Optimizing Google Shopping campaigns can be tricky if you’ve never done it before.
There are no keywords. No ads. No average position.
All of your search terms are standardly located in “one ad group.” Imagine having all your regular text-ad campaigns in the same ad group. How do you use negative keywords then?
Many ecommerce advertisers simply just hope their Google Shopping campaigns can take care of themselves.
Some do a little bid of bid management, but it’s mediocre at best (I’ll explain why below).
In this post, I give you a walkthrough of the most impactful Google Shopping optimization techniques you can use. It’s not a full list, but it’s a great way to take you beyond the standard bidding and negative keyword optimization.
Before You Get Started
You should focus on having the proper Google Shopping campaign structure before you even begin optimizing your campaigns. If you’re not using segmented campaign setups or if you’re only using one ad group, then some of the tactics mentioned here will not work for you.
But if you already have a running Google Shopping campaign and feel overwhelmed by segmenting your campaigns, then using the techniques below will improve your campaign performance.
How to Efficiently Manage Your Google Shopping Bidding
In regular text-ad campaigns, we’ve all grown accustomed to using the same old metrics. Avg position, impression share, Max CPC, Actual CPC, CTR, ROAS, etc. You know what to look for when optimizing the bid. It’s ingrained in you.
However, in Google Shopping campaigns, one crucial aspect is gone: Average Position.
This throws a lot of PPC managers for a loop when they try to optimize bids because you wonder – what should you optimize for now?
- Impression Share
- Absolute Top Impression Share
- Click share
- Benchmark CPC
- Benchmark CTR
I rarely use the benchmark CPC and CTR metrics. It’s too much of a black box because you don’t know what other industries/products Google is comparing you with. If you exclude all the big, generic keywords (i.e., couch), you’ll most likely have a higher CTR than your competition, but also a higher CPC.
Is knowing that any indication of your actual performance? I don’t think so.
The Basic Premise Behind Bid Management
At the same time, bid management is one of the aspects of Google Shopping optimization that you’ll be most familiar with.
It’s the good, old-fashioned premise:
- Bid higher when ROAS is good.
- Bid lower when ROAS is poor.
With Google Shopping campaigns, you are more likely to be rewarded for setting a high bid than in text campaigns.
In text campaigns, you look at a keyword’s average position to see whether you should stop increasing the bid, or whether there are advantages in keep bidding higher.
In Shopping campaigns, the most similar metric is impression share or absolute top impression share. However, if you go into it with the same mindset as average position, then you will not take full advantage of the opportunities.
For instance, in average position you’d generally stop bidding higher when you hit a 1.8 avg. position (unless your ROAS is way higher than your goal, in which case you can, at times, “monopolize” the #1 position and get extra visibility).
However with impression share I’ve seen many PPC managers look at 92% impression share and proclaim: “EXCELLENT!”
But it’s not. I’ve seen big increases in clicks and revenue by increasing from 92% to 99% impression share. A supporting metric should be absolute top impression share. This will tell you how often you’re shown in the box of 6 Google Shopping ads, as shown below.
Thinking in Segments When Bidding
Always think in segments when you work with bidding. Don’t lower a bid until you’ve determined for sure that the reason for the low performance is the exact bid you’re looking at. It might be affected by mobile or search terms or seasonality or one of the many other aspects that affect bidding.
This ad group is performing at 3.66x ROAS as a whole. If our goal, in this case, was 4.5, then we’d have to bid lower.
However, look at the device segmentation:
Mobile is absolutely killing the performance at such a low ROAS.
I’ve gone into this aspect at length when it comes to scaling Google Ads accounts in my post at Search Engine Journal.
As you’re working with your bidding, it’s crucial that you don’t just think of your bids as the bid you see in the interface. Having a $3-bid rarely means you’re actually bidding $3 after you take in bid adjustments.
Therefore, I recommend reviewing the following bid adjustments in the following intervals:
- Mobile / Tablet: Once every week to begin with, and then bi-weekly/monthly as your campaign performance stabilizes
- Ad Schedule: Monthly to begin with, then every 84 days (12 full weeks)
- RLSA: Monthly
- Location: Especially US-based ecommerce stores should review performance per state and make adjustments every quarter
One of my personal pet peeves is how hard it is to tag product groups natively in Google Ads. I would love to be able to create labels for products that are high sellers so I can keep track of them.
Google Shopping ads are much more price-sensitive than regular Google Ads text ads. So, if your competitor is having a sale or have lowered their prices, then what used to be a best-selling product on Shopping might go away.
If you use automated bidding, you might not even notice a specific product has stopped converting and received a much lower bid, which can be hard to recover from.
Tip: Filter For Finding All Product Groups With Bids
As you’re trying to manage bids it can be annoying to see all product groups – even the ones where you can’t change the bid. In order to quickly find all biddable elements you can simply use this filter:
To Go With Automated Bidding or Not for Google Shopping Campaigns?
Automated bidding is one of those aspects of bidding that truly can be done better by a machine.
Unfortunately, most bid management solutions are black boxes that don’t give you enough levers to pull. This means you are ALWAYS dependent on the machine making the best decision. Especially working with Google’s own “smart bidding,” you can’t really do anything.
It’s unfortunate, but I can summarize whether you should go with automated bidding or not quickly:
- If you’re not that technical or don’t have the time to manage bids efficiently, then go with the automated solution in Google
- If you’re technical and have a good understanding of the bidding parameters, then you can do it better yourself if your product inventory isn’t too large
Many PPC managers will be quick to dismiss automated bidding from Google. And so will I (to some extent). But that’s because if we truly invested the time in managing the bids, then yes – we can do it better.
But we’re not measuring bid management like that. The question is whether you, the average reader of this blog post, should choose automated bidding, and for 80% of in-house managed PPC accounts – yes, you should.
Working With Product Groups
Another pet peeve is when I open a Shopping campaign for a potential client and they haven’t split up their product groups enough.
It’s like back in the day where you’d constantly open accounts to find ad groups with dozens, if not hundreds, of keywords all bundled together.
When the issue with ad groups and keywords is ad relevance, the issue with not splitting product groups enough is related to your bidding.
For example, you have 500 products inside one product group, then you’re bidding the same for all 500 products:
I think we can all agree that this isn’t optimal.
Consider the following example:
A product group for a specific brand is performing very good. 15x ROAS:
When we split up the sub-category in individual products, it’s quickly evident that just one product accounts for 25% of the revenue (with a 27x ROAS):
On top of that, the impression share is only 50%, so there is a lot of opportunity to increase the bids for that particular product (product 17022):
I Dare You to Review Your Own Account
This is the lowest hanging fruit I find in almost all Shopping campaigns we review at Savvy. It’s not the most advanced technique to optimizing. Actually it’s quite basic, but it’s highly effective.
It essentially means you will start bidding according to individual product performance, rather than aggregating all your products performance into one bid.
The more you’ll start thinking about it, the more you will wonder why you never did this before.
You Can Only Split Product Types As Well As Your Feed Allows
As I highlighted in my guide to Shopping feed optimization, it’s essential to have a well-functioning feed. Since I have covered this already, I won’t go too much into detail here.
However, one thing that’s crucial as you try to optimize your actual Shopping campaigns is the feed structure.
If, for instance, you only show the subcategories for a product, then you will run into challenges with segmenting your feed.
Meaning, if your product types are too general then it’ll be very difficult to perform effective bid management. Let’s say that all your running shoes are just bundled together as running shoes, then you’ll have to bid for either all your running shoes, brand, or each individual product.
The better you’ve segmented your feed, the more effective bidding techniques can you implement.
Product Sculpting: Showing The Perfect Product For The Appropriate Search Terms
Having the right keyword show with the right ad is an art form dependant on your inventory.
There are two different levels of this:
- Generic keywords
- Product-specific keywords
For generic keywords, let’s say couch, you most likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of different product variations that are eligible to be shown.
So which product(s) do you choose to showcase for this high-volume search?
There are two approaches you can take:
You can create a segmented campaign approach using campaign priorities which allows you to
1) Show best-selling products “first”
2) Show items currently on sale “first”
I’ve seen both approaches work very well.
I usually advise using the segmentation with best-sellers, as most ecommerce stores don’t run ongoing promotions within every product category.
If you don’t run a promotion within a product category, then the segmentation will not work for that specific category so, depending on how many categories don’t have effective promotions, this can result in a lot of wasted effort.
However, if you have a strong promotion strategy consisting of a large portion of your products in almost every major product category being on sale, then this can be an incredibly powerful strategy.
“Less Than 20% of Shoppers Buy The Product They Click On”
This surprising statistic was initially shared by Crealytics. I think you can work on improving this metric for your specific store, but at the same time it’s a reminder for you not to worry too much about whether the perfect product is shown every time.
Especially for generic keywords, the chances for the consumer to buy the exact product they clicked on in the search results are slim to none. Most generic searches happen in the research phase of the buyer’s journey, so expecting them to make a decision that early on is very optimistic.
This is where it becomes a lot more challenging – especially with large inventories.
Generally, Google is pretty good at showing the proper products at the correct searches. I’m fairly impressed.
However, there are scenarios where they don’t do well:
- Long tail searches ending up on products without those long tail words in the title
- Keywords where opposite word order means something completely different
The Google algorithm will try to optimize what products it shows for which searches itself by reviewing the CTR for each product on a given search term. It’s, however, not always favorable to wait for Google to have enough data to decide this.
If you have a very large product inventory, this can cost you thousands of dollars in wasted ad costs. On top of that, you likely missed out on revenue because you would have made sales had you promoted the correct product.
At the same time, you don’t necessarily want to make a decision on what search term to show for which product on CTR.
Product Sculpting for Product-Specific Keywords
Basically, there are two things you can do to ensure the right product is shown for the right search term:
- Try to predict the most common misrepresentations
- Manually update each ad group as you see the wrong search terms appear
Before you even try to do this, you need to create an ad group structure with one ad group per product ID. Or if you have very narrow product types you need an ad group per “final” product type.
In the following example, HDMI to Displayport would be the final product type:
Cables > HDMI cables > HDMI to Displayport
Having an ad group per product ID is, in 80% of cases, overkill. Yes, it improves your ability to enhance the product ID to search term match, but there are a couple of big issues with this.
Let’s say you have 9 product IDs that cover the same HDMI cable in different lengths. Then whenever you add a negative keyword to one of the ad groups for one of the lengths, you need to find the remaining 8 ad groups.
Again – not an issue with 9 products. Huge time-consumer when you have 10,000 or more.
Treat Categories Differently
My advice is generally to treat categories independently.
So, if you have a category like cables on your site, where there is a good likelihood products will show for the wrong search terms, then you create a very granular structure (one ad group per product ID). However, you create a different structure for the rest of your inventory.
Too often I see advertisers paralyzed because they’re trying to choose between either or, when they could just choose the solution that fits best to the individual product category.
Especially with large inventories, you need to start breaking up your Shopping campaigns, anyways.
Negative Keywords: Not As Simple As You Think
As it comes to working with negative keywords, you have to think twice before just excluding away.
Let’s say you sell couches and you have 10 different brands within the couch category.
If one of those brands shows up most often for the search couch, but doesn’t convert, what do you do? Generally, you’d either bid lower or add the search term as a negative keyword.
But it isn’t that binary.
You should try to exclude the search term from appearing for that specific product/brand and test another one. This is where the techniques I mentioned above work perfectly. You want to get ahead of it.
Long Tail Difficulties
Shopping is amazing for long tail searches.
When I review the conversion data across our accounts in Savvy, we find the majority of conversions come from long tail searches.
That means you need to be a lot more careful about excluding search terms.
If you just go by a “regular” approach, where you filter all search terms for non-converting terms that spend over X, then you might exclude search terms that hadn’t converted in that specific time period, but that did convert before or would in the future.
I typically advise being a lot more patient with search terms in Google Shopping campaigns. Set the filter higher when you review for costs and remember to look at more than that individual day.
Product Variant Management
One of the more difficult things to keep in mind is variation management.
The traditional way of thinking about product variants is different sizes or colors of the same product, But, depending on exactly what you’re selling, you might have different variants. No matter what the actual attribute is, then it’s important to keep this in mind when optimizing.
A typical scenario is when a product group has been selling very well, but starts to decline in performance. As it declines you, or your system, decreases the bid which may cause your product group to perform even worse.
Now, the reason why the product group stopped selling was because the most popular size/color went out of stock. So when the popular product comes back in stock it “should” start performing better immediately, right?
Well. Yes and no.
If you’ve been smart and divided that individual product variation into its own product group (as with product 17022 above), then you will still have the original bid and everything will be good.
But, if you were bidding on the product group as a whole, then you’ve decreased the bid for this item and it might not get a lot of impressions/clicks now that it’s back in stock.
Depending on how many products you have, keeping track of this can be outright impossible.
The Solution is Two-Fold
On one hand, you should always break out best-selling individual products per ID.
This will give you the option to not change bids based on the performance of other products until your best-selling item gets back into stock.
On the other hand, you need a system that allows you to monitor when you’re out of popular variants and pause all variants.
For instance, if you’re selling a men’s running shoe and the sizes 7 through 10 are sold out, then you should probably pause all the variants of that shoe, so it’s not getting clicks.
Just make sure that you test this. I’ve seen ecommerce stores that have optimized out-of-stock products to allow them to add people to a waiting list, which they then sell from.
The more unique your product is, the more likely it is that consumers will wait for you to get it back in stock to buy it.
When to Revise Your Segmentation Choice
Let’s say you’ve created a new Google Shopping campaign structure using segments to separate brand and generic searches, but you’re not seeing improved performance.
This happens–and it has happened to me more than once. But, you need to give your new setup time to improve. You need to tweak your bids for each campaign, model negative keywords, and generally optimize your Google Shopping campaigns before you can give up on a new campaign structure.
Our rule of thumb is to wait 2-3 months before judging whether a new campaign setup is working or is a waste of resources.
Just be careful that you’re not oversimplifying the results. You might see that your generic and brand campaigns have the same ROAS and think “what a waste of time.” But – are you using the same bids for the same product groups in each campaign?
If you are, then yes, you are most likely wasting your time.
But if you’re not, then that’s exactly the beauty of segmenting your campaigns. You have successfully set specific bids to how your generic and brand searches perform individually.
Optimizing Google Shopping campaigns doesn’t have to be particularly complex. But, if you don’t have the basic foundation in place to enable you to optimize, it will be increasingly difficult for you to optimize efficiently.
Having a foundation of proper campaign and ad group structure, expanding product groups, and continuously ensuring the right product ads are shown for the appropriate search terms is key to be able to optimize your campaigns.
Don’t get stuck on the fact that shopping ad campaigns are different from text ad campaigns. Embrace the wonders of not having to manage keywords or write new ad copy all the time, but instead focus on what you can control.
The majority of advertisers are not doing 90% of the things on this list, so if you get started you’ll easily get ahead of most of your competitors.
Note: If you feel overwhelmed by your Google Shopping campaigns, but need help, then we offer a Google Shopping-only management plan. It’s perfect for ecommerce stores that have a good hold of their Search campaigns, but need help maximizing their Google Shopping campaigns.