Shopping campaigns for almost all e-commerce led websites are a vital tool in a business’s PPC arsenal. Not only do shopping campaigns provide a highly effective ad format, which highlights the visual aspect of your product. Shopping ads are also highly automated. Because shopping ads are extremely automated you also have far less options when it comes to targeting; in comparison to your standard search ads. However, this can also be of a benefit, as Google will then use all the tools in its disposal to show your ad to the people searching for the right query and the right product at the right time.
The problem with shopping campaigns come when you want to optimise and gain better control over your campaigns. Google does most of the targeting for you, which means you need to find innovative strategies to push your ads to the right people. In some cases, this might become clear when you start to see irrelevant searches appearing in your search terms report or you want to focus your budget on search terms with a greater purchase intent.
In this article we’re going to outline some practical tips and techniques on how you can optimise your Google Ads shopping campaigns to get a positive return on investment (ROI) and increase sales for your business.
Basic Targeting Options
The biggest factor in how Google decides which search queries to show your shopping ad for are defined in your shopping feed. Your shopping feed is located in the Merchant Centre and is used to list all the products you wish to sell. However, your feed is much more than a list of products. Google will use all the info and attributes you define in your feed to decide when and where to show your ads.
Attributes are columns in your shopping feed which define certain characteristics of your products. They also help to define what kind of product it is that your selling. For example, Google provides a taxonomy document which is used in the “google_product_category” attribute, in this column you can select the best option for your product from thousands of product types i.e. animals > bird cages to activewear > water sport accessories. Google will then use this information along with the other attributes in your feed to dynamically select the targeting for a given product.
When setting up your feed, pay attention to the following three attributes. These attributes are arguably the most important and will define your targeting the most:
- Product title - Run title testing (Brand, Gender, Product Name, Size) see if the brand at the start of end of the name is better... use feed rules to do these kinds of tests. The standard format is the one shown above, however, one size doesn’t fit all and should be tested. This format in practice could look like this. Aldo Womens Silver Strappy Heel - Size 5. However, you could test different formats such as Silver Aldo Strappy Heel – Women’s
- Product type - Google product category used to be the most important, but now it’s your own definition of product type. Include at least three product levels which are descriptive. Keyword stuffing in this is fine (but make sure it’s contextual and makes sense).
- You can easily define this yourself if you have a clear and effective information architecture and site navigation.
- Price – the price of your product is your main differentiating factor on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Price is also known to act as a quality score. The lower your price the better (in comparison to your competitors).
Campaign priorities are fundamental to running any kind of account with multiple shopping campaigns. It might be the case you’ve split your campaigns up by product type. For example, if you’re a fashion retailer you might be splitting your campaigns by men’s and women’s or trousers and tops. However, if you’ve got a product which fits into both campaigns this may start to cause issues.
Through running the same product in multiple campaigns, you could be increasing your bid amount. This happens when your campaigns compete for the same search term. To avoid this, you need to use something called campaign priorities. In Google there are three priority levels, you have low, medium and high. If you’re only running one campaign Google recommends you use low. However, if you start to build a more complex structure you may end up using all three of these priority levels.
Whilst campaign priorities are most commonly used to avoid competing with yourself. You can also get quite creative with them. One of the best examples of this is a technique where you use negative keywords and campaign priorities to filter and prioritise search queries. To do this your work backwards. See below for an example of how this would work in action:
Shopping – Shoes (Low)
Shopping – Shoes (Medium)
Shopping – Shoes (High)
For a search query to reach “low” it will need to pass through both “high” and “medium”. High will have low bids as we only want generic terms without much purchase intent in this campaign. “Medium” with have slightly higher bids and terms with more purchase intent then “high”. And “low” will have the highest bids and the most purchase intent search terms. To filter these search terms and ensure they go into the right campaign we will use negative keyword lists. These lists act as filters pushing high purchase intent queries to the highest bids; so we can show more when it’s most likely to get a sale, conversion or provide the most value.
These negative keyword lists can be made up of a number of different things. In the example we’re using it would be a selection. Some examples include “product names”, “brand names”, “style names”. In general, the more specific the term, the more the user knows what they’re looking for. Meaning they’re more ready to purchase then someone searching for a more generic item or phrase.
These lists can then be applied to your high-level campaigns to ensure those high value search terms get the highest bids. The stages go as follows:
- Someone searches for “Aldo Silver Strappy Heel”.
- “high” looks at this first, however, there’s negative keywords for “Aldo”, “silver” and “strappy heel” as these all indicate a higher value of purchase intent.
- “Medium” then looks at this search term. However, there’s negative keywords for “Aldo”. It’s important to note, if “Aldo” hadn’t been present this campaign would’ve picked up this search.
- “Low” now looks at this search term and as this is the highest search intent campaign, then bids for this query. Because it has a higher Max CPC it’s now more likely to show and show in a better position on the SERP. “Low” doesn’t have any negative keyword lists, other than the usual ones you would add to a campaign.
To summarise, this shopping campaign structure helps to focus your ad spend where you need to most. If you have a fairly limited budget this structure can also be extremely helpful as it means you can still show for those broader terms, but the majority of your spend will be used on the search queries with the most purchase intent.
Google is always releasing new format ads, whether its RSAs (responsive search ads) for search, RDAs (responsive display ads) for display or even the recently announced gallery ads for search. In the past, there’s been even more, some of which are still here to this day. And many others which have been lost to Google’s very own room 101. Shopping is no different, and depending on the products your selling, you could be able to make use of Google’s fairly recent update of “showcase ads”. We talk about the implications of this format in more detail in a previous article.
In short, showcase ads provide you with increased space to entice someone to click through to your website. Showcase ads allow you to include an additional image alongside your products and a space for some well-thought-out copy. Showcase ads also allow you to display a collection of products. This means a user is more likely to see their ideal product and click through.
Showcase ads are a brilliant new format, however, they won’t work for everyone. In our tests we’ve seen that showcase ads rarely show on more niche product types. Instead they’ll show for those high volume and arguably competitive search queries like “dress” or “shoes”. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try this format for yourself. If you’re running a shopping campaign or are planning too, why not trial this format for a couple products.
In another twist by Google, they’ve recently started a new campaign type for shopping, called “smart shopping”. Smart Shopping is slightly different, however. Google uses the information from your feed (as it would a normal shopping campaign) and automates the targeting. The real difference between “shopping” and “smart shopping” is that will include the display network. This means you’re going to have a far wider reach. And if brand awareness alongside sales are your main objectives, this may be your ideal strategy. Once live you then only need to decide what creative(s) you’re going to be using and what products you want to include.
From our experience and experimentation on this we haven’t seen huge results. The standard format shopping campaigns (when fully optimised) tend to perform better. However, this will depend on your goals and what kind of product your selling. On the other hand, these wider reaching campaigns can often have an effect at the start of the sales funnel and help bring people in. It’s important to remember people are unlikely to convert on their first visit, so utilising re-marketing strategies are a key to success on the Google ads platform.
Other agencies and leaders in their field have also shared similar results with us, with some campaigns performing extremely well and others failing to provide competitive results. So, this format is all about testing.
When testing this format for yourself we recommend the following:
- Don’t pause your current campaigns, instead take some or one of your best-selling products and test it in this new format.
- Leave the campaign to run for at least 3 weeks (the longer the better). Automated and smart bidding campaigns need time to optimise. It’s likely your campaign won’t see positive results in the first week. And depending on the number of conversions you regularly receive this could take longer.
- Smart Shopping doesn’t let you see placements or much of anything really (which makes it a bit of an enigma). However, this doesn’t mean you should leave it to its own devices. If you see something strange or it’s costing your huge amounts of money (adapt or pause the campaign).
- Focus on conversion value or conv. Value/cost. These figures will tell you what’s working. Obviously, you will need to have enhanced e-commerce tracking setup beforehand.
It’s important to note this campaign type is still in beta (at the time of writing) and will improve as time goes on. What might not work today, may be your ideal campaign type in a few months to a year.
Search Term Analysis
When running a shopping campaign, you should always aim to review your search terms on a regular basis. This ensures you’re not wasting money on irrelevant searches and on users which have no purchase intent. As Google does all the targeting for you in shopping campaigns, this is even more important than in Search. Negative keywords are the only way to truly ensure your product ads are being shown to the right people for the right things.
Search term analysis can be a daunting task, especially on big account which receives thousands of clicks on any given day. However, there are strategies to reduce this.
- Regular analysis will reduce the amount to review in one go. Keep on top of it and it’ll be far easier.
- Focus on the search terms which appear more than once and are costing you the most money.
- Utilise phrase and exact match. In a lot of cases, broad match can be, well, too broad. Google also defines negative keywords differently in shopping.
- The more you optimise your campaigns negative keywords to easier it will become. At a certain point you’ll start to see less and less negatives and this will be when you know your campaign is optimised. However, you should always keep up on this, as what people search for changes and how Google targets your products will change to.
- Take your search terms from a smaller window. If you haven’t reviewed your search terms in years. Just take them from the last couple months. Search terms will often be repeated and if there’s a serious issue you’ll still be able to see it.
We’ve touched on using negative keywords to segment your search queries in priority-based campaigns. However, another strategy is to use negative keywords to segment by “branded” and “unbranded”. This way you can focus spend on your branded search queries (that have more purchase intent).
This is another example of how you can focus your spend where it’s needed and where you’re going to get the most value from a user clicking on your ad.
Scripts can be a great tool to use on shopping campaigns. Not only does it take a lot of the hard work out of tasks like search term analysis, it also helps to optimise a campaign better than any human can.
An ideal script for shopping campaigns works by adding a search term as a negative keyword if it doesn’t include a certain range of keywords (in a predefined list). This then allows you to automate search term analysis’s when a campaign may be too large to review manually or have too many generic terms.
There’s a whole range of scripts available, many can be amended through a developer to fit your needs and some are ready for use out the box. If you have the budget, scripts can also be made from scratch to complete a number of complex functions.
Ad Schedule (bid adjustments)
Every campaign you run should have some kind of ad schedule. This is an essential and basic principle of PPC marketing. You want to show your ads to show when you’re most likely to get a conversion or sale. Now this point is mute if you have an unlimited budget and an endless supply of cash however in most cases you don't want to waste money! However, this is rarely the case and most people will want to optimise their account to get the best ROI (return on investment) possible.
Depending on your goals you will want to define your ad schedule based on either conversions, conversion value, revenue per click, conversion rate and ROI. However, which you decide will depend on a number of factors. Traditionally conversion rate is the best indicator and will work for most accounts. However, if you sell a more diverse range of products with large changes in price, profit margins and more an ROI or RPC (revenue per click) based ad schedule may work best.
See below for how to work out your ad schedule bid adjustments:
Conversion Rate Based:
Bid adjustment ratio = [(Total CVR / Device CVR) – 1] * 100
Revenue per click based:
Bid adjustment ratio = [(Total RPC / Device RPC) – 1] * 100
Return on investment based:
Bid adjustment ratio = [(Total ROI / Device ROI) – 1] * 100
Lastly, when you’re building your ad schedule it’s important to remember to take bid adjustments with a pinch of salt. There’s a huge number of factors to take in when working these out. Not only should you look at the hour of the day, you should also look at the day itself, the time of year (seasonality) and much more. You should also avoid potentially skewed data. If some days and times only have a small amount of data, but have 1 conversion or sale, they might look amazing times to optimise for. However, this could be argued as an anomalous result that should be ignored (until there is more data to support this).
Bids and Automated Bidding Strategies
We touched on how you can optimise bids in the previous section with ad schedules. However, possibly the most important aspect of optimising any campaign not only for Shopping campaigns but Search campaigns too, are the bids. The bids are what ensure you show and also when used correctly provide you with value for the business. If your bids are too high or too low, you’re not going to see good results. Too high and you won’t to make a return on your investment, too low and you won’t show at all (and not for the right people). Bids can also be limited by your overall budget, in Search campaigns it’s common to see smaller clients, with smaller budgets use up the entirety of a client’s daily budget, for one click! But in competitive markets this is the norm. It’s often the case you need to put in that initial investment into paid campaigns before you are even able to see a positive return.
Shopping campaigns are the perfect place to utilise automated bidding strategies in Google ads. As there is less data available to an account manager on what the correct bids are to use for a given product, automated strategies help to take out the guessing work. These strategies also use Google’s increasingly advanced machine learning algorithms and other clever science(y) things to optimise accordingly. The data Google is using is also usually hidden from us as advertisers, data on things like what they’re interests are what they’ve recently viewed, are they interested in purchasing at the moment, as well as other vague data that Google will be collecting from all its many sources. Put all this together and you can have a campaign which is entirely focused on providing the best results for your given objective.
What options are available?
Maximise Clicks - Maximise Clicks is an automated Bid Strategy used to generate as many clicks as possible within your specified budget.
Target ROAS - Target ROAS lets you bid based on a target return on ad spend (ROAS). This Google Ads Smart Bidding strategy helps you get more conversion value or revenue at the target return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) you set.
For most people we would recommend you utilise “Target ROAS” when you set this strategy up, Google will aim to get the best return on your ad spend. The trick is to ensure you keep up to date with what you set as your ‘target’. If your campaign is performing well, try increasing it in stages, this way Google will try and get you even more value. But be careful to watch these campaigns as if you start to see a significant drop in impressions it might mean you’re not being entered into enough auctions. This means Google won’t think it can get enough value, so won’t show at all. In these cases you will need to lower your “Target ROAS”.
Periodically it’s important to switch to enhanced CPC just to ensure Google can refresh its data, if you start to see your campaigns stagnating, this may be highlighting this switch is needed. By switching back you will then be able to provide Google with more up to day information. By leaving “Target ROAS” on the whole time you risk Google over optimising (which is a real thing).
Last bit of advice, when you start a fresh campaign, you should always start on Enhanced CPC or just manual CPC. This is because you won’t yet have any conversion data for Google to optimise for. Once you’ve got a significant number of conversions you can then utilise one of these automated strategies. It’s also likely that once you’ve reached this point Google will notify you.
Google Shopping Experts
At Innovation Visual we have an experienced team of Google Ads e-commerce shopping experts. The team have worked with numerous clients across a range of sectors to deliver results and ROI. Hopefully you’ve found this guide useful and you’ve gained a better understanding of some of the more advanced and technical aspects of Google Shopping campaigns. However, if you would like some support in the strategy, creation and optimisation of your shopping campaigns, feel free to get in touch with our friendly team of PPC experts.