How does it work?
The Google shopping channel has seen rapid growth over the last couple of years as retailers tap into the potential of Product Listing Ads (PLAs). Research by Marin Software in 2013 found businesses were allocating up to 50% of their monthly spend to PLAs alone.
Google’s Merchant Center feed allows you to show PLAs within Google search results and works in conjunction with pay-per-click advertising campaigns. PLAs appear when someone searches for products on google.co.uk or google.co.uk/shopping. The user is presented with a picture of your product, a price, and the name of your shop. When the user clicks on your item they are directed to your website where they can then make a purchase. You only pay for the advert when someone clicks on your PLA.
The PLA space within search results is highly competitive and just by being part of it retailers can be one step ahead of any competitors who haven’t yet joined. But what happens when they do? How do you give your PLAs the advantage and help drive an efficient Return On Investment (ROI)? The following steps will help you optimise your feed and improve the chances of your PLAs succeeding against the competition.
Setting up your Feed
Let’s first define a Google Merchant Center feed – it’s basically a list of all the products your business sells. Within this list you define each product using categories that provide specific attributes – some of these are mandatory, others are optional. We’ll go into further detail about these later in the article.
You need to choose between two file options when creating a feed – either text file or .xml file:
- The text file is a good option for those new to PLAs as it can be easily created using spreadsheet software (Excel for example) and then submitted in either the .txt or .csv format.
- An .xml file is for businesses with larger inventories but it requires knowledge of .xml coding and text-editing software.
Whichever type you choose, the data feed is the basis of your PLA campaign. Google provide more detailed information on how to ‘set up your account’.
Feed Specification & Submission
Google’s product feed specification is quite extensive and provides online sellers with many attributes that help define their products.
The attributes you include in your feed will be influenced by your product line, category, and campaign market but it’s worth noting the more attributes you include the better chance Google has to target your PLAs.
Certain products in your inventory will have unique attributes, however there are values that are standardised such as:
- ‘shipping’ (you can provide a default value or an estimate)
Ensure that your product line is mapped to the specified taxonomy. By using specific categorisation you’ll be improving Google’s ability to segment and match your products.
Once your feed file has been updated you can submit it to the Merchant Center:
- Click ‘Data Feed’
- Click ‘New Data Feed’
- Select target location
- Follow on-screen instructions
There is also a ‘test’ option when first submitting your feed giving you the opportunity to identify and correct any errors. Managing your feed from here on can be done via direct upload to the Merchant Centre. More advanced users can use FTP submission or automatic scheduled fetches.
Once your feed is submitted you can begin your PLA campaign so products appear in the Google search results (as seen in the image above). The difference between a good campaign and a great campaign however is ensuring your feed is optimised.
What do we mean by optimising a Google Merchant Centre Feed? Put simply it’s the process of refining the product information so Google can correctly match the products you want to display to the search query of a potential customer. Google is already efficient at doing this even when data provided isn’t too specific, however a PLA campaign can rise above that of your competitors by implementing a few simple steps.
To begin, consider your feed from Google’s perspective. How useful is it? Are the titles and descriptions effective? What weaknesses can you see? Sometimes it’s hard to be objective so call on friends outside your business to see if they can identify the product based on the attributes you’ve specified.
Once you’ve done that, take a look at these 10 steps for optimising your data feed:
- Add data to missing fields – certain fields in your data feed are mandatory but don’t overlook the recommended fields. Adding product information to data fields that haven’t been populated can greatly help improve product matches to search queries. Online sellers often forget fields such as: colour, gender, material and pattern.
- Keep within title and description limits – in order to see the full product name within the search query results your product title needs to be less that 70 characters. If you going to exceed that, try to include the keywords first. Description lengths can be up to 10,000 characters but a recommended length is typically 500-1000.
- Utilise standard grammar best practices – Description sentences should end with punctuation marks while uppercase text, promotional wording and company descriptions should be avoided. Your product descriptions should also be relevant to the item. And check for spelling mistakes!
- Use words and phrases your customer uses – understanding search behaviour will improve your product information resulting in better matches. Reword titles and descriptions with keywords used by your target audience. Place important information first (brand, product, colour, material, size) and consider variants so if you sell hats think how people search for such a product (such as ‘baseball caps’) and include that in the description.
- Feed accuracy and relevancy – Google will remove any items with values that it finds are incorrect or out of date so ensure your feed is kept accurate and up-to-date. Learn more about ‘providing high quality data’.
- Look for feed errors – tools within the Merchant Centre can help you address any errors in your feed. Learn how to use the ‘feed debugger’ to troubleshoot formatting issues.
- Use quality images – just as good ad copy is important to your PLAs, so is good imagery. Images of low quality or unrepresentative of the product itself will result in a poor clickthrough rate (CTR). Look at the images of your competitors and think about whether your products are being shown at their best.
- Control which products appear – if you’ve a large inventory of similar products at different price points you need to ensure your PLAs are price competitive. For example you may not want an expensive product appearing when you stock a more relevant and cheaper alternative. Control which products show – perhaps your best sellers or best value items – by filtering and bidding differently. An increased bid will make an item more likely to appear while a reduced bid has the opposite effect. Use AdWords Label attribute in your feed and segment ad groups e.g. ‘best sellers’ or ‘top reviewed’.
- Unique Product Identifiers – these help with the indexing of your products such as in the global marketplace. Learn more about ‘unique product identifiers’.
- Manage and re-optimise – specifications within the Google Merchant Centre are always changing so on-going management and improvements to your feed are vital for a successful long-term campaign.
These optimisation steps are just some of the ways you can improve your PLA campaign. Remember that Google is always refining the shopping experience for users so as a business you need to be on top of these changes to ensure your products are ahead of the competition.