘Feeds’ tab (make sure you have already registered your feed in your account)
  3. Click the name of the data feed you want to schedule
  4. Click the Schedule tab, and then the ‘Edit Schedule’ link at the bottom of the page
  5. Select the schedule you would like to add to the data feed

Uploading Data Feeds correctly is a little bit of a time invest up front, but we promise it’s worth the investment.

Step 4 – Setting Up Your Google Shopping Campaign

Once you’ve built your store’s foundation, you’re ready to start building out your Google Shopping campaign.

To get your Google Shopping campaign up and running, follow the steps below:

  1. Make sure you’re in the “Campaigns” and click +CAMPAIGN 
  2. Select “Shopping”
  3. Name your campaign something easily identifiable like “Shopping Campaign”
  4. Link your Merchant ID where it says “Merchant identifier”
  5. Under “Country of sale” select the country or countries where your product will be sold
  6. Under “Locations”, select where you want your ads to show or exclude locations where you don’t want your ads to show
  7. Add your default bid and budget
  8. Click “Save and Continue”

Using Product Groups to Increase Shopping Sales

The real power of Google Shopping comes from the flexibility you can achieve by setting bids at the “Product Group” level. “Product Group” refers to the subset of your product inventory that you are able to define clearly.

For example, let’s say you’re the owner of an online store that sells electronic equipment. It would be in your best interest to set-up your account by having “Product Groups” organize your inventory.  You could break your products out by things like “brand” name, “product type,” or even something custom and fancy like “margins.” Product groups can be used to organize your inventory at a high level, but can also be used to drill down to the individual product id.

This flexibility is important is important because it allows you to control the bids across groups of items or individual items within your inventory. This way, you’re not forced to bid the same amount on those old school Sony Walkmans as you would on the expensive gold iPod Touch.

We’re going to walk through how to properly set up “Product Groups, but let’s first take a look at the 8 options of “Product Groups” you get to choose to leverage.

The 8 Product Group Categories

  • Item ID
  • Brand
  • Category
  • Product Type
  • Custom Labels
  • Condition
  • Channel
  • Channel Exclusivity

Each one of these “Product Groups” (except for “Item ID”) can be layered on top of one another based on your organizational preference.

To help set the scene a little bit, we’re going to use our example from earlier. Let’s say you’re the owner of an online store that sells electronic equipment. One way to break down your “Product Groups” could be starting with “Category”, then breaking things down a little further by “Brand”, and finally rounding out the breakdown by “Item ID”. This allows for some basic organization, and the ability to adjust your bids at 3 specific levels (“Category”, “Brand”, and “Item ID”).

Download (PDF, 32KB)

When adjusting bids across “Product Groups”, it’s important to note that any bid set at the breakdown level will trump the bid “above” it. For example, if you set a bid for an individual product at the “Item ID” level, that bid will trump the bid placed at the “Brand” or “Category” level. If you set the same bid for every item under a specific “Brand”, that bid will trump the bids set at the “Category” level.

It’s this control over Product Group bids that separate the good from the great advertisers on Google shopping.

How to Organize Your Product Groups for Google Shopping

Now that you understand why breaking out and organizing your product groups is important, let’s take a look at how to set it all up in your Shopping campaign.

Follow the instructions below:

  1. Select the Ad Group in your Shopping Campaign that you would like to organize
  2. Make sure you’re in the “Product Groups” tab. If you don’t see a “Product Groups” tab, it means you’re in the Campaign level view not the Ad Group level view.Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.34.10 PM
  3. If you have never broken out your product groups before, you should see a chart with a section that reads “All Products”. Next to “All Products” will be a plus sign (+).
  4. Click the plus sign (+). A window will appear.Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.34.38 PM
  5. Click the drop-down menu at the top of the window and select the attribute to further break down your product group
  6. After you select the attribute to break down your product group, you’ll see a list of possible subdivisions. Click “Select” next to each of the subdivisions you want to add to your product group
  7. Click Save to add the subdivision to your product group

Once you get back to the “Product Groups” tab you’ll notice that “All Products” is now subdivided by the attributes you selected. Once your product group is subdivided, you can begin to adjust your bids for each product group by clicking in the MAX CPC column next to each product group name.

This flexibility around adjusting bids give you more control by allowing you to do things like increase the bids on products with high price tags and good margins, and lowering the bids on the products with low price tags and poor margins.

Segment Your Bids Using the Priority Funnel

The biggest challenge with Shopping Ads (besides setting it up) is that you can’t bid per keyword. Instead, Google automatically selects which of your products show up for certain search results.

The only way you can control your budget preferences is to place your bids on the product-group level. So what you’re doing is bidding on a bucket of keywords that your product might show up for. This means segmenting your bids is a difficult task because you can’t bid higher or lower based on keyword search volume.

However, you can hack the system by using priorities and negative keywords to funnel search queries. Learn how in our Google Shopping Ad Priority Guide.

Wrapping It Up

If leveraged effectively, Google Shopping can be the most impactful AdWords tool for e-commerce businesses. It will take you a tiny bit of effort to get every piece in the puzzle working properly, I promise you it will be worth it.

Remember to set up your Merchant Center account before you do anything else, and follow our instructions to organize your product groups correctly. Once all the heavy lifting is over, small tweaks to product bids and keeping up with the product feed will be the only things you’ll need to worry about. Well, that and counting all of those sweet, sweet conversions you’ll be seeing.

Google Shopping Priority Funnel Infographic

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About the Author

Dan Pratt is the co-founder and COO of AdHawk (Techstars ‘15). Prior to founding AdHawk, he worked on the Accelerated Growth team at Google, helping startups assess, refine and grow their digital advertising. He’s an expert in all forms of paid advertising and has been honing his marketing and sales skills since selling homemade pizza from his desk in third grade.