Google Smart Shopping Ads: The Good, The Bad and Best Uses
by Ron Dod
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Alongside 2018’s broad core algorithm update, Google initiated some significant changes on the advertising side of its platform, rebranding of Google AdWords (officially becoming Google Ads) and releasing a new campaign solution: Smart Shopping Ads.
Building on the back of the company’s many machine-learning and automated initiatives, Smart Shopping campaigns enable retailers to give the advertising reins over to Google. While Google Shopping campaign strategies have traditionally been relegated to the SERPs, Smart Shopping ads can surface in the search results, on YouTube, within Gmail and across the Google Display Network. This deviation is an important point for eCommerce retailers given that consumers are increasingly taking a multi-point, omnichannel path to purchase.
However, this is only one of the defining factors that separates Smart Shopping ads from its manual counterpart. One of the starkest (and thereby most obvious) differences is that Smart campaigns are wholly automated, meaning that retailers play a minimal role in the management and optimization of such efforts.
Moreover, since Smart Shopping ads can surface via the Display Network, Google embraced the inclusion of automatic retargeting (meaning that advertisers cannot opt out). While some may not like the obligatory addition of this feature, the idea is that this route presents a consolidation of efforts for advertisers.
For retailers to run Smart Shopping campaigns, they must:
Possess a minimum of 20 shopping campaign conversions in the last 45 days
Hold an audience list of over 100 consumers
Assuming retailers meet these criteria, they can leverage Smart Shopping campaigns.
But before getting into the pros and cons of these adverts, let’s examine how they work.
How Smart Campaigns Work
Google’s Smart Shopping campaigns are automated to optimize outcomes for predetermined goals established by retailers, such as conversions or return on ad spend. These machine-driven adverts aim to automatically and systematically achieve goals by crafting numerous permutations of an advert to engender maximum results. As the company states:
“With Smart Shopping campaigns, your existing product feed and assets are combined with Google’s machine learning to show a variety of ads across networks… Our systems will pull from your product feed and test different combinations of the image and text you provide, then show the most relevant ads across Google networks, including the Google Search Network, the Google Display Network, YouTube, and Gmail.”
While it is nice that Smart Shopping ads display across various networks, retailers are unable to exclude or focus on any specific networks. This lack of control is unfortunate, but we will come back to the downside of these ads momentarily.
In addition to optimizing ad combinations and placements, bids are also spontaneously altered based on the likelihood that an advert will generate a click which results in the desired outcome.
Contrasted against creating profitable Shopping campaigns in the traditional manner, Smart campaigns remove the obstacles and challenges associated with online advertising. The main reason for this dichotomy is that Google crafted Smart Shopping ads with smaller merchants in mind who are financially incapable of wielding a full-scale marketing and advertising team.
This point leads us directly to the pros of Smart Shopping campaigns.
The Benefits of Smart Shopping Campaigns
Given the target audience, one of the main benefits of Smart Shopping ads is how easy they are to set up and launch. With just a few clicks, small-time advertisers can reach millions via the Google Search, Display and other networks.
Any retailer who has experienced the monotony and tediousness associated with establishing campaign goals, conducting keyword research, uncovering negative keywords, developing a bidding strategy and everything else that goes into creating a successful campaign can attest to the appeal of a low-maintenance, automated approach.
Thanks to Smart Shopping ads, smaller retailers can harness the same power wielded by those with more resources.
Moreover, this automated ad set is excellent for reaching upper funnel users. At this stage, consumers are still exploring their options and encountering prospective brands. Using Smart Shopping, merchants can cluster products together and showcase catalogs of similar items. These types of ads tend to surface for broad or generic terms and can assist in influencing consumers to convert.
Given these facts, the pros of Smart Shopping ads can be boiled down to the following points:
Ads are quick and easy to create
Smart Shopping can reach a wide and previously unreachable audience
Such campaigns are automatically optimized to reach the right consumers and achieve goals
Minimal campaign management is required
Advertisers are only charged when ads are clicked
However, Smart Shopping ads are not all positive.
The Drawbacks of Smart Shopping Campaigns
One of the most damaging drawbacks of Smart Shopping ads is the utter lack of control advertisers have over their campaigns. By handing complete control over to Google to manage efforts, retailers simultaneously give the company full reign over how to spend an ad budget.
Using Smart Shopping campaigns, advertisers cannot:
For smaller brands, this may not be much of a problem. However, for organizations that prefer a more hands-on approach to management and optimization, these ads are not a good fit.
That is the main trade-off that merchants must consider when opting to employ Smart Shopping ads: How much control is desired?
However, there is a second major downside to the benefits these automated ads offer. With Smart Shopping campaigns, retailers are unable to access or collect any search term or audience data. Moreover, merchants are also locked out from gaining insights into where ads ran (i.e., search, display network, YouTube or Gmail). Advertisers are also left clueless as to how much of a budget was spent on retargeting efforts.
The fact is that Smart Shopping campaigns are an impenetrable black box.
The only metrics reported for these types of adverts are conversion metrics and best spend. Needless to say, this doesn’t leave sellers much to work with for improving their business or marketing efforts.
Ultimately, Smart Shopping campaigns are not wise to deploy for retailers who:
Desire control over ad creative and audience targeting
Want to change goals as data becomes available
Want to collect search terms or audience data to improve future campaigns
With that said, what is the best way to use this new ad type?
When to Use Smart Shopping Ads
The bottom line is that Smart Shopping ads are most typically only going to be a beneficial option for small retailers or inexperienced advertisers who do not possess the time, money or skill to invest in a more sophisticated and refined approach.
Skilled advertisers or marketing teams have far more to gain from the level of control provided by traditional Shopping campaigns. The benefits provided by the Smart version of these ads–such as automated bidding–can be harnessed in the standard version of such ad campaigns. However, using the conventional rendition provides merchants with access to high-level campaign controls as well as all the rewards that can be reaped from collecting and analyzing data to improve future performance.
Through the regular mode of employing Shopping ads, retailers can craft a fusion of more advanced budgeting, bidding and targeting strategies, combined with the benefits of automation to get the best of both worlds and produce a profitable plan for maximum ROI.
In the end, Smart Shopping campaigns are a bit of a mixed bag.
On the upside, smaller advertisers can hand over control to Google and eliminate the tedious and laborious tasks that require skillful implementation to result in a successful campaign–not to mention all the trial, error and tweaking. Thanks to Google’s automation, retailers are free to focus on other tasks.
On the downside, advertisers are handing over control to Google and eliminating any campaign input or chance of collecting useful data that could result in fruitful gains down the road. This lack of control means that campaign managers lose the ability to give their advertising efforts the competitive edge.
However, allowing Google to run your campaigns isn’t the only option. If you want to maintain the competitive edge without dealing with the headaches that come from campaign management, contact Visiture’s adept team of Google Shopping Management specialists to infuse Google’s powers of automation with the unique touch of humanity that gives campaigns a resonant advantage.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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