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The Best Google Shopping Guide: An eCommerce Company’s Best Friend

If you hawk your wares online (pun very much intended), you really ought to advertise them to would-be-customers via Google Shopping ads. That’s because Google Shopping is the internet’s version of window shopping (remember when that was a thing?) It allows users to sneak glimpses of a product before taking the partial plunge of entering your store—or in this case, your website.

With traditional Search and Display ads, users have to manually click on your ads to get the relevant information they may need before purchasing one of your products. On the other hand, Google Shopping campaigns immediately put your products in front of ready-to-buy audiences across devices while prominently showcasing key product information like manufacturer, style, price, and most uniquely, a photo of what’s for sale.


 

By displaying the important information to a user before they even click, you avoid surprises (like sticker shock and misused keywords) that would normally cause them to bail before a purchase, increasing your conversion rate, and lowering errant spend on unqualified clicks.

But as with all things Google Ads, if you wanna convert with the big dogs, you’re gonna have to put in the initial work. Worry not, advertiser friends, we’ve got you covered—please enjoy our step-by-step guide to setting up your Google Merchant Center account and launching your first Shopping Campaign.

Step 0 – Set Your Marketing Goals

Before you so much as graze your laptop’s mouse, take a step back and consider what you hope to gain from your nascent Google Shopping advertising efforts. Given that this is an e-comm guide, we’ll assume maximizing sales is the ultimate objective. But like all things Google Ads, there’s a process to be followed, and results likely won’t be instantaneous.

Rather than walk in with unrealistic expectations, jot down a long-term CPA or ROAS goal, based on actual numbers (cost of your product, expected ad spend, etc.). This gives you something to optimize for. Allow a couple of months for these goals to become attainable.

If you’re super impatient, it could be helpful to think of noteworthy milestones you look forward to hitting: that first sale, the point where you are breaking even on ad spend (you gotta walk before you can run, and you gotta hit a 1.0 ROAS before you can become an e-comm mogul). Things like that.

Step 1 – Getting Started With Your Google Merchant Center

To generously paraphrase Sheryl Crow: “the first step toward running shopping ads is the most tedious.” Setting things up correctly in Google Merchant Center takes time and attention to detail, but once you get it right, you’ll be reaching engaged, relevant, and ready-to-buy users within an hour or so.

The Merchant Center is where your product data feeds live—aka that giant “spreadsheet” that contains all the products you sell. Each product should be listed along with 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

It’s super important to fill out as much information about each product as possible because Google Shopping ads are largely automated. Unlike Search campaigns, the ads for your Shopping campaigns will be automatically generated by Google using the information in your data feed, and served to users based on how their searches match up to that data, too

What does that mean for you? It means you don’t have to spend any time writing ads, and you don’t have to come up with any relevant keywords. But it does mean you should give Google as much information as possible right off the bat. To paraphrase Sheryl once more, if “all you wanna do, is sell some stuff,” then Shopping ads are sounding pretty, pretty good right about now!

How to Set Up Google Merchant Center

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 Ads.
  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.” You can do this through an HTML file upload, adding an HTML tag, or connecting your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager information. 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.
Google-Merchant-Center
Pictured: your future money printing machine

Step 2 – Understanding Google Shopping’s 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, so today we’re just 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, you’d want to use ‘ada123US’ for sales within the United States, then ‘ada123UK’ for sales within the United Kingdom.

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 explain the item to potential customers. It’s important to use this attribute to explain the item’s most relevant characteristics. This information won’t show up in your ad, but helps influence which search terms your ad will appear on—don’t be afraid to hit the character limit! More information means greater specificity, which in turn means less errant spend and a higher CTR!

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 item’s image. 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).

MPN – The manufacturer part number (MPN). This is used to differentiate a manufacturer’s products from one another. This allows customers to search for your product by MPN. Note: In order for the product to be approved by Google Merchant Center, your product will need two of the these three elements: Brand, GTIN, and MPN.

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 your data feed.

Step 3 – Submitting Your Merchant Center 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.

The good news: of all the ass pains in the digital marketing universe, this one’s ultimately not that major.

It may be occasionally annoying, but the biggest hassle is making sure 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!

 

Running On Empty GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

You get the idea.

Once you’re logged into your Google Merchant Center, go to the products tab on the sidebar on the left. Now click ‘Feeds’ and press the giant blue “plus” button to upload your first feed.

After you enter your country and preferred language, you’ll be presented with four ways to upload your feed to the Merchant Center.

upload-google-merchant-center

 

1. Google Sheets

Build a custom Google Sheet that feeds the Google Merchant Center by following the steps below:

  1. Once you’ve selected Google Sheets and hit ‘continue,’ generate a new sheet from a template. Optional: select an existing Google Sheet if you already have one set up
  2. Hit save
  3. Grant access to Merchant Center
  4. Go back to the Merchant center and go to the products tab on the left-hand menu
  5. Click the Feed tab and locate your feed.
  6. Under input method, you’ll see it says ‘Google Sheets.’ Click open.
  7. Fill in the data
  8. Return to the Merchant Center and hit “Fetch Now” to upload your new data

2. 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. You will be able to upload files from SFTP, FTP, Google Cloud Storage, or manually. Note that this will only work for files under 4GB.

Leveraging FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Upload and SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) are effective options if your business contains a diverse product library. While the two are very similar, SFTP uses encryption to secure your data while it’s being transferred while FTP upload does not.

To utilize the Direct Upload feature, follow the steps below:

  1. Once you’ve selected the ‘upload option,’ enter the name of your feed file. Note that your file name must be exactly the same as the file you submit to the Merchant Center.
  2. Click ‘Upload a file now’ (optional)
  3. Drop your file or browse for your file. Maximum 4GB. Optional: click ‘upload as test’ to see if the file is working!
  4. Voila! You are done!

3. Schedule Fetch

The key to Direct and FTP is staying organized. Make a list, check it twice, have some candy canes (or a bag of gelt, it’s 2019, after all). Just make sure you keep your data feed current.

At a minimum, your feed needs to be updated once every 30 days, but the best rule of thumb is to update it after 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, which is a big reason why businesses turn to Schedule Fetch.

Schedule Fetch takes the burden of constantly having to update your data feed manually by allowing you to create an upload schedule that’s hosted on your website.
To create or edit a schedule for your data feed, follow the instructions below:

  1. Upon selecting the ‘schedule fetch’ option, enter the file name that will be fetched.
  2. Select the fetch frequency along with the fetch time.
  3. Enter the url to the file. If it’s password protected, enter the username and password to grant Google access to it.

4. Content API

For more technical users, the Content API feature allows users to programmatically manage their Google Shopping from the customer level to the product level. Users can build their own software or use 3rd party software and link to the Merchant Center to automate the entire process.

Learn about how to get started in Google’s developer tutorial.


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. And honestly, this is the really easy part.

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

  1. Open Google Ads
  2. Under the campaigns tab, click the blue ‘plus’ button to create a new campaign
  3. Select “shopping”
  4. Choose a campaign goal. If you’re a seasoned advertiser, click “create a campaign without a goal” for full customizability.
  5. Now fill in the following information:
    • Campaign Name: Name your campaign something easily identifiable like “Shopping Campaign.” You can edit this later
    • Merchant: The Merchant Center account that you want to link
    • Country of Sale: Where your products are sold
    • Inventory Filter: Create a filter to specify which types and the number of products you will sell within this campaign.
    • Bidding: Choose a bid strategy.
    • Daily Budget: How much money you’re willing to spend daily on this campaign
    • Campaign priority: check out our guide on how to successfully use campaign priorities.
    • Networks: Select Google Search Network and/or Google Search Partners. We recommend you keep it solely within the Google Search Network. You don’t want to show up on other sites.
    • Devices: Appear on computers, mobile devices, tablets, and more.
    • Locations: Which countries you want your ads to show.
    • Local inventory ads: Customize this option if you want to specify which products are sold in individual local stores.
  6. Save and continue!
  7. Select the ad group you wish to create:
    1. Product Shopping Ad: These are hassle-free product ads that are automatically created. We recommend this for the newbies!
    2. Showcase Shopping Ad: These group related products together into one ad. Read our guide to Showcase Shopping Ads to find out more.
  8. Click save
  9. Celebrate! You crushed it!

How to Use Product Groups to Increase Google 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. And if you’re more familiar with the conventional Search campaign structure, think of Product Groups as a hybrid between a set of keywords and an ad group.

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 because it allows you to control 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 a gently and ergonomically curved 72” smart TV that automatically reads excerpts from Stephen King novels to you instead of playing commercials. Would that we could, advertisers. Would that we could.

In any case, we’ll walk you through how to properly set up “Product Groups,” as wellbut first, let’s first take a look at the 8 “Product Groups” options you can 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.

  1. Open Google Ads
  2. Select the campaign with the product groups you would like to edit
  3. Click into the ad group. Note that in some cases, you will see product groups while clicked into campaigns.
  4. Select the product group and click the ‘plus’ next to it.
  5. Click ‘Subdivide’ and choose the product attribute you want to subdivide by
  6. Click the checkboxes of the subdivisions you want to apply.
  7. Click ‘review bids’ if you’re done subdividing your product groups.
  8. Click save!

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 them up) is that you can’t bid per keyword. Instead, Google automatically selects which of your products show up for certain search results. (This is why every third sentence in this blog post was something to the effect of “MAKE SURE YOU SET UP YOUR PRODUCT FEED.”)

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.

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

Don’t Forget to Follow the Google Merchant Center Guidelines

Google would allow you to sell crusty, used socks via a Shopping campaign, as long as you set up your Merchant Center account to hawk said used socks properly. To avoid getting on the wrong side of Google Law, just follow these simple guidelines:

  • Only promote products available for direct purchase: don’t get cute and send would-be-buyers on a wild goose chase of affiliate links
  • Use an official language: this one’s pretty simple—use a real language, and make sure it’s the same one used for: your website; the product data that you submit; registering your product data
  • Tell customers about your return and refund policy: this information needs to be readily accessible on your site
  • Collect user information responsibly and securely: more info on Google’s data collection and use policies here
  • Follow the Google Shopping ads policies
  • Verify and claim your website URL: you can do this in Search Console
  • Website requirements: Accurate contact information. Secure checkout process. Returns policy. Billing terms and conditions. Complete checkout process. You know the deal.
  • Make sure that your data meets the product data specification: okay, so there are kind of a lot of guidelines.
  • Sign in to your Merchant Center account regularly: “regularly” here is defined as at least once every 14 months

Add Promotion Ad Extensions

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the—admittedly many—guidelines you’ll need to adhere to, you can start to get a little showier with your shopping ads. Search ads aren’t the only ones capable of running with promotions ad extensions. And just like with Search ads, Shopping ads’ performance can improve by running them with promotions, or an automated extension.

But unlike Search ads, you can’t just hop in the Google Ads interface and conjure them into existence. You’ll have to make that happen within Google Merchant Center. But before you do, make sure your promotion fits Google’s definition of a “promotion.”

If you want to feature a promotion with your Shopping ads, there are certain parameters the deal has to fall within. They can:

  • Offer a set monetary discount
  • Offer a percentage off the original price
  • Include a free gift with a purchase
  • Or offer free shipping

To create one of the above promotions, within Merchant Center you simply click on “Merchant Promotions” on the left-hand side of your screen; click “Promotions,” then click the blue “plus” icon. And from there, Google really holds your and the rest of the way. (How nice!)

If you’ve handled that particular Google Shopping hurdle, there are a handful of additional automated extensions you can opt your way into, like product ratings, customer reviews, and local inventory ads.

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, but it’s absolutely 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.

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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.