Mike Ruins Bidding on Products in Shopping Campaigns

What’s the one thing you would change about Shopping campaigns if you could?

Did you immediately think “to be able to use keywords like regular Search campaigns?” If so, you’re not alone.

When Google rolled out their new Shopping campaigns back in 2013, they told all of us to “create product groups for the items you want to bid on.”  The frustration with this was that it took away control of the queries our ads would show on; similar to using pure broad match keywords in Search.  Our only hope was to repeatedly add negative keywords to try and cut out any queries the Google brain was matching to our products.  Even then, you may have a good idea of which products were showing on which queries, but you didn’t know exactly.

But the PPC-o-sphere figured out a way.

This scenario of Google not allowing account managers to use keywords for targeting reminds me of when government leaders try and raise taxes on the rich.  Sounds like a good idea on the surface, and it might work for a short time, but the rich find ways to not pay taxes (offshore accounts, corporations, influencing the creation of workarounds, etc.).  It’s part of the reason they’re rich.  The middle class end up paying the price.

OK, so it’s not even close to a perfect analogy.  After all, we know Google’s not going to redistribute the money!  But in the same way, “middle class” PPC account managers end up paying a “tax” to Google by bidding on products while the engine controls which queries are matched to them.  But you can learn from advanced (i.e. “rich”) PPCers on how to avoid this.

To do so, I’ll consolidate ideas from 3 blog posts on the topic here.  I’ll summarize some of the key points made in each post, but won’t re-write what’s already been beautifully written by those authors.  When we’re done, you’ll have a whole new way of approaching Shopping campaigns that will save you from paying the Google tax levied upon you through bidding on products.

The Foundational Strategy

A Step-By-Step Guide to Query-Level Bidding in Google Shopping

In this post, Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk) gives an in-depth explanation of a strategy originated by Martin Roettgerding (@bloomarty).  This is the foundation you need to begin matching products to queries yourself; instead of letting Google do it for you.

In it, Kirk expresses the frustration he had when he learned that Google matched a coffee maker he was advertising to the query “m.”  Yes, you read that right.  The letter “m.”  Now you may not find queries as wild as that in your reports, but there’s a good chance you’ll find many that you don’t want there.

shopping-1The foundational problem with bidding on products of course, is that you end up bidding the same amount if the matched query is “m” or if it’s “coffee maker.”  Since “coffee maker” will make you more money, you don’t want this.

So what’s the solution?

Step 1:  Create an All Products campaign.

The first campaign you’ll create I consider to be my discovery campaign.  Long-term, we’re not expecting much from this campaign.  It’s main purpose is to give us data we can use for targeting keywords in other campaigns.  Google will have full control over which queries to match to which products in this campaign.  As data collects, you will use it to build out keyword-targeted campaigns and ad groups in the next steps.

Make sure the priority level setting on this campaign is set to HIGH.

Note:  This top-level campaign doesn’t HAVE TO be all products.  I’ve also used the product filtering campaign setting to create separate campaigns for each product category at this first level (i.e. pants, shirts, etc.).  The point is that these top-level campaigns will be your broadest reach; allowing the Google brain full control over which queries are matched to your products.

Step 2:  Analyze your data and create long-tail campaigns/ad groups.

Once the data from your All Products campaign starts to come in, you’ll be able to identify query themes that are attracted by your products pretty quickly.  For example, your brand keywords, as well as high-volume and converting non-brand themes.  Now remember, we don’t want the same product bid on all of our queries right?  Right.  Well, here’s where the magic starts.

Let’s say you sell travel vests.  In our All Products campaign, these products will be matched to vest, men’s vest, women’s vest, and who knows, maybe even the letter “m.” 🙂  Since all queries with both “travel” and “vest” in them are much more relevant (and therefore valuable) than broader vest queries, we’d rather bid our products differently on them.

So, you would create a new campaign with a Travel Vest ad group and do three things:

  1. Sub-divide to include only the products (travel vests!) you want to match to travel vest queries.
  2. Add the campaign-level negative BROAD keywords travel vest and travel vests to the All Products campaign.
  3. Change the campaign priority to MEDIUM.
  4. Create a Shared Budget across all Shopping campaigns.  Set it at a level that won’t be hit on a daily basis and control your ad spend with your bids.

Now, whenever AdWords wants to match a query to a product, it will try first to use the high priority All Products campaign first.  But when any query comes in that contains both travel and vest(s) in it, the campaign negative keywords you added will block it.  Therefore, Google then looks at the next campaign in priority order, which is the one set at a medium priority with your new Travel Vest ad group in it.  Let’s see how these campaigns break down…


(Note: You add a Shared Budget so that no single campaign hits it’s budget and drops out of auctions at any time.  If this happens, it ruins the whole process.)

You now have control over all travel vest query and product combinations.  You can now see how travel vest queries perform on their own and choose exactly the products you want to match to those queries; adjusting bids appropriately to maximize your profits.  Kirk’s post exits stage right.

Step 3: Target exact keywords

But, we’re not satisfied there.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could separate those exact queries unto themselves and control which products show for them and what we bid for those query/product matches?  Enter Daniel Gilbert’s (@dangilbertppc) article from stage left…

Keywords Are Back For Google Shopping Campaigns!

In this article, Daniel gives us a script that will control the serving of exact queries to campaigns you create.  We implement this by following the same process in Step 2 to create a third campaign level whose priority setting is LOW and add EXACT match negatives to our 2nd-level campaign.  Now, those exact queries will filter through both the high and medium priority campaigns and end up in your low priority campaign.

Once you implement the script, broad negatives will automatically be added by the script to the ad groups in your Exact campaign to make sure only your desired exact queries are matched there.  Here’s what you end up with…


Now, you have ultimate control.  You can decide exactly what you want to bid on each query and exactly the product or products you want to match to that query.

Speaking of deciding on which products to match to which queries, enter our 3rd and final article from stage right by Andreas Reiffen’s (@AndreasReiffen)…

Step 4: Just get ’em to your site

Advanced Google Shopping: Is price a proxy for Quality Score in product ads?

In this article, Andreas shares his analysis of a large Google Shopping data set.  Here are some of the main points Andreas makes in his article…

  • Surprisingly, the vast proportion of consumers don’t buy the products they search for (and click on)
  • It’s clear that Google is penalizing increases in selling price, and so we have found that product pricing is key to success in Google Shopping.
  • Products that are cheaper than the market average tend to generate the lion’s share of traffic in any given product feed.
  • It was the products that were cheaper in relation to their competitors that were converting significantly better than the expensive ones.
  • Bidding may be the key element of Google Shopping, but ultimately, pricing is the dominating influencer.

Ultimately, if your products are unique in the marketplace and shoppers love them, price will matter less than if you sell products that others offer as well.  But if you do, it seems that you should…

  • Selectively use lower-priced products as entry points to gain traffic, and upsell high-margin products to shoppers on your website.

Essentially, it’s being proposed that instead of worrying about getting all of your products exposure through Shopping, work to gain the most relevant traffic you can and let your website and post-conversion processes (repeat purchases!) handle the lifetime value delivered.

How does this play out in campaigns?

Once I’m set up to control how queries are matching to products, I simply only allow my lowest-priced products that fit each query and drive the best performance to be shown.  Then, I analyze how these products compare to the competition and consider adjusting pricing to be more competitive, even if I have to set prices on those low-priced products at a level I normally wouldn’t if I was concerned with only selling that one product.  After all, it might be more advantageous to break even or even lose a bit on the initial sale if I’m really good at keeping customers and driving them to repeat purchases (think lifetime value!).

Although this process is a bit simplified, you now have the knowledge you need to apply to your Shopping campaigns that will allow you to avoid the “Google tax” of bidding on products with no control over queries that are matched to them.  As you gradually implement this structure, you should start to see your Shopping campaigns perform better and better over time.

Make sure to check out my interview on our podcast “Fine Point: Digital Marketing” where I discuss this article, as well as the rest of the Mike Ruins Digital Marketing series, where I challenge the status quo by tackling digital marketing topics that most practitioners have all wrong.

Mike Fleming

Mike Fleming is a Senior Client Manager for Point It, and has been managing PPC accounts of all kinds for over 6 years; with a strong emphasis in Analytics and Conversion Optimization. He’s a respected digital marketing blogger and speaker whose articles can be found on industry blogs like SEMRush.com and SearchEngineGuide.com. He also contributed to a published book called The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music, playing basketball and investing. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

  • Hey Mike, thanks for the shout-out! Always nice to be noticed, especially by someone that really gets it. Happy to walk you through our automation tool too – I think you’d dig it.

    November 17, 2016 at 2:10 pm

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