Google Shopping feed optimization is something that most advertisers ignore completely. I do understand this, because many advertisers have trouble with how to optimize Google Shopping campaigns. If you don’t know how to optimize the Google Shopping campaigns, then how can you be expected to optimize the Feed itself?
In reality, optimizing the Feed is only half the battle when it comes to optimizing your campaigns. This is because there are some crucial Google Shopping campaign optimization tactics that you can’t execute if you don’t have a proper Feed.
When Google Shopping just started getting to the market, you’d see amazing results.
When Google Shopping just started getting to the market, you’d see amazing results. You might have 10-20% of your spend associated to Shopping, but the ROI was amazing. Many advertisers saw 2x ROI in Shopping automatically just by turning it on.
Generally speaking, it’s not like that anymore.
The reason for this is that Google has seen the success that Shopping provided and expanded the searches that have Google Shopping ads extensively. It’s not uncommon that eCommerce stores that run their own Search programs have 80% of their spend tied into Shopping. Clients in SavvyRevenue typically border on 50/50, depending on how far we’ve built out their Search ads.
In this blog post I’ll dig deeper into how you should optimize your Google Shopping feed with 14 specific areas and suggestions for each.
Why Should You Optimize Your Google Shopping Feed?
There are two main reasons why you should engage in Google Shopping Feed optimization: Increased Relevancy and Improved Segmentation.
Comparing Google Shopping to Google Search campaigns, you start realizing how important your Feed is when it comes to Google Shopping optimization.
Everything is related to how well your Shopping Feed is structured and how much data it has.
Your Feed is your campaign structure. If you don’t have proper product types, or properly-nested product types, you can’t build a good campaign structure.
If you’re missing updated prices, then you can’t get the price_drop symbol in the Shopping Ads and will most likely be disapproved.
If you’re missing size, you can’t bid on size.
If you’re missing variations, you can’t define bids per product variation.
You get the point. Your Feed is everything!
If you’ve ever been frustrated with how you should optimize your feed, you don’t need to be any longer.
Should You Go Further Than The Mandatory Fields?
The short answer is yes.
The better you make your Feed, the higher a relevancy you’ll get.
A sneak peak into Google Shopping is Google Hotel Ads. In Google Hotel Ads, the platform is more transparent. One particular thing caught my eye when I worked with Google Hotel Ads the first time:
Google specifically decreases your Feed quality based on how relevant the price in your Feed is compared to the price on your website. Pricing accuracy in Google Hotel Ads is everything.
It’s therefore not a big stretch to think that there is an equivalent direct correlation with your Feed accuracy and your Feed “quality score”. The better your Feed is, the more searches you’ll appear for, and more frequently.
I highly recommend applying as many values in your Feed as often as you can. Spending time upfront to make sure you have everything as accurate as possible can really help you in the long run.
Can You See Immediate Results From Feed Optimization?
Yes and no.
Things that directly influence your position like title optimizations can be seen immediately. Fixing things in your feed that results in disapproved products will obviously have a big impact on your results, as well.
Other areas are more long-term. Building up your Feed to include the most accurate Google Product Categories, colors, GTIN numbers, etc. will not have an immediate effect, but over the course of some time you’ll start to see increases in clicks and impressions.
According to industry insider information, Google is increasingly looking to Google Product Categories, GTINs, Brand and other fields to find out what searches your Shopping Ads should appear for.
The better Google can triangulate where to display your products without the need for a specific keyword in your product title, the better they can link you with the relevant search queries.
Product Types: What They Are and How To Them
The Feed item Product Type is like your own categories.
You can use anything you like, because Google officially does not use your product type field for anything. Let’s discuss a common scenario as an example. I often see eCommerce platforms having a product in several categories. Let’s say that you sell wellness equipment. You have the following three product categories:
- Yoga Mats
- Foam Rollers
- Elastic Bands
Each one of these products can be found in the following categories:
- Yoga Mats: Yoga Mats, Training Accessories, Training Mats
- Foam Rollers: Foam Rollers, Training Accessories, Stretching
- Elastic Bands: Elastic Bands, Training Accessories, Stretching
Unless you’ve specified one of these categories as the main category and your store’s Feed tool chooses the main category as the product type, then this becomes a mess!
When you try to group products in product types in your Google Shopping campaign, you’ll end up with an unknown of random products in your product types. You can’t know if all your elastic bands actually are in the elastic band product type or if there’s something else you have to do.
For this reason, I always clean up the product types in the Shopping Feed. It makes bidding that much more useful.
Some stores are great for producing product types. Others, like Shopify, are surprisingly bad. A store with 1,000 products and ~40 categories can produce a feed with hundreds of product types. It makes bidding and getting a general overview of it very hard.
There is no direct performance improvement when optimizing product types. It is beneficial, however,when you need to decipher your bidding.
There are two schools of thought on this:
One school believes that you should group all relevant products together (i.e. all dining tables), so you can see the combined performance.The other school believes you should evaluate each individual product for whether they are profitable.
Personally, I can see it both ways. I see the value of giving each individual product a chance for proving its worth. On the other hand, if you have 100’s of dining tables and you need to get statistical significance for each product, it’ll literally cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
An Example of Optimizing Your Product Types
Let me give you another example:
A client was a store that sells training equipment and diet supplements. Overall, the Shopping campaign was running well at 3.5x returns.
However, when we started diving deep into the performance, it was clear that the dietary supplements had 35% of the spend, but only accounted for 5% of the revenue.
It was impossible to see this upfront as the supplements were split into 24 different product types. The data for the supplements as a category wasn’t accrued, so drawing the connection above was impossible.
What we did, and always do, was create Main Categories for all product types. Every single product_type for dietary supplements got the main product type Dietary Supplements. Each product kept its original product type. That way, a product type field ended like this:
Dietary Supplements > Vitamin D
With this setup it was easy to see how the dietary supplement category performed as a whole and take necessary action.
Product Types: Actionable Optimization Steps
Step #1 Clean up your product types: If you have duplicate product types in plural and singular, make sure you combine them into one.
Step #2 Nest Your Product Types: Let’s say you have a bunch of one-off product types that actually cover a single category, like for the supplements. If you can find patterns, do that. If you can’t, bite the bullet and just go through them all one by one. It’ll take you a couple of hours to do for your entire feed, but you’ll be happy you did.
Step #3 Create product types from scratch: Sometimes, the product types you get out of the Feed are so messed up that you might as well start from scratch. One client had the most messed up Feed I’d ever seen, so I went to work and rewrote all their product types based on patterns in their URLs. This isn’t what you want, but it is sometimes necessary.
Product Titles Are The Single Most Important Area To OPtimize
Product titles are the single most important area that you can optimize in your Feed.
There are two reasons for this:
- The keywords in your product title determines what search terms your products will appear for.
- Besides your image, your title is the second most prominent element in your Shopping Ads:
Crealytics is well-known for having done extensive research with adding keywords to product titles.
I, myself, have a couple of great cases. In one such instance, I worked with a company who had their Feed set up so that each product consisted of a single word.
Once I added some basic rules that meant we strategically added keywords to the product titles, our traffic increased by four time.I had to decrease the bids for it not to run away from me! This is a month-long view of that campaign:
Tactic #1: Add Category And Brand To Product Title
You should add keywords to your product titles.
Create a rule in your Feed Optimization tool that adds the product type and brand of the product to the current title:
Basically, it’s saying that if the title does not contain the brand name, then change the title to consist of the brand name followed by product type and then add the original title (the final rule looks different, this is just an example).
The rule above will turn the following product title:
For some industries, this is the by far best way to get ahead in the Feed optimization game.
If your titles are otherwise well-written from the get-go (like the example above), then you might consider adding the brand and product type at the end instead. That way you’re emphasizing the long-tail keyword instead of the shorter keyword slightly:
Which turns the title into:
Tactic #2: Add Specific Product Info Like Size, Material and Specifics
This can literally be anything you can think of, but again having a well-structured Feed comes into play. If you don’t have size, material, etc. in your Feed, you can’t add them to your product titles.
A couple of good examples can be:
- Add the material of the product to the title.
- Add the size of the product. This can come in different forms. For instance, a wine rack size is how many bottles. A shoes size is an 8. A cabinet’s size is small, medium, and big.
- Add gender if the product is gender-specific.
- Add Kids if the product is kids-oriented.
- Add color.
Tactic #3: Rewrite Manually
This is my least used tactic, but I recommend it from time to time. There are certain high-performing products where customizing the title can really pay off.
Last: Don’t Make Your Titles Incomprehensible
With all these ways of optimizing your product titles, you can accidentally write a mess of a title:
Red Roccamore women’s trail running shoes for adults in size 8 made of water-resistant fabric and spikes
Yikes! There are plenty of words you don’t need in that product title. Honestly, the search-marketer in me has trouble telling you not to do this. I keep thinking, but what if someone searches for running shoes with spikes?I want this product to show! 🙂
Google wants your product titles to be written for real people, just like your on-page SEO content. You aren’t writing just for the search bots, and that is important to keep in mind. Just remember to review your titles as you go. That way, you’ll make sure that you don’t write product titles that are completely incomprehensible.
Choose the Most Accurate Google Product Category
Most advertisers ignore the Google Product Category, or at least put less effort into it. It’s not uncommon to see advertisers just choosing one main Google Product Category for their entire Feed and let it stand like that.
I get it.
It can be frustrating finding the exact Google Product Category at times. For instance, there is only one combined category for paintings, posters, and overall visual art:
Home & Garden > Decor > Artwork > Posters, Prints, & Visual Artwork
but there is a category just for food and water dishes for bird cages:
Animals & Pet Supplies > Pet Supplies > Bird Supplies > Bird Cage Accessories > Bird Cage Food & Water Dishes
Yup. These have their own category:
But posters, paintings, artwork and anything visual you put on your walls need to share just one category.
It’s therefore hard to know when you’ve really found the most relevant Google Product Category.
Why You Should Put Some Effort Into Choosing Google Product Categories
As mentioned above, my professional expertise is telling me that Google will move further and further away from keyword-matching in the product titles and use other fields in order to determine how products should show.
The more ways you can tell Google about what your product is, the more opportunity you’ll get to show your ads. If this hasn’t already been implemented, then I’m a believer that it will be in the future.
How To Create Google Product Categories Quickly
The best way I’ve found to consistently set the correct Google Product Categories is by creating bulk rules for matching product_types with Google Product Categories.
Once you’ve finished setting up all your product types properly, then you go through the following steps:
- Download your Feed in Excel.
- Create a pivot table with Product types in each row.
- Add a column with COUNTA, so you can see how many products are in each product type.
- Start mapping them one by one
This way, you take advantage of the work you’ve already done when it comes to the product types.
Custom Labels: Use For Reporting
Custom Labels aren’t used by Google to rank your product ads, but solely for your own internal reporting or for structuring your Google Shopping campaigns.Adding proper custom labels will give you an increased ability to segment your products for better bidding and reporting.
Some of the most common things to add as custom labels are:
- Price Range
- Profit Margin
- Best Sellers
- Any Value You Can’t Fit In The Field
I like the price range custom label in instances where I have a wide range of similar products, but across a far price range.
Being able to bid less aggressive for products that cost $10 versus products that cost $190 is a good way to increase your ROI. Sometimes, it can also be good to prioritize lower-valued (not lowest) items for more generic search terms.
Populate Fields Without Data
This is not the most urgent on your list of items when it comes to optimizing your Feed, but ensuring that you have as many fields as possible (within reason) can be a good way to future-proof it.
It’s also a good way to ensure that you can add these fields to the title or product type in the future.
Lastly, the ability to set bids or structure your campaigns based on color, size, material, etc. can be a strong segmentation tactic. All of these ideas require that you have as many fields populated as possible. Some of the most common fields that most ecommerce advertisers can add to their list are:
- Size Type
The Easiest Way To Populate Fields Without Data
If you can’t get these fields directly from your ecommerce platform, then you need to add them manually. There are a couple of ways you can do this without actually going one-by-one. If you have thousands of products, just know that it’s not really foolproof, but nothing is.
Color and Material can typically be found in the description or the URL. By creating a rule in your feed optimization tool that goes something like this, you can typically add it:
If description contains the word “green”, then add “Green” to the field “Color.”
To check whether this will work, you can make a search in your existing feed to see if the typical colors can be found in your description.
Size can sometimes be found in the description, but it’s a lot less frequent. Often, the size of a product is a value that has its own field in your ecommerce platform, so you have to find a way to extract it from there.
Size Type can just be put in manually. This is referring to whether it’s the US, EU, or another size type.
Gender and Age can typically be applied using rules based on your product type or brand (unless apparel). In most cases, the gender can be found in your product type.
Clean The Data
One thing that is frequently overlooked is cleaning the existing data in your Feed. I have, to this date, still not received a standard Feed from an ecommerce platform that was up to par. Honestly, it’s not necessarily the platform’s fault. Often, you find quite a bit of mistakes in the data itself.
Whether it’s the brand being the store itself, or five different ways of spelling the same category or something else,there is always data to be cleaned.
Below are some of the most common examples of values that should be cleaned:
- Use Of Another Language
- Wrong Use Of Capitalization
Use Search And Replace To Easily Clean The Data
One of the easiest ways to clean this is simply using a Search and Replace, so every time XYZ data is wrong, then you replace it with the proper value.
A client of mine in Europe had for years written their product titles in English. It stemmed from the products genuinely having names in english, but it was still a problem.
To solve this, I established a large-scale program where I translated all individual words from English to Danish. This resulted in a huge increase in search volume and revenue from Shopping:
It was easier for me to create these rules in Feedononics than asking them to translate all their product titles. Of course, translating the product titles wasn’t the only thing we did, but over time we were able to create a very nice lift in revenue though.
Questions From The Audience
Do I have to use GTIN?
This is something that comes up again and again. I think everyone freaked out a bit when Google announced that GTINs would become mandatory to include in your Shopping Feed. Some rushed to add GTINs across all products, while others (many, in fact) still don’t have them. The truth is that they are not as big a deal as they were made out to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe you should add GTINs to all your products. It’s just not a do or die kind of thing. Your Shopping campaigns will not stop immediately if you don’t have them.
Yet, I still see a lot of products disapproved due to missing GTINs. It’s primarily products that Google knows for certain have a GTIN. Often these are products from known brands where Google can assume that a GTIN exists.
Matt Bailey from ProductsUp has the following to add:
Our experience is that this is becoming increasingly important in all markets and Google are starting to penalise more heavily if GTINs are missing.
What are some of the low hanging fruit for Google Shopping Feed optimization?
It depends on your Feed, but in the matter of order, here are my personal three go-to feed optimizations:
1) Product Titles: Adding relevant keywords, brands, etc. to the titles is a must!
2) Product Type structure: Adding proper product types, so you can check performance accordingly is one of my must-have optimizations. It saves so much time when you’re able to easily navigate products.
3) Price: Include the proper price. Often, a standard Feed can create a lot of disapproved products due to the wrong pricing being shown. A bonus must is to add the sale_price to your Feed. That way you’re increasing your chances for getting the price drop tag in your ads:
Why don’t I get the “price drop” symbol in my ads when I include sale_price in the Feed?
This is a common conundrum. So, you’ve put the sale_price in your feed like I asked you to do, but you’re not getting a price drop tag in your Google shopping ads. What gives?
The reason is typically due to the fact that in order to see the price drop you need to sustain the regular price for a longer time period. It’s not listed how long it should be, but you can’t just submit all your prices at a higher rate and then discount them. It doesn’t work like that.
It, therefore, can’t be one of those eternal offers where you “always” offer 20% off on XYZ item. Also, it’s illegal in the US to list a sale for more than six months.
What do I do if my feed is absolutely HORRIBLE from my platform?
Honestly, when a Feed is super bad from the get-go, I do one of two things:
1) If it’s a manageable amount of products (below 1,000 typically), then I’ll set up a significant amount of rules that basically rewrites the entire feed.
2) If there are too many products for me to do this, or if there simply are no consistent patterns for me to build proper rules, I will focus on what’s inside my control: product titles and adding as many fields as possible. I’ll then try to do item-level bidding instead of trying to use product types or brands to segment my product groups.
Often you’ll find that there is a better plugin/extension out there to produce your Feed. Maybe, one of the Feed tools are able to hook up directly to your store and completely skip the plugin altogether.
Tools For Product Feed Optimization
I’ve written more extensively about what tools I use for my everyday in Google AdWords here, but I’ll list the two tools I recommend for Google Shopping Feed optimization more frequently:
DataFeedWatch: I recommend DataFeedWatch to everyone who wants to get started with Feed Optimization. The tool is solid and the constant improvement to the interface is quickly improving its standing in my toolbox.
I predict that I’ll use the tool more and more this year, and next. This is particularly relevant when DataFeedWatch gets bulk editing and in cases where the Feed I receive from the client is well-structured already.
Feedonomics: Feedonomics is my current go-to tool. This way of working with the Feeds is much faster than anything I’ve ever tried. Even though the pricing is four or even six times that of DataFeedWatch, I personally make up the added cost because it’s simply that much faster.
Insights From The Experts
My top tip is to ensure that all the words that users search for are actually in your product titles and descriptions.
This includes descriptive nouns and adjectives like the brand name, make, model, color, and size.
This is difficult to do if you don’t have the ability to see and query your data, which is why we’ve built it directly into Feedonomics. I’ve seen retailers get 30-40% revenue jumps from following best practices in optimizing their data.
Put your data feeds on steroids with Gross Margin data.
A product feed enhanced with data from sources like your price-monitoring tool, PIM, CRM or financial system will put your data feeds on steroids.
One of the most powerful data you can enhance your feeds with is the gross margin. You can add it to your feed and optimize your bids accordingly.
It is stored outside your online store, so export the gross margin for every product or group of products from your financial system or PIM and ‘merge’ it with your product data.
The gross margin has to be merged to your regular feed through a common denominator, such as the Product ID.
Next, in your feed tool, create a Custom Label for margin categories:
You can now use them in your Google Shopping Campaigns, to optimize your bids.
If you have a product target for (e.g.) football-shoes, you have the same bid for high and low margin shoes. So break down this product group by custom label and set a different bid for each Gross Margin category.
This way you are not bidding too much for the low margin shoes or too little for the high margin shoes and your CPAs will be in line with your gross margins!
Bonus tip: If you can’t get the gross margin in your feed, you can still achieve something similar by creating a custom label for price-groups.
There you have it, a simple yet extremely efficient and powerful technique that will be game changer in your campaigns
Aside from the excellent advice already offered here about getting your feed in the best possible state for Google, my top tip would be to look to include business intelligence such as performance and margin data as custom labels within your feed.
include business intelligence such as performance and margin data as custom labels within your feed.
You should use custom labels to shape the feed in the best way to achieve your marketing objectives, so for example, look to include margin data so you adjust your bidding strategy based on whether a product is performing strongly.
Additionally, the incorporation of performance data within your feed based decision making engine is a great way to drive efficiency. Productsup allows you to generate rules based on the performance of your products, so for example you can omit products from your feed if they are generating a lot of clicks but not many sales. This allows you to focus your budget on where you will receive the best return.
For many advertisers, just starting to think about optimizing your Shopping Campaigns is a daunting task. I still haven’t seen one advertiser come into SavvyRevenue with a halfway-decent Google Shopping setup.
My own thoughts is that the workflows for working with Google Shopping and especially the Feed Optimization aspect are nothing like working with regular search campaigns, so most people just don’t learn the intricacies. Especially as long as Google Shopping campaigns perform well with no particular customization, advertisers will not feel an urgent need to do something about it.
However, I predict that 2018 will be the year where many advertisers will see their Shopping Campaigns perform worse than ever before. Google has now expanded Shopping ads to almost any search that involve a product, which results in a lower ROI for advertisers that aren’t savvy about
That’s why we, in January 2018, will launch a Google Shopping-only management service that includes Shopping and Feed management separately from our regular PPC management services.