August 21, 2019
Optimising Product Feeds for Google Shopping
Making sure Google Shopping receives your product feed with properly optimised information can be the difference between being lost in the shuffle and becoming a major player.
Search Terms & Google Shopping
Unlike most paid advertising campaigns, Google Shopping doesn’t allow you to choose the keywords you target – Google cross-references your product listings against individual search terms.
However, good keyword research is still important. Why? Because you’ll be using that information as you optimise your feed. This will inform how you describe your products.
Before you can market effectively, you need to know what your customers want – and what they think it’s called. More than one company has fallen into financial difficulties trying to market a product using search terms their customers don’t actually recognise.
It’s just as important to know what your product actually is. What sets your stock apart from the competition? What about it do your customers like? And don’t overlook the obvious questions – what colour is it, what size is it, is it sold in multipacks…
‘Keyword’ is the established term for search terms entered into search engines, including phrases and even questions. Which keyword a given user chooses tells you a lot about how much they know, what they think, and even how likely they are to buy.
For example, someone who searches for ‘trainers’ is probably just starting to kick around the idea of buying some shoes. They’re at the beginning of their customer journey, and they might make several more searches before they buy, each one more specific than the last.
They might not even be thinking of buying. Some searches, even for products, are just people wanting to know more. (Fortunately, those people won’t be clicking on your ad links!)
Someone searching for ‘trainers size 10’ is almost certainly buying, but they’re no closer to making a decision than the simple ‘trainers’ search; the only thing they’ve done is narrow it down to trainers they can wear.
At the opposite end of the scale, someone searching for ‘Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 black’, with or without a size listing, is very likely to want to buy. There are fewer searches, but with higher intent.
This rule of thumb is best illustrated by what’s called the ‘long-tail graph’:
The Long-Tailed Graph
The long tail, seen to the right, consists of more detailed searches. These aren’t necessarily longer, but they contain more specific details. Long tail searches are considered to be high-intent searches, with a strong conversion rate.
As a general rule, the more details in the keyword, the closer the customer is to a decision. There are far more short-tail searches than long-tail searches. Sometimes a user is only looking for basic information (like ‘what trainers are trending’) and can stop after one search.
Sometimes a user is looking to buy something, but either they get lucky on their first search or were willing to buy the first item they found.
Even users who aren’t looking to buy now may remember the site they found when they were casually searching for something else once it’s time to buy, so these searches still have value.
With Google Shopping, you can’t just bid on the keywords you want. Google will show your advert for searches they calculate are relevant, modified by your budget and their bidding system.
You have two ways to exert some control over this. We’ll cover one of those – negative keywords – later in the guide, when we talk about Campaign Priorities.
But the other method involves helping Google zoom in on which searches are relevant. And that’s at the heart of optimising each product listing.
Understanding keywords is essential to make the most out of your product listings.
If you’ve been running Google Analytics for some time and have conversion tracking set up correctly, you’ll already be able to calculate your products’ individual Conversion Rates – the percentage of users who view a product who go on to buy it. You should also know your profit margin on each product.
Let’s imagine you have an example product with a 5% Conversion Rate and a profit margin of £30. With that conversion rate, you expect about one visitor in twenty to buy it.
That means that you can afford to spend up to £1.50 per click to sell the product without making a loss (although you’ll only break even if you’re always spending the full £1.50). In most circumstances, you’d want to set your Max CPC at £1.50. (Remember, a visitor may buy more than the one item they came to see, and a satisfied customer may become a return customer. If your industry is built on return customers, consider a higher CPC as an investment.)
This is a very simple example, and your calculations will usually be more complicated. For one thing, this example ignores a company’s running expenses. Once your campaign is up and running, you’ll constantly be collecting more data.
Over time, you’ll be able to identify search terms that do well for you (some of which may deserve a higher maximum bid) and others that don’t deliver. If they do very badly, you may want to make them a negative keyword (effectively preventing your campaign from ever bidding on terms that include that word or phrase.)
Negative keyword lists can also be useful to avoid bidding on products you don’t stock and therefore can’t sell.
For example, shoe manufacturers may sell several ranges of trainers, but they don’t want to be spending money on searches for ‘personal trainers’ – that would just waste part of their ad budget.
We’ll show you how to put your keyword research to use in ‘Optimising your Product Feed’. Negative keywords will also be showcased in ‘Campaign Structure’.
While you’re researching information like Conversion Rate in Analytics, it’s also worth bringing up Click-Through Rate (CTR).
Click-Through Rate is the rate searchers ‘click through’ from search results pages (known in the industry as SERPs) to your pages. It’s simple to calculate; divide the number of ‘Clicks’ found in Analytics by the number of Impressions. Impressions is the term Analytics uses for the number of times your page came up on a search.
Click-Through Rate essentially measures how competitive your links are when seen. When a user performs a search, they’re going to click on someone’s link. Usually it will be the most appealing link in some way.
If you’re running paid advertising campaigns, any product page on your site might have three or even more CTRs:
- Organic Search
- Paid Search Ads
- Google Shopping Ads
Because they contain an image (and can’t contain much text), Google Shopping ads will always stand out from the other two. Your paid search ad might look very similar to your organic search listing.
We bring up CTR now because it can be an important trouble-shooting metric for your campaigns. If you launch a Shopping Ads campaign and some products underperform (compared to how they sell through other audiences), that may mean the ad itself has issues.
If the CTR is healthy, you probably shouldn’t worry about the ad content; people are clicking on it. Your issue will be elsewhere. But if your CTR is poor, take some time to review how your ad looks in context, alongside the other Shopping Ads for the same product. Issues with your photo, your title, or the price could be responsible.
(If your listing is the most expensive option shown, there may be a good reason. Perhaps the others are basic versions and you sell a higher quality product. Most customers will click another link all the same.)
It doesn’t have to be something you’ve done, either. If your CTR drops over time, it’s very likely a competitor’s listing has been revamped and is now outperforming it.
Reviews or promotions (see the ‘Ad Extensions’ section later in this guide) are both seen as highly valuable by customers. A competitor adding either one can lead to a dropoff for anyone who doesn’t have one of these extensions in place (and good review scores/deals, as appropriate.)
Optimising your Product Feed
To get the most out of Google Shopping, it’s not enough just to set up your shopping feed. You’ll want to revisit it regularly, checking which PLAs are working and which aren’t, adjusting your bids, monitoring your competition, and experimenting with promotions.
You should by now be hooked up to Google Ads and Analytics. This gives you access to a lot of information, and the amount grows with every search, every click, every order and every abandoned cart.
Be sure to check this information regularly. You should be considering your new information in two key ways:
- Trending Performance
- Year-on-Year Comparison
As a default, Analytics graphs will show you the last month’s performance, but you can adjust that to show you 90 days or even more. This allows you to see whether your performance is overall stable, trending up, or trending down. Broken down by product or by search term, this can give you a clear picture when some aspect of your campaign or site isn’t working.
Whether you sell seasonal items or not, you’ll have noticed that your business has busier and quieter times of the year. If you’re only checking recent performance, you can miss the bigger picture, or panic over a ‘slump’ that’s actually a typical shift in business through the year.
By checking January against January, May against May, you get a chance to see how things are doing in real terms. It’s a great way to get some extra perspective.
So, what parts of your feed can you change and test to get these improvements?
Don’t make the mistake of brief product titles. If all you do is give the brand and model of the product, you’re doing the bare minimum – and your competition will be doing more. You have 150 characters to play with, and we recommend taking as many of them as you need to provide the product, some details, and a top keyword to show for.
You should be front-loading the most important information. Potential customers will be searching for the type of product you offer, so put that up front. (Lead with ‘Nike trainers’ rather than ‘size 14 black Nike trainers’.)
If model number or product year are important in your market, make sure you get those in place.
Don’t use Caps Lock – improper use of block capitals will lead to the product or even the feed being disapproved by Google. The only parts of a product title that should be in block capitals are product or brand names that are capitalised.
And don’t talk about special offers in the product title itself. Promotions should be handled separately; Google Shopping has a special slot to feature them in. (See ‘Ad Extensions’ later in this guide.)
Google crawls your product description to get a clear sense of the keywords that suit your product, so it’s an important factor affecting which searches your adverts will target.
As with the product title, you should be front-loading the key information (which includes keywords you’re particularly keen to perform for). However, keyword stuffing is likely to be de-prioritised by the algorithm – your product description should be designed for humans to easily read.
The best single guideline for the product description is ‘think about what a customer would want to know when they’re making their decision’. Keep your language clear and interesting; don’t be vague.
Product Type isn’t a required field, but it is highly recommended for all products. If you’re concerned your product will be missed in subcategories you weren’t able to set it for (as discussed in the Product Categories section), it’s even more important.
You should be as clear and descriptive as possible. Don’t wax poetic, but do make sure you get key information in there.
A great way to start is with your company’s own internal taxonomy. Most online retailers use this as the basis for their site’s navigation – guiding customers to the precise product they want through a series of menu choices – so why would Google Shopping be different?
If your menu would lead customers from shoes to men’s shoes to men’s trainers to men’s Adidas trainers to Adidas Continental 80 trainers to blue Adidas continental 80 trainers, your product type might be:
men’s > blue > Adidas > Continental 80 > trainers
Otherwise, try describing a product aloud and writing down what you said. Cut out the words which aren’t description and mark what’s left up like the example above.
The image is one of the most powerful online sales tools you have available. Major companies like Amazon have strict guidelines on product photos, and those guidelines are based on years of research.
Had you noticed that every main product picture on Amazon shows the product against a white background?
There’s a reason for that – and Google also requires a white background for your images. Products on white backgrounds are clearer and more striking. That makes them more likely to sell.
Google also forbids you adding text, logos, or watermarks to your product images – only what’s on the product itself.
Within these constraints, you should still do what you can to make your product photo stand out. You can use a photo of someone wearing your clothes, as long as they’re in front of a white background. You can choose the angle you shoot from for effect, and if your product can be adjusted, you can set it up to give the best impression.
Your photo will be displayed as a thumbnail, but it should still be attractive and clear. Make sure it’s high enough resolution to look good. (Of course, if you’re using the same product photo on your own site, you need to take your site’s needs into account, too.)
And, of course, make sure it’s well lit!
Final Shopping Feed Optimisation Note
A great Shopping Feed can only be created by taking the time to think about what your customers want to see. Even when dealing with Google’s own rules and requirements, those were drawn up to deliver the right ad to the customer and make a sale.
Take a moment to consider Google’s point of view on this. Google Shopping is set up to make a profit for the company. To do that, they need to do two things:
- Make sure companies can place ads at a cost-per-click they can accept
- Make sure customers see ads that they want to click through and buy
Sure, Google wants to get the highest Cost Per Click (CPC) they can, but they want businesses like yours to consider Google Shopping a valuable sales channel and continue using it long-term.
They also need customers to trust the adverts they see and be willing to buy from them. For Google, a great advert that’s likely to make a sale is worth much more than a so-so advert which isn’t likely to convert but has a slightly higher CPC. Google’s success is built on long-term trust from both their customers and search users.
Understanding this is essential if you want to get the most out of your Google Shopping Feed. Traditional Google Ads paid marketing (text ads, for example) incorporates a Quality Score into the effective cost of the advert, so an advert leading to a page with great visitor engagement will outperform a more expensive ad going to a weak page.
There’s no visible Quality Score for ads on your Shopping Feed (because traditional Quality Score is calculated based on the target keyword, and Shopping Feed ads aren’t tied to keyword), but there’s every reason to believe that there’s an equivalent internal metric for feed ads based on how they’ve performed against different searches.
By making your ad more attractive and reviewing your site to streamline the customer journey, you can help this metric build over time, for better long-term performance.
Next week, we’ll take you through campaign structure, including how to use Google Shopping Campaign Priorities, and we’ll cover the important principles of bid management in Google Shopping.