Best Practices To Get The Most Out Of Google Shopping

As you should know by now, Google recently announced that it was combining its free Google Product Search listings and Product Listing Ads (PLA) to Google Shopping, where all listings would be shown in an auction based process akin to PPC.

This is a significant change for retailers as it means that a significant percent of traffic that has until recently been free until recently, is now paid. Thus it is imperative for the retailer to focus on effectively managing and optimizing Google Shopping campaigns.

How Google Shopping Works: A Very Short Summary

Google Shopping works differently from regular search ads. In the case of search ads, campaign, ad group, keywords are managed in Google Adwords where the advertiser can change bids.

To run a Google Shopping campaign, the advertiser has to also set up a product feed with Google Merchant Center. The feed contains a variety of product parameters including product id, image URL, price, availability etc.

On the Adwords side, the advertiser has to set up PLA campaigns and ad groups that contain product targets (as opposed to keywords) and offer text. These targets are linked to the GMC account which reference specific parameters on the product feed. However, like regular search campaigns, the advertiser has to place a bid to participate in the PLA auction.

When a user types a query, Google will map the query to a specific product/target combination in the PLA campaign in Adwords and will return a product listing ad based on the parameters of the selected products in the GMC feed.


Note that there are 3 distinct bits to managing your Google Shopping program:

  1. Feed management
  2. Bid management
  3. PLA campaign management

I have observed several blogs discussing the importance of feed management but the other two points above have seldom been talked about. Are bidding and PLA campaign management important? Absolutely. We have observed some advertisers gain upto 80% lift through a mix a smart bid and feed management .

Five Best Practices In Bid & PLA Campaign Management

1.  The more granular the better

Since queries are mapped to individual PLA adgroup/target combinations in Adwords, it’s better to get as granular as possible. For instance, consider two different types of PLA structures below:

Ad group: Lawnmowers

Target>product_type=gas mowers

Target>product_type=electric mowers

Ad group: Pants

Target>product_type=levis AND  type=boot cut jeans AND label=mens

Target>product_type=joe’s jeans AND  type=printed denim AND label=womens

The second example has a higher degree of granularity which gives you control on the query-product listing mapping so that the right product is shown to the right query.

A step further would be to bid at the SKU level which is about as granular as one can get within their product feed. Bidding efficiently at the most granular target level will be the best way to maximize the potential of your feed.

I have noted that several blogs are against SKU level targeting, due to the complexity of campaigns and the difficulty in bid management. However, this is no different from long tail bidding in search.

One can use a variety of techniques such as hierarchical bid modeling to effectively bid on the PLA long tail. Indeed, in our experience, effective granular bidding can deliver significant performance lift, sometimes as much as 80%.

2.  Actively manage your bids

In many ways, PLA campaigns work like Content campaigns as the mapping of queries to specific listings is broad and theme based. Further, akin to content campaigns, bids are at the target level.

Neglecting bid management could prove disastrous as it could mean that you would be paying too much for your traffic or lose on highly qualified traffic as you are bidding too low.This again, is no different from regular search or content campaigns – active bid management is crucial for success.

3.  Always have a catchall target

Feeds are typically quite large and may change based on modifications to product classifications or new products added to an advertisers’ catalog.

Including a Catchall (or All Products) target within your PLA campaign will ensure that Google will be able to match search queries to relevant products in your feed.

The potential danger in omitting a Catchall target from your campaign is that search queries that would have otherwise not been able to be mapped to an existing target would be neglected and an advertiser’s product would not be shown.

One of the most important parts of a Catchall is to ensure its bid is less than that of the rest of the targets. Bid is one of the most (if not the most) important part of the auction process and having a higher bid on the Catchall can interfere with how queries are matched to their appropriate targets.

4.  Use negatives

It is imperative that advertisers utilize negatives to properly funnel the right queries to the right targets.

For example, consider an advertiser that sells small kitchen appliances and has a product target for coffee makers. A user then enters a search query for an 8 cup French press. Since Google performs a sort of broad match to the query it may serve the Catchall target rather than the coffee makers target.

As Google’s matching becomes more refined we believe that this sort of behavior will not be as prevalent, but it will help to add negatives to your Catchall that represent existing targets in your PLA campaign.

5.  Constantly monitor queries that are being matched to targets

As more advertisers start to invest in PLAs we believe that the competition for search queries will rise. Since the auction for PLAs will be completely separate from search, we believe that this is a great opportunity for new (and even existing) PLA advertisers to start off on the right foot.

Google allows advertisers to easily view which search queries are being matched to specific targets. Using this information can assist with placing negatives (as mentioned above), adding labels to specific products.

For example, if an advertiser only uses product level targets and sees that queries contain specific manufacturers then it may make sense for them to use labels in the feed to add another layer of specificity to their bidding strategy, and of course, input negatives based on irrelevant queries. These steps will be increasingly important as advertisers look to maximize their investment in PLAs.

While the current transition of Google Shopping represents a challenge due to the complexity of feed and bid management and the opacity of the query to product mapping, it is also an opportunity. I hope these tips help you get the most out of your PLA campaigns.

I wish to thank James Varughese, one of our crack analysts in helping me compile these best practices.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Retail | Google: Google Shopping | Search & Retail


About The Author: is Director, Business Analytics at Adobe. He leads a global team that manages the performance of over $2 BN dollars of ad spend on search, social and display media at Adobe.

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  • Mark Ellingson

    Thanks for the great tips. I was a little confused about how to get product listing ads to appear. I just started to put your tips to practice by creating different ad groups with their own targets to segment my products.

  • Adreana_Langston

    How does this help ME, the consumer? My faucet breaks. Frank’s Hardware, the independently owned store just five miles away, has been in business for years and made the good decision to carry the sink hardware for all the condo complexes around the store. Only the Frank family either doesn’t have the money or the know how to get involved with paid listings. I used to find stuff for my condo from Frank’s Hardware on Google shopping when the listings were no-charge. Now the Home Depots and other chain stores are the ones who can afford to do paid listings and I’m paying three times as much for my sink part because it is considered “special order”, plus I have to wait three weeks to get it. Frank fires and employee due to a decline in sales and I pay more and wait longer for my faucet part. Google wins because they make more money and SCREW everyone else involved in the transaction. Yeah, thanks.

  • Calin Sandici

    Great article, Siddharth.

    I have been experimenting with a catchall Product Listing Ad campaign for quite some time and indeed if you do not make use of negatives (as a catchall campaign is anything but granular), traffic sent your way – and for which you foot the bill – can be irrelevant some times.

    @Stacy, maybe we can share ;). I’ll keep the beard trimmer, you keep the wig (if it’s nice), and we share the car cloth. Indeed, those may seem like a weird match for your search query, but unfortunately the matches are “broad” right now. And as you sometimes see AdWords ads and organic search queries which are not so relevant to a certain search query, so are these. But they will get better as the algorithm will get better, and they will also get better as we (advertisers) make them better.

    As for amazon and e-bay, they most likely send very generic, automated feeds to Google, as they do with AdWords text ads. They cannot be too relevant and optimized when running such a huge inventory. In such cases, your best bet is still a search on their website, if you’re willing to leave Google’s.

    @Siddharth, query to product mapping is not opaque at all. It may be at AdWords level, but in Google Analytics (and it’s equivalent from Adobe maybe), you can segment your traffic by PLA campaign and then watch a Matched Search Queries report with “Landing Page” as the second dimension, and there you have it. The landing page is always a product page, so you know which product attracted which queries.

  • Stacy Anderson

    My point was, 3 months ago, my results for the same search in Google Shopping were not like that–at that time the same search terms returned results from eBay, Amazon, and several small online stores.

    So this is not an “improvement” from a buyer’s point of view at all.


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