Become an Expert on Google Shopping, Chapter 7: Diagnose the Health of Your Google Shopping Ads

January 16, 2017 Joe Hall

In our seventh chapter on Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for Google Shopping, we'll cover four of the most important issues that will compromise the health and well-being of your Google Shopping campaigns. Keep your ads fighting fit, profitable and out of Google jail with these important tips!

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads, Chapter 7: Diagnose the Health of Your PLAs

Welcome back. By now, we’ve covered an overview/review of Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for Google Shopping, keeping your data feed clean, optimizing your Google Shopping feed, structuring your accounts, bidding for Google Shopping and even the advanced tactic of using custom labels. In this chapter, we’ll tie everything together with diagnostics. Now that your Google Shopping campaigns are up and running, let’s make sure they’re pulling in good traffic, bringing in profits and keeping you out of Google jail.

What are the biggest day-to-day issues to look out for with Google Shopping?
There are four glaring issues with day-to-day Google Shopping operations we’ll cover here:

  • Traffic (or lack thereof)
  • Rejected/disapproved products
  • Bidding and profitability issues
  • Disparities between your campaigns due to not having a shared sales pixel

1. Traffic issues - The “usual suspects” that bring about less traffic (or no traffic!)
You can’t move any merchandise if your ads aren’t showing up! Lack of traffic is perhaps the most common error with Google Shopping and it can have many causes - but the most common cause is some kind of mismatch between your feed and your account structure. This is why it’s always important to ensure your account structure mirrors your feed.

  • Feed updates that alter keyword matching - A very common culprit is a change to product titles or descriptions in your feed that alters keyword matching. I’ve seen this happen when manufacturers decide to change titles/descriptions for new products, and merchants try to quick-fix these changes by re-uploading the feed from their website - which can unwittingly introduce these changed titles/descriptions...and their accompanying loss of traffic.

    “But that can’t happen to me,” you might think. “I usually double-check any changes to my feed and never really make any big changes to it. In fact, the only time I really make any significant changes to my feed is when I’m...”
  • Importing new product lines from your website, but not double-checking changes to your feed and account structure - A specific cause of traffic drops I’ve seen many times is when merchants add new product lines to their website - replacing last year’s line of women’s tennis shoes with this year’s - then upload directly to their Merchant Center account. In these cases, merchants replace old SKUs with new ones, but don’t keep the proper naming assignments within their account structure.

    This can cause problems when your older SKUs may have had a particular product label in your account structure, such as “Best Golf Clubs,” but after removing old SKUs and replacing them with new ones, the new SKUs carry the different product label “Award-Winning Golf Clubs” by default - a change you may miss if you’re not carefully double-checking your account structure against your feed! 

    Remember that your older SKUs may have been listed in a very specific manner with a specific structure - if this year’s models are listed at all differently (as they so often are), replacing older SKUs with newer SKUs in bulk may lead to discrepancies with your existing account structure - which means your new SKUs won’t get surfaced and you won’t move any merchandise. 

    Solution: Don’t forget to double-check your feed and account structure after pulling your website!
  • Account issues - On a more-basic level, your Google Merchant Center account may not be verified, or your Merchant Center account isn’t properly linked to your AdWords account (or the wrong one is linked). 

    Solution: We recommend double-checking your account and ensuring it is properly verified and linked.
  • Item out-of-stock issues - In many cases, Google may decide to not surface ads for items that are marked out-of-stock in the “Inventory” column. If your feed isn’t updated on a regular basis, there might be protracted periods of time during which your inventory status will fail to update restocked items to in-stock status, and keep them set at out-of-stock. This means even after you restock your most popular bestsellers - you know, the ones that keep selling out - they’ll be kept from surfacing in ads because Google still thinks they’re out-of-stock, while your competitors’ listings for the same product surface normally and continue to bring them revenue that should be going to you!

    Solution: As we discussed in our previous blog on data feed maintenance for Google Shopping, we recommend setting your data feed to be pulled into Merchant Center daily (if not more frequently). This will make sure inventory status for your most popular items is always up-to-date.
  • Big-ticket SKUs getting little to no traffic at lower CPAs - It may be tempting to try to drop your CPA targets to save spend, but if you do, your more-expensive, high-margin products, which tend to command a higher CPA, will likely end up getting less traffic. This means your high-margin SKUs end up getting surfaced less frequently...and selling less frequently! (More details on this in the bidding section, below.)

    Solution: If you’re finding your high-margin, higher-CPA SKUs are not getting enough traffic, consider breaking out these VIP SKUs by CPA targets or margins. This problem most commonly occurs as a result of account oversimplification (lumping together all SKUs with an attempted lower blanket CPA for all products). Breaking out your higher-margin targets will make sure you run them at proper CPA levels that will get them the traffic they need.

2. Rejected or disapproved products
(Cue bloodcurdling shriek here.) This can be a very costly problem - having your products not make Google approval costs real money over time, especially since the process of getting your products re-approved after rejection doesn’t tend to happen overnight!

  • Check Google frequently-flagged issues - Google has a comprehensive list of the most common reasons for disapproval, which include:
    • Missing refund policy
    • Store URL that isn't claimed
    • Checkout that's not secure
    • Prohibited or restricted products related to healthcare and medicine
    • Site doesn't allow online purchases
    • Different prices between product data and landing page
    • Links to landing pages are broken
    • Links to landing pages redirect to the site's home page
    • Different currency and language used than the one required for the target country
    • Promotional text in product images

      Solution - Cross-reference against Google’s disapproval list and ensure you’ve got these issues covered.

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads, Chapter 7: Double-check your PLAs against Google policy. Better to be safe than sorry. 

  • Double-check errors reported at highest account level - As Google continues to evolve its services and user interfaces, it’s possible that some errors that surface at the topmost level of your account’s Diagnostics tab are tied to issues that you have already resolved.

    Solution - When faced with error messages at the topmost level of your account, dig deeper into your account structure to ensure that there are, in fact, unresolved issues.
  • Be aware of changes or idiosyncrasies in Google policies, but be prepared to call - Given the time it takes to get disapproved products re-approved, it can be a good idea to try to self-diagnose and fix common errors before picking up the phone. However, be advised that Google regularly updates its policies (in fact, outdated policies may cause error messages to appear where there are none, as we mentioned above), and in some cases, this can involve fine print with evolving policies. 

    Solution: There may eventually be some issues that you can’t avoid calling Google to resolve. We recommend having your account info and a detailed description of your problem at hand before you make the big call.

3. Bidding, profit and overspend issues
The whole point of running campaigns on Google Shopping is to move merchandise and make a little money, right? Beware these issues that may cut into your margins and/or cause you to overspend:

  • Optimizing to CPA goals while ignoring other KPIs - I’ve seen this happen many times. I suspect it will continue to happen many more times in the future. Merchants get obsessed with optimizing their campaigns any which way they can, including cutting their costs to the extent that they notice they can still get conversions while lowering CPA. At a glance, this sounds like a good idea - after all, why pay more if you can still get conversions? The answer is that in such cases, the conversions you end up getting will tend to only be for your cheapest, lowest-margin items. The high-margin items, your real moneymakers, will end up never seeing the light of day due to them being outbid at your lower CPA level. As a result, you’ll end up rapidly chewing through your budget, and most likely with much lower revenue than your targets.

    Solution: Keep the bigger picture in mind - your KPIs are all related. Avoid dropping your CPAs just to save money and make sure you run CPAs that are high enough to move your more-profitable SKUs!
  • Avoid wasted spend due to phantom SKUs - I’ve noticed that when migrating feeds from different formats, such as from a direct FTP upload to an API upload, merchants can sometimes end up with discrepancies in their product counts. Outdated SKUs from the last FTP upload remain in the feed and may get surfaced in search results, even though they’re no longer being sold. Unfortunately, Google will still be more than happy to charge you for serving ads for those SKUs, even if they are outdated.

    Solution: Be especially careful when switching upload formats for your feed. When making the switch, we recommend double-checking your new feed and removing any outdated products - please check our previous blog on keeping your Google Shopping data feed clean for more details.

4. Implement a shared sales pixel for multi-format campaigns
The importance of a shared sales pixel - If you plan to run multi-format campaigns, such as text ads alongside Google Shopping ads, you may encounter issues comparing the performance of each campaign type. You may also end up accidentally double-counting the same user (who may be brought in by similar keywords or territories across campaigns) and mistakenly inflating your conversion rate.

Solution: Implementing a shared sales pixel ties together the performance of your different campaign types. This will ensure you can make apples-to-apples comparisons for campaign performance and avoid doubling up on the same user. More details on setting up cross-account conversion tracking from Google here.

Become an Expert on Product Listing Ads, Chapter 7: Joe Versus the Volcano
Who would’ve thought something as small as a pixel could cause such a huge eruption?

Joe versus the volcano: No shared sales pixel, skewed reality and shocking results!
As I look back on my time in PPC, I recall a certain search engine marketing professional I knew who worked with an e-commerce merchant that used a My Client Center (MCC) account for multiple campaign types.

But this merchant didn’t use a shared sales pixel to tie together its Google Shopping and text campaigns. As a result, the performance numbers didn’t show a clear picture of reality - the client ended up double-counting users for both its Google Shopping (PLAs) and text ads, and as a result, its Google Shopping ads gave the appearance of being much more effective than they actually were. 

To make a long story short, this was a classic case of a merchant not thinking about settings before its investments. The merchant ended up vastly overspending on Google Shopping ads and vastly underspending on text ads, and at the end of the month, was shocked to see that revenue didn’t match reality.

The massive overspending on Google Shopping brought in underwhelming results, while text ads massively missed their potential due to a much smaller budget than they should’ve carried. Let’s just say that particular paid search professional called in sick the following Monday. (I think they’re in the Witness Protection Program now.)

That’s a wrap for our 7-part series on Google Shopping. We hope you’ve found some good value and helpful tactics from this series. Thanks for reading, and please be sure to browse our previous entries:

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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