We take a look at some of the most common Smart Shopping problems, including low impressions, inconsistent traffic levels, poor-performing products, seasonal products underperforming at key moments, low conversions from remarketing ads, and Smart Shopping underperforming against your standard Shopping campaigns.
Smart Shopping takes the campaign management headaches out of selling your products through Google Shopping. This automated campaign format uses machine learning to get your ads seen at the most profitable moments with the aim of maximising conversion value.
What you lose in control, Google aims to make up in speed and overall performance but the technology isn’t perfect. In this article, we take a look under the hood of Smart Shopping campaigns to see how they work and solve the most common problems you might run into.
They are an automated campaign type that combines standard Shopping and remarketing campaigns with the aim of maximising conversions. Smart Shopping uses automated bidding and ad placement to promote your products across Google Search, the Display Network, YouTube and Gmail.
In Google’s own words:
You can also watch a nice little summary below:
As the video above explains, Smart Shopping campaigns use machine learning to “get the best performance and conversion value out of your campaigns” while taking the hard work out of campaign management.
Essentially, you set a maximum budget and an optional target return on ad spend (tROAS) and Google Ads decides how to allocate this budget to achieve the highest conversion value from your spend – and hit your tROAS, if you set one.
Google says advertisers using Smart Shopping campaigns drove over 20% more conversion value at a similar cost to those running standard Shopping campaigns.
Once you get past the Google marketing, the real benefit of Smart Shopping campaigns is that they can save you a lot of time. Standard Shopping campaigns involve a lot of work but you get more control and you should be able to achieve better performance, as long as you’re willing to put the work in.
Smart Shopping campaigns may get good enough results faster, though, and allow you to invest more resources elsewhere. You might also want to run Smart Shopping campaigns alongside standard Shopping campaigns to set a minimum benchmark and check that your standard campaigns are justifying the extra workload.
Like standard Shopping campaigns, Smart Shopping campaigns pull data in from your product feed to compile ads. However, with standard Shopping campaigns, you retain full control over bidding, ad spend and campaigns settings.
Smart Shopping is different in several ways:
The core technology behind these campaigns is Google’s machine learning algorithm, which taps into the search engine’s vault of data to determine the most effective times, placements and bids to maximise conversion value.
Basically, Google compares your product information and campaign with millions of previous sessions to predict the best settings to achieve your goals, based on user behaviour and a range of factors, including:
This involves a 14-day learning period for Google to test and verify the correct settings so you’ll need to wait at least two weeks before you assess the performance of Smart Shopping campaigns. In some cases, you may find performance peaks several weeks later.
Smart Shopping campaigns use maximise conversion value automated bidding and they also take your Target ROAS into account, if you set one.
Like all Smart Bidding strategies, maximise conversion value bidding uses machine learning to automatically set bids based on the expectancy of a search term converting and the calculated average value of conversions.
To maximise conversion value, Smart Shopping campaigns automatically target visitors who fail to convert on the first visit with remarketing campaigns to increase their chances of converting. Google shows these ads across the Display Network, YouTube and Gmail, again using machine learning to determine the best timing, placements and bids to maximise conversion value.
Like all automated technology, Smart Shopping campaigns are never perfect but they can achieve satisfactory performance in the right circumstances. The big downside to heavily automated campaigns is the lack of control you have over performance. This isn’t a problem when everything is working as expected but what can you do when things go wrong with Smart Shopping campaigns?
Let’s address some of the most common problems you might run into.
If your Smart Shopping campaigns aren’t getting off the ground due to low impressions, the first thing to check is that your product feed is in order. Next, check whether you’ve set a Target ROAS and, if you have, remove this for a couple of weeks to see if impressions pick up.
By setting your tROAS too high, you could prevent Google from spending budget as often as it could, potentially throttling impressions and campaign performance at the first hurdle.
If you’re happy with your tROAS settings, check whether 100% of your budget is being used. If it isn’t, raise your budget to give Google more room to work with and leave your campaign for another week or two to see how performance varies.
This isn’t necessarily a problem with Smart Shopping campaigns. In fact, you should expect to generate inconsistent traffic volumes from your campaigns because Google is trying to maximise conversion value and ROAS by spending your budget during the most profitable periods.
In other words, Google holds back when your budget isn’t going to generate a sufficient ROAS, and saves it for the periods where you’ll get the return you’re looking for. This results in inconsistent traffic levels, especially for campaigns where conversion value and ROAS fluctuate a lot – eg: for products with volatile sales volumes across the week, month or year.
Whether you’re using standard or Smart Shopping campaigns, you’re always going to have certain products that perform below expectation. The great thing about Smart Shopping campaigns is that you can compare performance vs standard Shopping campaigns to figure out whether it’s a product issue, seasonality problem or something going on with your campaigns.
Google recommends adding as many relevant products to campaigns as possible and, in general, this is a good idea. However, you’re always going to have products that underperform so you have to keep an eye on performance and remove products dragging down your overall performance.
For example, you might create product groups in your feed for the following:
You can exclude these product groups from your Smart Shopping campaigns to boost performance.
To get around the lack of a search terms report for Smart Shopping campaigns, you have to put more focus on feed optimisation and product titles. Your product feed is the single most important asset for Shopping campaigns (standards or Smart) so make sure you follow our guide to maintaining a healthy feed.
In some cases, you may even need to create duplicate products using different keywords to target different search terms you want to appear for – for example, duplicate products for sneakers, trainers and running shoes.
A common issue with Smart Shopping campaigns is that your seasonal products may not experience the expected performance boost during key times of the year – unless you change campaign settings. At the very least, you need to adjust your budget to give Google the room it needs to maximise performance.
Here are the key steps Google recommends for seasonal and holiday events:
With Smart Shopping campaigns, you get less control and this can be problematic during peak times where you want to maximise performance. Then again, if you’ve got a large inventory and a constantly changing range of products, these automated campaigns may provide the rapid flexibility you need to maximise profitability during peak times.
Smart Shopping campaigns rely on remarketing lists and, to get the best coverage and performance, you need to make sure new people are continuously added to your list. You can give Google a helping hand by using custom parameters, which helps it gather insights about which products on your website visitors show an interest in.
Also, keep in mind that some conversions take longer than others and you may see discrepancies when comparing current conversions with historical performance.
You’ll often find Smart Shopping campaigns underperform vs standard Shopping campaigns (and vice versa) so don’t be afraid to pause and/or optimise the underperformer. If you’re seeing a big difference between performance, then you’ll definitely want to take action but make sure you’re comparing the campaign types fairly.
Keep in mind that Smart Shopping includes Display campaigns so compare them against the aggregate performance of standard Shopping campaigns and their associated remarketing campaigns.
If you need help with Smart Shopping campaigns and selling products through Google Shopping, you can speak to our Google Ads team by calling 02392 830 281 or filling out the contact form below.
Callum is a PPC Specialist and joined Vertical Leap in early 2019 with core specialisms in eCommerce and Google Shopping campaigns. When he’s not working, he enjoys long distance running, reading and craft brewing.
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