I Don’t Know How to Run Shopping Ads & At This Point I’m Too Afraid to Ask – Learn Inbound

learn inbound google shopping ppckirk

The following is a presentation I gave last year (2019) in Dublin on Shopping Ads. Learn Inbound is a fabulous conference geared primarily towards content and SEO marketers, so it was a huge privilege to be able to present on all things Shopping Ads at this event. In this presentation, I did my best to gear it at a beginner level so anyone, CEO or SEO could learn a little more about the world’s greatest advertising channel and it’s impact on the broader Ecommerce landscape.

For your convenience, I have included the slides, video, and transcript of the entire presentation below (thank you Learn Inbound for making this accessible!).

Session Slides



Session Video


Session Transcript

All right. 

Thank you so much. 

A million bonus points to whoever can send the link for that walk on song on Twitter to me {as a note for the reader, the walk-on music I chose was Seagulls, Stop It Now from Bad Lip Reading} I selected . Those points are very real and they matter. 


So this is the second time I’ve been to Dublin. The first time, a couple of years back, I actually was able to visit Croke Park, which is really cool. It’s the first time I learned about hurling, which blew my mind! What an unbelievable sport, really awesome! Hurling in the United States, in case you don’t know, is very, very different. It’s the sport of projectile vomiting. It’s basically what happens when you get sick. So your hurling is much cooler, thank you for that gift. 


I’m from the state of Montana. Montana is physically very large but there’s not a lot of people. If you’d walk across Montana diagonally, it’d be just about eight kilometers. Longer than if you would walk from London, swim through the English Channel, and continue on into Austria, so very, very big, but there’s only a million people in all that space.

It’s primarily made up of mountains and grizzly bears. During my spare time, I enjoy running away from grizzly bears. So you’re thinking, “Okay, so PPC?.. There’s one negative point for this guy. Next, he’s from a place where there’s not a lot of people other than grizzly bears, so why is he speaking to us on E-commerce when hey, as we all know, E-commerce in terms of the curve has basically reached its apex and it’s on the way down. Let’s move on to other things. 26 trillion euros, global economy for E-commerce, what’s the point in even talking about this?” 

Well, E-commerce is just going to continue growing. There’s going to be a lot of services that you all are maybe even working on that’s eventually going to be something that I’m working on in the E-commerce world.


There’s stuff that’s going to continue shifting to be purchased online, and by the way, that’s with  lots and lots of people who aren’t even online yet, but that will continue to grow as well. So E-commerce is big and important, we all know that. Why shopping ads? That’s what we’re talking about today in case you weren’t aware.


Shopping ads are Google’s e-commerce arm and Google has been continuing to push shopping ads harder and harder. There has been a little bit of a dip the last couple of quarters in terms of year over year growth, but overall, text ads continue to decline and shopping ads continue their domination of text ads with Google, especially in advertisers spend, so if you’re doing any sort of E-commerce and not on shopping ads, you probably need to be. Why is that? Why are shopping ads so popular? 

I like to say, since I’m very, very biased and love shopping ads, that they’re like the Despicable Me fluffy unicorn. They’re just so clickable. So you have a very visual entity there. You see the product, you want the product, you also get the price, that’s really important, and then dod gammit, when you click on the link, it goes to that actual product. What an amazing thing! What a concept, right?


It’s an ad type that people really like, and because of that, I think Google and Microsoft have been pushing that into more placements. People like it. Shopping ads are here, they’re important. 


So here’s the attendee breakdown for Learn Inbound, and as you’re looking at this, as a shopping ads practitioner, let me tell you, you’re looking at a lot of people who have the potential not to care about shopping ads.


I made this utter guess based upon the breakdown that there’s probably like 3.8% of you who actually really do this kind of thing, and so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to speak to the 96.2% of you and give an overall, “this is what you should know about shopping ads.” 

So hey, you’re an SEO person working in SEO, there’s this entity of shopping ads, it’s there. Here’s a little bit more that you can know about it. Maybe you’re a CEO or CMO and you need to have some level of “Hey, I know what I’m talking about in the boardroom,” that’s what this talk is based on. 

If you do specifically Google shopping, I did just have a bunch of resources that I threw on this page here that can go a lot deeper. Please grab me and let’s chat during the conference and let’s go more specifically into shopping ads, but we’re primarily going to discuss the overall “this is what shopping ads are” from the ground up, okay?


So placements. Where do shopping ads actually appear? All right, Google, obviously, but Google desktop, if you haven’t noticed, shopping ads have continued over the last few years to really have prominent placement. They like to be front and center, Google’s pushing them front and center more, but you also have that right hand side thing. No more text ads. Shopping ads, we’re still there, and so desktop, it continues to grow. Mobile has really been skyrocketing, and one of the things to note about mobile shopping ad placements is because of that image, it’s basically got to be a certain size so you can see it and that means it takes up a lot of real estate. I’ll apologize for us. I’m sorry, but that’s part of why the vast majority of your E-commerce mobile things are all shopping ads.

Then it continues down until you see text ads and then you have lots of other stuff until you get to organic. Again, I’m sorry. Not really, since it’s my job, but I didn’t do that, Google did. Then you have the showcase shopping ads and that’s basically kind of their top of funnel thing that they’re going after as they try to find more general searches, like silicone rings, right? Silicone, that’s a type of material. Then it’ll expand when that ad is clicked. It’s going to expand to still be a Google property, because you all know they love to do that, and then you can see the individual products that will then get clicked through. You’re charged if someone looks at that showcase ad for 10 seconds or if they actually click through to your site.


We have of course the shopping tab that Google has been completely overhauling this year because we want to be just like Amazon and we have to figure that out fast because Amazon keeps trucking along. Then the image tab, Google has put shopping ads on images as well. One thing to note on that is that it has been there for a while, but in the last couple of months, Google very kind of sneakily has shifted those clicks to appear in your Google Ads. They’re appearing now as core search for channels. They’re not part of the search partner network anymore if they’re clicked on images, just worth noting.


YouTube! All right. YouTube and shopping I think are just going to continue to be a longstanding relationship that continues to thrive and grow. Because Google loves everything YouTube and shopping right now, be aware of that. There are multiple places that they can appear on YouTube. We also have local inventory ads. Basically, if you have… I looked up to see what the Irish version of Walmart is and they were saying “Aldi”, is that right? So whatever that would be, local stores. They can show, “Hey, we have these products in stock near us.” You submit a local inventory feed through that, and not quite done, right? Like I said, Google is continuing to push shopping everywhere they can.


Shopping actions. So if there’s any type of voice search or a smart device, whatever it might be, shopping actions are powering that, and so that’s something to just continue to watch. Because as those continue to grow, I don’t think they’re like the super hardcore fad that some people make them out to be because there will always be a place for not speaking something. But you do have the entity of a voice and that’s all powered through the shopping actions within Google Merchant Center. So just be aware that that’s an entity and that’s continuing to grow as well.


Okay, so that’s where shopping ads appear. How do you get them up? How do you take a product and then turn it into “Congratulations. Hooray, you have a PLA”? There’s three steps to that basically. You have to take a feed, you submit the feed, and that’s going to go to a merchant center. They process the feed, determine that they want to disapprove things randomly for no reason, and then you take your Google and Microsoft ads accounts and you sync that up with your merchant center, and voila, you have a shopping hat, okay? 


So what’s the feed? Literally think spreadsheet. It’s basically a spreadsheet, and here’s how shopping ads work. Google is matching up the search query that the person searches for with your product data. You don’t have keywords in shopping ads, as much as I would like that. You don’t have keywords. They’re taking your shopping ads data from the product feed and they’re matching that up to user queries which is why it’s important to get your data correct. Your data optimized in that, we’ll talk about that a little bit.


You do submit your feed. You can submit it through Google Sheets, it’s very, very easy especially if you don’t have a complex product offering, they have this template, it’s really nice, or you can obviously use a feed provider. We really like Feedonomics or Your Dev Team as well. Warning, the importance for Dev Team people to assist you with feed stuff is really low on their list, so I’ll just give you a heads up that anything that you can do to change stuff in your feed, probably you have a better chance of doing that.


So once you submit things, like I said before, Google and Bing likes to disapprove things. Oftentimes, I say that jokingly but not jokingly, utterly random reasons. It’s really tempting, especially if you don’t have that many products disapproved, it’s really tempting like in this case to be like “Well, it’s only 2%. I’m just going to ignore it, we don’t really have the time.” Just be warned that we’ve been told this by a Google internal feed specialist that there are literally different levels of product review filters and basically, you don’t want to make the robots angry because the angrier the robots get, the more that they focus on your account. That’s literally how it was described to us, and so one of the things that you can do is keep your account as clean as possible in Merchant Center, get rid of those disapprovals. If you just can’t figure out how to get rid of them, just pull them from the field. Showcase to Google, “Hey, we’re a trustworthy account. Go focus on someone else, like our competitors.”


Microsoft Advertising, used to be Bing Ads. I’m going to use those interchangeably. Microsoft Advertising, I realized that’s not quite as common here, which is fair, but Microsoft has done some awesome things in making it as simple as possible with shopping ads. Just click buttons and import from Google, so be aware of this, that they now have a feed import tool as well, so all you have to do is click a button and you’ll get your GMC, your Google Merchant Center feed automatically imported. So you only have to submit one feed into Google, and it really is easy to just test. I know it’s probably like what, I think they say 10, 15%, something like that. Over here, that might be stretching a little, whatever, but hey, it could be worth testing out for you since it’s so easy to implement.


A few thoughts on feed optimization before we move on to campaigns. Remember that the product feed is what’s really important. That’s how it matches up to the search query data. So what things can you do to optimize that data as much as possible? I think that these three fields kind of move the needle the most, and I know there’s other things that you can do, but if you have a limited amount of time, these are the three that I would do.

The first one is to run title testing, and here’s how I think about titles. I think of it in terms of this, you have these entities that you can move all around in your title, right? You have brand and product name and that, and so a good way is to determine what are the ways that someone is searching and then you can always test moving those entities around. What we do is very simple, this is not rocket science, it’s basically like the keyword research stuff that you do that you’re all so good at anyways, and so what you might do is run a test where you determine “Hey, let’s see about moving the brand up to the front of the title because there’s evidence of more searches done and that might be a good title test to run.”

Warning, just because you run a title test doesn’t necessarily mean it’s super easy to determine the results because you can’t run tests at the same time, okay? So that’s kind of a bummer, but you do the best you can, you run these tests. Sometimes you see there’s just amazing lift and impressions and click through rate and all that. My recommendation for running the test is using feed rules within Google Merchant Center. It’s a very, very easy thing that you can do. You can go into the title, say “Hey, grab me all of this specific brand product,” and then let’s run this title test on just those brands. You can do it. You don’t have to get the dev team involved, don’t have to get the feed providers involved, it’s very, very easy.


Product type. Product type is basically your way of categorizing your products, and this didn’t used to be as important for Google. It used to be that Google product category was really important for those of you who may run, for the 3.8% of you. But this is Google’s way of saying, “Hey, we’ve identified that you guys know why you’ve categorized products this way, and so we’re going to go ahead and use that to give us contextual signals for how your products work and then use that in the ranking as people search,” and so what you want to do is have at least three levels to your product type and have them get fairly descriptive.

I thought about making some sort of joke about keywords for SEO, SEO keyword stuffing. Obviously, I just kind of made that joke anyways, but it’s not technically keyword stuffing… Maybe just a little bit, because you are, again, giving Google some information to fill out in this product type. So give them that information, fill it out well, and let them know how your products work together and they’re going to use that.


Then the third field, before we get on to campaign organization. The third field, that’s really important, is price. We used to not be able to do a lot with this as advertisers which was very frustrating, because price is a really, really big deal in shopping ads. So this is a really big deal in the US. People are very price sensitive right now. I think that’s the way it is worldwide. We’re just kind of in that place right now, in a price sensitive era. So price matters with shopping ads. The problem is that people still click on your stupid shopping ad even if your price is all of a sudden magically higher, so all of a sudden, all of your competitors for this specific product run in there and they lower the price.

Maybe you don’t necessarily know that right away. People are still going to click on your ad, they’re still going to cost you money because they’re like “Gee, is this actually more expensive? Yes it is,” and then they’ll go and buy from your competitors. It’s very, very annoying. Now you can actually do something about that. 

This might be some helpful information for those of you not working in PPC but maybe you would like to get an idea on some benchmark price data. Google has released benchmark price data that is now in your columns and shopping ads so you can see “Hey, where are my products in terms of the overall mix of my competitors? Where do I line up?” and then, magically, you can do something about that, all right?

So you can take that data and then use that to bid bulk products up or down based upon how they’re doing competitively, you can shoot that over to merch. “Wow, just so you know, like our brands in this product, this specific brand, we’re usually like 10% over benchmark. Maybe we need to reconsider this brand, right?” So you can actually use that data, hurray, we can actually do something with price now since it’s very, very important to the shopping room.


Okay. So campaigns now, campaign set ups. Remember, we had the feed and then we pushed that to Merchant Center which is where that’s processed, and now, you don’t have an ad yet until you actually create those ads within Google Ads or or Microsoft Advertising. Now here’s what I want to do, because there are different ways of organizing an account in terms of shopping ads and what I want to do is stick to the purpose of this talk, giving a little bit more to the high level. I want to focus on the why and the how and not so much on this is exactly what you should do, because I do think it takes a little bit of thinking around, a little bit of brains, right?


The way that you need to think about Shopping Ad campaign organization is that it’s all about the bidding. So bidding is very, very crucial. How are you going to segment your products, and not just segment them just for kicks and grins, but how are you going to segment your products so that you can bid smarter? Now, bidding in Shopping is different from text ad bidding and keyword bidding. 

So text ads keywords, you take this keyword, this entity, this form of communication and you assign a monetary value to it. That’s a really big deal. One of the reasons why I absolutely love paid search, that’s all our agency does, we love paid search, because in terms of marketing, you’re actually hearing someone at the specific point in time that they want to know an answer to that question, they are asking a question, they’re telling you exactly what they want to know and you can say “You know what? Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and bid on that term,” right? It’s amazing.

It is just at the right time marketing in which you can take an ad and marry it with their search query. That’s keywords. So that’s what bidding is and you set a monetary value based upon the value that you assign to that keyword. Someone types in “bicycle”, I mean there’s value in that but there’s a lot of volume, and so we’re going to probably have a lower bid on that. Someone types in “I want to buy a Trek FX2 bicycle now, hurry, now,” well then my goodness, there’s a lot of purchase intent there. I’m not actually going to raise that CPC, right? So that’s keyword bidding. Unfortunately, you can’t do that with shopping.


You are setting a bid on a product basis and you’re entrusting, I say that very intentionally, you are entrusting the bidding process to Google, and so you would set 50 cents euro on this product. I apologize if I totally butchered exactly how you’d say that, it’s just 50 cents in the US, but you would set a 50 cents bid on this bicycle and then based upon whether someone types in the word bike or someone types in the word “I want to buy Trek FX2,” you’re only able to spend up to 50 cents on that, so there are some weaknesses with it, especially compared to keyword bidding. As you consider, with all of that in mind, how do I organize my campaigns and shopping? That’s again where I go back to you’ve really got to think about grouping products well. You’ve got to group light products with light products. That might be around your product type, as a lot of times, products are similar in terms of your menu structure, right?


Someone who has a $2500 Lego Star Wars Star Destroyer as opposed to just that $2.50 little separator thing which, for those of you who build Legos, I mean my kids do. Okay, I do too, but they send these Lego separators in them, so we have like 30 of them in our house, but those are like $2.50, I don’t want to bid the same thing on those. Product type can separate those out. Or maybe brand or you can even get interesting and crazy with custom labels where you pull out your top products and segment those out.


Whatever you do though, be thinking, “Okay, as I’m considering how to organize my shopping campaigns, how’s that going to impact my ability to bid well on these products?” This goes back to what I noted about the query issue with shopping, you can go down the rabbit hole in a more advanced strategy and I’ll just hit this a little bit and then we’ll move on and I’ll share a link if you do want to dig into this deeper, but you can actually, utilizing priority settings and negative keywords, you can actually start to pull more of those top of funnel queries, so “bike”, “bicycle”, there’s a way that you can shift those into a certain campaign and then control the budget a little bit more directly and control bidding.


Not that those keywords are totally useless because otherwise you just exclude them from everything, right? But you want them there in some regard, you just don’t want Google pushing all your budget to those, and then that allows you to shift your really awesome, more bottom of funnel queries like Trek FX2, especially with the skew in that. This allows you to push those into a unique campaign and bid those up higher. It might be one of the ways. If you do have competitors that are just really driving you nuts because especially in those key terms, they just always seem to be dominating, they could be implementing this strategy, and so I wrote about this a few years back and it still works.

I wrote a how-to on search engine land walking through this strategy, so if you are interested, snag this URL, it’s on that original URL I shared as well, and it’ll be in the slide. That’s going to help you out with that. As I’m talking about building, you’re probably thinking “Wow, this sounds a lot more complicated than what Google told me to do which was like push a button and turn on a campaign,” well, it is, and it takes a little bit of time, but a tool tip for those of you who are running, shopping is Optmyzr. Optmyzr has created this tool that allows you to segment out “This is how I want to build it” and then you push the button, they build everything out into multiple campaigns, ad groups, and that is really, really time saving.


Okay. Lastly, we have Smart Shopping. For those of you, again, in E-commerce, you probably have heard of this campaign type. I would be shocked if you hadn’t because this is everything the Google E-commerce team is about right now, smart shopping, pushing this as far and wide as they can, spreading the good news and the joy of smart shopping, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you will, but this is why I wanted to talk about it. Just to give you a little bit of a heads up on it. So smart shopping is Google’s new, fresh out of the box, black box campaign type where basically you give Google a budget, the product feed, and then a target ROAS, but that’s optional. You don’t have to give them your target return on ad spend, you can just tell them “Spend more and make me more,” right? You basically give them that and then they run off and they find placements all around all of their channels. So Gmail, Display, YouTube.


Everywhere that Google reaches, smart shopping can reach as well and they will place these and try to, as best as possible, hit your target ROAS, and your budget, okay? So we have been testing this in multiple accounts. We’ve definitely seen it work. In terms of “work” I mean give us our target ROAS. We’ve also seen some things that I would absolutely caution you with, and I think you should know, as you’re considering this type of campaign, especially because of how hard they are pushing this, okay? So the first major concern just to be aware of is there’s no data at all. When I say none, you’re like “But is there some” “No, there’s none, okay?” There’s no audiences. How much of your budget is going towards remarketing? Gosh, no one knows.


By the way, this is real fun. When you are talking on the phone to CEOs where they’re wondering “Hey, why did shopping dip in this campaign?” You’re like, “I don’t know,” and I don’t feel bad saying that because Google doesn’t tell us any of that we don’t know audiences. We don’t know what placement our YouTube videos are on. There’s a little bit of a hack way through that that is actually on that blog post I shared, but even then it doesn’t give all the placements. “What search terms is the campaign showing on?” I don’t know. They don’t tell us. They literally invented a new channel for Smart Shopping. So they don’t even tell you “Hey, here’s how much of your budget went towards YouTube, here’s how much went towards display.” They don’t tell you any of that. It’s called “cross network”.


If you say, “Let’s give Smart Shopping a try, let’s shut off all of our E-commerce shopping campaigns and push Smart Shopping live for a period of one year and then let’s look back on it again.” Again, just to warn you, you would be looking back at one year where you have absolutely no data to use for good, bad, whatever. You can’t see what queries are working in shopping and use those to help your SEO or your paid search out, you got nothing, okay? So that is definitely alarming. 

Me and others have been communicating that to Google, and honestly, I am hopeful that I think they’re hearing this and hoping to give us some data here soon, but you should be aware of that, and then of course another concern would be, you do have your basic machine learning volatility again, of which you can’t really do anything about, and as we’ve tested just different levels of adjustments in terms of the budget and ROAS, it doesn’t really seem to do much.


It just seems like Google’s machine just kind of does the thing that it wants, and if you happen to have a great product and a great industry and great placements in that works, it’s going to be great, you’re going to be happy. Those are the advertisers that you hear that are saying “Yeah! We love smart shopping,” and if it doesn’t work, you have no idea why it’s not working and it’s going to struggle. You’re going to see higher highs, lower lows, it’s going to be a struggle after sales events. It’s looking back on these two days of Prime day, right? With two massive sales events and it’s going to struggle because it’s taking that into account as well.


So there’s potential. Definitely investigate it because this is where Google’s moving. Google doesn’t often run hard especially in PPC after automation and then be like “Oh, whoops, our bad. Here, let’s not automate things, all right?” So this is where it’s moving. I do suggest testing it out, and what we like to do, I’m a huge coffee guy, but I especially love coffee with a good pastry. So coffee is great, pastries are great, coffee and pastries together are just awesome. We like to do the coffee pastry approach. We like to take the sweet pastry and dip it in the coffee. So Smart Shopping, take your top products, the products that really do well. Maybe the products that do a great job of bringing people in and then upselling them, and those are the ones that we like to spread kind of far and wide on all of Google’s channels at the lower cost, like spreading the news, bringing people in the doors, and then upselling them, right?


Then we still have our legacy campaigns set where we just, we really go after those solid, more evergreen, just they work campaigns with the rest of our products. We found, for right now in time, until Google changes everything again, we have found that that strategy works really well in terms of running shopping ads.


So thank you so much. Again, my name is Kirk. I’m with ZATO, we’re a paid search organization focused primarily on E-commerce, we do a lot of shopping ads. The real hero of this event is my wife because we have five kids and unfortunately, none of them are here, and so I’m off having fun in Ireland and she has to watch the kids, so thank you, honey. Yeah, thank you so much. It’s been great.