The release of the Google Shopping Certification just a few days before Christmas was a fitting finale to an amazing year for the Google Shopping Campaign format. Call me dramatic (I have watched a lot of Tolkien movies this holiday season…), but I consider the release of this training to be symbolic. During a year where clicks on Google Shopping ads increased by over 250% YoY – accounting for about a quarter of total Adwords traffic – both Google and advertisers have made serious investments in the channel to take advantage of what is clearly the “future” of search.
To understand where search is going and where we as advertisers should focus, SEM veterans have long looked to Google for clues. As a general rule, looking to see where Google is investing its time and resources is a great indicator of future opportunity. In 2014, their time and resources have been well and truly focused on Google Shopping Campaigns. Below are just some of the updates and changes Google has made to the format in 2014:
- PLAs become GSCs – in February of 2014, the new Product Listing Ads format, Google Shopping Campaigns, became available to all advertisers. This new format makes management of this feed-based program faster and easier, and has largely been embraced positively by advertisers. In August, Google made migration to this format mandatory, though most savvy advertisers had already shifted over to get early learnings and auction traction. The biggest impact of this move is to make the program more accessible to ALL advertisers, not just those with feed management experience and resources
- API support launched – in March, Google completed the necessary “piping” required so that advertisers could automate and update their Shopping campaigns via the Adwords API.
- Product Feed specs updated – in June, Google announced updates to the specifications (link: http://adwords.blogspot.com/2014/06/Update-to-feed-specification.html) for feeds being uploaded to Merchant Center. These included mobile landing page links, merchant-defined custom bundles, apparel attributes, item availability and mandatory character limits.
- Product Ratings rolled out – in July, Google added the familiar orange review stars to Google Shopping Ads. As well as increased click-through-rates, this also helps advertisers bolster conversion rates by proving a boost of confidence to consumers whole are, of course, heavily swayed by user-generated reviews in today’s shopping environment
- Local Inventory Ads comes of age – originally launched late in 2013, Google invested significantly in the architecture (and PR) surrounding Local Inventory Ads (LIAs), which are effectively GSCs designed to drive users into brick and mortar stores. A partnership with LiveRamp to help track just how many consumers go into stores after clicks on the ads further enticed advertisers to test. Note that retailers need to have local inventory available in feed format to run LIAs, which can prove an obstacle – however, for those with the infrastructure to get this data, LIAs are most certainly a significant program of the future for brands with an offline store presence.
- Search Partners launches for GSC – in September, Google began testing product ads on third party websites (link: http://adwords.blogspot.com/2014/09/Extend-PLAs-to-qualified-shoppers.html). Starting with a handful of partners – including the retail giant, Walmart – this represents a significant opportunity for advertisers to extend the reach of their campaigns beyond Google Search (though testing so far has been conservative in terms of volume).
- Remarketing Lists for Search Ads comes to GSCs – late Q3, Google began making remarketing available to Google Shopping advertisers. This works almost identically to RLSAs for regular search, and provides a great way for advertisers to better hone in on their target audience using behavioral data garnered from their users’ shopping behavior on-site.
- Mobile Ads evolve – in November, Google announced a refresh to the way Shopping Ads are display, including rolling out new “product cards” with detailed product information, consumer reviews and 360 product image views. This provides even richer content and visuals to a medium already thoroughly blurring the lines between search, display and social media.
These are just some of the updates and changes Google rolled out to this exciting ad format in 2014. There are bound to be many, many more in 2015 as Google Shopping Ads continue to eclipse their ad counterparts in terms of growth and advertiser success.
As we head into 2015, we recommend making increased focus on Google Shopping Campaigns one of your biggest resolutions. That and watching all six Tolkien movies (five if you don’t include An Expected Journey… which you’d be forgiven for leaving out).