The ultimate Guide to Google Shopping and Merchant Center

published on 15 March, 2022 by

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Launched in 2008 in Germany and in the UK before expanding to France in 2010, and then to the rest of Europe, Google Shopping ads have become a staple for all ecommerce platforms. But if you wish to take full advantage of their immense selling power, there are a few rules to master. In our Google Shopping guide, we introduce the service and give you an overview of how it works, along with some useful titbits.

What is Google Shopping?

FROM A FREE GOOGLE PRODUCT SEARCH TO PAID GOOGLE SHOPPING

After a long beta test in the US, the service launched in December 2002 under the name “Froogle” (a portmanteau word which combines “Frugal” with “Google”). It wasn’t renamed “Google Product Search” until 2007, which coincided with its European launch. Back then, the service was entirely free, and Google was funding the platform using the page’s AdWords. Owners of e-commerce sites were able to have their products featured freely and rankings weren’t based on payment. A Google Shopping guide would have looked a lot like an SEO guide!

On 31 May 2012, the Mountain View firm transitioned its platform to a monetised service, renamed “Google Shopping” for the occasion. This change was to be expected, since Google’s strategy had always been based on click generation, particularly when it came to sponsored links. As of then, the products appeared based on their relevance compared to the search in question and to the amount paid by the merchants.

THE PRICE COMPARISON SERVICE AND THE ONLINE RETAIL SPACE

This sales platform aimed at ecommerce professionals is available under the “Shopping” tab on the first page of Google’s search results, just like all the other filters for “News”, “Images”, “Videos”, “Maps”, “Books”, and “Flights”. But it also appears in the search engine’s regular results.

Google Shopping fulfils two main functions, which are to provide:

  • A space dedicated to selling products – offering a small description, a picture, a price, plus the name of the merchant that sells it.
  • A price comparison service – even though the results are not ranked according to this criterion, since the best results come from the sellers who have offered the highest bid for a given search query.

The service is currently available for online merchants only and in a limited number of countries (12). With that said, the possibility that it may, one day, be extended beyond these borders and to individuals wanting to sell their products or services online cannot be ruled out.

A tool to boost your visibility, your traffic, and your sales

A PAID RELAY FOR YOUR SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION

Nowadays, guaranteeing that a site will organically rank among the first results from a search query on Google is a true challenge. And that’s without even considering that generic searches, such as “car”, only benefit the sector’s historic giants and drive AdWords advertising prices through the roof.

Besides, organic results are sometimes relegated below the float line. In other words, beyond the first screen page, as the first results are quite often monopolised either by Google AdWords, or by Google Shopping itself since the comparator is showcased very clearly among the search results.

Since Google is practically the only player here, it sets its own rules. As a reminder, 9 out of 10 users throughout the entire world would rather use Google than any other search engine. And if you’re going to pay the American giant, Google Shopping certainly offers strong arguments for online businesses.

THE BENEFITS OF GOOGLE SHOPPING

No Google Shopping Guide is complete without looking at the perks of the solution. Built on the same model as Google AdWords, Google Shopping relies on a system of bids for its Cost Per Click (CPC). In other words, paying is usually how to get listed on Google Shopping, even though other elements are taken into account, such as image quality, customer reviews, etc. Still, the seller only pays when an Internet user actually clicks on the ad and visits the corresponding web shop.

These are considered high-value redirects, since the Google Shopping format significantly reduces “curiosity clicks”. Beyond the traditional links from the “Meta Title” and “Meta Description”, the product is highlighted by other elements, such as the photo, customer reviews, etc.

More attractive commercial links guarantee high quality prospects which, in turn, will help you reach your target ROAs. After clicking on a Google Shopping link, users are indeed more often in a “shopping mindset”.

To sum up, a Google Shopping guide should always encourage you to consider Google AdWords. When used properly, Google Shopping can improve the visibility of your products, increase traffic to your web shop, and boost your sales, which, in turn, minimises the cost per click.

How does Google Shopping work?

THE GOOGLE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Under the “Shopping” tab of a Google search result, over 30 different products can be displayed at the same time, and 12 of them show up on the first screen page. Each product displays:

  • A product title
  • A picture
  • A price
  • The number of shops that offer it under the same conditions

After a first click on one of them, the Internet user finds a few additional details about the product itself (a short description), as well as information about the various sellers, including their delivery charges and customer reviews.

Note that there is a link available to compare the different options. The page displays a comparison table lining up sellers, reviews about the merchant, delivery details, base price, full price, before users can “view the offer” on the advertiser’s website.

To sum up this part of our Google Shopping guide, let’s say that a few clicks are all it takes for the user to find everything they need to make an informed decision.

THE CONFIGURATION WEB SHOP OWNERS MUST FOLLOW

To set up a Google Shopping ad campaign, web shop professionals must imperatively have a Google Merchant Center account where they can upload their product catalogue. They also need a Google Ads account so they can create an AdWords campaign and be visible both on google.co.uk and on shopping.google.co.uk.

Of course, the data feed on Google Merchant needs to comply with the American giant’s guidelines to show up properly in the “Shopping” tab. The only compatible formats are XML or CVS/XLS and the documents should always include the following fields:

  • Id – which should be unique and use the alphanumeric format
  • Title – 150 characters maximum
  • Description – 5,000 characters maximum
  • Link – product landing page, 2,000 characters maximum
  • Image_link URL of the primary product image, 2,000 characters maximum
  • Availability
  • Price
  • google_product_category
  • brand – name of the product’s brand, 70 characters maximum
  • gtin – product’s Global Trade Item Number
  • mpn [manufacturer’s reference] 70 alphanumeric characters maximum
  • condition

Once the feed is ready, it needs to be submitted to the Google Merchant Center following the steps described here! At this stage, one should correctly programme the feed’s updating frequency, keeping in mind that there must be at least one monthly update.

While the Google Shopping platform does have a “help” section to help you get acquainted with it and set up your web shop, mastering it – which is imperative if you wish to boost your performance – is significantly more complex, hence the need for an in-depth Google Shopping tutorial.

How to increase your performance on Google Shopping ?

WORKING ON YOUR PRODUCT FEED

As of 16 May 2016, Google systematically excludes products without a GTIN code. This international code, provided by the manufacturer, allows every product to be clearly identified, which is considered a proof of relevance by the US giant. Depending on the country where the product is sold, this code can take on a different shape: a 12-number UPC (Northern America), a 13-number EAN in Europe, a 10-13-number ISBN for books, etc.

Only new brand-name products are subject to this requirement. There are, in fact, exceptions for which Google Shopping doesn’t demand a GTIN code, such as second-hand or customised products, perishables, etc. In other cases, it is strongly advised to look for the precious code using, for instance, a dedicated search engine such as Index UPC.

According to Google, including the GTIN code helps to increase clicks and impressions by 40% which, in turn, increases conversion by an average of 20%.

The advertising platform strongly urges web shop professionals to clearly state their product information for each variant. For instance, when it comes to clothing, this could mean indicating if a t-shirt comes in different colours, sizes, or materials. A section called “product data specification and product groups” is now available to make this information show up clearly on the feed.

Beyond the fact that it improves the shopping experience, managing this section allows you to work on your visibility for highly specific long-trail search terms from users looking for these attributes.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EVERY GOOGLE SHOPPING FUNCTIONALITY

Since the launch of the service in the UK back in 2008, Google has been doing its utmost – as it always does – to fine-tune the platform by making constant improvements to its look and to the shopping experience associated with it. Lately, they have especially focused on the mobile aspect of it: the ads now feature reviews and product ratings.

Even though it’s something of a double-edged sword for businesses who obviously cannot do anything against negative comments – whether they are justified or not – Internet users do look for this type of information and offering it is likely to improve the conversion rate.

Google has been testing a “Buy Now” button since 2015 in the US, which could also boost the conversion rate on mobiles. On the other side of the Atlantic, it is directly connected to the mobile user’s Google Wallet, which already holds all the banking information required to allow this button to work, as it were, all by itself!

Expected to reach Europe towards the end of 2016/beginning of 2017, it will push web shop owners to optimise their advertising campaigns’ structure, taking every terminal into account. It is likely to make PC and mobile performance more on par with one another, which should be kept in mind when placing bids via smartphones.

Finally, and still with the aim of being able to reach potential customers on several channels, Google Shopping integrates a physical dimension, indicating nearby shops where the product in question can be found.

Aware of the importance of geographic location (as evidenced by Google My Business), which still holds a lot of weight in the search results, the American giant decided to favour local ads instead of traditional ones, especially on mobile. This means they also enjoy a higher visibility on Google Shopping.

In order to leverage this, professionals with a brick-and-mortar store will need to produce two distinct additional feeds. The first one should be a product listing of all the items available at the store, while the second one will provide information about the stocks.

How to make the right bidding adjustments ?

LEVERAGING QUALITY DATA

One of the keys to boosting your Google Shopping performance is to maximise the return on investment you get from your ad campaigns by bidding correctly. Bids are the only way to determine how often your ads will be displayed depending on the search context, which channel should be prioritised, or the times and geographic locations that should be targeted.

In other words, in order to create a smart shopping campaign, it is essential to know your sales leads. Knowing them means an in-depth study of qualitative data: What is your visitors’ profile? What are the most visited pages? What are their purchasing preferences? What are the reasons behind abandoned transactions? Etc. This information may be coupled with product catalogue data to determine which products sell the best as well as shopping trends.

To sum up, identifying any data that may help draw clear profiles with well-identified shopping behaviours is of the essence. This will give you everything you need to target the right audience for your AdWords/Shopping campaigns.

RELYING ON THE REMARKETING RLSA LISTS

In addition to relying on this precious data, it can be interesting to leverage the “RLSA” remarketing lists available on Google Shopping. These allow you to customise your advertising campaigns by taking into account Internet users who have already visited the site in order to adjust bids accordingly.

For instance, if a user visited your site without making a purchase, the remarketing list may allow you to get this user “back” by:

  • Bidding higher on the keywords that Internet users who visited your website in the past month searched for.
  • Extending a customised message to the users who have filled a basket without completing their purchase.
  • Creating a bid on new, broader keywords, to reach users who have already made a purchase on your website.

The powerful solution that is Google Shopping mandates certain skills if you want to take full advantage of it. In addition, beyond the meticulousness that every Google Shopping campaign requires, managing one also takes a lot of time. The tasks in question include building and targeting the ads, updating the feeds, optimising the adverts, etc.

These are often carried out more efficiently by competent authorities, such as a PPC agency that masters every technique and knows how to find just the right approach to orchestrate your sales on the platform.

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