Become an Expert on Google Shopping, Chapter 5: The 8 Best Tactics To Win at Bidding for Google Shopping

December 7, 2016 Joe Hall

In chapter five, we'll cover the eight best ways you can master bidding for Google Shopping. Make sure the Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for your best products get the most traffic, prevent wasted spend and keep and eye out for the next chapter in our seven-part series.

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads: The 8 Best Tactics To Win at PLA Bidding

So, you’ve created a data feed for Google Shopping, you know how to keep it clean, you know how to optimize your Google Shopping feed, and you know how to best structure your Google Shopping accounts so each campaign is as successful as possible. So how do you win at bidding for Google Shopping? We’re glad you asked.

What we need to know about bidding for Google Shopping
Bidding for Google Shopping is still bidding for position - just like it is for AdWords text ads. However, while getting your ads surfaced higher than your competitors is crucial for AdWords text ads (and position one is still the holy grail for text ads), jockeying for position is a bit different for Google Shopping.

As you know, Google Shopping surfaces eight different image ads, so while it’s definitely good to be in position 1, it’s not as clear-cut that being in position three versus being in position five leads to any appreciable gains in performance. Instead, Google Shopping is more about bidding for visibility and making sure your ads match up well with queries. If you run a 30-day program with a constant bid level and your ads never surface for a query they should match, it’s probably time to think about adjusting your bid, or possibly fixing your feed.

How is bidding for Google Shopping different from AdWords text ad bidding?
While increasing your bid for text ads can help raise your ads' position, increasing your bid for Google Shopping instead broadens the match types for which your ads can surface. This means that infinitely increasing your bid can potentially lead to diminishing returns as ads for your online store’s luxury men’s watches begin surfacing simply for “men’s watches” queries, then simply for “watches.” 

Multiple Google Shopping placements - How is this done, and is it worth the effort?
You may have seen some merchants return multiple placements within the same Google Shopping PLA unit for a specific query. This is usually the result of a merchant either bidding extremely aggressively, having a highly optimized Google Shopping  feed, or simply setting up their entire list of stock-keeping units (SKUs) to be pulled by Google. Is getting multiple placements for the same query an absolutely great thing that should become your all-consuming goal in life? Like with so many things in search engine marketing, it depends.

The obvious “pro” for getting multiple placements in the same Google Shopping structure for a specific high-volume query is that more of your products are surfaced, while fewer of your competitors’ are surfaced. Boxing out the competition is a definitely plus, and since you’re charged by clicks with Google Shopping, not by impressions, just having your ads surface doesn’t necessarily represent wasted spend.

However, because you are charged by clicks, be aware that buyers may end up clicking on your ads that are slightly-less-than-relevant to their needs and not converting. This does, in fact, lead to wasted spend (and of course, drops your overall conversion rate). Some merchants may indeed benefit from multiple Google Shopping placements for highly similar products which might convert from closely-related queries - others who are selling products with unique specifications will likely waste spend as customers fruitlessly click around looking for the one right product. So this will depend on your products and your business goals.

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads: Bidding for Position with PLAs

Multiple PLA placements may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

Eight best practices for bidding on Google Shopping
Now to the part you came here for:

  1. Separate SKUs into different ad groups by price - Far and away the biggest issue I’ve seen with Google Shopping bidding is merchants who set blanket bid prices for items with drastically different price points. When this happens, queries tend to favor one price extreme or another without regard for your margins, sales, targets or your business goals. I’ve got a horror story about this to share in a bit.
     
  2. Consider using negative keywords to temper bids for less-relevant queries - While you can’t optimize Google Shopping against specific keywords, you can set negative keywords at the AdWords level. Again, we want to avoid wasting spend by surfacing our ads for less-relevant queries that may get us non-converting clicks that cost us money without driving any sales.
     
  3. Watch conversion rate and traffic carefully - As a follow-up from the above, in those cases where we are seeing increases in traffic without increases in conversions, our ads may be matching to queries that are too broad, which could cost us.
     
  4. Bid as granularly as possible for your VIP SKUs - It’s important to bid as granularly as possible to both avoid wasting budget through overspending while also making sure your highest-margin items, where applicable, get the absolute most traffic and bring in the best sales. Again, taking a blanket bid approach for all your products - particularly if they vary wildly in margin and overall price - can be a recipe for disaster.
     
  5. Test bidding extensively and as granularly as possible under different conditions - That next incremental sales gain could be lurking right around the corner - maybe your most high-margin items sell better at a certain time of day or from a certain device. Always be testing - it will get you more insights into seasonality and user behavior that can help your bottom line.
     
  6. Map your bidding strategy to your account structure - This is a biggie. As we stated above, it’s important to separate out your SKUs into different ad groups by price - you should also be prepared to do this for your overall budget and sales strategies per your business needs. If you’re a seller of premium items with a higher price tag but fatter margins, you should plan to budget more to bid on these items, while easing your budget for lower-cost, lower-margin items.
     
  7. Don’t be afraid to use the “Exclude SKUs” option within product groups (or drastically change bids) for underperformers - I’ve seen cases where different SKUs ended up getting more or less traffic than merchants had hoped, such as lower-margin items driving unexpectedly high amounts of traffic, draining a budget that should have been spent on driving sales for higher-margin items. In these cases, you can head these problem SKUs off at the pass by excluding them or drastically lowering their bid such that they stop surfacing. In such cases, if you also need to test the remainder of your SKUs, you can leave the bid set as normal and see which start floating to the top.
     
  8. Consider a smart automation solution to help with bid granularity - Merchants who have thousands of products will find it difficult, if not impossible, to give each of their most important SKUs the extra time and attention they need to truly bring in their maximum performance. In these cases, I recommend considering a predictive advertising management platform which can intelligently automate bidding for Shopping campaigns at the individual SKU level.

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads - Joe Versus the Bidding VolcanoLet's just say that this time, the Volcano didn't get Joe.

Joe versus the volcano: Luxury watches that never left the shelves
Like I mentioned, I’ve got a horror story or two from my days in the trenches. I recall working with an anonymous frontline SEM manager working with a merchant that sold a variety of men’s watches, including cheaper plastic sports watches that sold for about $50 apiece as well as high-end luxury timepieces that sold for upwards of $4,000 each. 

The merchant made it clear that the high-end timepieces were the priority, and insisted that the $4,000 watches would fly off the shelves if only they could get the traffic they needed. However, the account had little to no optimization at the account level and no bidding granularity - something this PPC manager wasn’t completely aware of as the merchant entered the busy Father’s Day season.

Because there was no real bidding granularity and no account-level breakout between the high-end watches and the cheaper sport watches, as you might imagine, all the traffic ended up flowing to the cheaper watches, which had much thinner margins. As a result, this merchant ended up rapidly exhausting its SEM budget primarily serving ads only for low-margin watches that made the merchant very little revenue, while the high-margin luxury watches languished unseen because their bid thresholds were never met. 

Fortunately, we were able to stop a lot of the proverbial bleeding by restructuring the account to break out the high-end watches from the cheaper products, and changing our bidding strategy accordingly while also excluding a few of the cheapest watches which had already sold through but were still surfacing for certain high-traffic queries, and net-net, we were able to drastically increase profitability before the holiday season ended. Let’s just say that in this case, the final score ended up being Joe 1, Volcano 0. (Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be my last brush with the volcano…)

Thanks for reading chapter five of our series on mastering Google Shopping. Please check our additional chapters for more tips and tricks:

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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