According to a recent study conducted by MineWhat, 60% of people begin shopping by using a search engine to find the products they want, and 81% of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. The internet and Google have fundamentally changed the way we shop and purchase products.
Personally, I get it. I frequently buy things online, from gifts for my nephew to mundane things like cleaning supplies for my apartment. Amazon Prime has become a close companion of mine. Whenever I’m shopping in a store I find myself hopping on Google to compare prices and read product reviews. This is something many of us do nowadays, which shows that for retailers Google ads are a critical part to reaching your revenue goals.
Whether it be a solely e-commerce based business, a local store front, or a combination of both, retailers have little to no chance of surviving unless they have a robust PPC advertising strategy to promote their products to shoppers online. A huge component of succeeding in retail is being able to effectively advertise on Google using the Search Network, as well as Shopping Ads (formally known as Product Listing Ads or PLA’s).
Although the shopping landscape is constantly evolving, which makes this a bit more challenging…
The Challenges Retailers Face
Standing out against competition has to be the number one battle retailers face when advertising and marketing their products.
From the looks of it, the playing grounds are only getting more crowded. Retailers spent 47% more on Google’s shopping ads than they did a year ago, according to Adobe’s Digital Index of online advertising. Yikes!
Shopping ads make it easy to compare prices and products right from the SERPs. With search ads your brand either needs to be well-known or your ad needs to be crafted in a compelling manner to receive clicks and hopefully conversions. Retailers have to fight to get their ads placed in the top spots on the SERPs and create compelling cases as to why a shopper should choose your brand over another. It isn’t easy! “E-commerce is so black and white – either you make a sale or you don’t,” says WordStream’s Senior Paid Search Strategist Jaclyn Jordan.
So, how can retailers stand out on the SERPs? Let’s explore the top 9 ways to roast your retail competition and run effective shopping and search campaigns.
#1: Allocate Budget for Search vs. Shopping Depending on Your Goals
Should you be using search, shopping ads, or a combination of both?
After chatting with two of WordStream’s most senior Paid Search Strategists, it was clear that utilizing text ads through the search network and visual shopping ads are both critical to a complete PPC strategy, but deciding on how to allocate your budget from one vs. the other is dependent upon the products and goals of the advertiser.
Shopping ads are the natural focus for retail advertisers looking to gain quick and easy ROI. As you can see in the image above, shopping ads give you all of the information up-front including an image of the product, the brand, price, and even reviews. “With shopping you typically see a higher return on ad spend, CPCs are generally cheaper, and conversion rates are higher because clicks are more qualified,” says Jaclyn. “The shopper already knows the price, sees the promotion and is more committed when clicking an ad than with search ads.”
Retailers spent 6% less on text ads than they did a year ago, “making it abundantly clear that they think ads with product images in them result in more clicks and sales,” says Forbes contributor Robert Hof.
So, why bother with search ads at all? Well, search ads typically yield higher brand awareness, in turn creating repeat buyers. “With shopping people often go in and purchase one product, and never return. With search there’s more of an opportunity to build brand loyalty and create lifetime buyers,” says WordStream’s Senior Paid Search Consultant Mike Griffith.
“It really depends on the advertiser,” says Mike. “Some of my clients have 80% of their budget allocated to shopping, for others shopping doesn’t work well at all. I recommend not sticking with hard and fast spend like X amount in shopping and Y amount in search, but rather be flexible. Increase your budget for the channel that’s working better to accomplish your goals, and where you’re seeing the best return.”
#2: Separate Shopping Campaigns by Priority
As opposed to search, where you spend hours upon hours strategizing and building out an account, Google does a pretty thorough job of pumping out product categories for shopping campaigns automatically. However, relying solely on Google to set up and run your shopping campaigns won’t work.
“After shopping is set up you should create a separate campaign for standout products, and mark them as ‘high priority,’” says Mike. “You want to ensure that you’re monitoring and dominating the shopping results for those products. If you leave all products in one campaign you’ll be forced to raise your budget for products that have lower profit margins. Don’t be afraid to exclude products or mark products as low priority.”
The main takeaway is to make sure your products of similar value are grouped together so you can easily allocate and adjust budgets in a logical manner.
#3: Ensure Shopping Ads Images Are High Quality & Prices Are Accurate
This should be a no-brainer, but seriously – make sure your price points are competitive. Search for your ads through Google’s Ad Preview tool to see how your price points align with your competition, because with shopping ads having the price so clearly displayed, not having the best price or a unique selling point can make or break your chances of gaining a sale.
“If you’re selling photo prints and every one of your competitors is displaying the price for an 8X10 in their ad, don’t put the price for a 12X24, because people will look over the size and just see the higher price,” says Mike. “If your price isn’t competitive focus on the fact that your turnaround is under 24 hours. If you can’t beat them with price, find out where you can beat them.”
The quality of your images can also make or break a conversion from occurring. Again, a no-brainer tip – don’t use crappy images, it’s that simple.
#4: Beat Your Competition with Reviews, Badges, and Merchant Promotions
As we discussed before, competition is a never-ending battle in the retail space so doing everything you can to distinguish your products and build confidence and trust to convert more customers is critical. “In retail, it’s all about determining how you can stand out and add more value than the other players selling the same products,” says Jaclyn. Utilize these four techniques to create more incentive to choose your store over your neighbors.
Eighty-eight percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, according to research from BrightLocal.
Reviews help build trust and incentivize the user to purchase. Unfortunately, with shopping you can’t just hop in and hand-pick your best reviews from various sources. Rather you need to gain at least 50 reviews on one of Google’s third-party approved sites (to ensure the reviews show). Check out the approved third-party sources here, where you should be actively seeking reviews to ensure they appear in the SERP’s.
Google Trusted Stores
Another way to stand out is by becoming one of Google’s Trusted Stores, which “can improve your conversion rate and average order size by reassuring potential customers that you offer a great shopping experience,” according to Google. Follow the application process here to join the program.
Google Merchant Promotions
Lastly, you should 100% be using Google Merchant Promotions to create a sense of urgency and spur your users to choose you over the ad next to yours. As you can see in the image below, the second shopping ad is tagged with a “Special offer” sign to show free shipping is available for a limited time. This incentivizes shoppers to get the best deal and chose you over your competition.
Set-up requires a few steps including filling out the merchant promotions interest form and either using the +PROMOTION tool or setting up a promotion feed. Follow the steps here to get your promotions approved.
#5: Structure Search Campaigns Based on Site Navigation and Product Groupings
There are a plethora of ways to structure your AdWords account, whether it be by product categories, price points, locations, or sales cycles, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. But for retailers, if your site is well-structured (which it should be), then it’s recommended to structure your campaigns based off how your website is built.
Let’s take Rent the Runway for example. As you can see in the image below, their “Unlimited” tab has several categories – New Arrivals, Dresses, Tops & Bottoms – to name a few. In that case they would want to have a campaign for each category listed under Unlimited.
Then under the “Designers” tab (shown below), they would want to create a campaign or ad group for each designer being searched for.
The main reason you should organize search campaigns around your website is due to the ease of updating and optimizing. “It’s unbelievable how much the structure of your search campaigns can impact the performance,” says Mike. “Your life will be so much easier if you structure around your site navigation. For instance if the stock of your red t-shirts goes down, you can hop into your t-shirts campaigns, go to the red t-shirt ad group and pause that group until they’re back in stock.”
#6: Increase the Credibility (and Clickability) of Your Ad Copy with Numbers
It’s been proven time and time again that people are attracted to numbers! “Numbers are easy to digest and understand, and studies show that incorporating them into your copy can make it appear more accurate and credible,” says Unbounce’s Johnathan Dane. You shouldn’t limit numbers and prices to being displayed just in shopping ads. You should be utilizing numbers to increase the CTR of your search ads, too
“Anything with numbers works well! A percentage off, a price point – it can’t just be ‘we have the best clothes,’ because everyone’s selling the same thing,” says Jaclyn. “I have clients selling the same shampoo and competing with huge brands like Sephora – compelling numbers (for instance a lower price point or a percentage off) can help them stand out.”
#7: Understand Your Seasonal Peaks and Plan Accordingly
The kids are heading back-to-school. Are your ads updated accordingly? They’re not? You should have started planning back in July! “Whether it’s summer sales, black Friday, or the holiday season, as a retailer you absolutely need to know your seasonal peaks and plan around them,” says Mike. “Build ads for seasonal peaks and label them using Google’s label system to easily turn them on and off when in and out of season.”
What if you’re not sure when your seasonal peaks are? Mike recommends visiting Google.com/trends where you can search various categories, like office supplies or kids clothing, and analyze the seasonal and regional peaks.
From Jaclyn’s experience working with retailers of all sizes, Q4 tends to be the biggest quarter for the majority of advertisers. Aside from running ads relevant to the holidays, budget allocation also needs to be top of mind during these seasonal spikes. “Competition ramps up during these times,” says Jaclyn. “Budget planning ahead of time is always a priority for several of my retail clients during Q4.” Jaclyn spends time readjusting budgets to ensure her clients are being competitive, getting promotions aligned, and automating ad schedules ahead of time.
#8: Take Advantage of Automation
Retailers are often selling hundreds or even thousands of products, many of which they’re promoting through Google. So how in the world can you keep up with maintaining your massive search and shopping campaigns?
“With retail, quantity is often better then quality,” says Mike. “If you have 1,000 products you don’t have time to A/B test an ad for every product. Relying more on automation becomes important for most retailers. Leverage everything AdWords has to offer to keep the manual work out of it.” Not sure where to start? Try these three automation tools to make your life a lot easier.
- Conversion Optimizer: Caution, this bidding strategy does not work for everyone so you just ensure you’re doing it right. “Conversion optimizer can work really well with products that have low to medium average order value,” says Mike. Make sure these products have similar order value. For example, you wouldn’t want to use conversion optimizer on a campaign which contains and Ad Group for laptops and another Ad Group for USB cables. “Conversion optimizer works by optimizing for the number of conversions so if you’re using it in a campaign that contains a variety of order values, you could end up selling tons of $5 USB cables and never any $500+ laptops,” says Mike.
- Automatic Bid Rules: Automatic bid rules check in on ROI goals once a week, and if the keyword is above goal it will be automatically bid up by 5%. If a keyword is below goal it will be bid down 5%. Nervous about giving Google bidding reigns? Don’t be. “You’ll set up a Max CPC and Min CPC with any bid rule you create so that you don’t end up spending $150 per click,” says Mike.
- Ad Customizers: Ad customizers are one of my personal favorite automation features Google offers to dynamically update your ad copy without having to move a muscle. Running a promotion? A limited time offer? A sale that’s about to end? There’s a plethora of ways to utilize ad customizers to instill FOMO (fear of missing out) in your searchers and entice them to convert.
#9: Create Returning Buyers through Smart Remarketing
I’m a strong believer that every industry should be remarketing. It works. But, there are strategic ways to get even more profitability out of remarketing in retail.
In the retail space value isn’t typically gained from one-time buyers, but rather regular customers who keep coming back for more. But your shoppers are busy! They might forget how positive their online transactional experience was with your brand if you don’t remind them. This is why you need to be smart with remarketing tactics that will re-engage a previous shopper at the right time. Think about the lifespan of your product. For example, do you sell face wash? How long does a bottle typically last? If its two months, then run a remarketing campaign targeting previous consumers after 50 or so days of purchase to remind them to order more before they run out.
Another remarketing tactic to create returning buyers is by upselling them based on products they’ve previously purchased. “If a shopper buys your shampoo, then remarket a deep conditioner to them,” says Jaclyn. “Be aware of what products complement the one your customers have previously purchased and remarket to gain more sales through the same customers.”
So, are your ads ready for Halloween? It’s time to start prepping and stepping up your search and shopping game to out-sell your neighbors, and create loyal customers.
About the Author:
Margot is a Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream with a background in PPC, SEM, content and digital marketing. Margot is passionate about writing and is also a regular contributor to Search Engine Journal and Social Media Today. Margot was recently named the 25th Most Influential PPC Expert in 2015 by PPC Hero. She enjoys running, sleeping on the beach, and eating ice cream during her free time. Follow her on:
Google+: +Margot da Cunha