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How to Diagnose Google Shopping Problems

Is your digital marketing campaign suffering from Google Shopping Problems? Have you ever thought, ‘Google Shopping doesn’t work for me’? Or are you struggling with Google ads issues?

If you are running a Google Shopping Campaign, is it delivering the results it should be or are there roadblocks getting in your way? This post looks at the most common problems with Google ads that we see every day and what to do when faced with them. Likewise, if you have an e-commerce site and are not running Google Shopping campaigns, this post will help you get started.

Google Ads Shopping Campaigns (Product Listing Ads or PLAs) are, almost indisputably, the single most important weapon in any e-commerce business’s armoury. The return on investment from Shopping ads so surpasses conventional text ads that, for many retailers, PLAs are the only game in town. As a result, Shopping ads dominate the search page (SERP) for most competitive e-commerce terms and, since their introduction into image search, this trend has only continued.

Google Shopping, when optimised and managed correctly, delivers an amazing return on investment, puts your products in the shop window for anyone looking for what you sell, and can be the platform to build your e-commerce business. But, on the other hand, Google Shopping managed badly can be a massive drain on your business, can negatively affect the perception of your brand and, at the very least, can be a huge waste of time, money and resources. So, how can you tell if your Google Shopping doesn’t work?

The 19 Biggest Google Shopping Problems That We See Every Day

  1. Products “Not Ready to Serve”

One of the most common problems with Google ads that we see relate to the Shopping feed. For your product to show up in a Google ad auction, that is to say, show up when your customers search for the same or similar products, your product must meet the following requirements:

  • The product must be approved in your Google Merchant Centre account.
  • The product must be active in your Google ads account at both campaign and ad group levels.
  • The product must be in stock.

You can toggle the columns in your Shopping campaign to see which of these requirements you do and do not meet. For example, we suggest looking at the products submitted; products approved; products active and products ready to serve columns.

Using this set of columns will allow you to identify any issues with specific products and make any necessary changes to individual products in the feed so that they can be seen by the people you’re trying to reach.

2. Products Not Seen by Potential Customers

Another common Google ads issue appears when products are “ready to serve” but are not being seen by potential customers; that is to say, they are not receiving impressions on Google. Our Biddable Media expert, Charlotte, describes this as one of the most common problems that our clients come to us with. Here are her solutions on how to fix it:

  • Check the product bid. If the bid is too low, your product won’t show up in the ad auction. Consider raising the bid to the recommended amount suggested in your Google ads account.
  • Check your campaign budget. You may need to raise your campaign budget to ensure that your ads are appearing. Look for any campaigns that are “limited by budget” in your Google Ads account.

Google Shopping Limited by Budget

  • Optimise your product listing. While you’re not bidding on keywords for your ad to appear with Google Shopping ads, unlike Search campaigns, you can still optimise your product by adding key terms to your product title and description or just adding a bit more detail about the product.

3. Disapproved Products

You’ve got to be in it to win it, and if all or a large number of your products are not approved, then you are unlikely to do very well with Google Shopping.

There are many reasons why Google could disapprove a product, including broken product links or the incorrect GTIN for a product. There are even instances when Google’s automated systems identify (incorrectly) items that violate their policies (we once had an issue that one of our client’s mattresses was incorrectly identified as a gun bed). There are many articles on common Google Shopping feed problems leading to disapproved products out there, like this one.

4. Incorrect Data in Product Feed

Analysing the data in your product feed is not the most exciting of jobs, but making sure your data is accurate and complete is fundamentally important. If it isn’t, your products could be disapproved (at best). Worse still, your products could appear in the wrong searches – wasting money – or your account could even be suspended. However, when you know what you’re doing here, your initial problems with Google ads will be a fond memory.

5. No Product Strategy

Unless you only have a small number of products and they are all sold at the same price and margin, the chances are you’ll have some low-value products, some high-value products, some that you are competitive with, some you are not, some you want to sell lots of and some that are there to make up the numbers. So you need to prioritise and then focus your time, efforts and bid management on high priority items whilst minimising bids on others or even excluding them. We’re amazed by how many people start a Google Shopping campaign without a clear product strategy!

Expert tip: Think about your best selling products or your most profitable products and prioritise those when choosing your bid strategy.

6. Poorly Optimised Product Titles and Descriptions

This is another common complaint we see about problems with Google ads. Google Shopping doesn’t work with keywords, so your product titles and descriptions are the single biggest opportunity you have to ensure your products are found in the right searches by the right searchers, rather than vice versa. For example, if you have an oak dining table, the term really needs to be in your product title and description for it to appear in searches for oak dining tables. You’d be amazed at how many retailers forget this. Similarly, if your title or description mentions something very different, the chances are your products might appear in completely inappropriate searches.

7. Under or Non-Optimised Product Feed

The Google Shopping Feed is a file that contains all the information about your products in a format that another system can read. It may also be referred to as the product feed, data feed, product data feed or another variation of these terms.

Your feed is the element that drives your campaign, and you need to be keeping it in check all the time. You need to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, where your problems are, your opportunities, and how you use your feed to achieve the best return on investment. There’s no simple solution, and Google provides limited information and resources, so detective skills and a lot of time are required. Still, optimisation of the feed is key to the success of your campaign.

Your feed must meet Google’s specifications to qualify to advertise your products as part of a Google Shopping campaign. Therefore, each of the products in your feed should include the following:

  • id
  • title
  • description
  • link
  • image_link
  • additional_image_link
  • mobile_link
  • google_product_category
  • product_type
  • condition
  • availability
  • price
  • sale_price
  • gtn
  • brand
  • mpn
  • identifier_exists
  • special project attributes
  • item_group_id
  • colour
  • gender
  • size
  • age_group
  • adult
  • custom_label attribute

Expert tip: Our expert, Charlotte, suggests that your main focus should be your product titles and descriptions. You should also consider whether your product is known by a different name or keyword that your target customers might use to find your products and include these in your product title and description.

There are many categories that you can add to your product feed that aren’t required by Google. However, the more information that you can provide, the better. Learn more here.

8. Product Feed Not Meeting the Google Shopping Policy Requirements

It’s important to meet Google Shopping Policy requirements so that your product feed doesn’t get suspended.

  • Prohibited or Restricted Product Policy

This type of error may occur if your business sells heavily regulated products or products that can’t be listed or sold on Google, such as dangerous, illegal, dishonest, counterfeit, inappropriate or morally questionable goods. Products such as alcohol, adult content and illegal drugs are included within this policy.

  • Landing Page Policy

It’s important to provide a relevant landing page on your Shopping ad to direct users to the correct product, for example. This not only benefits your customer’s journey but also your account. If the landing page in your ad is broken, leads to an error or an irrelevant page, Google may disapprove of the individual product or the entire feed.

  • Return and Refund Policy

Your website must have a clear return and refund policy; otherwise, your feed may be suspended.

  • Delivery Settings

Likewise, your company must provide clear and detailed information about delivery and shipping services. This includes information about delivery times, insurance, and any associated costs. We recommend that you modify your shipping settings via the Merchant Centre so that you can review shipping rates over the whole account. If you modify shipping settings in your product feed, it will override the Merchant Centre settings and can get quite confusing.

Google Ads Issues Delivery Settings

9. Disorganised Account/Campaign Structure

Other common Google Shopping problems exist in your PPC strategy. After developing your product strategy, your Shopping campaigns need to embody this and be easy and clear to manage and optimise. The number of shopping campaigns that we see with one campaign and one Ad Group, with everything lumped together, is frightening.

10. Incorrectly Used Negative Terms

Whilst you can’t use keywords for your shopping campaign, you can use negative keywords to exclude certain non-relevant keywords and phrases. Whilst this is extremely useful for stopping certain terms and excluding certain phrases, be mindful that your products are different and that a negative term appropriate for one product might not be for another.

For example, a common negative term that people use might be ‘free’ or ‘review’, and this should exclude people looking for free versions of your products or reviews on them. However, if you also sell, for example, gluten-free products or books that include ‘review’ in their title, you could be stopping your products from appearing in valid searches. Similarly, if you sell wood floor and also wood floor cleaner, adding the term cleaner to the group that contains the former and not the latter is really important.

11. No Differential Bidding for Mobiles

Using differential bidding isn’t a fail-safe solution to Google ads issues, however, it can certainly enhance the performance of your Shopping campaign.

While you cannot differentiate your bids between desktop and tablets, you can increase or decrease your bids for mobile devices. You need to understand how people buy your products, how your competitors are behaving and pitch your bids accordingly.

Several items sell better on mobiles, as the need may be more immediate. On the other hand, some items may be researched on mobiles but, because the buying process is more complex or involved, may result in transactions being carried out mainly on desktops. You need to analyse buyer/user and competitor behaviour and target bids for mobiles accordingly.

12. No Differential Bidding for Location

Another common Google Shopping problem that we see is no differential bidding for location. If your key market is London or you don’t deliver to Northern Ireland, not using location bidding is a major issue. Our Biddable Media experts suggest that you should analyse your market, delivery areas, and delivery times to out of the way areas and set your bids accordingly so that you are appearing in the most profitable searches and not bidding to attract customers you can’t deliver to.

13. No Ad Scheduling

There are certain times of the day, in general, when people do more shopping online, and certain times that are unique to particular sectors or products. For example, B2B products are generally sold at different times of day to B2C ones, and clothes have different peak times when compared to food products. So you need to analyse the times your products are sold and researched and optimise your bids so that your products appear in searches when your customers are looking to buy them.

14. Not Utilising Audience Bidding

People who have bought from you, abandoned a basket on your site or have even just visited your site are generally worth more to you than people who don’t know you, as they are more likely to be responsive to buy from you. In some cases, however, you might only want to be advertising certain products to entirely new customers. In either case, you should be using audiences so that you can match your bids to the value of each user to your business.

Expert Tip: For any Google Ads campaign, we suggest making the most of audience bidding, particularly remarketing audiences and adjusting bids based on this. You want to bid more on those people who have already visited your site, bought from your site before or have visited a particular page on your site previously. You can also create similar audience or use Google’s audiences to target other potential customers. Then, analyse and segment by your best performing audiences and adjust bids based on their performance.

Google Shopping Problems with Audience

15. Poorly Performing Ads Drain Your Budget

Sometimes when we hear people say ‘Google Shopping doesn’t work’, it really means their ads aren’t performing the way they want them to. This is a symptom of all the issues but, again, it is a tell-tale sign when analysing a Google Shopping campaign, that an account has some products that are doing really well but one or two that are performing really badly, and, due to bids and budgets, it is those badly performing ads that are using all the budget and stopping the star performers from appearing. Therefore, you must analyse your budget and your products, and create a strategy that will achieve the result you’re aiming for.

16. Not Enabling Conversion Value Reporting

If you rely purely on basic Google Ads Conversion tracking or Analytics Goal Tracking, just reporting numbers of conversions rather than their value, you could end up in trouble. We’ve seen many accounts where the conversion numbers and conversion rate look great until you look at the sale value and see that most of those conversions are for really low-priced or low-profit items.

For example, if there was a big keyword term that would have been highly competitive and expensive for our client, but the two products advertised were both under £1, it would be unlikely that advertising here would be profitable for them.

17. Not using Competitive Metrics and Auction Insights

Google provides competitive data on impression share, lost share through rank and lost share through budget, which is vital to analyse and see where opportunities do and don’t exist. Similarly, by using auction insights, you can see who you’re up against. It’s another thing that leaves us jaw-dropping on why people spend large amounts of money without learning from this.

Expert tip: In your Google ads account select the campaign, ad group or keywords you want to see auction insights for. Then, click on ‘Auction Insights’ to find a list of competitors and key metrics such as Impression Share, Overlap Share and Outranking Share.

18. Not Using Seller Ratings or Merchant Promotion Extensions

Seller Ratings are hugely important in purchasing decisions, and Google offers a free extension to show your ratings, with nice gold stars if you’re well-liked. It also offers a free Merchant Promotion Extension if you wish to offer a promotion, like a voucher or discount. These offer really prominent extra promotions and significantly improve click-through rate and performance of your Shopping ad, but again, they are not used by many people.

Which Ads Do You Think Perform Best?

Which ads do you think will perform better? Clue – it’s the ones with the big red arrows

19. Not Properly Using Google Product Categories

The GB Google Product Taxonomy is a bewildering and sometimes baffling list of categories (including a whole section on Guns) that causes us much consternation and, not infrequent, amusement. Things that are used every day, like dishcloths or tea towels, are ignored, whilst products that seem quite niche, for example, brass instrument polishing cloths, are well catered for. Even so, Google has set this up for a reason, and if you play by their rules and try to please them, they often try to please you back.

So there you have it. These are 19 of the main things to look out for that will tell you whether or not your Google Shopping Campaign is delivering the results it should be or if you’ve got Google Shopping problems. However, there are a lot more Google ads issues that can stop your campaign from performing properly. If you are still scratching your head and thinking, ‘Google Shopping doesn’t work for me’, please get in touch, we’d love to talk to you about it.