Aug 13, 2018

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Some of the most valuable promotional activities for eCommerce owners are those that drive highly intentional actions from buyers.

Google Shopping ads definitely fit into this category. If you Google pretty much any product you can imagine, this is what you’ll see at the top of the search results page:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Another variation is on the right-hand side of the search results:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Unlike paid ads or display ads that typically lead to a wide range of landing pages and have various goals, Google Shopping ads — also known as Product Listing Ads or PLAs — rely on the feed that contains your products, including their price, name, image, reviews, and promotions.

Google uses the information from this feed to display a grid of products based on the search term. From there, a user can click through to the product and purchase from the seller’s website as usual.

Why Google Shopping Ads Work

Google Shopping ads have taken the paid media world by storm. Here are some data points that showcase just how much:

What is it about their performance and profitability that makes them so popular?

There’s a simple answer: a combination of search intent and purchase intent.

Let’s look at several different levels of specificity and the way it relates to what the searcher had in mind when typing in their search query:

Face mask. As an advertiser, you can’t quite narrow down what the user had in mind when searching for this. Is it a sleeping mask? A skin mask? What skin type is in question? And what if it’s a pollution protection mask? It’s a vague search term. Google Shopping results show the same struggle:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Face mask for oily skin DIY. This term doesn’t show any purchase intent, but rather the need for information and DIY face mask recipes. As a result, no products are listed, and instead we see a featured snippet:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Face mask for oily skin. Now that DIY isn’t specified any longer, we see a carousel of products that all come from different sellers and brands. Google considers these masks good for oily skin type, and aims to get the user to click through one of them in order to make a purchase. In this case, the user’s awareness of listed brands and sellers has the most impact on the purchase decision:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Glamglow Gravity mud. This is a search hyper-specific to a certain brand and its product. In this case, all the listed products are identical, but the sellers, prices, and reviews vary. In this case, it’s more likely that the price and shipping will influence the purchase decision the most:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

You can take almost any product category and come up with examples of lower and higher purchase intent queries. More specific terms typically mean a higher purchase intent and a better chance for products in Google Shopping to shine through and lead to a sale.

Some more examples:

  • ‘Desk’ versus ‘white office desk free delivery’
  • ‘Jeans’ versus ‘women’s high waisted ripped skinny jeans’
  • ‘Sneakers’ versus ‘white new balance sneakers womens’

“Facebook displays ads to users regardless of their purchase intent. You can get people who are interested in the topic, but who aren’t necessarily ready to purchase. Being interested in something and being ready, willing, and able to buy are two different things,” says Pete Boyle, a paid advertising and conversion rate optimization specialist. “On another hand, Google’s focus on different levels of intent means you can optimize for people who are ready to purchase,” he adds.

As you can see in the examples above, specificity in a search query can include product category, shipping, details, color, size, and much more—which brings us to what makes Google understand the products it lists.

How Google Shopping Ads Operate

Google Shopping campaigns are powered by two systems: Google Merchant Center and Google AdWords (or more recently, Google Ads).

Unlike setting up a standard paid search strategy with campaigns, ad groups and ads, the nerve center of your Google Shopping campaigns will be in the Google Merchant Center.

Google Merchant Center is a tool that helps you upload your store and product data to Google to make it available for Shopping ads and other Google services.

As you’ve seen on the examples above, Shopping ads don’t display any copy or call to actions — instead, they display the information a retailer has entered into their Merchant Center.

The following is the most essential information that is part of a well-optimized product feed:

  • ID: Your product’s unique identifier
  • Title: Your product’s name
  • Description: Your product’s description
  • Link: Your product’s landing page
  • Image link: The URL of your product’s main image
  • Availability: Your product’s availability
  • Price: Your product’s price
  • Shipping cost: Your product’s delivery cost
  • Tax (for the US): Your product’s sales tax rate in percent
  • Condition: Your product’s condition (new, used, refurbished)

When it comes to certain items like clothing, you will also need to provide additional information such as gender, size, age group, color, and more.

The second part of the Shopping ads puzzle is the Google Ads platform. Think of it this way: the Merchant Center hosts your product feed, which essentially represents your shop in Google’s eyes. To amplify this shop, Google Ads lets you create a Shopping campaign and fine-tune it to your preferences.

What is it that makes Shopping ads specific to the immediate context of the searcher? Here are some key settings:

  • Choosing the country of sale
  • Selecting locations that will display the ads (Google Search and Search Partners are selected by default)
  • Bidding on your ads based on the price and competitiveness of what you’re selling
  • Tracking conversions to be able to correctly attribute the impact of Shopping ads on sales

Both of these systems work through a regular Google account. For them to work together, the most important step is to link them from the Merchant Center interface.

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Creating Your Product Feed

The first thing you have to do to be able to run a Shopping campaign is create a Merchant Center account. You can do this in a few easy steps:

  1. Go to and click ‘Sign up’. If you’re not logged into any Google account, you will first be asked to do so (or to create one)
  2. Enter information about your business (country it’s based in, name and website)
  3. Accept Terms & Conditions
  4. Enter your website if you have one, then verify and claim it

Finishing the registration will take you to the Google Merchant Center dashboard, from where you can navigate to your business information, your products, and tax and shipping information.

Before you move on to setting up your product feed and your Shopping campaign, it’s essential that you become familiar with the Merchant Center guidelines and ensure your business is fully compliant.

Some of the main guidelines include:

  • Promoting only products available for direct purchase (as opposed to affiliate and other products)
  • Using the official language of the country you’re advertising your products to
  • Enabling access to return and refund policies
  • Meeting the product data specification, which Google outlines in detail

For all the guidelines and further directions for each, reference the Merchant Center guidelines.

Next comes the most important step, and likely the most time-consuming one: setting up your product feed.

You can do it in two ways: automatically (by using an integration) or manually.

Automatic setup means you leverage the platform your online store is hosted on to integrate your product information with your Merchant Center. You will typically have access to this if your store is on Shopify, BigCommerce, or Magento. Simply follow your platform’s instructions to make this happen.

Manual set-up requires you to enter all your product data through a file such as a spreadsheet.

In your Merchant Center, select Products > Feeds, then click the plus sign and follow instructions. You will soon reach this step that will provide you with a Google Merchant Center feed spreadsheet…

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

...which will include columns you need to fill out and instructions on how to do so:

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

Once your product feed is ready, it’s time to launch your Shopping campaign.

Creating Your Shopping Campaign

You linked your Merchant Center and your Google Ads account earlier. From your Google Ads dashboard, select Campaigns, then click the plus sign. From here, you can select Sales > Shopping to start creating your Shopping campaign.

A Quick-Start Guide to Google Shopping

The settings you choose on the next page — bidding and budget — will largely depend on the cost of your products and the revenue they bring in. Here are some best practices, especially if you’re just starting out:

  • CPC bidding makes you pay by the click, and only if someone clicks. If 100 people see your add but only three click, you pay for the three clicks. You can adjust this during your campaign to maximize your return on investment.
  • Set your daily budget based on your monthly budget. If you’re a beginner, start with $10 to $50 as your daily budget and keep checking back to update your budget based on your campaign performance.
  • Set the maximum bid at something you’re comfortable with in the beginning. As your campaign goes on, you will be able to edit this based on performance. Later on, you can work out your ideal maximum CPC with this guide.

Finally, set your locations correctly, and you’re good to go!

Long-Term Success and the Big Picture

Finally, to make sure your campaign is always worth your investment and that it keeps bringing you a positive return, here are some tips to follow.

Only feature high-quality images. Make sure the product images you submit are high-resolution and that they match various options such as color and size. Test multiple variations if you have access to more than one high-quality image.

Frequently consult your performance data. Over time, you will notice that some products sell better than the others. You can add these best sellers to a specific ad group and raise bids to increase their exposure. Likewise, if a product is underperforming, you can move it to a new ad group with a lower bid.

Make the most out of your reviews and ratings. Those star ratings you see in some examples are aggregated from multiple sites, including your own side, aggregator sites, and more. Entice your customers to review a product post-purchase and use this form to submit a request to have your reviews added.

Your online store has the final say. No matter how enticing your Shopping ads are, if your store’s online interface doesn’t infuse trust, your visitors won’t want to buy. Take the time to make your product pages complete with clean headlines, thorough descriptions, high-quality images, reviews, information on shipping and return policies.

It’s Your Turn

You now have the steps to create a Google Shopping presence that will impact searchers when they are most ready to buy them.

If you follow these best practices, you will ensure not only showing up for relevant search queries, but also providing the best experience for the buyer, from the moment they discover you all the way beyond the purchase.

With continuous monitoring and optimizing, you will take your Shopping ads’ performance even higher with each new campaign.

Marijana Kay
Marijana Kay

Marijana is a freelance writer and content strategist for SaaS and marketing brands. She’s worked with fast-growing SaaS companies like Recart, Pipedrive, and BuildFire, as well as top companies on the Fortune 100. There's nothing she'd rather be doing than writing hyper-actionable, advanced blog posts for her clients. You can find her on Twitter.

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