Get to grips with Google shopping

This article first appeared in issue 237 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Google has recently phased out its Google Product Search service in the UK and Europe and introduced Google Shopping, a commercial model built on Product Listing Ads (PLAs). Pulling the plug on free listings is a bold move, but Google Shopping has already replaced the free alternative in the USA and is designed to provide the search giant with a valuable commercial relationship with merchants – one that could potentially net the business upwards of $250m a year.

Google’s decision to start charging for listings will cause a tremor through the ecommerce landscape, and some are concerned it could lead to bigger retailers overshadowing and out-resourcing smaller businesses.

However, it’s not all about money. Higher quality data – whether about prices, the latest offers or product availability – should mean better shopping results for users, which in turn should create higher quality traffic for merchants. And since ranking in Google Shopping is based on a combination of relevance as well as bid price, retailers will need to monitor all buying metrics.

Here are a few key points that online retailers should consider to make the transition to Google Shopping as smooth as possible:

Manage your data

You’re only as good as your data, so keep Google updated with accurate and relevant data to maximise the eligibility of your products. Google is more likely to serve an ad for retailers who have a consistently fresh, error-free data feed. Monitoring Google Shopping is tricky, so make sure you get your tracking right by ensuring your feed contains the parameters needed to collect accurate performance data. Failure to do so could mean your ads drop down the rankings.

Optimise your targets

Product Targets identify which products from the data feed will trigger Product Listing Ads for related searches. Don’t limit yourself to a single target; structure your targets as a reflection of how you measure your business and regularly create new targets as you introduce items. Bids are set at the target level, so recalculate based on individual products’ performances.

Know your keywords

Identify target queries and integrate them into the description of your products. Remember that not all keywords will drive positive results, so add negative keywords. Include and update promotional messaging as often as possible, helping your ads to stand out.

Be budget-smart

Keep in mind how much budget you have and what incremental opportunities are left by setting budgets very low. Be aware of adverts that receive significant traffic but don’t generate orders. They should be moved to a lower bid to make room for better selling products and to ensure you’ll pay less per click for those items in the future. Google makes it easy to keep all products active by allowing advertisers to bid as low as one cent, so use minimum bids to your advantage.

Take care of your PLAs

PLAs, or Product Listing Ads, will be crucial to Google Shopping success, so retailers need to ensure they are creating and optimising them appropriately. PLAs are visually compelling product ads that include product information such as image, title, price and merchant name to engage potential customers. This is a unique ad format displayed when Google matches a search query to information in a retailer’s product data feed, and which Google offers to promote specific items alongside text ads on its search results pages. So develop and update promotional messages to help communicate the value proposition of your offers, encouraging users to take a further look.

It is early days for Google Shopping, but one thing’s clear: diversifying your ecommerce strategy across multiple channels has never been more important as these changes demonstrate how tenuous certain revenue streams can be.

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