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6 Routes to Google Shopping Success for Auto Parts Retailers

Phil Turicik

There’s no such thing as cruise control for e-commerce pros in the automotive and motorcycle world.

Marketers in this space must contend with thin margins and heavy competition. And when your catalog contains thousands of obscure parts (why, yes, we do have a tail light for a 1967 Ford Mustang), knowing which products and tactics work best for Google Shopping PLAs is challenging.

These factors bring enough complexity to the channel to rival a limited slip differential. To simplify things, here is a road map that auto parts e-commerce marketers can use when planning their Google Shopping strategies:

1. Ride Along with PLA Customers.

Many automotive and motorcycle marketers have a great understanding of how customers interact with their sites, but don’t consider that these consumers might behave differently in Google Shopping.

Buyers of auto parts and accessories are passionate, informed, and willing to hunt for the best deal. When browsing visually based Product Listing Ads, these shoppers tend to know exactly what they’re looking for and have a general idea of the price they’d like to pay in mind. Therefore, retailers need to be there with precisely the right product at an eye-catching price.

2. Your Website and the PLAs Directing Traffic to It Should Be a Well-Oiled Machine.

Compare your top selling products from Google Shopping with your top sellers sitewide. Do they match up? If you’ve got items that sell like crazy through PLAs, but perform just OK in other channels, you probably offer a killer price on a widely searched item or a strong selection of hard-to-find products. Keep the new customers rolling in with aggressive PLA bids for these items in Google Shopping (and explore higher bids in other channels, as well).

Buyers of auto parts and accessories are passionate, informed, and willing to hunt for the best deal.

Conversely, if popular products on your site don’t sell through PLAs, they might need more traffic or a differentiator. And in Google Shopping, price is usually the best differentiator. Many auto parts retailers run promotions through PLAs to win new customers, and top sellers are a good place to start. Even better, reduce the prices in your product feed — displaying a great price directly on the SERP will grab shopper attention faster than the vaguer promise of a promotion.

3. Optimal Search Share is Different for Every Catalog.

Many e-commerce marketers rely on impression share to measure their PLA presence for specific brands or product types. Impression share is a sound barometer of exposure, but in the automotive sector there will always be more general search queries (i.e., brake pads) than very specific ones (i.e., 1988 Honda CRX brake pads).

Qualified traffic (shoppers who convert on your site) doesn’t typically scale with higher traffic, and many times it can result in higher spend on broader terms that drives up cost, but not revenue.

So don’t worry if your impression share is low for certain parts of your catalog — as long as you’re showing up enough for the products you want and need to sell.

Ideally, you want solid impression share for your top PLA performers or products with favorable margins, such as a house brand. But before you go chasing impression share, make sure you’re converting at your efficiency goals. Qualified traffic (shoppers who convert on your site) doesn’t typically scale with higher traffic, and many times it can result in higher spend on broader terms that drives up cost, but not revenue.

Instead, focus on your cost/sale and revenue goals for different product groups. Then you can find the right bids that drive enough exposure and revenue in PLAs, while keeping the channel efficient.

4. Optimize Your Feed to Search Queries.

Many shoppers in this vertical are looking for something specific, so the details matter. Google is trying to return hyper-relevant results to its users, so the more information contained in your feed, the better.

Add detailed information to your product feed’s titles and descriptions — such as size and color of motorcycle apparel — to help your PLAs show for more search queries. For aftermarket parts, be sure to include the OEM parts they can replace and the make and model of the cars they will fit.

5. Stay in Touch with the Seasons.

Typically, November through March is a slower time of year for auto parts retailers (save for a lift around the holidays). In these months, frigid temperatures, snow, and ice force many gearheads’ projects indoors and keep motorcyclists off of the roads in cold-weather areas. 

Higher bids in the auto parts and motorcycle gear verticals netted a better return this year than last, when the temperatures were much lower.

This past winter was different, though. Record-high temperatures and minimal snowfall drew hobbyists and motorcyclists out of their winter hibernation. There was more revenue opportunity in the winter months than usual.

Did you take advantage of it? Higher bids in the auto parts and motorcycle gear verticals netted a better return this year than last, when the temperatures were much lower. The point is not to rely on your calendar to drive your PLA strategy (except for holidays, of course). Instead, tailor PLA bids to real world conditions.

6. Adjust Your Campaigns for Geography.

In the automotive world, consumer preferences are heavily influenced by where shoppers live. Know your catalog and understand where different types of products sell best.

Try setting up a separate campaign for seasonal and geo-specific products to boost sales and efficiency.

For example, snow tires are usually in high demand in places like Michigan and Vermont, but are probably not top sellers in Florida or Texas. On the other hand, car customization is big in southern California, and many parts and products that sell well there would not sell in areas where the practice is less common.

Geo-targeted bid modifiers can help focus your PLA spend on the right products in the right places by increasing your presence in different states or cities. Try setting up a separate campaign for seasonal and geo-specific products to boost sales and efficiency. A well-organized feed makes this breakout quick and easy.

Steering e-commerce marketing strategy is just like driving a car: You start out with a goal or destination in mind and adjust to changing conditions once you hit the road.

Automotive and motorcycle e-commerce pros can use these tips to adjust their PLA campaigns to the distinct conditions of the Google Shopping channel.

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