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9 Product Feed Optimization Tips To Improve Shopping Ads

I like to joke with clients that I once tried a spoonful of wasabi thinking it was “Japanese mashed potatoes.” As you can probably guess, the spoonful I took was way too large, and was the equivalent of several sticks of dynamite. To others at the table, I must have looked like our friend Jim Carrey from The Mask:


Eat the Bomb (via tvtropes)

Eventually, I learned the ropes, and became quite the sushi aficionado. I still am to this day. I became so fascinated with sushi that I began seeing my PPC campaigns through the eyes of a sushi enthusiast.

I started thinking of how I would sell sushi supplies to restaurant owners, and it proved to be a very productive thought experiment.

The Google Shopping platform is my number one choice for getting products in front of potential buyers. I’m not alone in this -- a Sidecar study reports that retailers are spending more on Google Shopping than traditional Search ads (53% vs. 47%) in the US and the UK for the first time in advertising history.

"Even Amazon is doing it. If Amazon is investing in Google PLAs, consider it a giant neon sign suggesting that if you want to be in front of your customers, you need to be focusing on Google Shopping,” explains William Harris, Ecommerce Growth Expert, Elumynt.

Why? Consumers drive the change. According to a PowerReviews study, 35% of all online product searches begin on Google.

Marketers smelled this blood in water, and have made competing in Google Shopping difficult -- very difficult. In using the platform, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with droves and droves of marketers, advertisers, and others who are trying to produce the same results that you are. Some are hardened professionals (hello!), others are only now joining the party. The point is the same -- the competition inherent to using Google Shopping (or any Google platform) is insane.

It can all seem like too much to take on, but there’s a silver lining -- things can (and will) snap into focus for you if you’re constantly optimizing the right areas of your campaigns. Product Feed is one of those areas.

I will explain why you need to focus on the Product Feed first, and how to optimize it so you can light your Google Shopping Campaigns on fire.

It's going to be a long read. If you don't have time, you can have us analyze your account and tell you 3 big areas that 10X results. Request a free SCUBE Audit.

What Is Product Feed, and How Does It Work?

A product feed is “a file made up of a list of products which use groupings of attributes that define each one of your products in a unique way,” according to Google. Product feed is a bridge between your inventory and Google. See an example of what it looks like below:

Product feed example (via Google)

In sushi terms, it’s like a sushi menu, which is made up of various sushi maki rolls.

Product Feed Elements Are Like Sushi Maki Rolls (via Giphy)

Your feed is important because it affects two sides of Google Shopping campaigns:

  • External (responsible for serving ads). The same way the sushi menu represents your sushi maki roll selection available to your restaurant customers, product feed represents the products that the Google Shopping platform will use to serve ads against the search queries.
  • Internal (responsible for tracking results on the back end). This can be thought of as the way your menu tells your chef and management how profitable each item on the menu is.

Andrew Warren of Disruptive Advertising agrees, “It might not be fun, but getting your product feed (the foundation of your online sales platform) set up right is well worth the effort.”

Google’s algorithm seeks to display a product for virtually all of their search queries. It’s up to you to structure and prioritize your feed to get maximum visibility. Pay attention to two areas:

  • Targeting. This is where you get impressions. You don’t use keywords in targeting search queries, as you do with Google Search campaigns. Titles, descriptions and pricing help Google’s algorithm better match products to search queries. The better they are, the more search queries they will match up to.
  • Relevance. This is where you get people to click on those impressions. Product titles, images, and prices act as ads. They affect your click-through rate (CTR). Be contextual, and focus on people.

For example, if you are searching for “sushi knives”, here is what the search results look like:


Google Shopping Results for Sushi Knives (via Google)

To optimize your product for targeted and relevant traffic, focus on the elements that have the highest effect on your product listing ad. Start with the areas that drive your Google Shopping performance: titles, images, and pricing. Then optimize the rest.

Tip #1. Optimize Product Titles To Capture Search Queries

To capture search queries, you need to do your keyword research first. Treat this process similar to the way you would treat paid search strategy and keyword research.

Since you can’t target keywords directly, include them in the product titles. To capture more relevant traffic, add product attributes, such as product type, brand, color, or size to the titles.

Here are a few examples of how retailers selling sushi leggings to sushi enthusiasts use title and product attributes:


Product Attributes Included In The Title (via Google)

Retailer A included the following product attributes in their title:

  1. Product Name
  2. Product Type
  3. Size
  4. Brand

While Retailer B included only Product Type.

Since titles affect both targeting and relevance, don’t stuff your product titles with keywords. It may help to spread an ad around a little faster, but it’ll be a superficial and uninteresting ad that probably won’t convert.

For example, with the same search for sushi leggings, you can end up with sushi baby pants. Look how long the title is for this product.


Product Attributes Included In The Title (via Google)

By stuffing your titles, you’ll capture irrelevant traffic, and you’ll waste ad spend.

Tip #2. Optimize Product Titles For Higher CTR

You want people to click on your listing, so relevancy to popular search queries is key. That means you need to write product titles as ads.

Be descriptive, but remember, less is more -- don’t let your title exceed the length of a tweet (130-150 characters is on the high end). If your title is too long, Google will cut it off anyway. See an example below:


Google Shopping Results for Sushi Knives (via Google)

Benjamin Spiegel, CEO of MMI Agency, suggests you “write product titles in a way your consumers talk about them; describe your products the way your customers would. Avoid using technical jargon and SKUs.”

Tip #3. Optimize Your Product Photos For Higher CTR

Get in touch with your inner photographer -- use the best photos you can muster up.

Why? Your image commands attention and describes the product. Images sell.

See an example below:


Example of Product Photo That Stands Out (via Google)

Which product image stands out to you? To me, it’s the middle one.

Make sure you invest in your product images, because they will be responsible for grabbing the attention of your shoppers, which indicates relevancy to search queries.

Tip #4. Optimize Your Pricing For More Traffic

Google’s message to us as advertisers is simple -- the more impressions you want, and the higher the quality impressions you want for a certain product, the tighter the balance you have to find between queries and product pricing.

Product pricing is a significant key to success in Google Shopping.

According to Wesley Parker of Clicteq, "Google’s emphasis on pricing—particularly ensuring that your pricing is competitive relative to other advertisers—is a key component of success: if your goods are overpriced, conversions volume can decrease by over 60%."


How Pricing Affects Conversion Rate and Conversion Volume (via Wordstream)

Another study, which shows conversion data for 2,000 products before and after undergoing a price hike, reached the same conclusion. A 43% product price increase resulted in Google reducing the impressions by 70%. See below:


How Pricing Affects Traffic (via Search Engine Land)

Clearly, the lower the product price relative to market value, the higher the odds are that Google Shopping will prioritize your ad and serve it to users.

Tip #5. Optimize Some Products For Loss Leader Pricing

Andreas Reiffen suggests that only 34% of conversions match the product that was clicked. Buyer behavior is very peculiar, and many users buy products that weren’t initially advertised to them.

This fact represents an opportunity for you. Since product pricing is a factor, you can select a limited number of low-priced products, called “loss leaders,” to drop the price even more.

Remember, your goal is not to make money from these products, but to drive traffic to your store so you can sell higher price and higher margin items.

Let’s consider our sushi supply business example. Say a sushi rolling mat is your loss leader. As it turns out, there are sushi rolling mats ranging from $0.02 to $978.12. You set the price low on one of the products to be very competitive.


Use Low Priced Items As Loss Leaders (via Search Engine Land)

By having an ad for a sushi rolling mat on your site that uses low ball figures, you will earn Google Shopping’s favor, and your ad will be served competitively, to lots of users.

A sushi rolling mat will not make your company too much money. Don’t worry, you have more expensive sushi knives available on your site. In addition, you can retarget buyers once they are in your store.

Remember, your goal is to drive traffic. At the end of the day, your sushi rolling mat could be quite the revenue generator.

Tip #6. Optimize Product Descriptions For Conversions

Once you got the attention of shoppers, product descriptions will help you sell to them.

Here’s an example of shopping search results for sushi knives:


Product Listing In The Shopping Search Results (via Google)

Look at the third listing, which lists a knife for $14,995. Their description focuses not on the product’s features, but on the history and quality of the knife.

Use relevant keywords and craft compelling copy to describe the product. Don't just copy and paste boilerplate factory descriptions of your products.

Tip #7. Keep Your Product Feed Clean, and Free of Cut Corners

You should focus on making sure your input feed is as clean as it can possibly be. On the surface, it seems like a simple spreadsheet with a bunch of data that no one sees.

The reality is this -- your feed elements will be included in the product listing ads.

That means no unformatted text, or any tricks -- it’ll only serve to annoy end users and shoppers, which, in turn, will hurt your sales.

If you are using only the required fields to get an ad surfaced, you are missing out. Here’s an example containing additional fields that were included in the product listing ad.


Additional Fields In The Product Listing Ad (via Google)

In addition, if you are selling sushi pants, additional fields can help buyers find your products by certain product attributes such as material, brand, or style.


Google Shopping Search Categories (via Google)

Tip #8. Map Your Products To Official Google Product Categories

Google Product Categories are required for some products, including clothing books and music, but are optional for other product types.

Even if your products don’t require categories, to keep the ads more relevant, you should map the products to the official product categories. You can download a list of close to 5,500 categories.

Here are a few ways to get more specific, according to Google:

  • One category per product. Choose the category based on your product’s main function.
  • Get specific. Use the most specific category to ensure close relevancy to the search terms.
  • Be recent. Use categories published after August 2011. No matter what you have submitted in your feed, Google will translate these to the latest version. To eliminate the loss in translation, use recent categories.

Benjamin Spiegel, CEO of MMI Agency agrees, and suggests you “ensure your product is listed in the correct Google Shopping categories. Use the Official Google Shopping Product Categories and get as granular as possible.”

Here‘s how you determine whether or not your competitors use official Google product categories: say your buyers are searching for “sushi rice”. Google gives a list of results, however, there is no “rice” category -- just Shirts & Tops and Rice Cookers.


How to Spot Gaps In Google Product Categories (via Google)

Tip #9. Optimize Your Store And Products With Reviews & Ratings

Graham Charlton of Econsultancy states that “61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, and they are now essential for e-commerce sites.” Reviews are social proof for buyers -- they are crucial in convincing users to trust your brand.

Now, you can have two types of reviews: Seller Ratings and Product Ratings.

Seller Ratings are green stars next to your store name in the search results. You need at least 150 unique seller reviews, each from the past 12 months in order for your green stars to show up. Here is an example of how that should look:


Seller Ratings (via Google)

There are a few ways to collect buyer feedback, but the two most common ways are:

  1. Google Customer Reviews, a free program that collects post-purchase reviews on behalf of advertisers.
  2. Third-party review sites. These sites are approved by Google. Some are free and some are paid.  

Google Customer Reviews is a new program. Find out how to enroll via their Merchant Center.

Product Ratings are orange stars next to your products. The requirements are more lenient than Seller Ratings. You need at least 3 or more reviews for the product. Here is an example below:


Product Ratings (via Google)

Product ratings are not tied to your store. Google uses GTINs (Globally Unique Product Identifiers) to match products in your feed to the ratings. If your feed doesn’t have GTINs, Google will try to use SKU, Brand + MPN pairs, and product URLs to find a match.

This means you should include GTINs for your products in your feed.


Google Shopping is officially one of the most effective means of getting your products in front of the right buyers.

As Google continues to get better at serving relevant products to their users, you similarly have to adapt and align your campaigns with the Shopping platform’s best practices if you want to be competitive. That means optimizing your product feed.

As you’ve seen, the importance of the product feed can’t be overstated. It’s the lineup of products from your store that Google will interact with, and will serve (or not serve, depending on your performance) to their users.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re selling sushi supplies, sushi yoga pants, or any other product under the Sun -- the best practices are all the same. Follow the 9 tips and tricks we’ve just gone over and you will light your Google Shopping campaigns on fire!

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