Last month when we discussed the latest changes to Google SERPs, one item we highlighted was the increasing prominence of Google Shopping. If that left you wondering “Wait, what’s Google Shopping?” or “How do I get my products listed there?”—this month we’re going to answer those questions (and more). Online retail is big, and only getting bigger. In the fourth quarter of 2015—which includes Black Friday and the rest of the holiday season—online shopping accounted for 7.5% of all retail sales in the US. That might not sound like a big percentage, but that translates to $89.1 billion dollars. If you’re trying to figure out how to capture more online sales, Google Shopping is worth a look.
What is Google Shopping?
You might think that Google Shopping is simply a different way of using search—like how when you enter a search term, you’re taken to website results but if you click tabs for Images or News, you get pictures or recent headlines. You’d be half right. Before 2012, that’s exactly what Google Shopping was: If you clicked the “Shopping” tab underneath the search box, you’d get product results relevant to the keywords you’d searched. What was different back then—and made this more akin to say, Image Search—is that those results were organic. Google simply served you the most relevant products that it could find. Now, however, while you do still get search results that are just products, those are all paid results. Your products will not appear in Google Shopping results unless you’re running a Google Shopping Campaign.
How Does Google Shopping Work?
In some ways, Google Shopping is pretty similar to AdWords (it’s managed within AdWords, too). But despite some similarities, Shopping is a totally different animal. The biggest differences revolve around the role of keywords, which are really the backbone of the PPC campaigns you can run through platforms like AdWords. Instead of worrying about optimizing for keywords, it’s your products’ attributes that make the difference in whether they turn up in Google Shopping search results. Similarly, instead of bidding on keywords, you bid on product groups—it’s more about what you’re actually selling than what might be a popular way to describe the items.
Google Shopping can be used in conjunction with AdWords, of course—that’s actually the norm. It also means that you can wind up with additional real estate on SERPs. As we pointed out before, search queries that show “intention to buy” are now automatically populated with Google Shopping results at the top and sometimes also along the right side of SERPs. Your product listings can thus potentially show up alongside both organic results for your product and your text-based PPC ads. In addition to showing up on SERPs, Google Shopping listings also appear when web users go to Google Shopping to perform a search (this isn’t available in all countries, but in the US it’s simply google.com/shopping). The listings can also appear on Image Search and on partner sites like YouTube.
Are There Advantages to Google Shopping?
Though users are still most likely to click on organic search results, Google has done considerable work to make the product listings that appear in Shopping click-worthy. Even the thumbnail ads that appear in search have a fair amount of detail and show a product image; clicking into a listing gives the user even more information. This means that Google Shopping ads tend to give you stronger conversion rates than text-based PPC ads—web users who click all the way into your listing are looking to make a purchase. Web users also have to get further in to your site before you have to pay for their clicks: You’re only charged when a user clicks through from your product listing to your website or landing page, or to a Google-hosted page that displays your inventory.
It’s worth noting that Google Shopping might not be the right investment for a small business to make (you might do better to focus your efforts on local search). However, if your retail operation is sizeable (500+ products) and/or you’re in a competitive category (think automotive, baby/kids, or sporting goods) it’s likely a good choice. Your direct competitors are most likely already on Google Shopping, and naturally all the major retail players on- and offline (Amazon, Target, etc.) use the platform.
How Do I Set Up a Google Shopping Campaign?
Rather than focusing on targeting just one item or type of consumer (as you might do with a PPC campaign), setting up a Google Shopping campaign is more akin to starting an online store. In many ways, Google Shopping is an attempt to mimic the in-store retail experience, where a customer sees different options on the same shelf. Now, however, the shelf is virtual—and it might be on a phone or tablet, not just a desktop or laptop computer.
Google Shopping listings all look the same; you aren’t including branding or logos, though product photography is important. The most critical information is the product data. This includes not only the basics about each product you offer—brand name, model, price—but also attributes that are used to flesh out the product listing and to enable web users to filter their search results. These include the condition of the product (new, used), availability, product category, and more. Google gives you a set of predefined required attributes; you can also check out their “enhancement” options that let you add product ratings, special offers, or a “Trusted Store” badge.
All of this information is managed in the Merchant Center, which is nested within your AdWords account. You use your AdWords account to manage your bidding, budgeting, and targeting; the Merchant Center is what lets you update your actual products offering. You have to submit data—including all of Google’s required product attributes—as a txt or XML file. That file has to be updated every 30 days, even if your inventory hasn’t changed, and it must match what is displayed on your website. You can also manage shipping and tax information in the Merchant Center. The bad news here is that this can be a fair amount of work; the good news is that as long as you’re already managing your inventory, it’s all information that you likely already have. While some product attributes may change, others probably only need to be set up once.
The key to success with Google Shopping—as with any PPC campaign—is smart management. Monitoring and adjusting your bids, troubleshooting anything that looks suspicious, and keeping track of important metrics like cost-per-click are all ways to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth. Want to learn more about setting up a Google Shopping campaign? Call Higher Power SEO at 760-881-4736 today.