Note: This post was updated in January 2021.
In the wild world of eCommerce paid advertising, knowing exactly which strategies to throw at the Google machine can be a hit-and-miss operation. Fortunately, we’ve done all the hard work for you — and we’re ready to share some tips that will help.
In this piece, we’ll take a systematic look at how our paid strategists optimize Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) eCommerce campaigns to find the best-performing strategies. We’ll present a total of 15 different strategies that apply for Google Shopping ads and Smart Shopping Campaigns, Dynamic Remarketing, Search Ads, In-Market Audiences and, finally, Dynamic Search Ads.
For each Google Ad type, we’ll cover:
- The core strategies we use to get the best return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Use-case scenarios where we’ve seen good results from implementing these strategies
- Some of the newest features and product offerings — and how to make the most of them
To help you find the eCommerce Google Ads strategy that’s right for you, we’ve split this guide up into three parts:
- Google Shopping vs. Google Search: We’ll review the different platforms and why you might use each one.
- Google Shopping ads: We’ll walk you through seven different strategies that bring the best ROAS for eCommerce companies. We’ll explain how to build out and optimize your shopping ads from scratch.
- Google Search ads: We’ll give you eight of our favorite internal strategies for maximizing ROAS from search ads and tell you whether you need to run search ads in tandem with Shopping ads.
Who We Are: At Inflow, we work with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. You can talk to one of our Google Ads specialists to see how we can help you increase ROAS. Get started now.
What’s the Best Google Ads Platform for my eCommerce Business?
Before we get into the details of our Google Ads eCommerce strategies, it’s important to have a bit of background info on the Google Ads ecosystem. There are two main platforms within which you can advertise your products: Google Search and Google Shopping.
For some context, here’s a visual comparison of their placement in search engine results (SERPs):
Google Search ads is perhaps the most well-known of the Ads products due to its longevity. It was Google’s flagship ad platform (previously known as Adwords), displaying text ads when a searcher uses keywords specified by the advertiser.
Google Search is different from Google Shopping because of the way the platform operates. Search gives you more control over the keywords you wish your products to be seen for. Google Search ads also allow more copy, including a description to grab the searcher’s interest — but, unlike Shopping ads, Search ads are text only.
Google Shopping ads (also known as Google Product Listing Ads, or PLAs) are probably the best fit if you’re a B2C selling products online. All you need to participate here is a product feed, Google Merchant Center, and an eCommerce website.
As you can see, Google Shopping ads show up at the very top of search results. You can’t beat that kind of visibility.
While Google Search uses keywords to serve your ads to searchers, Google Shopping is a bit more complicated. Whether or not your product appears is based upon your Product Feed. This is all the necessary information relating to your product: brands, quantities, sizes, colors, and so on. You need to carefully optimize your Google Shopping data feed to target the right searches.
All this data renders a shopping-product ad within the Google SERPs, including relevant pricing and review information.
Our Suggestion: Use Both in Your eCommerce Ads Strategy
If you’re a big online retailer, you’ll probably be investing most of your paid ad spend on a mixture of Google Shopping ads and Google Search ads. Participating in both platforms often leads to enhanced product visibility across the buyer’s entire journey, from research to purchase.
Consider how your customer’s research and purchase journey spans across multiple devices and is made up of many micro-moments, long before they seriously think about buying. If you’re only running search ads to cover branded queries, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to optimize your strategy.
Before implementing our strategies below, confirm that your reporting tool (typically Google Analytics) is ready to go. We find it helpful to review at least six months — 12 months is even better — of historical data before optimizing an existing campaign. After all, if we can’t measure performance to a good degree of certainty, we can’t measure the growth we’re about to deliver. (Then we can’t create case studies like this one.)
7 Ways to Optimize Your Google Shopping Ads for eCommerce
Here at Inflow, we’ve helped hundreds of online retailers from all kinds of industries maximize their ROAS with a few proven strategies. Of course, every client and business is different, but if you’re looking for the best way to set up eCommerce Google Shopping campaigns, start with these tips:
1. Bid More Aggressively on Specific Search Phrases
We use a three-tiered campaign structure to focus spend on the search phrases that drive the most sales — something which isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’s no point wasting time and money on non-performers, which is why getting specific is our first suggestion for any eCommerce Shopping ads strategy.
Step 1: Review your historic search data volume to find the search terms that drive your revenue.
First, you need to find the search query themes that generate the most transactions for your company. The goal here is to create two groups: one with the high-converting search terms, and another with the low- to medium-converting search terms.
The best-performing group will likely contain several branded terms, with specific model names, SKU codes, part numbers, and other searches that show a high purchase intent.
Step 2: Set up three shopping campaigns — Tiers 1, 2, and 3 — with required priority levels.
Create three campaigns with a shared budget, and assign each with a different priority level. (Remember that in this context, priority setting doesn’t reflect the group’s priority; it’s just the order in which Google will cycle through the campaigns).
- Tier 1 will have the highest campaign priority setting, which indicates to Google that search queries should start here. This tier, like all the others, contains every product available on the site but with many negative search phrases applied (we’ll talk about that next).
- In Tier 2, we’ll adjust the priority setting to medium. This is where the average- to medium-performing search terms will live.
- In Tier 3, we’ll adjust the priority setting to “low.” This is where the best-converting search terms will exist.
Step 3: Build and apply the negative keyword lists.
In Tier 1, we’ll apply negative keywords based on the search queries we want to be active in Tiers 2 and 3. Adding these negative keywords prevents them from landing in Tier 1 and pushes them to the next tier in the funnel — Tier 2.
In Tier 2, we again add negative keywords but this time only the best-performing search terms.
In Tier 3, we don’t need any negative keywords applied, because any of those lower-value search phrases should have been filtered out already from Tiers 1 or 2. This was the ultimate goal — to be able to exclude those lesser-converting searches and to bid more aggressively on all searches making it to Tier 3.
(Note: We’ve seen some agencies get a little zealous with the amount of tiers they create, and it becomes very difficult to maintain. The smallest change in any campaign can completely wreck the entire system. For that reason, we typically keep our clients to a three-tier setup).
2. Identify Your Store’s Best Sellers and Prioritize Your Budget Accordingly
One of the easiest ways to grow your ROAS is to identify historic best sellers — then bid higher on those. You can combine this strategy with the tiered approach outlined above, where you bid your best sellers up on the product or group level.
Take a look at your historic data (if it’s available) and identify your business’s top selling products. You can also use Google Analytics to find best sellers and eCommerce conversion rates, plus any relevant ROAS/ROI metrics.
3. Regularly Audit and Optimize Your Google Product Feed for Better Overall Performance
If you take away just one thing from this piece, it should be this: Your Google Product data feed is essential for succeeding with Google Shopping ads. It’s a vital cog in the Shopping ads algorithm, so it deserves a lot of attention.
In short, you need to ensure your feed contains all the required product information. If not, you risk:
- not showing up when people are searching for your products
- and being charged a higher CPC to show your ads.
It’s also vital to keep product titles relevant without keyword-stuffing. This not only helps to enhance visibility for those high-intent searches, but it also helps to boost click-through rate (CTR).
Auditing a Google Shopping data feed is one of the first things we do when working with a client. Check out this piece on how to optimize your Google Product data feed, where we explain exactly why and how you should optimize your feed and how to set up and execute your campaigns.
4. Optimize Your Strategy for Mobile
Our own research has confirmed that mobile shoppers behave differently than desktop shoppers. No surprises there. The actual queries that convert on mobile aren’t necessarily the same ones people use from desktop.
But many eCommerce businesses don’t have a specific approach when it comes to mobile users, aside from reducing mobile bids — which can be a wasteful approach.
We start by determining the historic mobile-only ROAS. We repeat our search query analysis tiers to segment mobile customers. If we find a gap, we set up our own tiers with the appropriate negative keywords for mobile users. In the end, we may have six tiers set up for a client: three for desktop and three for mobile.
This is much more successful than simply adjusting bids on mobile or desktop. It’s a more holistic and strategic approach to optimizing for the customer’s device at that moment — and for the entirety of the customer’s journey.
5. Discover Seasonal Opportunities and Bid Aggressively
If your business operates in a very seasonal industry, it’s crucial to keep time of year in mind and bid on products/product groups within the tiered structure accordingly.
For example, you should bid higher on flip flops in the summer and snow boots in the winter — but keep your tiers the same, no matter the season. By bidding higher on the best-converting products in summer, you can maximize ROAS during these peak months when there’s a bigger search demand.
Take one of our wholesale retailers as an example. They operate in the back-to-school vertical, so understandably they get peak traffic ahead of the new school year. We ensure we’re visible during periods of high-search activity, whilst ensuring budget for the year isn’t exhausted.
We’ve seen this work across a range of seasonal verticals, and it isn’t something that we’ve noticed many other agencies or in-house teams doing.
Note: You’ll need to fully understand the three-tiered approach before diving into this strategy or the mobile-specific one. The inventory will need to be the same across tiers; otherwise you may experience leakage!
Our team of strategists are happy to help you set up your tiers for maximum efficiency. Just request a proposal anytime.
6. Let Google Optimize (With Supervision!)
Smart Shopping Campaigns utilize a mix of your product feed and Google’s machine learning to take care of campaigns on your behalf.
We like to bundle any products into a Smart Shopping campaign when they don’t necessarily belong to another tier. These are the smaller products, maybe those lower-priced accessories, which can be left for Google to deal with. Google will then optimize for best fit based on transaction history — but it doesn’t always mean the search engine will do the best job.
If there isn’t much transaction data for Google to use, things can quickly go awry. An example: After a few mobile transactions went through for our client, Google went very aggressive on mobile — and caused ROAS to plummet. In this case, it would’ve been best to wait until there was more significant transaction data available before leaving it up to automation.
7. Using Dynamic Retargeting
If you want to craft the best Google Shopping ads strategy for eCommerce, don’t slack on retargeting.
As annoying as some people might find them, retargeting ads do convert — and extremely well. Over time, they’ve been shown to have a great ROI, so they work well to supplement your search marketing strategy.
The dynamic retargeting feature from Google Shopping enables you to automatically show ads to people who came to your site without completing a purchase. It makes use of your product feed to determine which products to display and can intelligently group these together based on what’s likely to convert best.
Using dynamic remarketing is a fairly straightforward strategy to skyrocket eCommerce performance — it’s a must for any online retailer.
8 Ways to Optimize Your Google Search Ads for eCommerce
Remember: Running Google Search ads in tandem with Shopping Ads is a good strategy to cover all your bases. Start with these tips when setting up your Google Search ads (Adwords) for eCommerce success.
1. Structure Your Google Ads Account for More Granular Control
Starting from scratch? The best way to set up eCommerce Shopping ads (Adwords) campaigns is mimicking your own navigation menu.
If you have a top-level page that contains a category of products (shoes) and then sub-categories that contain brands (Adidas, Nike), then it probably makes sense to have a shoe category and individual brand-specific ad groups within your Google Ads account. This method will save you time and will make budget control easy, too.
With this approach, you can also get as granular as you like when it comes to ad group and keyword grouping. It will also help when other people on your team need to manage the account, as well as keep things clean for the reporting team.
2. Deep Link to Best-Sellers Within Text Ads
Within your store’s categories, there will often be a handful of outstanding, top-selling products. So, instead of directing customers to an individual category page, direct to the best-selling product page instead. That’s usually where they end up anyway.
You could easily set up a few text ads which deep link to a handful of your top-selling products. Then, simply monitor which ads bring in the most conversions. You can run A/B tests on this in the background and keep a close eye on the products that really push the needle on your ROI.
This makes the path to purchase cleaner for the customer and helps to improve your Google Quality Score, too.
In this instance, the keyword/search intent, ad text, and landing page experience is all well-aligned and optimized. In the cases where there is no clear best-seller, it would make sense to direct the customer to the most relevant category page instead. This approach is often used when bidding on less specific, short-tail keywords.
3. Have an Industry-Specific (But Agile!) Approach and Test Everything
The strategy we use for running Google Search Ads ultimately depends on the industry our client operates in, and, of course, the eCommerce platform they use. It’s important to have an agile approach when it comes to eCommerce marketing; things change quickly and the search landscape is constantly evolving. You need to always be open to new opportunities and test everything!
We like to use Google Experiments within Google Ads to test how variations of campaign set-ups perform versus our original campaign, helping to shape our ongoing strategies.
4. Don’t Neglect Google Ad Extensions, Especially Price Extensions
Ensure that every possible extension has been built out when a campaign goes live. Setting up all eligible extensions will give you a better Quality Score on your account and enhances your chances of taking up more valuable real estate within the SERPs.
The obvious choice when it comes to eCommerce clients has to be the Price Extension. This highlights the product price within the text ad when someone’s shopping for your product.
Your account should have the following extensions active and optimized:
- Callout extensions
- Structured Snippets
- Promotion Snippets (essential for Black Friday and other sales)
- Sitelink Extensions
5. Bid on Product SKUs, Part Numbers, and Model Numbers
When running search ads, you’ll want to bid heavily on product SKU and other identifier codes, model numbers, replacement part keywords, and so on. While these might not have a huge search volume when compared to some other non-brand search queries, they’re going to have a super high conversion rate.
Someone entering a search query for “washing machine” or even “best washing machine” is probably going to be fairly high in the purchase process. They’re probably still shopping around and trying to come to a decision about the particular model they want.
But what about someone searching for a specific washing machine model, like “Samsung WW70K5413UX”? You should be throwing your money at Google for that search query.
We often scrape our clients’ product feeds to get a list of these numbers or SKUs before using Dynamic Insertion within the headline of the text ad and the display URL. We also use keyword-level final URLs to send the user to the exact product they are searching for.
6. Continue Scheduled Maintenance and Optimization
Let’s say your ROAS is ticking over nicely at 300% each month. While that’s great, it’s not to say it’s bringing in the most possible revenue.
You shouldn’t neglect campaigns even when they’re performing well (that 300% could all be based on a few branded search terms and nothing else that’s going to drive your sales).
Ongoing scheduled maintenance and optimization ensures your search strategy doesn’t get left to stagnate.
From regularly reviewing the “Search Insights” report and checking in on the “Search Impression Share,” to verifying that rogue searches aren’t eating up your budget, there’s always plenty to do.
Remember tips #4 and #5: Mobile search behavior is different than desktop search, and seasonality is an important factor to consider, too. Check on an ongoing basis how those two variants might affect your search campaigns — especially if you’ve got an old account that has gone a bit stale.
7. Take Advantage of In-Market Audiences
In-market audiences can be used within your Google Search campaigns to ensure your ads are being seen by a wider audience than normal with a different matching criteria applied.
Let’s consider an online retailer of car wheels and accessories. If somebody searches for a product that is similar to one that the car retailer sells, Google will place them in a particular audience group.
As an advertiser, you can then choose to target that particular audience group with your own search ads.
It sometimes makes sense to adjust bids according to your audiences, upping them when they match a particular, high-intent group. It can also give you flexibility when it comes to your keyword strategy; you don’t need to be quite as granular, because you know this person is (in theory) already interested in what you’re selling.
8. Don’t Forget about Dynamic Search Ads
The last Google Ads eCommerce tip we’ll share is using Dynamic Search Ads. This is Google’s offering for those who have a massive inventory of products to sell — but no time to list individual ads for each product.
If you enable Dynamic Search Ads, Google’s ad crawler will scan your entire website and create ads automatically based upon what it finds. That might be a bit too much control for some, but for others, it can be a real time-saver.
We love to use this as a keyword research tool — letting Google find queries that we may have missed or not deemed valuable when setting up our campaign. Although this is getting tougher now that Google continues to decrease the visibility into search terms, it can still be a valuable tool. Note: If you do make use of a Dynamic Search campaign, add your normal search keywords as negatives to ensure there’s no overlap.
Ultimately, Dynamic Ads can be a good low-budget and minimal fuss campaign set to run in the background with low ongoing maintenance required.
Set Up Your Google Ads eCommerce Strategy Today
You’ll want to play around and test these strategies before you jump right in and make any drastic, lasting changes. Try a few at a time, and let us know how they work out for your eCommerce business.
If you’d rather have a strategist implement them for you, we’re always willing to help. Request a free proposal from our team now to see what results we can bring for your traffic, conversions, and sales.