Google Shopping Ads in 2018: The Definitive Guide

You’ve been thinking about selling products online for a while now, but the tediousness, the technical jargon, and this so-called data feed which looks like the Excel sheet from hell have all caused you to run as fast as you can to Procrastination town. It’s time to return to Gotham, Christian-Bale-from-the-Dark-Knight style!

Here’s everything you need to know to start selling online with your Google Shopping campaigns. You’ll not only be selling products online in no time, you’re about to kick some butt! In this guide, we’ll go over:

  1. Setting Up Your Google Shopping Data Feed for Heart-Stopping, Crazy Success
  2. Structuring Google Ads Shopping Campaigns to Optimize Easily and Efficiently
  3. Google Shopping Feed Optimizations to Bust Your ROI Through the Roof
  4. Best Practices for Structuring Shopping Campaigns For Every Step of the Funnel

Setting Up Your Google Shopping Data Feed for Heart-Stopping, Crazy Success

Setting up your Google Data Feed is crucial for several reasons. If your Google Feed doesn’t match with your website, Google won’t show your PLA ads, plain and simple. All digital marketers and any knowledgeable PPC agency know that it is absolutely mandatory to set up your data feed properly. If you only have a few products, then submitting your data manually might make sense.

However, great data feed providers can make things much easier for the very technically demanding work, and you’ll want to be frustrated as little as possible with the annoying details when you’re focused on boosting sales and ROI.

It is worth checking out the best data feeds for your particular situation – considering the importance of data feeds to your Google Shopping endeavor. Here are some quick tips:

  • Demo the feed – most data feeds have the option, and whoever will be interfacing with the feed should be super comfortable navigating around the tool, because many important optimizations start with the data feed you submit.
  • Know the channels you want to advertise on, and make sure your data feed is compatible with creating feeds for each of these channels
  • Analytics tracking – the options for measuring the success of your products on various channels can be inconsistent and not useful. Product level statistics – like cost data, removing unprofitable products with a single click, and bid management – are a few of the tools that can directly affect ROI. It is important to note that some tracking tools or data feeds don’t track product profitability this granularly, so if you’re serious about hitting a target ROI, you’ll want a data feed that employs this tracking and an easy way to remove unprofitable products.
  • Will you be managing optimizations in-house, with an agency, or do you want the data feed provider to do all the optimizations for you? Data feed vendors cater to all of these approaches so make sure each data feed vendor’s specialty suits your needs.

Optimizing your data feed is very close to optimizing your campaigns, because of the way the product information is presented can be the difference between you or your competitors getting the sale.

For example, if you take a user who has clicked onto your ad to an out-of-stock item, your customer will buy your item somewhere else full stop. They likely won’t return to your site either, because of the undelightful experience.

These interactions have a direct impact on purchase rates, so easily adjusting these parameters is crucial when you have so many other concerns. If you want to beat your competitors and you’re competing for online sales, it is the way your information is presented vs. the way your competition presents it, and the best way to present this information is to have the better data feed.

shopping cart export tools usability

Via Acquisio

There are hundreds – if not thousands – of data feed providers to choose from (it is quite a profitable business to be in), and you’ll want to examine your choices carefully because of the reasons stated in this section. Data feeds are the lifeblood of Product Listing Ad campaigns if I haven’t gotten that point across yet. Rush through this step of your Ecommerce setup at your own peril!

Has your heart stopped, yet?

heart-stopping sandwich

Structuring Google Ads Shopping Campaigns To Optimize Easily And Efficiently

First, you’ll want to create a Google Merchant Center account, because this is where your data feed is submitted and housed for Google to run Google Shopping campaigns. This is also where you submit tax and shipping information and other essential information relating to all of your products

Once you’ve verified your website, you’ll be ready to submit your product feed. Link your Google Merchant Center to your AdWords account, and you can finally begin the fun of creating well structured Shopping Campaigns that will help you optimize and maximize your ROI.

Campaign structure can be one of the most important parts of Google Shopping campaigns so it is worth taking the time to think about and to organize your campaigns specifically to maximize ROI for your unique business.

Use campaign prioritization to segment your products by the order in which you want them to participate in auctions. ‘High’ priority campaigns enter auctions first, regardless of bids. For example, if you have a product in both a high and medium priority campaign, even if the Medium priority campaign has the higher bid, the high priority campaign will the be campaign to show the aforementioned product.

Generally, your higher priority campaigns are more specific all the way down to your medium and low priority campaigns – which progressively contain more and then all of your products. By structuring your campaigns this way, you know you’ll be allocating budgets to your highest priority products first, and then everything else later.

After Google has given your high priority campaigns first dibs on showing a particular product, it will show other products that might be related to the same search terms afterwards corresponding with your medium and then low priority campaigns.

Know the ROI of your products, and the products you want to push vs. the products that don’t bring as high of a return to maximize your ad spend and prioritize within your campaign structure to maximize overall ROI.

Separating branded queries and non-branded queries with a non-branded campaign with brand negatives is beneficial, because brand queries are usually navigational and performance for these keywords will differ than non-branded queries.

shopping campaigns brand segment


Using Google’s campaign priority option is a must in order to prioritize certain groups of products outside of bidding differently. The segmentation also creates visibility on how different groups of products perform.

Experiment and think about the different ways to split up your campaigns that make the most sense for your business. There is no right or wrong way to do it.

Eventually, once you’ve segmented your products to your liking, you’ll still have an ‘everything else’ bucket of products which you can easily segment by a Google attribute, like product type, category, etc. You should segment these just to have more granular control and visibility of how your different products are performing.

It is hard to over-segment unless you’re creating single product ad groups or campaigns so segment away and see how all the different segments you sell are performing!

Within the segmented campaigns that don’t contain ‘everything else’, you’ll want to further segment with product groups and ad groups that will show up for similar search queries. Just like in search with SKAGS (single keyword ad groups) you can create GRIPS (Groups of Individual Products). This can be very time-consuming and not worth it if you don’t have the resources to monitor and optimize this granularly.

However, if you’re maintaining and optimizing Google Product Listing Ads in-house with the appropriate resources, the more granular you get, just like with Search campaigns, the easier it is for you to hypertarget and hyperbid on various products while employing negative keywords to route traffic to the appropriate products.

optimal product target strategy


Google Shopping Actions

Now available to all US retailers, Google Shopping Actions should be a real consideration for all retailers ready to take their Shopping Campaigns to the next level. Google is going right after Amazon, having already secured partnerships with big retailers like Walmart and Target.

Google Shopping Actions seek to optimize the shopping experience for loyal and regular users with one-click re-ordering, personal recommendations that can boost complementary purchases, and basket building.

The results of applying Google Shopping Actions has been more than positive; Ulta reported a 30% increase in order values, and Target said it’s Google Shopping baskets increased 20% on average. Some other benefits include:

  • Universal cart checkout experience, regardless of where a product is from
  • Integration with Google Express Shopping, Google Search, Google Assistant App, and smart speakers or phones (i.e. voice commerce) like Google Home
  • Can be shown on Gmail, YouTube, Google search, not on the Google Shopping app
  • Pay-per-sale instead of pay-per-click

Goal optimized / Smart Shopping campaigns are another way Google is streamlining the process for Ecommerce sites to run ads using machine learning merged with responsive remarketing, Search, Display, YouTube, and Gmail. It is a simpler, more machine learning-oriented solution for those with fewer resources (i.e. time, money, and human capital) to run their campaigns.

If you want Google’s very smart algorithms to run the campaigns and optimize for you so that you don’t have to worry about things like attribution, this could be the best option for you. Keep in mind, though, the conflict of interest that exists when you turn over your campaign to Google – even if you can set return on ad spend restrictions.

Here are some of the requirements of a Smart Google Shopping campaign:

  • One feed, one remarketing tag, and one Google Shopping campaign
  • 20 shopping conversions in the past 45 days (that’s all Google needs to know how to start optimizing, crazy huh?)

If you have lots of products, and you have the necessary resources to dominate in-house, and you’re not about to let Google do all the work, and you actually care about your business and being a part of it, then read on!

in control

Google Shopping Feed Optimizations To Bust Your ROI Through The Roof


through the roof

Via Haunt Style

Product Image – Users are more drawn to the picture than anything else in the ad, so really take the time to put your best foot forward and choose the best images possible to get that click!

  • Name your images descriptively and simple
  • Cautiously approach alt attribute optimizations, don’t keyword-stuff your descriptions, do use numerical distinguishers, and use multiple angles of products and assign unique attributes for each type of shot
  • Make sure the attributes match with the picture (i.e. ‘blue’ in the description goes with an actual image of a blue item)
  • Do not simply put the largest image of a product up as it can take a long time to load, but do use high quality images
  • Do not have any text, watermarks, or logo overlays or in the background of your image.
  • Just like with Search campaigns, A/B testing how different images work will produce a winner and help improve your performance

Product Title – Across the board, most Google Shopping experts point to the optimization of this attribute that is worth most of your time and resources. Google PLAs show up for certain search queries that Google gets to choose (not like how you decide when Google Search Network show your ads).

Since you have limited control over where your products show up, this is the next best option. Check out this ad for some ideal descriptors to use like brand, style, model, color, and size descriptors among others.

ad ideal description

Attributes can be product-type specific. This handy infographic from DataFeedWatch breaks it down:

google shopping title recommended structure

Via DataFeedWatch

Put the most important information first as Google will often only show the first 70 characters or so and then crop the description.

Product Descriptions – An extension of the product titles. Think about the user and get detailed with the important characteristics, but evidence shows devoting time and resources optimizing these and product categories might not be worth the time that should be devoted to product titles.

Product Price – understanding customer lifetime value can help you price your products

appropriately. Experiment with pricing along with bidding; price drops trigger alerts that appear on the ad for CTR boosts

GTIN – Having a GTIN is a great way for products to appear for searches with ‘best’ or ‘top’, but mainly they are required if a manufacturer has assigned one, so this could be a point for disapproved ads depending on the products you’re selling, you should check with each manufacturer you sell for.

Reviews – Just like testimonials, recognizable brand logos and badges can convey credibility and trustworthiness, thus boosting conversion rates for landing pages, so can product reviews increase a user’s likelihood of purchasing.

See how much more eye-popping reviews can improve ads on Google Shopping:

eye-popping reviews

Ask customers for reviews and ratings on products they’ve purchased in post-transaction email.

Discounts, Sales, and Merchant Promotions – Use coupons and price adjustments to trigger salient alerts within product listing ads to draw in the user’s attention. Who doesn’t want to save money? Employ promotions liberally to boost CTRs and sales.

You can adjust multiple promotions within the data feed or create ad-hoc promotions within the Google Ads interface.

Free Shipping – Relatedly, free shipping can be the make or break for a user to purchase or to abandon their shopping cart in favor of buying in-store or elsewhere online. It is important to call-out your free shipping in ads when you can to further delight your user and boost that click-through-rate!

call out free shipping in ads

Custom labels are essentially a way to segment products by attributes not automatically listed by Google. You can group products uniquely based on your business, products, and their performance – and you can do it all straight from Google Merchant Center without adjusting the data feed.

Take advantage of this tool to maximize ROI without the hassle of trying to narrow down product groups to your liking without using work-arounds like negative keywords and group prioritization.

Best Practices For Structuring Shopping Campaigns For Every Step Of The Funnel

Query-Level bidding is a unique strategy developed by Martin Roettgerding of Bloofusion in Germany to deal with the convoluted way PLAs are impressed on Google’s Ad Network.

The basic idea is you want to be bidding low for general and short tail search queries. General and short tail search queries might convert once in a blue moon, so you don’t want to be bidding high and leaking money showing up for these queries, but you also do not want to remove yourself completely from these auctions.

As the search queries become more specific, you want to bid higher. The idea is that the more specific the search query, the higher the likelihood of a conversion, so you want to increasingly be a part of auctions for specific search queries. In the query-level bidding strategy, you bid higher for branded search queries, because they are more specific, and bid the highest for SKUs in the search query which indicates high specificity and intent on buying.

You structure this by starting with a high-priority level campaigns focused on general terms with low bids. These campaigns will have negatives for all branded and SKU keywords. Next you’ll have medium priority campaigns targeting branded terms with negative SKU keywords. You’ll bid higher in this medium priority level campaign than in your high priority one.

Finally, for your ultra-specific SKU campaigns, you’ll set low priority and you will bid the highest for these search queries. The only negatives you’ll have for these campaigns are the SKUs that convert at a high and unprofitable cost.

Don’t forget to create ‘shared budgets’ for your different priority-leveled campaigns so the filtering process works properly. You can do this in the ‘shared library’ tab where you can name and apply budgets to various campaigns.

Showcase Ads are a new ad format for broad queries that require more top-of-funnel treatment than the more bottom-of-funnel oriented PLA ads.

showcase ads


For broad terms, Google will display lifestyle images that represent your brand, and when clicked-through, take you to a Google-hosted landing page that summarizes your offerings with options to click on PLA ads.

Only when users click on a PLA from the landing page will you be charged. You’re also charged when a user clicks-through to the initial landing page and spends 10 seconds or more interacting with your ad.

This option is quite smart on Google’s part, recognizing that broad search queries indicate awareness – but not necessarily an intent to buy yet. By easing them down the funnel instead of shoving a bottom-of-funnel ad to the user, Google keeps the user engaged with less of a hard sell.

Locality and device – Adjust geographic bid modifiers that make sense for you business. Analyze your data to see if performance is different for any products on mobile – which they can be – and you can prioritize and optimize accordingly. Sometimes mobile can be unprofitable for expensive items, so it is definitely something to look out for.

Audiences – You can hyper target certain segments of your products for users who have visited certain sections of your site using RLSA, just like in search campaigns. You can even apply similar audiences and in-market audiences to further narrow ads to show to the most relevant users

Negative keywords – (i.e. particular gender, age group, sport, etc. that you want to exclude). You’ll want to employ campaign and product group negatives to help Google route search queries to the correct product in your feed. Since you can’t bid on search terms, you’ve got to get crafty with the way you help Google recognize products – using not only the descriptors, but also the negatives.

Some negatives might seem obvious, like putting ‘shoe’ as a negative for your ‘pants’ product group, but every bit of detail and granularity helps Google put you in the right spot with the right product.

Again, the better you present your information to Google, the better they are at presenting the optimal product and you win!

you win

You can get super granular with negative keywords when separating product groups, and even products within product groups if you use groups of individual products (GRIPS).

For example, say you have two types of swim trunks. You have blue swim trunks from Nike for scuba diving and yellow swim trunks from Adidas for the beach, you would ad negatives like ‘yellow’ and ‘beach’ to the Nike swim trunk ad group, and you would add ‘blue’ and ‘scuba diving’ as negatives for the Adidas swim trunk ad group. Now if swim trunks are searched, the right swim trunks will show depending on the user search, and you’ve increased the information presented to help Google. That’s granular!


Bidding – There can be huge increases in impression share and revenue with incremental increases in bidding, but these vary by product so make sure you monitor each product’s statistics. Revenue can also plateau after a while so it is important to monitor diminishing returns on bid increases per product

revenue search v. shopping


Related to bidding, you want to identify unprofitable products as soon as you can and remove them or lower their bids a lot. Doing so can be one of the keys to a positive ROI account. Some products are just too competitive. You can always add back in the product when you have more money to play with or have figured out a way to optimize and test the product again.

Then, bid high on your high-performing, high ROI products, and bid lower or eliminate those products which aren’t performing well. Can it really be that easy?

almost too easy

For your ‘everything else’ products that haven’t been segmented out or highly prioritized, set the bidding low so that you give all the other segmented campaigns, product groups, and ad groups a chance to capture an impression before they reach ‘everything else’.

Search query reports are vital to finding new keywords that are relevant to your products which you aren’t targeting and negative keywords that you should exclude to weed out irrelevant clicks and impressions. Since you can’t control how Google shows your products, other than to optimize your product titles the best you can, it is important to make sure the keywords that you do target in your descriptions are the most relevant to your products.

Half of users won’t give a website 3 seconds to load. With so many pages on an ecommerce site where users can bounce from the purchasing process, it is crucial to have your site loading speed consistent and fast across all pages. Site speed and especially mobile site speed optimization alone can reap huge dividends. Just ask Amazon.

A Final Word on Google PLA Campaign Success

Google Shopping success doesn’t have to be esoteric and frustrating. It also is a lot of work presenting your product information better than your competitors. If you follow the steps above, you will be more than set up to beat them for those clicks, make that money, and continually optimize your campaigns to produce your ideal ROI and revenue totals! Business! PPC, and especially Google Shopping campaigns, are a continuous journey of maintenance and incremental improvements.

Enjoy the ride and increase sales at the same time!