— March 18, 2019
Imagine: a dorm room at a large public university.
It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a crisp October Saturday. Gorgeous, brightly colored leaves are falling outside the window, patiently making their way to the damp grass with enough grace to make angels weep.
Suddenly, our hero enters the room. He was responsibly enjoying some light beers while tailgating the football game when he was struck with a sudden realization.
He needs a new shower curtain—like right now.
You specialize in shower curtains, of course. Yours can compete with the best of ‘em. But when our hero, being the wacky Gen Z’er he is, Google searches “rad shower curtain,” he doesn’t see yours in the Shopping ads.
Why? Because you haven’t started running Shopping ads yet. You haven’t gotten around to learning how they work, and you’ve only been running text ads. Due to your lack of visibility at the top of the SERP, you’ve lost a potential customer.
We don’t want that to happen. That’s why we’ve put together this here guide to ecommerce PPC—so you can learn the fundamentals of Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, and Amazon advertising. By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll have learned:
- How Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, and Amazon advertising work
- How to set up and structure accounts on each platform
- How to optimize your bids on each platform
- And more!
Let’s get to it.
An Introduction to Google Shopping
When Google users search for products, they’re served Shopping ads. On desktop, they’re shown in a grid format on the right side of the SERP.
And on mobile, they’re shown in a carousel format at the top of the SERP.
According to Search Engine Land, Shopping ads account for roughly 75% of clicks from non-branded product searches. All queries considered—branded and non-branded—Shopping ads drive around 52% of ecommerce advertisers’ clicks.
Elsewhere, Smart Insights reports that American ecommerce vendors who advertise on Google drive 85% of their paid clicks from Shopping ads.
Translation: failing to leverage Google Shopping is a mistake.
How does Google Shopping work?
Short answer: a whole lot differently than does the rest of Google Ads.
To become a Shopping advertiser, you have to link your Google Ads account to Google Merchant Center. Don’t worry—it’s a super simple process. You can take care of it here.
Once that’s settled, it’s time to set up your product data feed—a spreadsheet that describes and organizes every product in your catalogue in such a way that Google can easily crawl it and index the information it needs.
Advertisers with small product catalogues can probably create their own feeds. Larger advertisers (those who sell hundreds or thousands of products) will need to leverage an automated feed solution like GoDataFeed.
When creating your feed, you’ll have to provide the following information for each product in your catalogue:
- Image link
- Item group ID
There’s a reason Google requires so much information: Shopping advertisers don’t create their own ads. Instead, Google indexes your product data and uses it to create a digital profile for your store. (It does this for every other Shopping advertiser, too, of course.)
That way, when a user searches for a product, Google has the information it needs to automatically generate the most relevant Shopping ads.
Shopping advertisers don’t bid on keywords, either. Rather, as is the case with SEO, you target keywords in your product titles and product descriptions. By doing this—and by providing other required pieces of information, like product category and GTIN—you tell Google everything it needs to know to optimally populate the search results.
Product search query: “women’s running shoes”
At this point, you’re probably wondering how Google knows the price to charge you for each click. We’ll get there.
How to Structure Google Shopping Campaigns
Google Merchant Center set-up—check. Product data feed creation—check.
Now, it’s time to head back into the Google Ads UI and create some Shopping campaigns.
At the outset of the campaign, Google will put all of your products into a single product group named All Products. From there, you have the freedom to break that general product group down into as many different product groups as you please.
Make sure to be thoughtful about this. Shopping bids are set on product groups.
Across your catalogue, different products have different prices, different profit margins, and different conversion rates. If you put products that vary widely across those three metrics in the same product group, they’ll all be given the same maximum CPC bid.
You don’t want that. Generally speaking, the more expensive, profitable, or well-converting a product is, the more you’ll want to bid on it.
The only way to eliminate any and all variation between products within a single product group is to give each individual product its own product group. In fact, we recommend this tactic for ecommerce advertisers with small catalogues. For those who sell several hundred or several thousand products, however, that’s simply not an option.
Instead, you should try to create product groups that contain as little variation as possible. For two different businesses, that’s going to result in substantially different campaign structures.
Let’s say you’re a reseller who advertises athletic apparel. To begin, you break your All Products group into two separate product groups according to gender: men’s and women’s. Then, you break each of those according to category: tops, bottoms, and sneakers.
Each tops group breaks into short sleeve and long sleeve. Each bottoms group breaks into shorts and pants. Each sneakers group breaks into low-cut and high-top. Finally, each of those groups breaks according to brand: Nike, Under Armour, and Puma.
So, that leaves you with 36 distinct product groups. Here are four examples:
- Men’s Nike low-cut sneakers
- Women’s Under Armour long sleeve shirts
- Men’s Puma shorts
- Women’s Under Armour high-top sneakers
These are the product groups to which you assign maximum CPC bids. As you can see, although you sell too many products to give each its own product group (and bid), your product groups are granular enough for you to feel confident that you’re not bidding the same amount of money on substantially different products.
Now that you’ve built your product groups and assigned each of them a bid, Google knows how much you’re willing to pay for a single click on each individual product advertisement.
As is the case with the Google Search auction, where your Shopping ad lands in the sponsored search results for a given query partially depends on how much you’re willing to pay for a click. The more you’re willing to pay, the higher you can expect to rank.
The other factor is Quality Score. Each time Google generates an ad for one of your products, it assigns the ad a Quality Score. Here are a few things you can do to improve Quality Score:
- Provide as much product information as possible. The more information you provide, the more precisely Google can match your ad to search queries. The more precisely Google can match your ad to search queries, the more relevant it will be.
- Create a well-targeted title and description. This will make the copy Google generates more enticing to searchers. Good copy yields a good click-through rate (CTR), and a good CTR improves Quality Score.
- Use a sleek, professional image. This is another way to drive a high CTR.
- Make your landing page experience seamless. The more easily users can navigate your landing page, the higher priority Google will give your Shopping ad.
How to Optimize Google Shopping Bids
As we mentioned in the last section, there are three key factors you should consider when setting your bids: price, profit margin, and conversion rate.
“But, Conor, I’m just starting out with Google Shopping. I don’t know how well my products convert yet.”
Thank you, reader, for the perfect segue into our first bidding optimization tip.
It’s a good idea to bid below your budget when you’re getting started. That way, as the weeks go on, you accumulate data and get a better idea of how well particular products sell.
For example, let’s say you allocate modest bids across your athletic apparel Shopping campaign. After two months, you feel confident that women’s Nike low-cut sneakers are your best sellers. At the other end of the spectrum, men’s Puma long sleeve shirts aren’t doing too well.
So you bid up on the former group and bid down on the latter group.
If you regularly conduct this practice throughout your campaign—noting which product groups could use some more spend and which could use some less—you’ll be in good shape.
Use geographic bid modifiers
It’s likely that your products will sell better in some regions than they do in others. Once you’ve collected enough data to have a legitimate idea of which regions you want to focus on, use bid modifiers to increase your maximum CPCs whenever people in those regions search queries that you’re targeting.
That way, you give yourself a better chance of earning a top sponsored spot.
Pay attention to Search Impression Share
Search Impression Share is an important metric. Quite simply, it’s the quotient of the total number of impressions your Shopping ad has received divided by the total number of impressions it was eligible to receive.
Search Impression Share = Impressions / Possible Impressions
If your Search Impression Share for a product is low, that means it’s ranking poorly. If you have no reason to believe that its Quality Score is low—you’ve provided all the information you can, its CTR is fine, and you’ve optimized the landing page—you may need to increase your bid.
But, what if that product is in the same group as products with low conversion rates? You don’t want to bid up on those.
This is where Custom Labels come into play. With a Custom Label, you can handpick specific products from various product groups and place them in a single group, thus enabling you to assign them the same bid.
Via PPC Professionals.
For example, you may find that your ten best-selling products are scattered across eight different product groups. You can use a Custom Label to group all ten together and assign a unique, relatively high bid.
Consider automated bidding strategies
We’ll wrap up this introduction to Google Shopping with a few words on automated bidding strategies. Created for those who don’t have the time or the capacity to manually manage their Shopping bids, automated bid strategies use machine learning to monitor your campaign performance and set bids according to your business goals.
If you want to boost site visits, Maximize Clicks sets bids with the intent to drive as many clicks as possible within the constraints of your daily budget.
If you want to maintain manual control of your bids and increase conversions, Enhanced CPC automatically increases or decreases the bids you set according to the likelihood of each click becoming a conversion.
And, finally, if you want to maximize your conversion value while simultaneously achieving a certain level of ROAS, Target ROAS sets your bids accordingly.
An Introduction to Bing Shopping
Compared to the previous section, this one’s going to be considerably shorter. Bing Shopping works much in the same way as does Google Shopping.
Bing Shopping ads are served according to searcy query. They’re shown on the right side of the SERP on desktop and at the top of the SERP on mobile.
Generally speaking—in terms of both Search and Shopping—Bing Ads boasts some legitimate advantages over Google Ads. Among them are:
- Less competition in auctions
- Lower average CPCs
- A greater degree of control over your campaigns and ad groups
- Demographic-based targeting on Search
- Better device-based targeting options
For these reasons, we consistently recommend Bing Ads to those who leverage Google Ads. Ecommerce vendors are no exception.
How does Bing Shopping work?
Like we said: it’s a lot like Google Shopping.
Of course, you’ll be setting up shop in Bing Merchant Center. To do this, open your Bing Ads account and navigate to Tools > Bing Merchant Center > Create a Store. This is where you’ll create and optimize your product data feed.
The good news: You can import your product data feed directly from Google Merchant Center into Bing Merchant Center.
Within your Bing Ads account, navigate to Tools > Bing Merchant Center > Import > Sign in to Google. Once you’ve logged in, you can schedule a recurring import from Google Merchant Center into Bing Merchant Center. That way, whenever you update your product catalogue in Google, the changes will automatically transfer over to Bing.
In step with Google, Bing crawls and indexes your product data such that it can automatically generate ads when users conduct searches. As far as feed optimization goes, you can follow all the same best practices.
An important note: Bing Shopping offers a unique feature called priority levels. You designate each campaign a priority level as a way of communicating to Bing which campaigns you consider the most and least important to your success.
Basically, when a user searches for a product, Bing takes your priority levels into consideration when organizing the results. Generally, you should assign high priority to best sellers or seasonally relevant products. Medium priority is appropriate for year-round products that sell well. Low priority is good for everything else.
How to Structure Bing Shopping Campaigns
Once you’ve taken care of your product data feed, you can either import your Shopping campaigns from Google or create new campaigns unique to Bing. If you opt for the latter, you’ll have to navigate to Create Campaign > Sell Products.
As a default, Bing follows step with Google and places your entire catalogue into a single general product group. If you’d like to segment further (which, if we haven’t made it clear enough, you should!), you can break your catalogue into narrower product groups according to condition, brand, product ID, category, or product type.
Again—as far as campaign structure optimization goes, you can pretty much do as you do with your Google Shopping campaigns. Create your product groups in such a way that makes sense from a bidding perspective. Substantially different products shouldn’t get the same bids!
If you’re crunched for time, you may prefer to import your Google Shopping campaigns. Within the Bing Ads UI, select Import Campaigns > Import from Google Ads.
Then, sign into your Google Ads account and select the campaigns you’d like to import.
Although it’s not required, you should select Schedule Imports > When. From there, you can tell Bing to import your Google Shopping campaigns on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
The last step is arguably the most important: making sure there were no import errors. Make sure to review:
- Your bids and budgets. Bing Ads and Google Ads require different minimum thresholds for your bids and budgets. When you import campaigns from Google, Bing automatically raises bids and budgets to meet its minimum requirements. You can tell Bing not to do this, but any campaigns that don’t meet its criteria won’t import.
- Your targeting settings. A key difference between Bing Ads and Google Ads are the platforms’ respective suites of targeting options. They’re significantly different. It’s more than likely that you’ll have to set platform-specific targeting settings.
- Your negative keywords. Unlike Google, Bing doesn’t offer broad match negatives—only phrase match and exact match. If you import broad match negatives to Bing, they’ll automatically change to phrase match.
Ready for some good news? When it comes to optimizing your Bing Shopping bids, you can use the same tactics (and automated solutions) we discussed in the Google Shopping section. Each of those optimization tips applies to Bing Shopping!
Now, let’s move on to Amazon.
An Introduction to Amazon Advertising
Although many consumers don’t necessarily think of it as such, Amazon, like Google and Bing, is a search engine.
Its advertising platform follows the basic logic you’re already familiar with: users enter search queries, and Amazon serves them corresponding product ads. Those ads are served at the top of the SERP as well as on relevant product listing pages.
For ecommerce vendors, advertising on Amazon is kind of a no-brainer. Yes—adopting it as a channel requires spending more money. But, considering its customer base (over 300 million) and the data it has on consumer behavior, it’s an effective way to move products.
Plus, in recent years, Amazon has emerged as consumers’ go-to product search engine. True—Google Shopping still captures a huge percentage of the product search market. But it’s second to Amazon, and that won’t change any time soon.
How does Amazon advertising work?
Short answer: pretty similarly to Google and Bing Search, actually.
Amazon advertisers—Amazon sellers who want to boost their visibility across the platform—bid on specific keywords that demonstrate interest in or need for their products. Each time a user clicks on your ad, you pay Amazon a small fee. It’s PPC, plain and simple.
There are two main types of Amazon ads.
- Self-serve ads are the ones you see on the SERP and product listing pages. They’re pretty much what you expect from ecommerce ads: image, product title, price, etc.
- Premium ads are banners. You’ll see them in the Amazon side bar and across other websites, much like the Google Display Network (GDN). These, as you may intuit, are less about selling products and more about building brand awareness.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re principally concerned with self-serve ads, which come in three different formats.
Sponsored product ads
When a user clicks on one of these, they’re taken directly to its product details page. These ads appear on the SERP as well as product details pages.
Sponsored product ads are served according to targeted keywords, which you can set as exact match, phrase match, or broad match. You can set daily budgets and campaign durations, too.
Headline search ads
These ads appear on the SERP as headline banners above the sponsored and organic product listings. Rather than taking users to product details pages, they lead to customized, branded landing pages.
Headline search ads are also keyword-targeted, but there are only two match types: exact and phrase. Rather than using them to advertise individual products, you use them to promote three products or more at a time.
Product display ads
Whereas sponsored product ads and headline search ads are keyword-targeted, product display ads are served when users search for related products or demonstrate interest in a particular product. They’re served on the SERP, on product details pages, and on customer review pages.
How to Structure Amazon Advertising Campaigns
Luckily, if you have experience running Google or Bing Search campaigns, this will be extremely familiar territory.
You start with campaigns. It’s generally a good idea to segment these according to product category. Let’s say you sell men’s apparel. Here’s how you could break out your campaigns: men’s sweaters, men’s shirts, and men’s pants.
From there, you break each campaign into ad groups. Within the men’s sweaters campaign, you can break out your ad groups like this: cardigans, crew neck sweaters, quarter-zip sweaters, etc.
Within the men’s shirts campaign, you can break out your ad groups like this: t shirts, dress shirts, undershirts, v-necks, etc.
And within the men’s pants campaign, you can break out your ad groups like this: corduroy pants, khaki pants, jeans, sweatpants, etc.
Once you’ve broken out your ad groups, try to come up with 20 solid keywords within each. Then, start crafting your ad copy and creative!
As Search advertisers are well aware, account and campaign structure carry hefty implications in terms of relevance. The more precisely you structure your campaigns, the more precisely you can group your keywords and ads. And the more precisely you group your keywords and ads, the more relevant your ads will be when they’re served to Amazon shoppers.
In turn, more relevant ads drive more meaningful clicks. Meaningful clicks, of course, convert well into paying customers.
So … yeah. Don’t mess around with your campaign structures.
How to Optimize Amazon Advertising Bids
At the broadest level, the answer to this question lay in a word many fear: math.
Your cost per action (CPA) indicates how much you pay to earn a single conversion. As a general rule, you should have a clearly defined goal for your CPA.
Simply enough, you can calculate your CPA by dividing your total costs by your total conversions:
CPA = Costs / Conversions
Now, we’re going to take the formula above and break it down into two parts:
Costs = Clicks x CPC
Conversions = Clicks x Conversion Rate
Dividing costs by conversions gives us CPA:
CPA = Costs / Conversions = (Clicks x CPC) / (Clicks x Conversion Rate)
Clicks is in both the numerator and the denominator so we can cancel it out:
CPA = CPC / Conversion Rate
And, finally, let’s move that formula around a bit:
CPC = CPA x Conversion Rate
So, when you’re just starting out with Amazon advertising, you can calculate your initial CPC bid for keywords in a given ad group by determining your CPA goal for that ad group and by estimating the conversion rate for that ad group.
But how do you make that estimate? You could do some research and see if there’s an average conversion rate for other Amazon advertisers in your industry. Or, if your Amazon ad groups are roughly the same as your Google Shopping product groups, you could use your Shopping conversion rates as rough estimates of what you can expect on Amazon.
It’s important to note that this is simply a way for you to set initial bids on Amazon. As we suggested for Google Shopping, you need to pay extra close attention to your ads’ performances for the first few weeks. Once you have a better idea of what’s selling and what’s not, you’ll have a better idea of what you should be bidding.
If there are highly popular retailers in your industry, we recommend bidding on their brand names.
Search query: “nalgene water bottle.”
Keep in mind that big brand competitors have big brand budgets—you’re not going to bid higher than them on their own names. For that reason, the ads you attach to these keywords have to be optimized. Do some A/B tests to see which copy earns the best ad spot. Then, mimic whatever you did what that copy across your other ads.
When it comes to broad match keywords, skepticism is the best policy. Let’s say you sell bikes. If you bid on the broad match keyword bike, Amazon could very well serve your ad when a user searches “kids bike helmet.” If you allow instances like this to continue for too long, your ads’ CTRs will suffer.
This is why negative keywords are crucial to your Amazon bidding strategy. By adding terms like helmet, bell, and tire pump as negatives, you’ll be able to bid on broad match keywords like bike without serving your ads when they’re irrelevant.
Ecommerce PPC: An Efficient Way to Sell Products
As the global ecommerce market continues to grow at a rapid pace, the opportunity to successfully sell your products online only improves. With each passing year, more and more consumers are turning to Google, Bing, and Amazon to research and purchase goods.
(To be clear, brick-and-mortar stores are going to be fine. Don’t listen to the alarmist claims.)
Developing a multi-channel PPC presence for your ecommerce business is no easy task. Expect to invest a substantial amount of time.
Nonetheless, if you stick it out, the additional revenue will more than make up for your efforts.