Become an Expert on Google Shopping, Chapter 2: Keep Your Feed Clean!

November 14, 2016 Joe Hall

In Chapter 2, we'll cover Google Shopping best practices for data feeds - how to get a feed, keep it clean...and avoid the horrors of banned products and suspended accounts. Stay tuned for the next chapter in our seven-part series on upping your Google Shopping game to the next level!

Become an Expert on PLAs, Chapter 2: Keep Your Feed Clean!

As part of our journey to become experts on Google Shopping, we absolutely, positively have to discuss the very important topic of the Google Shopping data feed for your Product Listing Ads (PLAs). So what’s a data feed, and how can you set one up? How can you make sure your data feed stays clean as a whistle and keeps you out of trouble with Google? Let’s dive in.

Google Shopping Data Feeds 101: What’s a Data Feed?
At this point, a data feed for your Google Shopping PLAs is non-negotiable. Don’t have one for your e-commerce/retail products yet? We suggest getting one, preferably yesterday. Here’s why: This important database, linked to your merchant website, delivers Google-formatted product listings on search engine results pages (SERP).

Without it, your product listings will not appear at all, and which costs you the ability to use these powerful ad units. While there are a million and one potential attributes you could include from Google’s big list of product data specifications, we recommend including the following basics:

  • ID
  • Title
  • Description
  • Color
  • Google Product Category
  • Product Type
  • Link
  • Image Link
  • Condition
  • Availability
  • GTIN or UPC

Create Your Feed
Now that we know what a data feed is, we can create our own. Let’s go through the process:

  1. Creating new accounts - We’ll need accounts on both AdWords and Google Merchant Center (both tied to your Google account).
  2. Choose country/region, language and feed name - Obvious but important steps.
  3. Generate a new template using Excel (which we recommend over Google Sheets since it offers more functionality and better speed) - We recommend starting with the template spreadsheet as a base rather than attempting to create this manually for any merchants selling more than a handful of products.
  4. Create your actual feed - Again, while you have the option to do this manually unless you have only a handful of products, we strongly recommend auto-generating your initial feed list through SQL or similar database software, then double-checking for inconsistencies. 
  5. Upload your data feed to Merchant Center and set to pull in daily - Once your feed is ready, we recommend uploading via FTP to Merchant Center. Then - and this is the important part - set Merchant Center to pull in your feed from the FTP daily - this will make sure your feed stays up-to-date. This should take a few minutes to complete. (More about this in our top 5 tips below, which I’m sure you’re not already skipping to now...right?)

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads - Don't get banned by Google
Getting your account banned by Google is not good for your campaigns...or your blood pressure.

So why is keeping a clean feed important?
This is the part of the blog where we get very serious and talk about the scary stuff that can happen with a messy data field. All kidding aside, there’s a variety of problems that can arise here. Some examples from my own experience:

  • Error-filled feeds can mean banned products and account suspension - This is, of course, pretty much a death sentence for e-commerce. A messy feed full of coding errors and random computer language - which can result from a sloppy import with no double-checking - can and will trigger Google’s quality control system and completely pull your Google Shopping ads off the SERP.

    The consequences here are obvious - massive revenue loss from not having your products listed, and if your account is suspended, it could take days, or weeks - or longer - depending on your publisher relationship as you politely ask them to reinstate you.
  • Broken product links/image links - Having broken links is a huge waste of your spend. Google will still happily charge you to list your item, but any clicks you earn end up going nowhere, rather than converting into a sale as they should. Broken image links are, as you might guess, far less likely to get you a click and reflect poorly on your products, and your overall brand.
  • Incorrect product categorization - Incorrectly categorizing products, or marking them with the wrong images, is at very least a waste of SEM spend as your listings for red women’s shoes accidentally show up in men’s pajamas - and again, Google will still charge you for the listing.

    In addition, if you run seasonal or annual product lines, beware of listings displaying old images - you don’t want the Google Shopping ad for your sleek 2017 sports car to show photos of the 2014 model! At the very least, this misrepresents your products on offer - to say nothing of how your colleagues in the marketing department might have some words for you…
  • Promotions don’t show due to errors - While it’s time-consuming to assign Promotion status, it’s worth the effort to use Google Shopping Custom Labels to properly tag only the SKUs that are on offer. If Google finds any that are incorrectly labeled, it will automatically remove the promotion from surfacing on all products set for that promotion. This means the entire budget you’re spending on Promotion goes to waste!

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads - Keep your product data feed clean, otherwise...
Let me make this completely do not want to see this in your ads! 

...And now, the top 5 ways to keep your feed clean
(Welcome back! ...It’s OK, we figured you’d skip down to this part.)

  1. Automated rules - Set up automated rules that will adjust your raw feed to get approved by Google and optimized for the rules. Systematically optimizing your Google Shopping is key for when you need to change product offerings - manual optimization, on the other hand, not only means tons of manual labor but also means potentially introducing human error.

    You can use Google’s Feed Rules as a native solution or seek a third-party automation tool, which may scale better and provide a better range of customization and optimization options for the raw data in your feed. 

    When setting up your rules, make sure to do the following:
    - Remove any coding within the feed (due to SQL pulls)
    - Set proper capitalization of product titles (and create exception rules for terms like “ASAP”)
    - Map and replace SQL-pulled information for the optimal phrase or query. Note: If your website contains a phrase that is not the most frequently searched term, use automation to discover a more-popular, more-searchable term and swap it out.
  2. Daily feed pulls for Merchant Center - Host your feed on a server that lets Google’s Merchant Center pull it daily. This is an important best practice that makes sure you avoid products that are missing or unavailable. Remember that feeds expire every 30 days - so unless your feed is set to be pulled automatically, it’s possible to forget to re-upload it.

     Any alerts that get sent out will frequently go to a nebulous email nobody checks, or give you a notification in Merchant Center (where you’re perhaps not spending your time) than in AdWords. Having a daily feed eliminates this problem!
  3. Logical progression for product types - Structure your Product Type organization to mirror logical progression - for example, from Category to Sub-Category to Brand to SKU.  Example:

    Men’s Clothing > Men’s Dress Shirts > Shirts For Men, Inc. > MEN-408-SFM

    Having a clear and consistent set of rules in place for how you organize your Product Types will go a long way to helping you keep a clean data feed.
  4. Use Custom Labels rather than product/brand qualifications - It might be tempting to add labels directly to your product qualifications, particularly for sales and promotions - “Everything marked ‘Wedding’ is 15% off!”

    We recommend not making changes directly to your feed in these cases and instead using Custom Labels for Google Shopping with an automated solution to read the Promotion and add an appropriate ID code. The alternative (having a cluttered feed that Google doesn’t like) poses a lot more risk.
  5. Trust, but verify - Automation tools are great, but nothing beats a good, old-fashioned manual check. To be as efficient as possible, we recommend running a random sampling of products in your final feed and verifying that your old SKUs that shouldn’t be live are not still haunting the Merchant Center.

    That reminds me of a hilarious story about an account manager who once spent nearly 10% of an account on products that didn’t actually exist - not only did Google not recognize the problem, it didn’t send him an error report. Did I mention this account manager happened to be on vacation at the time? Let’s just say he wasn’t happy. Don’t let this happen to you.

Thanks for reading Chapter 2. If you missed it, please check out Chapter 1: Google Shopping, Then and Now and stay tuned for Chapter 3!

About the Author

Joe Hall

Joe Hall is a product marketing manager at QuanticMind. He uses his subject matter expertise to help companies take their advertising to the next level. Joe previously worked at the prestigious agency 3Q Digital as an Account Lead and earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Commerce, Marketing from Santa Clara University.

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