The Guide to Google Shopping Optimization for Ecommerce Stores

Shanif Dhanani
Shanif Dhanani
Co-Founder and CEO, Apteo

A major obstacle for small- to mid-sized ecommerce stores is simply making shoppers aware of their products. If only there were a way to have your ideal customers come to you.

There is, in fact, a channel that can bring you audiences that already know they want your product: Google! 

This may seem too good to be true—Google is massive!—but by leveraging the set of tools Google gives specifically to ecommerce businesses, you can help your customers find you. Google Shopping is a platform that helps shoppers find what they want right in their search results. Getting your products to appear in Google Shopping results will almost certainly lead to an increase in conversions.

In this piece, you’ll learn exactly what Google Shopping is, how it works, why it’s helpful for ecommerce sites, and how to optimize it for your store’s needs.

What is Google Shopping?

Google Shopping is a comparison shopping engine that contains elements of advertising. It presents a conglomeration of products from a variety of retailers and allows users to search, browse, and compare different products. Searchers can narrow down results by selecting details like size, color, brand, price range, and more.

A Brief History of Google Shopping

Google Shopping was launched in 2002, when it was known as Froogle. Froogle used Google’s web crawler to index product data found on vendors’ webpages. Froogle was soon integrated with Google Search so that search results would appear alongside web search results. It also allowed merchants to use AdWords to promote their product listings.

In 2012, Froogle was renamed to Google Shopping and was converted to a “pay-to-play” model where merchants had to pay Google to have their products listed and results were based on both bid amounts and relevance to the search terms. Unlike its previous iteration that crawled vendor websites, merchants were required to submit a product feed, which is a document containing product data. With a product feed, relevance determined by the product information contained in the data feed instead of the vendor webpage.

As of 2020, Google Shopping is no longer a pay-to-play platform. It is free for merchants to show in Google Shopping results by using Surfaces Across Google. Surfaces Across Google, found in the Google Merchant Center, is a catch-all dashboard for ecommerce merchants to control where their product listings are shown in the Google network, including Shopping, Images, Lens, and Search.

Google Shopping now combines free listings with Google Ads, so mastering it as a digital marketing strategy requires knowledge of both search engine optimization (SEO) tactics and paid search engine marketing (SEM) tactics.

How Does Google Shopping Work?

To participate in the Google Shopping network, retailers send their product feed (also known as the Google Shopping feed) which contains all of the merchant’s items, item IDs, product pricing information, global trade item numbers (GTIN), and product descriptions, to the Google Merchant Center. Google then crawls the product feed and determines which items can appear for which search queries. This means that organic results are relevant in Google Shopping, as products are indexed based on the information in the product feed. 

What are Google Shopping Ads?

Although participation is free, advertising is supported on Google Shopping. Unlike ads for typical Google Search results, pay-per-click (PPC) bidding is placed on each item, instead of on keywords. These ads are also known as product listing ads (PLAs). Google Shopping ads still appear “above the fold;” that is, before unpaid Shopping results, text results, and even paid search ads.

Google Shopping ads display a product image, the name of the product, the product’s price, and, if available, a rating for the product. By default, ads can be displayed on multiple Google networks including Search, Images, Shopping, Youtube, Discover, and on partner websites that have Google advertising space.

4 Reasons to Invest in Google Shopping

Google Shopping is a powerful tool to include in your ecommerce marketing plan. Using Google Shopping to share your products:

...Broadens the reach of your ecommerce store.

Google is the household name for search engines. It boasts a market share of over 92% among all search engines, and it’s almost guaranteed that your target customers use Google on a daily basis. With Google Shopping now appearing in Google Search results, typically above text results, it’s a great way to increase the visibility of your products.

...Generates high-quality leads.

Search engines are unique and important to a marketing strategy because they rely on intent. This means that the person making a search query knows that they have a problem or need and intend to explore options to solve it. Think of it this way: The shopper using a search engine already wants your product, you just have to make sure they can find it easily. In other words, search intent shortens the time between the awareness stage and the acquisition stage of the buyer’s journey.

Of course, every shopper who encounters your product in a search isn’t necessarily a good-quality lead. The beauty of Google Shopping is that so much information is readily available to searchers, like pricing information and a good image of the product, so the ones who do click are more likely to be the high-quality leads your ecommerce store is looking for.

...Has a good ROI.

Now that Google Shopping includes organic results, there is essentially no barrier to entry to use it. Including a paid strategy will make your efforts more effective, of course, but success no longer relies on making the highest bids and spending a lot of your valuable marketing budget. Combining classic SEO strategies with SEM skill in a Google Shopping campaign will keep your costs low and your conversion rates high.

...Helps your store stay ahead of the curve technologically.

Google is constantly updating all of their platforms, including Google Shopping. Taking advantage of the relatively new free listings feature and optimizing your store’s presence on Google Shopping will help your brand adapt as Google makes more changes to their Shopping network.

7 Google Shopping Optimization Tips

Limit the networks your products appear on.

By default, Google Shopping displays your store’s ads on all of Google’s search network, including Search, Shopping, Youtube, Discover, and partner sites. While such a broad reach may seem attractive at first, it can spread your ads too thin, especially if you’re just starting out. 

To get the most out of your Google Shopping campaign, limit your networks to Shopping and Search. This maintains the powerful element of intent in your Google Shopping strategy because YouTube, Discover, and display ads on partner sites probably won’t be shown to your ideal audiences. Limiting your networks narrows down your channels to improve campaign results and make reporting more accurate.

Optimize your product feed.

Product feed optimization is essential for a successful Google Shopping campaign. Make sure it is easy for Google to “read” your product feed by including succinct, descriptive product titles and ensuring that Google is pulling the correct prices for your products. Using excellent product photos is also a must. Conduct A/B testing to check which product photos drive more conversions.

Utilize ad groups.

Ad groups allow you to organize your Google Shopping advertisements to optimize bidding and to keep your campaign structured. You can build your ad groups by whatever criteria makes the most sense for your products and goals, whether it’s by brand, product type, or price range.

Add structure to your campaigns.

It’s tempting to use a campaign to lump all of your products into a single ad group and product group to save time, but doing so won’t yield good results. To get the most out of a Google Shopping ad campaign, you want to be as granular as possible when structuring your campaigns. Adding structure makes the campaign easier to manage and provides more specific data to help back up future campaign decisions.

Structuring campaigns helps you set and stick to a budget while adding flexibility to where you can place your bids. Once you see which categories and products are performing well, you can invest more of your bids into those products and continue improving your Google Shopping ads strategy.

Google Shopping campaigns can be broken down by product groups, product categories, brands, price range or profit margins, and more. This will help you make sure your products show up for the most relevant searches, leading to a better click-through rate and more conversions.

Exclude unprofitable products from your campaigns.

As you move along in a well-executed Google Shopping ad campaign, you’ll notice that certain products perform better than others. This could be for any number of reasons, ranging from high bid competition to the product being out of season (For example, advertising snow boots at the beginning of summer).

This is part of why structuring your campaigns is so important: The real-time data will show exactly which products are performing well and which may not be worth advertising. The rule of thumb is to compare cost per click (CPC) of a specific product to its profit margin: If the former is higher, you are wasting ad spend on that product. Excluding unprofitable products will allow you to improve your ROI for Google Shopping by targeting your best performing products to drive revenue.

Use negative keywords.

Negative keywords are keywords that your product specifically will not appear in results for. Adding negative keywords in your Google Shopping ad campaign will make sure the search terms you are pursuing are of value to your business.

Finding the best negative keywords for your products can take time, but there are a few good starting points:

  • Make sure your ads aren’t showing up for search terms for products you don’t carry.
  • Not every search query holds purchase intent, even if some of the keywords are there. Exclude irrelevant search terms that show up on your search terms report.
  • If your product fills a specific niche, exclude short-tail keywords to ensure your ads are only shown to the most receptive audiences.
Adjust your bids to attract better leads.

Google Shopping allows you to change your bid amounts based on different attributes, like location, device type, or even time of day or week. Consider your target audience and adjust your bids to fit their habits and lifestyle. 

Adjusting bids based on time of day or week can be tricky, but basing it on existing data about when your products appear in searches that lead to purchases can be a powerful asset in a strong bidding strategy.

Apteo is Your Segmentation Partner in Ecommerce

Apteo is a data-driven platform that boosts your online store’s retention and repeat purchase rate by giving you a clear look at who your customers are and how they behave. Apteo’s Automatic Segmentation feature complements any ecommerce marketing campaign. To try Apteo for free for two weeks, click here.

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Photo by Caio from Pexels

About the Author

Shanif Dhanani
Shanif Dhanani
Co-Founder and CEO, Apteo

Shanif Dhanani is the co-founder & CEO of Apteo. Prior to Apteo, Shanif was a data scientist and software engineer at Twitter, and prior to that he was the lead engineer and head of analytics at TapCommerce, a NYC-based ad tech startup acquired by Twitter. He has a passion for all things data and analytics, loves adventure traveling, and generally loves living in New York City.

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