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How to Hack Keyword Control in Google Shopping PLAs

Retailers and shoppers alike can’t get enough of Google Shopping; retailers know that Google Shopping PLAs convert at a higher rate than other traffic sources, while their customers love browsing the image-centric ads (especially on mobile).

But e-commerce pros using the channel will sooner or later face what nearly every retailer invariably cites as the absolute bane of his or her existence: Google’s default controls do not allow marketers to segment out and bid higher on keywords that lead to conversions in their catalogs.

Why? Google believes that its algorithms are able to best predict which products from your catalog match up with a given search term. E-commerce marketers accustomed to choosing the exact search terms for which their ads appear must rethink their strategy, and take a different — admittedly less precise — approach to the way they manage search queries in Google Shopping.


All Traffic is (Probably) Worth Something

Most retailers are choosing to address the keyword conundrum with the “going negative” approach: negativing out undesirable keywords and/or giving priority to different campaigns.

This approach presents its own set of challenges, however, as it limits the channel’s full potential. Rather than eliminating keywords entirely — and thus eliminating the chance for a conversion — a more optimal approach is to come up with a strategy to manage them effectively.

For instance, a mountainwear outfitter might not want PLAs for their Gore-Tex hiking boots to appear for the keyword “leather boots,” since the user searching for it is likely seeking more fashion-focused footwear. They can then negative out this keyword to ensure their PLAs will not show for it.

E-commerce marketers accustomed to choosing the exact search terms for which their ads appear must rethink their strategy, and take a different — admittedly less precise— approach to the way they manage search queries in Google Shopping

But this is, well, suboptimal. In reality, that mountainwear outfitter’s e-commerce team would probably pay some amount, perhaps just one cent, to drive a visitor to its site. After all, that fashionista seeking leather boots might leave the runway in search of more rugged terrain one day …

So just negativing out certain keywords is probably not the best technique.


The Answer? Turn a Negative into a Positive

I know, I know.  “Enough with the challenges, Dave!  What is the solution?” I hear you …

1. First things first. Retailers can must optimize their product feeds to best match searcher intent. This means making sure titles, product types, etc. all map to the terms your customers are searching for most frequently.

This will take some time and analysis — but it’s worth the investment to truly understand consumer intent as it relates to your catalog.

2. Next, create separate campaigns for your branded and non-branded queries. This method allows retailers to manage bids geared towards trademark and non-trademark searches differently.

Some brands value branded search queries more than generic, so bid them higher. Others take the opposite approach, and want their branded version to be first thing a shopper sees when he searches for something generic like “running shoe,” and bid accordingly.

3. Lastly, create two separate Google Shopping campaigns, one for your top performers and another for the rest of your catalog. Every retailer has some items that fly off the shelves — 10% to 15% of your entire catalog is a good rule of thumb. Now for the fun part: determine the most important words in the search queries that drive shoppers to PLAs for these top performers.

For instance, a retailer of high-end women’s shoes might find that its flats outperform the rest of its footwear. “Flats” would then be the critical word in thousands of related search queries such as “size 7 suede flats.”

Then, apply a negative phrase match to the word(s) you uncover as most meaningful to funnel traffic for these keywords away from the rest of the catalog campaign and to the top performer campaign.

Determining how to segment your catalog and what terms to use for optimizing it is an art and a science. Domain expertise and intimate familiarity with your catalog go a long way here; e-commerce pros who want to go one step further can also export a search query report and analyze which terms most often match with their top sellers.

The latter option is more of a workload, but e-commerce marketers might decide that the peace of mind (and improved cost of sale) they get from the exercise is well worth it. And for other tips to get the most out of Google Shopping, e-commerce pros can check out:

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