How Google Shopping Improved the Ecommerce Experience

Google’s transition from Google Product Search to Google Shopping last year sent online retailers into an anxious flurry, sweating at the task list ahead. By now, merchants are wiping their brows from the sprint, having successfully transitioned to the new model.

Despite initial criticism from retailers unhappy they’d have to shell out additional dollars for what was once a free lunch, Google’s new paid model is designed to enrich the shopper experience.  This presents a unique opportunity for merchants through increased customization, allowing them to tie bids directly to proven customer intent. As anecdotal evidence of the opportunity, March data shows that retailers using the ChannelAdvisor platform to manage Google Shopping are experiencing, on average, a nearly three-times increase in GMV when compared to Google Product Search revenue at the same time last year.

The boosts, however, are not an indication that a “set it up and let it run” approach works, but rather that marketers who proactively manage Google Shopping can indeed take the cake and drastically improve traffic. Based on experience optimizing our customers’ strategies on the channel, these suggestions should provide a roadmap to maximizing Google Shopping outcomes in 2013.

It All Starts with the Data
Data quality is paramount; it should be crisp, correct and thorough.  This means that merchant data should mirror the status of website products at all times, accurately describe the products listed and meet Google’s product data requirements and recommendations. Google strictly enforces its policies and violation can result in extended product or account suspension. To keep data fresh, merchants should submit updated product data frequently and immediately in cases when their website is updated with new product information.

There’s No “One Size Fits All” Product Target Strategy
This is the beauty – and the work – of Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for retailers. PLAs are the foundation of Google Shopping. Ideal strategies are dependent upon a wide variety of merchant factors such as vertical, product price, goals, variety in inventory, seasonality, individual product performance and more. Determining the best product target structure takes time and testing. Developing a strategy based on what is already known regarding historical product performance is a step in the right direction. For instance, if a merchant carries multiple brands of watches that perform differently, targeting by brand may be best. Similarly, merchants carrying a wide variety of product types that perform at unique levels should consider targets by product type. Retailers willing to invest resources should consider creating product targets using the Adwords Labels or Adwords Grouping attributes, which allow the most flexibility for defining product groupings but require the most hands-on management and analytics to succeed.

Get in the Shopper Mindset when Writing Titles and Descriptions
With PLAs, retailers’ product data is the equivalent of PPC keywords. Google matches search queries to product titles and descriptions in order to return relevant search results. Keyword research from third-party analytics platforms, online store search terms or search data in Adwords should provide an understanding of what queries connect consumers to merchant products and, more importantly, which queries result in the most conversions. The insertion of these best-performing terms into product titles and descriptions will enhance product visibility to more qualified shoppers.

Set Yourself Apart from the Pack
Many merchants will battle for shopper clicks with other stores that carry similar lines and products. Differentiating a product amongst identical products can be difficult, but high quality imagery and including the optional product-specific promotional text (e.g. “Buy One Pair, Get One 50% Off” for footwear items) can set an ad apart from the pack. Another way for merchants to distinguish themselves further down the purchase funnel is to add the Google Trusted Store badge to their site.

Test and Optimize
Proactively testing is key, and the ways to do so are endless. Start with bid changes.  Retailers can evaluate the performance of their product targets to identify winners and losers.  For low traffic product targets, bidding up may increase the likelihood of getting products on the main Google search results and significantly increase traffic.   For low converting product targets, retailers can bid these down to decrease spend.  Retailers with access to product-level performance and product target customization tools can split out low and high performing products into two different product targets with different bids. An important part of the testing process is to continue to check Google search results to ensure placement goals are being met.

Other ways to optimize include monitoring daily performance and adjusting bids accordingly for the most profitable days of the week or times of the day. For holiday promotions and seasonal products, merchants can use custom defined attributes to test targets for holiday-relevant items, like green products for St. Patrick’s Day, or summertime items, like bikinis, sunglasses and shorts, for the warmer months.

These tips should polish any approach, but the main takeaway is that the Google Shopping vision is to improve its shopping experience for consumers, meaning there is no promise that Google won’t make additional tweaks that could have a ripple effect on retailers’ entire strategies. Stay tuned in to Google’s updates such as Enhanced Campaigns; proactively test new approaches and optimize based on historical analytics and the profile of your audience.

James Dechow is a Product Manager with ChannelAdvisor.

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