Do AdWords Shopping Campaigns Work?


Do Google’s Shopping campaigns (the new version of Product Listing Ads) work? My answer 100 out of 100 times would be yes! The results speak for themselves, but simply, what advertiser wouldn’t want to see metrics and bid at the specific product level??? I’ve worked with accounts that have super-segmented product feeds and accounts that aren’t segmented at all. The results will vary account to account, industry to industry.

For me the biggest asset with Shopping ads is clarity. You can now see everything you need to manage a PLA campaign almost as if it were a regular search campaign. You can see which specific products are accumulating the most spend, you can see which products are converting and for how much. You have the power to manage PLAs like you do keywords (minus match types).

RELATED: Does Google AdWords Work?

RIP Product Listing Ads

Don’t want to make the migration to Shopping ads? Well unfortunately, Google is forcing everyone to to make the transition in late August of 2014. This post will help you make the transition and tell you why you should be excited.

Here’s an overview of the topics:

  1. Transitioning to Shopping Campaigns
  2. Custom Labels Optional
  3. Case Study – Before and After Product Feed Segmentation
  4. Case Study – Optimization and Progression
  5. Conclusion

Transitioning PLAs to New Shopping Campaigns

The task of transitioning from Product Listing Ads to Shopping campaigns can be a little nerve-racking, but have no fear. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1. Strategically choose how you want to segment your feed into Product Groups: Category, Brand, Item ID, Condition, Product Type, Custom Labels.
  2. Try to be consistent with any bids or labels you we’re using previously. If you’re segmenting your feed for the first time, start with a conservative default bid 15-30% less than your previous bid. This will ensure that you don’t get blindsided overnight. It’s always easier to raise bids, versus taking a hit and retroactively reducing bids based on poor results.
  3. I’ve heard mixed reviews; however, in my experience I choose to run my historical PLAs and new Shopping PLAs simultaneously. For days 1-3 I set the “Priority Level” to Low. For days 3-5 I set the “Priority Level” to Medium.

Google Shopping Ads Settings

  1. Once your Shopping PLAs start accumulating more and more traffic, start adjusting bids within specific products groups.
  2. After you start applying different bids to different product groups, adjust the “Priority Level” to High or turn off your historical PLAs.
  3. Sit back and enjoy the improvement in ROI!

Custom Labels Optional

One of the biggest advantages of Shopping campaigns is you don’t have to create custom labels in your product feed to allow you to start bidding differently within AdWords. Shopping PLAs use the columns within your feed already, and give you the option to subdivide by:

  • Category
  • Brand
  • Item ID
  • Condition
  • Product Type
  • Up to 5 Custom Labels

Case Study 1 – Before and After Product Feed Segmentation

The first case study is an online candy retailer. This account started using Product Listing Ads in the later part of 2013. We set up the campaign, used the default “Ad Group #1” and applied one Max CPC bid across all products.

Within the first week couple weeks, we were already pleased with the results we generating. The PLAs continued to perform for us, so the daunting task of segmenting our feed never arose. When Shopping campaigns were released it allowed us to segment our PLAs without adding anything new to our product feed. The metrics below reflect the same date range and what happen after we started applying different bids to different categories, brands and products.

The metric that jumps off the page is the ROAS (return on ad spend), which increased by 174%!

How you might ask? I choose to segment my new Shopping campaign by Brands. The reason I choose to segment by Brands is because I know certain brands have higher margins and certain brands typically generate higher AOVs. Knowing that information, I translated that into my bidding system. I started applying different bids based on the Brands, and then as more and more data came back I just treated each specific product like a keyword, and bidded on them separately.

The beauty of Shopping campaigns is you can segment your feed without getting your hands dirty! Couple clicks and you’re all set – you never have to touch the feed in Merchant Center.  

Case Study 2 – Optimization and Progression

In this case study I want highlight the progression you can make, when you have data at your fingertips and the ability to manage around it. In this 8-week period, we experienced phenomenal improvement week over week.

Google Shopping Ads Performance

Each week I was able to adjust my bids based on the results I was generating. Seeing the improvement, gave me the confidence to keep raising the budget, which explains the increase in conversion totals. The improvement in Value/Conv. and ROAS week over week I credit to bidding adjustments. I was able to be much more aggressive on products that continued to generate great return.  

How did I know where I could push up on bids without bringing down ROAS?

The answer to that is the Search Impression Share column.

Google PLAs

AdWords defines Impression Share as: “the impressions you’ve received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive.”

When I look at the picture above, those impression share percentages tell me I have the potential to show more frequently. I used that % to tell me where I can be more aggressive. If the product group was consistently generating a ROAS I was happy with and the search impression was low, I immediately knew I could squeeze even more out of those product groups.

Google has been kind enough to provide us with a few other metrics we can use to judge our performance against.  

  1. Benchmark CTR – “The benchmark clickthrough rate (CTR) tells you how other advertisers’ Product Listing Ads for similar products are performing based on how often people who see their ad end up clicking on it.”


  1. Benchmark Max CPC – “The benchmark maximum cost-per-click (max. CPC) tells you how other advertisers are bidding on similar products.”

I recommend focusing on Impression Share versus Benchmark CTR and Benchmark Max CPC. Sure those columns great, and I do look at them. But many of us don’t have the luxury of jacking our bids up to what Google deems as a “Benchmark CPC” just to see what happens.

Here’s a quick look at my results vs. Google’s “Benchmarks”:

Shopping Ads Benchmarks

Take that Google! Based on my continued bidding adjustments I was able to achieve average CPC’s 30-75% below what you claim as a “Benchmark.” (We can’t fault Google, it’s their business too after all.) I would recommend starting with a lower bid and increasing it based on the results you’re generating and amount of impression share you’re capturing.   

In Conclusion…

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SHOPPING CAMPAIGNS! You’ll have to eventually, but don’t wait!


Apr 16, 2014

May I know how about advertisers who already have super segmented PLA campaign structure before moving? Will they also benefit from Shopping campaign?

Apr 17, 2014

Hi Thao,Thanks for the question. Overall, in my opinion the actual management itself will become easier, it’s more organized and you'll be able to make adjustments at scale. One of the new features which will be nice for a super segmented feed is the option to make Ad Groups. This will allow you to strategically segment your categories and brands even further.Google promises there's more to come in terms of tools, reporting and help with transitioning. Here's a link to their announcement: include:

  • Bid Simulator : which will help you estimate how much bid changes could impact your impressions, clicks, and cost
  • Multiple Ad Groups: will allow you to segment your categories even further

Andrew Lolk
Apr 16, 2014

Hi Jason,Excellent write-up and it's truly great results you've managed to reach.I have to ask about your final few words. You end with saying 'TAKE THAT' Google about their benchmark bids. Did you try to increase your bids further than where you are right now? Have you tried to increase your bids to what Google deems the benchmark CPC and see if your impressions/clicks/CTR increase? I don't know what your minimum ROAS is supposed to be for this account, but a case could be made for trying to increase CPCs closer to the proposed benchmark bid and see if clicks/conversions didn't increase as well? Would be interesting to see if you found the same results as me. For clients with very high margins (Goal = 300% ROAS and we're hitting 1,000% ROAS) I've tried to increase closer to the benchmark CPC and seen a good volume increase. Granted it didn't always happen, but in some cases we were quite happy :) Thanks again for the nice post.  

Apr 17, 2014

Hi Andrew,Thanks for the comment; those are some really impressive results you've been able to generate.You bring up a real good point, while experiencing these results why not bid up to the benchmark level? When I first started with the transition I raised the bids to the level Google stated as benchmark, and when I woke up the next day, I was not pleased with the results I saw. So I immediately scaled back, and haven’t dared to cross that bridge since. However now that I'm in good place, and the PLAs have validated themselves, it’s worth experimenting with raising the bids to the benchmark level and seeing what kind of return that generates.I'm going to try this out, stand by...

May 07, 2014

After a couple weeks of pushing the bids to the benchmark levels stated by Google, I received mixed results. Overall profitability didn’t move in proportion with the increase in spend. There were several product groups that greatly benefited from the increase, but overall wouldn't recommend this approach.In my experience with paid search your conversion rate is going to stay the same, the biggest aspect you can control is you bid, so you have to figure out what point you can push the bids to without bringing down profitability. The safest approach is to slowly nudge bids up and down until you find your sweet spot.

Apr 17, 2014

I think that will be more relevant if it can accept adverts for services like downloadable items and registration for products like prepaid airtime online

Apr 18, 2014

For this sentence: "For days 1-3 I set the “Priority Level” to Low. For days 3-5 I set the “Priority Level” to Medium", I have a question:which one need to be changed the "prioritylevel? Historial PLAs or New Shopping PLAs? And what is thestandards for changing?

Apr 18, 2014

Hi Jenny,You will want to chnage the priority level for the new Shopping Campaign. To make this adjustments:1. Navigate to Campaign Settings2. Select Shopping settings (advanced)3. From there you can select: Low, Medium or HighUnfortunately there aren't any standards at this time; you have to use your best judgment. In my experience making the transition was less than a week long process. I let the two campaigns run side by side, and slowly ramped up more and more in the Shopping Campaign.  Once I was comfortable with the performance of my Shopping Campaign, I paused the historical PLA campaign.

Apr 18, 2014

And how to display the impression share data? In my account, i show the "search impr. share" column for shopping campaigns or PLA. the result is "--".

Apr 18, 2014

Once you customize your columns to include Search impression Share, you should be able to see impression share at the campaign level and product category levels.Are you currently generating any clicks or impressions?

Apr 24, 2014

Nice post, but got one question. How the CTR of the shopping campaign is calculated? For example; for the search query " buy laptops', three products are shown from my shopping campaign . If somebody clicks on one of those product ads, is it 1 click out of 3 impression for this campaign? 

May 27, 2014

Has anyone out there seen a decrease of impressions with the new shopping campaigns? We notice we lost some branded traffic and a major decrease as well in generic terms.

Jun 04, 2014

Yes, each time I turn them on my conversions - traffic etc. goes way down - I say epic fail so far

Aug 28, 2014

One thing I am trying to understand. How can I benefit from a Shopping Campaign, if my prices are higher than my competition? Doesn't a potentail buyer of a product always lookfor a cheaper price?Why should I bid to be listed on very top when my price is better than other advertiser's price? Maybe it's a stupid question.

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