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Google Shopping Search Terms, Or: How I Learned to Give Up Control

I hear a common question from retailers when trying to find their own products listing on Google Shopping:

“Why doesn’t the product I want appear for this search term?”

Connecting customers to relevant products or a specific product by targeted keywords has been the norm on AdWords programs for close to fifteen years. It’s not hard to imagine frustration when SEO-laden pages and well-built feed data sent to Google Merchant Center aren’t yielding the product listing desired for a search.

Often times, different merchandising teams with varying budgets and performance goals expect a product or group of products to accrue impressions and clicks for particular queries. Marketers may be held to task more qualitatively for the products, preferred models or child variations appearing on a given search.

When a specific product, new release, special variation defined in a feed, or granularity you’ve defined in your campaign structure is not delivered by a desired set of queries, there can be understandable friction among merchandisers, marketers, and other stakeholders.

So… What’s the Problem?

Products appearing in search results are a mix of a product group’s combined content, bids and the context attributed to the user at time of a search. This is especially true for searches on broader terms such as ‘kitten heel shoes’, ‘polarized sunglasses’ or even extremely broad terms like ‘furniture’ which you’d likely not pursue in search unless you had the budget to “go after the phonebook”.

Google’s algorithms do their best to match product listings to queries semantically based on these contextual factors and the perceived intent of the shopper’s query. 
Unlike the refinement of search campaigns where you pick and choose a specified landing page, Google Shopping results are based on context more heavily than content. This context is based on feed data, overall campaign structure, bid hierarchy, user history and negative keywords used to guide a user.

This means, to some extent, that the advertiser has given up control of the content of the search for the context.

What’s to be done?

Since you can’t bid on specific keywords, focus instead on the granularity of your campaigns, assigning aggressive bids to priority product groupings, and leveraging negative keywords where appropriate.

Make sure that your Google Shopping Campaigns are structured in a logical, top-down hierarchy. This gives Google an opportunity to better match your products to the most relevant shopper queries. If you amass enough data to decide certain products are not serving for the right queries, use negative queries to direct traffic to more appropriate product groupings.

For example, if Reebok Men’s Running Shoes from your catalog are showing for the query “Men’s Running Shoes,” whereas Nike Men’s Running Shoes would be preferred, first check to see that product groupings are set up to reflect those combinations of brand, gender and subcategory. If not, refine your campaign structure. If so, modify bids to bring more priority to the desired products. If campaign structure and bids are already optimal, use a negative keyword to move traffic away from your ‘Reebok Men’s Running Shoes’ product grouping and toward your ‘Nike Men’s Running Shoes’ product grouping.

All that said, Google Shopping Campaigns should revolve around concrete goals. While prominence of key products is important, performance objectives and performance data should be the main drivers as you manage your campaigns. Whether it’s profitability, ROI, reach, or customer acquisition that matters, focus on the numbers, rather than which products you can see, to make your campaign decisions.

While this sounds like giving up control, approaching Google Shopping in a way that maximizes goals rather on specific searches opens up more opportunities, and can help you develop better strategies across the search funnel.