One big difference between holiday preparations this year versus last year for many retailers is the introduction of Google Shopping Campaigns, which replaces Google’s original PLA campaign format. While this represents a major change in how retailers manage their product inventory within Google, it also comes along with substantial opportunity to perform much better in PLA than in previous years.
Retail marketers should start planning for the holidays on Google Shopping today, which should enable them to execute strategies that they didn’t have at their disposal last year. The new features in Shopping Campaigns can help make the following possible this year, which should provide some relief to those who have fretted in the past about a lack of transparency and control in the channel:
Responding to Competition
While Google still provides very little in terms of where a marketer’s ads show up on Google.com, Google Shopping, and partner sites, it has added a very valuable feature in Shopping Campaigns: product group level impression share. This is valuable insight going into the holidays, as marketers will have a sense of how competitive their bids are for every product type in their catalog. In the areas for which they expect to sell well this holiday, perhaps due to strong deals or historical proficiency, a low impression share would indicate an opportunity to increase bids substantially such that those products have a high probability of serving and ultimately selling. Marketers should start to evaluate their impression shares across the board over the next few weeks and the effect of bid changes on that figure to try to simulate what will happen as the holidays draw near.
Isolating and Promoting Key Deals
Historically it was very challenging in PLA to influence which products Google would serve on a given query, potentially burying your most attractive deals in lieu of a older model or style. In introducing Custom Labels and Campaign Priority within Google Shopping, there is more hope this time around. By planning for holiday promotions and product releases, marketers can now isolate those highly volatile offerings through labels and set prioritization to give preference to those deals when they are live/in-stock and pull them down when they are not. This type of control should serve to increase overall conversion rates from this channel over the holidays.
Tighter SKU-Level Controls
More robust data at the product level in Shopping Campaigns can highlight which products are being served by Google more frequently and can lead to decisions on 1) filtering certain less competitive products from the feed and 2) optimizing feed and bid for products that are competitive but currently aren’t seeing the bulk of the traffic within a given group. Marketers should get comfortable with SKU-level reporting in the dimensions tab now, so they can begin to determine which products Google is choosing to serve over others right now, so that they can begin to take on filtering and optimization tasks before it is too late.
Without any real insight into competitive benchmarks, last year’s holiday was tough for many retailers in PLA. On key dates last year (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.) many retailers boosted bids almost indiscriminately due to the opaqueness of the marketplace. What resulted were significantly higher CPCs throughout the day without a commensurate increase in traffic or revenue. While this may have been a nice windfall for Google in the short term, it could hurt the perception of the channel in the long run. With the introduction of benchmarking metrics, it will be easier for marketers to visualize where they stand in the marketplace, reducing the need to try to push bids in order to increase traffic when no upside exists.
Google has now rolled out Merchant Promotions fully to all of its PLA customers, enabling opportunities to further customize the PLA ad unit with details of the promotion. This is especially critical for marketers who are very promotions-heavy over the holidays and use that strategy to differentiate from competition. While still not the easiest feature within Google (hazy rules and slower editorial), ads with Merchant Promotions applied have shown to have significantly higher CTRs, and as such marketers should start planning their promotional calendars and ensure that those promotional details are being sent through to the data feed in advance of their launch.
Additionally, Google has increased the display of product reviews in PLA and will be requiring a separate feed or third-party partnership to include those reviews going forward. Retailers should plan to have a solution in place before this deadline to ensure that their valuable review content gets included in their PLA programs this holiday.
There is clearly a lot of opportunity to execute more well-known merchandising strategies in this increasingly important new channel. The critical features to get a handle on are as follows: Impression Share, Campaign Prioritization, Custom Labels, Merchant Promotions, and Reviews Feed. By understanding and internalizing these new features in Google Shopping, leading retailers can leapfrog their competition in PLA this holiday season.