The ultimate guide to Google Shopping Campaigns – Google Merchant Center

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In this ultimate guide, we will be explaining everything you could ever want to know about Google Shopping : How does the platform work ? How can you optimise campaigns? What is Google Merchant Center? …and more!

Don’t forget to check in regularly as we update this post with Google Shopping’s latest features.

An introduction to Google’s shopping platform…

Google Shopping is becoming an increasingly popular channel for client acquisition and as more and more e-commerce retailers join the platform, competition is getting stiff. However, this does not mean that making money on Shopping is impossible, even if CPC rates do risk increasing with a higher number of users year-on-year. If you’re new to the platform or have been using it for a while, follow this ultimate guide and learn how you can save money on your campaigns with a little bit of elbow grease that will pay off in the long term.

What is Google Shopping?

Going back to the very basics of Google Shopping, this is an online service which allows you to advertise your products in the Google search results. You may have heard of Google Product Search, which was a free product listing service, however this was rebranded as Google Shopping (now a paid service) back in 2012.

To explain things visually, Google Shopping is basically the adverts with images in the Google search results. This is not to be confused with Google AdWords, which is a text only based service.


What is the Google Merchant Center?

While Google Shopping can be described as the ‘shop front’, Google Merchant Center is where all of the mechanics of the platform are operated. It is a tool that helps you to upload your product information and make your store available on Google Shopping.

Getting started is pretty simple because it is as easy as setting up an account at, configuring your account, selecting a location and agreeing to the terms of service.

Setting up an account with Google Merchant Center

The first step in getting your products in Google Shopping is to set up an account in Google Merchants. The Merchant Center is where you manage your product info and update changing inventory. Setting up a Google Merchant Center account correctly is a necessary step in the process, without which you will not be able to list your products on the biggest search engine in the world.

The account setup is not necessarily difficult; you just have to follow 2 steps:

  1. Create an account: Fill out your information correctly
  2. Verify and claim your website: Prove that your site is yours and claim it as your own.

Google Shopping feed set-up

The next step is setting up your merchant feed. Depending on how big your inventory is, you will have to decide between using Google Sheets and creating your own data feed in a txt file for example.

google-merchant-center-dashboard-data-feeds1. Set up your data feed

▪Click on the ‘+ Data Feed’ button’

▪Click on the countries where you sell your products and the language you sell in

▪Give your feed a name

▪Select your feed upload method

▪Choose an upload schedule, which should match how often your inventory changes

2. Add products to your Google Shopping feed

▪Every product should have its own row

▪Don’t change the column headers – your feed will get rejected

▪In the Merchant Center, use the Diagnostics tab to see if everything is ok.

How to get products on Google Shopping

To actually start selling, you will need to set up your first Google Shopping campaign. To do this you will need to follow these steps:


1. Link your Merchant Center and AdWords accounts

▪Log into the Merchant Center and add (or create) your AdWords account

2. Create your campaign

▪You can create campaigns in AdWords or the Merchant Center but, for your first campaign, the latter option is often the fastest.

▪On the AdWords settings tab, click on ‘create shopping campaign’. Follow the steps and click save.

3. Confirm your billing information on AdWords

▪Although you manage feeds in Google Merchant Center, AdWords is where you will manage your campaign and budget.

Google Shopping cost and pricing

If you’re new to Google Shopping and the Merchant Center, one of your first questions will probably be along the lines of “how much does it cost?”.

The platform is based on a CPC model where you pay for each and every click you receive. Ranking is based on bids, meaning that if you place higher bids, you will potentially rank higher than your competitor. However, bids are not the only factor that will be taken into account, as product relevancy and Google’s special shopping algorithm is also taken into consideration.

Getting free clicks on Google Shopping

We know what you’re thinking – if you have to pay every time a user clicks on your products, this sounds like an expensive process. However, one of the advantages of Google Shopping is that you only pay for sponsored ads (in the search results), and not for your products to appear in the Shopping tab.

The big but in all of this: you need to have a budget in your Google Merchant Center account for your products to appear for free clicks.

Paid clicks


Free clicks


Optimising the quality of clicks on my Google Shopping campaigns

As having a budget in your account is necessary for your products to even appear in the Shopping tab, it is in your best interest for these clicks to be optimised so that your traffic is of the best possible quality.

Adding negative keywords

The most obvious way to optimise the quality of clicks is to add negative keywords to your campaigns. Unlike text ads, it is not possible to choose a match type in Google Shopping because bids are based on products rather than keywords. However, it is possible to add negative keywords, which essentially work in the same way.

If we imagine that you are selling wallpaper, when you look in your search terms report you might see that you are appearing for searches such as ‘desktop wallpaper’.  In this case, it is clear to see that the quality of traffic is not the same for the 2 searches; therefore, it makes sense to add negative keywords to the campaign.

It is generally recommended to check Search Term Reports frequently to add relevant negative keywords to your campaigns. Over time you will see that the quality of your traffic is getting better and that you are spending your budget in a more efficient way.

Using negative keywords to separate brand and non-brand traffic

Negative keywords can also be used to acutely optimise your advertising spend by separating brand and non-brand traffic in Product Listing Ads. If we imagine that you are selling trainers, you probably already know that users that use brand names in their searches are already further down the buying funnel because they have committed to a particular brand.

In this case it always makes more sense to bid higher on a search such as ‘Adidas women’s trainers’ than it would for ‘women’s trainers’. This is why you should create 2 campaigns in Google Shopping: one with brand names as negative keywords and the other with generic terms as negative keywords.


From here, you will need to add any search terms that you have seen in your shopping Search Term Reports or any other terms that you think are related to the product for the brand campaign. For the non-brand campaign, you will need to add brand names, product models and any possible variations.

Campaign priority should then be adjusted, placing the brand campaign as ‘high’ and the non-brand campaign as ‘medium’ or ‘low’ for example.

Google Shopping general best practices

Adding negative keywords is a great best practice; however, it is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other Google Shopping optimisations you can put into place to ensure that your campaigns perform as you wish.

Showcase your products


▪Work on your images: Choose a white background, never add watermarks and use high-definition (HD) if possible. Remember that Google will reject any images that are not deemed ‘family friendly’.

▪Optimise your product titles and descriptions: In under 70 characters, talk about product characteristics using common search engine keywords (SEO optimised). Subjective keywords are to be avoided.

Update your product information


▪Regularly update your feed to ensure that details such as the price, availability, promotions and delivery dates are always up-to-date.

▪Check your URLs to make sure that they are active – such details make the difference between Google accepting or refusing your products.

Think about targeting


▪In terms of mobile traffic, consider if you want your campaigns active on this type of device. Your site being mobile friendly (or not) will play a huge role in this decision.

▪More obvious is geographical targeting: disable any locations that you are unable to deliver to for example. Advertising to such users would be wasting your budget.

Work on that sales strategy


▪Add promotions such as ‘free delivery’ or ‘20% off’ to entice users to your products.

▪Prioritise certain seasonal products at times like Halloween, Christmas and during the sales. Such campaigns can be ‘high’ priority while others should stay ‘medium’ and ‘low’.

Who are Google Shopping’s competitors?


Although it also belongs to Google, AdWords remains one of the largest e-commerce advertising platforms and even if retailers spent 47% more on Google Shopping and 6% less on text ads in 2014 (According to Adobe), it still remains a huge player in Search Marketing.



It can however, be argued that this trend is starting to change. The visual nature of Shopping ads may be contributing to enhanced performance on this platform: a recent study by Explore Consulting found that when running AdWords and Google Shopping campaigns side-by-side, the latter leverages much higher performance. Additionally, it also appears that Google itself is forcing this transition with the opening of more and more keywords on Shopping and the drop in overall AdWords conversion rates, a trend that has been observed by online retailers and Twenga’s in-house SEM experts.

The rise of social media


Even if Google Shopping is becoming more and more popular, e-retailers cannot ignore the new phenomenon that is social networks. Consumers have been using social media for years; however it is only more recently that these giants have successfully identified real business opportunities. Closing the gap between inspiration and transaction, platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have recently launched ‘purchase now’ buttons, allowing users to purchase directly from their favourite social hubs.

Such opportunities are not to be missed by e-retailers, so even if these platforms do not currently pose a threat to Google Shopping, they are not to be ignored or dismissed in an e-retailer’s online advertising strategy.

The latest Google Shopping updates and features

Such new features are not unique to social networks. Google Shopping is constantly innovating and introducing its own new features and updates to constantly improve the platform. Amongst the most recent features, we should note:

08 June 2015: Feed specifications update

▪Apparel and variant attributes are now called Detailed Product Attributes and Item Groupings. Here, you can provide values for variables such as the colour, size, pattern, material, age group, gender and size. -> Enforced from 15th September 2015

▪ID attribute submissions are now tighter to prevent characters or sequences that are difficult to process. -> Enforced from 15th September 2015

▪GTIN requirements have been refined: a list of designated brands now require these correct Global Trade Item Numbers -> Enforced from 15th September 2015

▪Shipping requirements have been expanded to Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Japan. -> Enforced from 01 February 2016

▪Google Product Category IDs can now be used instead of entering the entire Google Product Category path. -> Enforced from 01 June 2015

08 June 2015: Taxonomy updates

▪It is no longer required to provide a subcategory for a certain number of categories

▪The majority of Activewear categories have been merged with non-active counterparts

▪Subcategories were added for Food Beverages & Tobacco and Mature.

▪Some verticals went under significant rework, requiring advertisers to revisit their product categories for items in the Arts & Crafts, Décor, Hardware, Sporting Goods and Motor Vehicle Parts & Accessories

These changes are simply recommended and are not required by Google Shopping

15 July 2015: Improving the mobile shopping experience

To win the shopping ‘micro moments’ Google announced a range of new features to improve the online experience, particularly on mobile:

▪Expanding Shopping ads

▪Product ratings and review snippets

▪Prioritising LIAs for local shopping queries

▪Deep linking to mobile apps

▪The ‘buy’ feature via Google Purchases


20 October 2015: Beta version of the Shopping Insights tool

▪To help retailers better understand user intent and product popularity, Google launched a beta version of their Shopping Insights

21 October 2015: Remarketing lists made available in Google Shopping

▪Advertisers can now use RLSA to adapt bids according to a customer’s profile and, when done properly, make their campaigns more profitable. Learn more about this topic in our complete guide to RLSA.

16 November 2015: New Shopping formats available in AdWords

▪TrueView for Shopping: Actionable shopping cards embedded in TrueView video ads to provide an easy bridge to purchase for viewers.

▪Shopping ads on YouTube: Create shopping cards on creator videos that feature your products.

11 February 2016: GTINs update

▪ GTIN requirements are being expanded from the list of 50 brands to include all products with a GTIN assigned by the manufacturer. From 8th February 2016, you will be able to see warnings in the Merchant Center and items that don’t meet the requirements will be disapproved from 16th May 2016.

25th May 2016: Updates to Google Shopping product feed specifications

▪ Unit pricing: you are now required to use the unit pricing attribute and not the price attribute to display Unit Prices

▪ Colour and size values are to be enforced more strictly for apparel products in Germany, France, Japan and the UK. Items missing this information may be disapproved.

▪ Minimum sizes for images are increasing for non-apparel products (100×100 pixels). Apparel products still require images that are a minimum of 250×250 pixels.

These requirements will be enforced from 1st September 2016. Items that do not meet these requirements may be disapproved from this date.

▪ GTIN requirements to be expanded to Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, India, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Turkey. -> Enforced from 14th February 2017.

What can we expect from Google Shopping in the future?

As Google Shopping gains in popularity, success on the platform is becoming more complicated by the day for e-retailers. As CPCs rise and margins decrease, retailers are facing a ‘scissor effect’ which, when combined with consumers’ expectation for a fully optimised shopping experience, makes managing campaigns almost impossible for mere humans.

The expectation for an optimised experience can be explained on two levels: firstly on a product level, where it is in the consumer’s interest to be presented with the most pertinent products, and in the retailer’s interest to place the correct bid in accordance with the product’s performance. Secondly we should consider the user’s intent with data to predict trends and anticipate customer’s behavior. Using this data, more qualified leads can be targeted appropriately to ultimately optimise conversion rates and ROI.

Using automated solutions for Google Shopping, the final stage in this process will be high-frequency bidding, where methods similar to RTB can be used to dynamically recalculate bids in real-time (based on the aforementioned factors), and dozens of times a day for best-selling products.

Further reading:

▪Optimise your Google Shopping campaigns with our infographic

▪Learn about the future of the platform in our Google Shopping whitepaper

▪What are the newest features in Google Shopping?

▪Learn about the basics of Google Shopping campaigns

▪Twenga launches its new e-commerce solution, Smart FEED for Google Shopping

▪How can you use negative keywords to separate brand and non-brand traffic in PLAs?

▪Is Facebook challenging Google Shopping with its new ad format?

▪Top tips for optimising your Google Shopping ads


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