Feed management in Google Merchant Center - and beyond
Posted on September 5, 2022 (Last Updated: September 05, 2022)
How to meet and exceed the product data requirement for Google Merchant Center, Google Shopping and Performance Max campaigns.
Why good product data quality matters
As the transition from Google Shopping to Performance Max progresses ( if you’re not up to date on what’s going on check out our blogpost about PMax), it becomes even more clear just how important good product data is.
With automations taking on more tasks than ever, merchants’ responsibilities slowly shift from monitoring processes manually, to supplying quality and up-to-date information.
“Machine learning is only as good as the data provided.” says Google to encourage people to supply the right product inventory with the right product information, in order to get Google Ads’ algorithm to perform at its best.
The role of Google Merchant Center
Google Merchant Center (GMC) is the backbone of all retail experiences across Google. By sharing promotions, shipping, returns, product availability you ensure relevance, and you have the chance to make your products stand out.
Product Data Lifecycle
As a rule of thumb, there are four stages to go through across the full cycle to optimize the process.
Firstly, building the right assortment of products is key. Less is sometimes more, it is not obvious that all your products deserve to be treated equally. Identify top performing products, examine which sell the most, which ones you have the highest margins on and build your catalog accordingly.
Once you have the desired products submitted in the Merchant Center, the next step is to keep them running. Avoid account suspensions and disapprovals by following Google’s guidelines (link).
Thirdly, be visible and be attractive. Prioritise high-value products with the right campaign structure and bids. By providing rich product data with injected business data will help you build an optimal campaign structure and align your marketing strategy with your business goals.
Last but not least, make sure you stay in control. Regularly review performance to identify gaps and quick wins. It is important to view these four stages as a cycle, rather than a checklist. To have the best results these four steps need to be revised and perfected along the way.
What makes a winner in the shopping ads auction?
As previously mentioned, product data is the heart and soul of campaign performance. But why is that? Let’s take a look at how a product gets selected in the shopping ads auction
The shopping ads auction is a complicated yet so simple process. It can be illustrated with the following equation:
Quality of the offer x Bid level x Relevance
Advertisers’ challenge is to outperform the rest of the offers in these three categories and therefore gain the desired spot for their product. “Okay but how do I do that?” you might ask. Let’s take all three parameters one by one.
- Quality of the offer
This is the part where quality product data definitely comes in handy. The goal here is to provide Google with as much relevant information about your product as possible, to help Google understand what your product is and how it is relevant for the searcher’s query. It is also important to note that things like popularity, or price levels are also key factors to be taken into account besides quality product data. When in doubt regarding your product popularity or price competitiveness, you might want to check out the Market Insights reporting tab in GMC, and more specifically explore the Best Sellers + Price Competitiveness + Price Insights Reports.
- Bid level
If your bid level isn’t at par with the market, optimizing your product data quality may not be as impactful as it should be, so it’s critical to carefully review your bidding strategy before investing time & resources in product data optimization. To assess your bid’s competitiveness, looking into the Insights reporting tab in Google Ads, or more specifically exploring the Auction Insights & Change History reports might be useful.
There is no way to directly influence this metric, but ensuring that you provide complete & accurate product data, and driving users to quality landing pages can definitely help.
To sum it all up, here’s how a quality offer for shopping ads looks like:
- There is demand and significant search volume for the product
- Bid levels are at par with competing offers in the auction
- Product pricing is competitive
- Product data is optimized (title, image, gtin, brand, description…)
Pro tip: If you are struggling to optimise your product data, you can get a free product feed audit from WakeupData.
Deep dive into product data quality
Optimizing product data quality starts with understanding which attributes make a high quality shopping ad.
Highest priority attributes
The highest priority attributes include the title, price and GTIN/MPN/Brand.
The title of your product is an important signal that impacts triggering and click through rate. The keywords you use can help improve your ad’s performance on the relevance criteria as they are used to match sears queries to find your products, and they influence buyers’ likeliness to click. Always put the most important information first, because searchers only see the first 70 or fewer characters when browsing.
A recommended structure to use is: Brand + Product Type + Commonly searched Attributes (ie: Nike Women Airmax Plus White / Red, 38).
Don’t forget to avoid duplicate titles, each product variant should have a unique title. Make use of the 150 characters available, after the important information, the first 70 characters, you can also add SEO-friendly keywords to your titles.
Learn about Smart Titles
Google has recently rolled out a new feature called “Smart titles”. Previously, all shopping ad titles were static (so the title displayed was the same regardless of what users searched for). Smart titles are used to make the title of the product search query aware. This means that the name of the product displayed in the ad changes accordingly to what the user searched for exactly.
Ensure that your products are competitively priced. When in doubt, check out the Price competitiveness report linked above. Or use an alternative competitor price monitoring tool 😉3. GTIN, MPN, Brand
GTIN & Brand uniquely identifies your product. Products submitted with GTINs & Brand are easier to clarify and they can unlock up to 3X higher click performance.
If they exist (If you’re the only seller of a product or if your product is a store brand, it generally won’t have a GTIN, so you don’t need to submit one.), always provide GTIN and Brand attributes. Be careful however, each product variant has their own GTIN, only submit the value if you are sure it is correct. If no GTIN exists, you can alternatively submit an MPN.
Note that while submitting the right GTIN is likely to boost your performance, adding a wrong GTIN can lead to item level disapproval.
Second highest priority attributes
The second highest priority includes description, image and shipping.
Use the description attribute to tell more about the product. A detailed description helps Google to show your product to the relevant people.
A recommended structure to use is: Brand + Title + Product type + other variant info + most relevant features. Submit the most important details in the first 160-500 characters, and lengthen your short descriptions to use all 5000 characters.
As images are often the first thing searchers notice, they have a great effect on click through rates.
Try to show clean images of your products where the background is neutral, the product is big enough but fits fully in the frame. Avoid having too much decoration or additional objects around that do not come with the product you sell, display however all products that come in a bundle. The minimum size recommended is 800x800px. Do not show logos or promotional text on the image.
If you wish to upload additional pictures (for example to show your product from different angles) you can do that via the additional_image_link attribute.3. Shipping
Ensure the shipping cost is competitive. Whenever possible configure costs via Shipping Services and provide delivery time info.(handling + transit time)
It has been quite a lot to take in, we know, but don't give up now there are only four things left to be discussed. Let's have a few words about landing pages, item IDs, Custom labels and optimisation tools offered by Google.
Quality and consistent landing pages
As previously discussed, there are numerous things that can be done to your ads to increase the chance of winning a great spot with your auction. However, it can all go to waste if the landing page is not worthy in Google’s eyes.
Make sure you only link to the domain you claimed and verified in Merchant Center, and that the page loads quickly and properly. Have as few redirects and pop-ups as possible on both Desktop and Mobile to make navigation easier for customers and to avoid looking scammy. If you decide to use pop-ups make sure they are easily closable and they don’t hide any critical product information.
The product featured in the feed should be the most prominent on your landing page. Avoid linking to category or menu pages, always lead customers directly to the page of the product shown in the ad. If you offer multiple prices, the one offered in the ad should stand out. To achieve this, position the selling price well and use bold font with a larger font size.
Ensure your checkout is secure and that the checkout price and availability status matches what was advertised.
Last but not least, you can use structured data (schema.org) to provide accurate and structured information for Google’s bots to crawl to help them better understand the page in question.
Provide stable item IDs
The [id] attribute uniquely identifies each of your products & variants. Once you've assigned an ID to a product, don't change it, or re-use it. The ID you choose, in combination with country of sale and language, identifies the product, helps Google to retrieve any product-specific information, and is used to track the product's performance history in Merchant Center and Google Ads. If you change the ID, you'll overwrite your product and its history.
Custom Labels can help organize & structure your Shopping campaigns, assigning different budget & ROAS goals for specific products. You can have up to five custom labels in your product data, and can assign a specific definition and value for each of them.
This is a great way to enhance your feed with business data that can later be used to differentiate bidding and ROAS targets.
In case you’d like to know more about how to make the most out of custom labels, check out our blogposts:
Using Custom Labels for Google Shopping campaigns (wakeupdata.com/blog/using-custom-labels-for-google-shopping-campaigns)
Custom labels can also be used with other platforms, here is how you do it with Facebook (wakeupdata.com/blog/using-custom-labels-for-your-facebook-dynamic-ads)
Make use of Google’s planning, monitoring and optimisation Tools
Google’s planning tools include Demand forecasts and Performance planner.
Demand Forecasts show you how the demand is expected to change for products you show ads for. This can help you identify upcoming growth and seasonal opportunities. Once you have analyzed the trending categories you can take a deep dive into product level with the Best Sellers report.
The Performance Planner allows you to forecast an optimal budget based on your business objectives. You can use this report to simulate investment scenarios based on budget / target changes.
Sounds useful, right? Now, let’s move on to monitoring tools.
Search Trends help you to understand the demand for your products, so that you can identify new opportunities and capture additional demand. Use this report to identify if you’re keeping up with demand, & to plan promotions based on user search behavior.
Auction Insights help you understand whether shifts in the visibility of your competitors above or below you may have impacted your performance.
You can also use the Competitive Visibility reporting (US, DE, FR, UK only) to get a view of the competitive landscape across Shopping ads & free listings holistically.
Use this report to respond to competitor changes with budget & target optimization. You can pair it with the Price Competitiveness report to understand if changes in competitor prices also drove impact. If you’re looking for insights on how to adjust prices, you can also explore the promotional opportunities highlighted in the Price Insights report.
Lastly, let’s review the optimisation tools.
Currently the main source of optimisation suggestions is the Optimisation Score. Optimisation score provides you with personalized recommendations to improve your account & campaign performance. You can use this report to identify headroom to grow P-Max conversions & conversion value.
Spoiler alert, Google is about to roll out a new report called Product Improvements report soon (launching at the end of Q3), that will hopefully serve as a great addition to the Optiscore in providing useful optimisation insights.
We hope this extensive guide will help you navigate and make the most out of Google Merchant Centre. If you have any questions left feel free to reach out to us and have them answered.