How to optimise your product feed for Google Shopping success

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A well-optimised Google Shopping product feed is absolutely key if you want to stand out in the search results – here’s everything you need to know to maximise sales.

Google Shopping is one of the most important advertising platforms for online retailers and, now, it’s also a key organic channel. Surfaces across Google means your product listings can show, for free, in organic search results, as well as paid listings.

Shopping campaigns make your products visible in the SERPs and remove unnecessary clicks standing in the way of sales. These are some of the highest-performing listings on Google but they rely on accurate, up-to-date data, which you need to provide through your Google Shopping product feed.

What is a Google Shopping product feed?

A product feed is a file containing all of your product data, which Google uses to construct product listings. Every piece of information presented in your listings – from product IDs, titles and images to descriptions, page links and prices – is extracted from your product feed.

Nike running shoes displayed in Google Shopping

Without this information, Google can’t create your product listings so this is the most important resource for your shopping campaigns.

Your product feed needs to include a certain amount of Required information, such as product IDs, titles, image links, descriptions, prices, availability and more. These provide the essential information every product listing must include and you can find the full list here.

Your feeds can also include a range of Optional data points, including additional image links, clothing sizes, availability dates, unit measurement costs, shipping costs, delivery lengths and dozens of others. These allow you to provide more information for shoppers to help them make buying decisions and allow Google to deliver relevant listings for detailed searches – eg: “women’s coat medium” or “men’s running shoes size 10”.

So your product feed is really playing two key roles;

  1. Providing Google with the data it needs to create and deliver your product feeds
  2. Providing users with the information they need to make purchase decisions

As a general rule, the more data you provide, the more accurately Google is able to show your product listings to relevant users, meaning they’re more likely to buy from you. While, at the same time, providing more detailed information for users and highlighting key attributes like free delivery can clinch the sale over your competitors.

There is one caveat to providing as much data as possible, though. This data must be up-to-date and accurate to pass Google guidelines and, more importantly, maximise your chances of securing the sale after users click through to your listing/website.

This is why product feed management is so important. The only problem is, it’s also more challenging and time-consuming as the quantity of data you provide increases.

Do I really need to run Google Shopping campaigns?

If you sell products online, there’s no getting away from the fact that Google Shopping is an essential channel.

Shopping campaigns are renowned for their high performance and average CPCs can cost a quarter of the price of regular Search Ads. Click-through rates are generally much higher, too, thanks to the stronger purchase intent behind product searches. As a result, you can see more immediate returns on ad spend as you increase your budget, which has a faster and more direct impact on click-through rates and conversions.

The secret to shopping campaign success all comes down to the user experience they deliver compared to regular search ads. When users search for specific products, they’re already showing a heightened purchase intent and they’re either looking for more information about the product or the right deal to make the purchase.

For a lot of searches, product listings visually dominate the SERPs, too.

TVs displaying in Google Shopping

Product listings allow users to see products directly in Google Search and access all of the information they need to make purchase decisions without clicking through to websites and navigating pages. By removing these cumbersome steps, the buying process becomes significantly shorter, friction is drastically reduced and purchases are only a few clicks away.

All of this adds up to a highly-efficient advertising channel, as long as you’re willing to put the required work into your product feed and campaign optimisation.

The incentive to do this is only getting higher now that surfaces across Google has officially launched in the UK (mid-October). The new initiative allows you to show product listings across Google Search, the Shopping tab and Google Images as organic listings – for free.

According to data from WordStream, one-third of all clicks on Google SERPs are generated from Shopping ads. Surfaces across Google makes product listings even more prominent in the SERPs, allowing retailers to expand their search coverage. It also provides a crucial entry point for new and small retailers to start selling through product listings before they have an ad budget.

How does a product feed work?

A product feed is simply a file containing all of the information about your individual products, formatted in a way that eCommerce platforms (including Google Shopping) can extract and apply to product listings, pages and results.

In most cases, these files are created using XML, CSV or TXT documents.

Google recommends using a compressed TSV file and you can create one of these in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel by following these instructions. The benefit of this approach is that you can create your feed in a spreadsheet (this tends to be the easiest way to visually edit them) and then export as a TSV file.

A number of eCommerce platforms like Magento, WooCommerce and Shopify also allow you to automatically generate a product feed but you’ll still need to optimise these for Google Shopping.

Once your feed is uploaded to Merchant Center, Google uses the data provided and turns it into listings like these:

Tables displaying in Google Shopping

That last listing is especially interesting because it shows the product is currently on sale while displaying the current and previous prices so users can see how much they’re saving. This is a good example of how you can use your product feed to create richer listings and win customers over rival retailers, in this case using the sale_price [sale_price] attribute.

Keeping your feed up to date

The key lesson here is that the more often you update your product feed with deals, offers and other key selling points, the more competitive you are against brands that update and optimise their feeds less often.

In other words, your product feed isn’t something you create and forget about; you need to regularly update and optimise it to get the best from your product listings across Google.

Every time you run a sale, you want to update your feed to show users they’re getting a good deal – one that won’t last forever. The same thing applies to stock that’s running for a limited time or new incentives that you introduce, such as switching to free delivery. Any time product details or relevant services change, you should update your feed to make your products as enticing as possible.

Targeting the right users

You can also use your feed to influence which search terms your listings appear for by changing the information you provide. With Google Shopping campaigns, you don’t define specific keywords you want to target but Google uses the data in your product titles, descriptions and other information to determine where your listings show.

Optimising your product feed is essential for ensuring you rank for the most relevant queries.

Keep in mind that word order is very important in your product feed and the closer phrases are to the left or beginning of your product titles, the more impact they’ll have on which search terms your listings show for.

Although you can’t define keywords for Google Shopping campaigns like you normally would for regular Search ads, you can apply negative keywords to Shopping ads. This allows you to prevent your listings from showing for searches including specific keywords, providing important control over who sees your ads.

Generic searches vs brand / specific product searches

One of the most important use cases for this is ensuring that your ads show for generic, branded and specific product searches. For example, let’s imagine you want to promote the latest range of Nike running shoes via Google Shopping campaigns.

Presumably, you want your listings to show for generic searches like “running shoes” but, more importantly, you want them to show for “Nike running shoes” and certainly when users type in the specific product – eg: “Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37”.

The thing is, search intent for generic terms like “running shoes” and “women’s running shoes” is generally lower than branded and (even more so than) specific product searches. Which means you want to optimise your bids to prioritise users typing in specific product names, as they’re the most likely to hit the buy button. Then, you can set slightly lower bids on branded searches and the lowest bids on generic searches to cover potential customers at each stage of the consumer journey.

In order to do this in Google Shopping, though, you have to create three campaigns for the same product and use negative keywords to control which one shows for each type of query. So you would add “Nike” as a negative keyword to your generic, non-branded campaign to ensure this listing only shows for queries not including the brand’s name and then optimise your bid accordingly.

Google Shopping brand focused campaign versus non-brand focused campaign


At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can add phrases like “running shoes” as negative keywords for specific product searches because users generally don’t need to include the product category when they search for something like “Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37”.

With an accurate, up-to-date product feed and a solid understanding of how Google Shopping campaigns work, you can regain a lot of the control lost through the lack of standard keyword targeting.

Optimise bids & structure campaigns

Another challenge you face with Google Shopping campaigns is optimising your bids to prioritise your most profitable products. One way to solve this problem is by using custom labels in the back end of your feed. With custom labels, you can subdivide the products within your campaigns, allowing you to mark items as seasonal, best sellers, high-profit or any attribute of your choosing.

With these labels set up, you’re able to segment bids to prioritise specific product types – for example, increasing bids on products while they’re seasonal.

Google Shopping custom labels

This tactic is commonly used to segment campaigns by profit margin to ensure you’re bidding most on high-return items. So you might define target returns on ad spend (ROAS) for high, medium and low-profit margin products, allowing you to optimise bids to ensure your low-profit items generate a high enough ROAS to remain profitable while tolerating lower returns products with a higher markup.

You can also structure campaigns and optimise bids by layering product groups in Google Ads. Product groups are based on the data provided in your feed, such as product categories, brand, product types, custom labels and more. You can use these attributes to group products together and optimise your bids. So, if a certain brand’s products are doing particularly well right now, you can group these together and increase your bids to capitalise on the trend.

You can get very granular with product groups, too, by using the Item IDs in your feed to create single-product groups. This is the Google Shopping equivalent of single keyword ad groups (SKAGs), allowing you to optimise bids for individual products, based on their performance.

Tap into Smart Shopping campaigns

In 2018, Google introduced Smart Shopping campaigns with the aim of making it easier for businesses to sell products across Google platforms. Smart Shopping campaigns apply the data in your product feed to Google’s machine learning algorithms to show your listings across the Google Search Network, the Google Display Network, YouTube and Gmail. This automated strategy tests different combinations of images and text provided in your feed to create the most effective ad and find the placements where they make the most impact.

Google also automates your bids for Smart Shopping campaigns, so you don’t have any control over how your budget is allocated. On the plus side, you can leave Google to expand your search coverage and take care of the testing for you.

As with all of Google’s automated strategies, you surrender control in exchange for quick results. Just keep in mind that the quality of these results largely depends on how optimised and up-to-date your product feed is.

Here’s a tutorial on how to set up Smart Shopping:

Vertical Leap has partnered with Shoptimised for product feed optimisation

Given the importance of product feeds for successful Google Shopping campaigns, we’re always looking for the most time and cost-effective methods of updating and optimising feeds.

The problem with manually updating product feeds is that it’s very time intensive and it’s easy to make mistakes when you’re editing spreadsheets or the other supported file types. The only other alternative is to hire developers to make changes to your feed for you.

To make feed management more manageable, we’ve teamed up with Shoptimised, a feed management software provider that makes it easier and faster to make changes to your product feed.

With Shoptimised, we can connect your existing feed and edit it from inside the platform’s product feed editor, making changes significantly faster while minimising the risk of human error.

For example, we can decide to optimise your product titles and navigate to them directly without scrolling through a raw data file. We can then optimise your titles to include all the necessary microdata and structure them with the ideal balance for Google’s algorithm and human users.

For a clothing company, this could look something like Brand – Product type Gender – Colour – Product Name – Material – Size.

We can then split test products to see if a different image drives a higher CTR or if a different product title drives a higher conversion rate or a wider coverage of keywords, depending on the objectives of your optimisation campaign.

Earlier, we talked about using custom labels and product groups to structure Google Shopping campaigns and optimise bids. This is important for controlling which products users see, prioritising your most important products and managing the profitability of your campaigns – in other words, crucial stuff.

The only problem with this is that it adds a lot of work, especially if you’re using product groups to set bids on individual products. This kind of glandular optimisation can quickly become unmanageable but Shoptimised makes it easier and faster to add labels, group products and ensure that your product feed includes all of the necessary data to use these techniques.

The benefits of product feed management

If you imagine Google Shopping campaigns as an engine, your product feed is the fuel that powers them. The quality, accuracy and freshness of your data determine how effectively Google matches your listings with the most relevant users.

A lot of retailers using Google Shopping fall into the trap of creating their initial feed and then neglecting it as their product lines, prices, availability and services change. This is bad news for campaign performance and it’s certainly not good for conversion rates when users find out you can’t deliver on your promise.

The good news is you’re not going to make this mistake. Not only that, but you’re going to jump ahead of all of the retailers falling into this trap by updating and optimising your product feed to stay at the top of search results.

A quality product feed increases CTRs, improves your Quality Scores, reduces the overall cost of your ads and leads to a greater return on ad spend. Above all, it leads to more paying customers who find exactly what they’re looking for on your landing page.

Best of all, you don’t even need to be running paid shopping campaigns to see the benefits of a quality product feed. With surfaces across Google, you can get your product listings featured across Google platforms for free, which is the ideal entry point if you’re not sure about paying for Google Shopping campaigns.

We can help!

It takes a lot of work to successfully run and continually optimise a Shopping feed but we have lots of PPC experts who can help. You can find out more about our PPC services or if you’d like to speak to us, call 02392 830281 or email [email protected].

Charlie Nolan profile picture
Charlie Nolan

Charlie joined Vertical Leap in 2017 with several years’ experience within the design industry. His previous roles include working at a south coast design agency, a print specialised studio, and most recently freelancing independently across the south coast and London - all with explorative trips to South America, Canada and spots in Europe squeezed in between. Charlie has a contemporary, conceptual and practical driven portfolio of work consisting of both digital and print projects. His work is clean and minimal, and he has the ability to help clients share his creative vision by elaborating on the concepts behind his designs, and by backing up his suggestions with data. User experience (UX) is incredibly important to Charlie, and his ability to analyse websites and come up with innovative solutions to improve how users interact with the digital world is one of his greatest strengths. Like many designers, Charlie always gets ideas down in his sketchpad before moving across into digital. He also likes to experiment with new software alongside more traditional graphic design techniques, and has a high level of knowledge about the creative industry in general. Charlie is an amateur footballer, a frustrated Arsenal supporter, a Fleabass owner (that’s a guitar for the uninitiated) and likes to work on more personal creative projects in his spare time.

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