The Definitive Guide to Google Shopping for e-commerce

This is the most extensive guide for Google Shopping Ads that you can find online (or offline!).

No generic advice or material copied from Google’s documentation. Just a practical guide that you can use to actually build sophisticated Shopping campaigns for your store.

Let’s get started.

visual graphic to show Google Shopping from your website content

About the author

My name is Gerasimos Nikolopoulos and I am the CEO of adaplo. Before starting adaplo I worked at Coca-Cola, Google and then founded a digital analytics agency. For the last 6 years, I have been training students and professionals on Google Ads and Google Analytics at Google events and have spoken at international events such as the Meet Magento and Superweek.


When you have the question “What is something” the best place to go is Wikipedia. So I will step aside and let Wikipedia tell you what is Google Shopping.

“Google Shopping, formerly Google Product Search, Google Products and Froogle, is a Google service invented by Craig Nevill-Manning which allows users to search for products on online shopping websites and compare prices between different vendors. Originally, the service listed prices submitted by merchants, and was monetized through AdWords advertising like other Google services. However, in May 2012, Google announced that the service (which was also immediately renamed Google Shopping) would shift in late-2012 to a paid model where merchants would have to pay the company in order to list their products on the service” (Source: Wikipedia)

Long story short, Google is trying to organise all the information in the world and one very important (and highly commercial) part is products. Over the years they actually built a comparison shopping service. Google Shopping Campaigns is a separate campaign type on Google Ads (with other campaigns being Search Campaign, Display Campaign, Video Campaign). You can create these campaigns on the online interface of Google Ads, through Google Ads Editor or using the Google Ads API. Most advertisers just use the online interface.

On the user side, consumers can use in order to identify the best product and the best merchant for their needs. On the merchants side, the service operates with a PPC model since 2012 so actually is one more channel that we can user to drive sales. A really important channel (more on this later).

How Google Shopping looks like?

These days actually Google Shopping in 2 ways:

  1. The Google Shopping Tab: The full comparison shopping service where you can see all the products and use different filters, etc. This is one of the extra “services” of Google with other services being the “News”, “Images”, etc.
  2. Google Shopping on the main results page (SERP): Products that would appear on the Google Shopping Tab, are shown at the top (or the right) side of the main Google search results page on relevant queries. This is a smart monetisation technique by Google.

Other ways that you will see products on Google include Google Shopping Actions and Local Inventory Ads. Although the Shopping Tab and SERP are the most common.

The Google Shopping Tab

Google Shopping results on SERP

Shopping tab is just 10% of total click volume

While the functionality of Shopping Tab is superior to the SERP results, the vast majority of product clicks happen on the search page. It goes without saying that this is due the vast difference in traffic the 2 different parts have.

By now you should have understood the importance of Google Shopping. You can list and promote your products in one popular Google service (Google Shopping Tab) and cross-promote them on relevant search queries on the google search page. What more to ask?

To promote your products you need to build Google Shopping Campaigns (aka Product Listing Ads, PLAs or Google Shopping Ads).

And in the next subsection, I am going to explain exactly what this is.

Google Shopping Ads are your way to promote your products on Google Shopping. They are CPC ads where you pay when a user clicks on your ad (and gets directed to the specific product page). In order to create these ads you are using a Google Ads (former AdWords) account.

Call it whatever you like!

You can refer to the same thing by telling Google Shopping Campaigns, Google Shopping Ads, Google Product Ads, Product Listing Ads, Google PLAs, etc.I know it is a mess but this is the case. Call them what you like. But do use them.

Google Shopping Campaigns is a separate campaign type on Google Ads (with other campaigns being Search Campaign, Display Campaign, Video Campaign). You can create these campaigns on the online interface of Google Ads, through Google Ads Editor or using the Google Ads API. Most advertisers just use the online interface.

Creation of a Google Shopping campaign inside Google Ads

As you can see in the example below a Shopping ad has a specific format where it presents:

  1. Product image
  2. Product name
  3. Price
  4. Merchant name

Google Shopping results on SERP

The only image ads on Google Search

One great thing about these Ads is that (in 2019) they are actually the only way to show image ads on Google Search. Google is notorious for their decision to honor the user experience on Search and you cannot actually use image ads in any other way.

Creating Google Shopping Ads cannot happen on a single step.

Initially we need to list our products on Google Merchant Center using a product feed. Then we need to have (or create) a Google Ads account that we will connect to Merchant Center. Finally we will create Google Shopping Campaigns on Google Ads that will actually promote our products on Google Shopping.

So when a shopper looks for your product, Google will use its algorithm to determine if your ads fit the search query and then display a variety of ads.

We will review all these steps in detail in this Shopping guide.

how google shows products from merchants

How big of a thing are PLAs actually?

Shopping Campaigns are one of the main growth drivers for e-commerce stores. Truth be told, they do get 87% of the search budget of sophisticated retailers (source: Merkle Digital Quarterly report Q3 2018) and have increased their share of total store orders by 160% in the last 2 years. Therefore, they are indeed a traffic source that lives up to the hype.

Merkle report of Google Shopping growth

What shops could benefit from these ads?

Most online stores can benefit from these ads given the big reach of these ads and the high commercial intent. If I reverse the question and ask which stores cannot benefit from these ads, these would be stores that sell a new innovative product that actually people are not yet aware and thus are not searching. These stores should do demand generation campaigns using Google Display Ads, and even better Facebook Ads.

In this section, I will try to share how these ads fit into your ecommerce advertising strategy and how to best utilise them.

For starters, Google Shopping Ads usually drive high-intent traffic. Shoppers can see product details before clicking on it and if they go ahead and click then there are high chances for them to actually buy the product. They have already kind of “pre-approved” the combination of product-price-merchant so they go to the online store to learn more (see more pictures, check shipping details, etc) and ideally buy.

These type of Ads do not serve to educate customers browsing, they are destined for customers with a high commercial intent as they show them products once they are ready to buy and that makes it easier for customers at the end of the funnel to convert. Based on the above, Google Shopping Ads are usually lower-funnel ads, meaning that they target more shoppers that are close to the purchase. This does not mean, however, that they are not used and are not effective for higher-funnel activities. As you can easily see from monitoring their performance they will be getting you also many shoppers from generic queries. And thus, in the image below, we are showing Google Shopping as a full-funnel ad type.

Google Shopping results on SERP

Google Shopping Ads are not for retention

I told you that these ads are full-funnel, and they are. But they are not for retention. They will not bring a customer bag to re-purchase. To do this you need to run retargeting or CRM campaigns.

Up to now, we have seen that these are valuable ads (and this is why advertisers spend so much money on them) and they can support our store across the funnel. Now let’s try to see if these ads can serve as in any different way. In order to do so, we will examine how they are used in the 2 distinct phases of every Ads account, namely the account launch and the ongoing optimisations.

On the account launch

When an existing store starts to advertise or when a new store actually launches, Google Shopping ads are extremely valuable because:

  1. They bring high-quality traffic in (by taking advantage of Google matching algorithm, your ads are shown to relevant shoppers that are interested in your store. Also given that shoppers first review your offering on the ad and then click and come to your website, when they do come they are high-intent)
  2. Get you up to speed fast (No need to do keyword research and complex campaign build-ups. You can launch fast with a solid account structure.)
  3. Provide valuable data that you can use to build up your other campaigns (An often overlooked benefit of Shopping ads is that by reviewing the search terms that fired your ads, you can do the best keyword research and actually build your Search campaigns. Also by looking how people search, you can see the exact wording your Display images should have.)

On the ongoing optimisation phase

Google Shopping Ads also have strong importance because:

  1. They will be the vast majority of your spend (as we saw, sophisticated advertisers invest 87% of their search budget on Shopping, so these ads will play a major role in optimising the performance of your account)
  2. And this will only keep growing (On Q3 2017 their budget share was 75%. On Q3 2018, the number went to 87%. And this will only keep growing.)
Should I stop doing text ads?

As per Merkle’s report [Registration required], PLAs are without any doubts dominating the stage, however, their purpose is not to replace text ads. So if you’re wondering whether you should replace your text ads with PLAs our recommendation would be to combine the two as using text ads alone isn’t enough anymore. This will guarantee your business more real estate on SERPs, maximize your visibility and will allow you to reach different customers throughout the multiple stages of the buying process.

For the rest of this ultimate guide I will use one chart to get you from zero to hero on Google Shopping.

On the next chapter I am going to focus on how to “Configure your Accounts”, which includes the feed generation and management, one of the most important aspects of Google Shopping.

All the steps required to succeed on Google Shopping

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If you face any problems, or want to make sure that you have followed all best practises on your Google Shopping Feed, provide your email and we will notify you once we publish the next guide or new material around Google Ads.

Happy sales!

P.S. - At adaplo we are relentlessly working to automate the campaigns of online retailers to provide a performance boost. If you do not have the time to implement all the above, I would be happy to share how we can help.