Google Shopping Basics

This is the first in a series of Google Shopping articles that will be geared towards retailers who:

  • are unfamiliar with Google Shopping.
  • are skeptical about getting a good ROI.
  • have a limited marketing budget.
  • have limited technical skills or resources.
  • don’t have the time to delve through pages of instructions and tutorials.
Google Shopping box

Google Shopping box – multiple items

I will give you the basics and include tips to get the most out of Google Product Listings.

If you’re not familiar with Google Shopping, just perform a Google search using the name or brand of any item or category of items that you sell/want to sell.   If you sell washroom accessories, enter something like “Electronic Hand Dryers”.  You’ll see a boxed “Shop for” section near the top of the list of search results on the left or in the top right of the page.

Click on the “Shop for” hyperlink or the “Shopping” tab under the search box to view all the Google Shopping items relevant to the keywords entered in the search box.

If Google determines that the keywords entered refer to one specific product only, the shopping section will list only that item, and the each product listing ad will be represented by the name of all the sellers of that item.     Enter Hoover UH70905 to see an example.

You may notice the words “sponsored” or “Merchant links are sponsored” in this section.   Up until late 2012, Google provided this service for free.   But now you need to create an Adwords account, set up a budget with a credit card, and start a special “campaign” to pay Google for the default positioning on this list and for clicks that result in a potential customer visiting your site.

Each item that appears in this shopping section is a called a “Product Listing Ad”.   In order to create a product listing ad, retailers must:

  1. Create a Google Adwords Account and add a payment method;
  2. Create a Google Merchant Account and link it to the Adwords account;
  3. Upload a feed of products to the Merchant account;
  4. Create an Adwords campaign for your product listing; Google has made some recent changes in the way this works and is now calling this campaign a “Shopping Campaign”. I will be reviewing the most recent changes in an upcoming article.

The benefit of your items appearing near the top of the most popular search engine is obvious.   If your items are near the top of shopping section, you’re sure to get many views on your item’s image and the price.   Within Google, the alternatives to creating product listing ads are to pay for text ads – which appear on the right side of the search results page – or to try to improve your organic (free) search rankings.

Basically, a product listing ad’s default positioning within the Google Shopping section is determined by a combination of how much you’re willing to pay for a click – called maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid – and how relevant your item is to the search keywords entered.   This is a major difference from the “Buy Box” contest that Amazon sellers face, where Amazon practically chooses the seller for the customer.   Google shoppers can scan the list and will often make a choice from this first page of ads.   The shopper can change the default sort to “Price – low to high”, or by clicking on the Price column in single item view.   Changing the default sort most likely occurs quite often, especially if the list is too large for one page.   So although there are customers who blindly choose one of the first two or three entries without looking further for a better price, good default positioning will not always translate into a high number of clicks.   This increases the importance of having a low or lowest price – and decreases the importance of a seller having a high or highest maximum CPC bid amount – when there are fewer items for the shopper to choose from.

If you want to give Product Listing Ads a try, my suggestion is to first focus on a very small subset of your inventory. Many retailers choose to upload their entire inventory to their Merchant account.   But I think it’s easiest to begin with a particular category from your website or choose your subset based on other attributes.     Here are some factors to consider when deciding which category or set of items to first upload to Google:

  • Which set of items has the least number of the same or similar items already offered by retailers in Google Shopping?
  • Which set has prices that beat or are competitive with the same or similar items currently listed in Google Shopping?
  • Which set has the best profit margin?
  • Which set has the best content?   Better content (enticing descriptions, a good feature list, and high quality images) would increase the likelihood that when someone actually clicks your item, they will stay and buy that item or at least continue shopping on your site.    If you don’t have good content, your conversion rate on the paid clicks will suffer and the chances of making a profit on the campaign are diminished.

There are many other ways to group your items for ad campaigns, and this can now be done directly in Adwords with product groups, product labels, and custom labels.  I will explain how to do this in a future article. Sticking with small groups of items will give you flexibility and facilitate optimization of your Product Listing campaigns.  A higher maximum CPC might work best for one set of products while a lower one might work best for another set.    This optimization process involves trial and error, and you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed and discouraged if you are working with too many items.