A Complete Google Smart Shopping Guide in 2021

Released back in late 2018, Google Smart Shopping campaigns have become an important sub-campaign type in a lot of e-commerce marketer’s accounts.

With its heavily automated nature, Google Smart Shopping campaigns claim to both save time in account management and optimization and help your PPC account perform better.

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In this post, I’ll walk you through how to create and optimize Google Smart Shopping campaigns from start to finish.

What Are Google Smart Shopping Campaigns?

Google Smart Shopping is one of Google’s most automated solutions that enable advertisers to leverage machine learning to showcase products to users across different Google-owned placements.

Suitable both for beginner and advanced marketers, Google Smart Shopping’s powerful AI can use millions of user signals collected across the web and target users across most Google-owned properties to deliver the right ad, to the right user, at the right time… and place.

Powerful, right?

Other than that, Google Smart Shopping comes with:

  • Quick Setups: Simply link your product feed and provide creative assets and Google’s AI will take care of the rest.
  • Easy Optimization: Spend less time optimizing your campaign and more time getting results.

How Does Google Smart Shopping Work?

Similar to Standard Shopping campaigns, Google Smart Shopping works by utilizing a product feed that’s hosted within a Google Merchant Center account.

Google then automatically generates ads based on this product feed and matches them to relevant users.

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However, unlike Standard Shopping campaigns, Google Smart Shopping campaigns are 100% automated and do not allow advertisers to edit:

  • Negative Keywords
  • Priority Levels
  • Audience Targeting
  • Network Placement
  • Others

Instead, since Smart Shopping also shows ads across different Google-owned placements, advertisers only have to add images, headlines, and other creative assets, and literally trust Google will deliver good results.

Yeah, it’s scary.

Where Can My Ads Show?

As mentioned, Google Smart Shopping can show ads across different placements, such as:

  • YouTube
  • Google Display Network
  • Google Search Network
  • Gmail

All in all, it’s a campaign type that easily reaches potential customers in many different ways, with a variety of different formats.

Google Smart Shopping Requirements

Now, before we proceed with this guide, it’s important to note that Google Smart Shopping isn’t for everyone.

To fully leverage this campaign type, you should have:

  1. Conversion Tracking Enabled: Google uses conversion data to understand who should see your ads. Make sure your Google Ads conversion tracking is enabled and properly installed.
  2. At Least 50 Conversions Per Month: In fact, Google states that you need at least 20 conversions over a period of 45 days – but, from our experience, we’ve found that this number needs to be higher.
  3. Product Feed: Last, of course, you need a product feed and Google Merchant Center. If you’re not sure how to set these up, read our Google Shopping Ads Guide for Beginners first.

Getting Started with Google Smart Shopping

Setting up a Google Smart Shopping campaign is relatively easy, and can be done in under 5 minutes.

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If you’re new to Google Shopping, there are a few things you will have to take care of first. Otherwise, feel free to skip this next section.

  • Create a Google Merchant Center account.
  • Link your Google Ads & Google Merchant Center accounts.
  • Create a Product Feed.

In the next section, I’ll briefly cover how to complete these steps. However, if you need more in-depth information, we recommend our Google Shopping Ads Guide for Beginners.

1. Create a Google Merchant Center Account

If you haven’t one yet, you need to create a Google Merchant Center account.

This is where you’ll host your product feed which Google Smart Shopping will use to create your ads.

To do so, head over to the Google Merchant Center website and click on “Get Started“. Then, follow the instructions until you complete the process.

Google Merchant Center homepage

Once you’ve created your Google Merchant Center account, you’ll have to link it to your Google Ads account.

Here’s how you can do this.

  1. In your Google Merchant Center account, click on the “Tools” icon and then “Linked Accounts“, under “Settings“.
  2. Select “Google Ads“.
  3. Under “Your Google Ads Account“, paste your Google Ads account ID.
  4. Click on “Link“, under “Actions“.

You should now see your Google Ads account listed in the account.

3. Create Product Feed

The last step is to create your product feed.

To do so, in the left navigation menu, click on “Products“, and then “Feeds“. Now, there are several different ways to create a product feed – some easier than others.

The method you choose will depend on how your website is set up, and how familiar you are with product feeds/catalogs.

  1. Google Spreadsheets (beginner): The easiest method out of the three, you can create a product feed by listing your products in a Google Spreadsheet and uploading it to your Google Merchant Center account.
  2. Scheduled Fetches (intermediate): the second method is to use a .XML file that is hosted on your website, and linked to your Google Merchant Center account. The advantage of this method is that products will update automatically when out of stock, or when other changes occur.
  3. Product Feed Management Tools (advanced): the final and most advanced method is to use Product Feed Management Tools such as Data Feed Watch, or Feedonomics.

Again, for more in-depth information on how to create product feeds with each of these different methods, see our Google Shopping Ads Guide for Beginners.

How to Create Google Smart Shopping Campaigns

Now all that’s left to do is to create your first Google Smart Shopping campaign.

If you’re familiar with Standard Google Shopping campaigns, this should be a relatively quick and easy process.

Let’s get to it.

1. Create Your Campaign

To create a Google Smart Shopping campaign, click on the “+” icon in the left navigation bar and click “New Campaign.

Once you’re in the New Campaign screen, scroll down to find the “Shopping” tab. Click on it under Advertiser Tools.

Then, select your Google Merchant Center account from the menu and click on the “Smart Shopping Campaign” sub-type, near the bottom.

Click on “Continue“.

2. Set Your Campaign Settings

There are four main sections in this screen that will need to be filled.

  1. Campaign Name: choose a name that easily reflects what the campaign is about, which network it belongs to, and which products you’re advertising.
  2. Conversion Goals: I recommend you stick to the “Account Level Conversions” option. In other words, Google will optimize your campaigns for conversions that are included in your “Conversions” column.
  3. Bidding: if you’re just starting, I recommend you set your campaign to maximize conversion value without a target return on ad spend (ROAS).
  4. Budget: set the budget so that at the very least you’re able to consistently generate +50 conversions per month.

3. Select Your Product Group(s)

In this screen, you’ll select the product groups you want to advertise.

There are a few different ways you can go about this, which we’ll cover more extensively later in this article. For now, if you’re following along while creating your campaign, simply stick to “All Products” and move on to the next section.

Note: we do not recommend advertising all products under the same campaign, or ad group. Read on further until the “How to Structure Google Smart Shopping Campaigns” section of this article.

4. Add Your Creative Assets

Finally, the last step is to add the creative assets that Google will use to showcase your products to new potential customers.

There are up to 7 different assets you can add for Google to create different ad variations for you. These are:

  • Logo: add a clear no-background logo of your business with as little text as possible.
  • Image: you can add one image that reflects your business, and the product you’re selling in this campaign. If you’re selling a lot of different products/categories, it may make sense to create different campaigns so you can have images that accurately reflect the campaign.
  • Video (optional): you can add a video that showcases your product either by linking a video from YouTube, or uploading a video to Google Ads.
  • Short Headline: similar to Google Responsive Display Ads, short headlines appear in tight spaces where the long headline doesn’t fit with a limit of 25 characters.
  • Long Headline: with 90 characters, the long headline allows for more text than the short headline and should be used to capture a user’s attention.
  • Description: with the same character limit as the long headline (90), the description should be used to expand on the headline and describe the product you’re selling.
  • HTML5 (optional): finally, you can also include one HTML5 dynamic ad for Google to use.

Once you’ve finished this section, hit the “Save” button and you’re done!

How to Structure Google Smart Shopping Campaigns

Now that all that’s out of the way, how do we structure our Google Smart Shopping campaigns?

If you’re used to Standard Google Shopping campaigns, you know how important campaign structure and the product feed are – Smart Shopping isn’t any different.

While this campaign type is indeed (very) automated, it still requires us to point it in the right direction. So how do we do that, exactly?

Now, as you’ve read this article through, you noticed that choosing the right product groups for your campaigns is very important since you can then better tailor your creative assets and improve your results.

There are a few additional reasons why you should want to breakdown your product groups into different campaigns, but we’ll cover that in a minute.

Here are a few ideas to structure your campaigns.

1. Product Type

The first method is to break out separate product types into different campaigns.

Let’s say you’re an e-commerce store selling different types of barbecue grills.

  • Gas Grills
  • Electric Grills
  • Portable Grills

You can create one campaign per product type, and have very specific creative assets for each product. This will ensure better clickthrough rates and better results.

2. Custom Labels

The second method is to use custom labels to narrow down your campaigns.

Now, there are a lot of different custom labels you can use to customize your campaigns. We won’t cover this in-depth, but here are a few ideas:

  • Top Sellers: bundle your top sellers into the same campaign – but do try to use creative assets that make sense for all products. Bonus points if you can use top sellers from the same product type in the same campaign.
  • Seasonal Products: not much to add here. If you have products that sell particularly well in a specific season, run them in their own campaigns – in their own respective time, of course.
  • Promotions: do you have any product that has a limited-time offer you want to push?

3. Single Product Smart Shopping Campaigns

As the name implies, this campaign promotes only one specific product.

In a lot of the accounts I’ve managed, this was one of the best-performing structures I’ve had and one of the most common ones I currently use.

There are a few downsides to this method, though:

  • Oftentimes, these campaigns won’t spend as much budget as you want to since Google doesn’t recommend advertising one single product. However, if your product has some decent demand, it shouldn’t be an issue.
  • These campaigns typically do well for top sellers. The downside is that since Google Smart Shopping can show in a lot of different placements, it can “cannibalize” results from other successful campaigns.

Nonetheless, if you’re not running ads across different Google placements and are looking to expand your reach, this is a great option for you to try.

Some Tips For Better Results

There are a few other things that are worthy to know in order to improve your results.

Here are a few ideas.

  1. Don’t use product on white images. In other words, product display images that are often used in Standard Google Shopping campaigns shouldn’t be used in Google Smart Shopping campaigns. Remember, Smart Shopping is a display-based campaign, so your creative assets should entice users to click, and convert. In doubt, think about the type of images you’d use in a regular display campaign. Furthermore, your product feed should already contain this type of image.
  2. Make sure your website is tagged for dynamic remarketing. Since Smart Shopping does include remarketing audiences, it’s important to Google is able to retarget users based on their behavior on your website. If you’re not sure how to do this, read Google’s official documentation here.
  3. Let your campaigns run for at least 30-45 days. According to Google, the bidding strategy needs around 15 days for it to adapt and deliver optimal results. We’ve found that this tends to be more around 30-45 days.

The Downside of Smart Shopping & Things To Keep In Mind

There are a few important things to keep in mind when running Google Smart Shopping campaigns.

1. Google Smart Shopping Takes Priority Over Standard Shopping Campaigns

If you’re running both Google Smart Shopping and Standard Shopping campaigns, know that the former will always take precedence over the latter.

In other words, if you’re advertising the same product in these two different campaigns, the Standard Shopping campaign may (and will likely) have reduced delivery, or no delivery at all.

2. Google’s Black Box of Data

The absolute worst thing about Google Smart Shopping is that you aren’t able to collect any data – at all – about what particular element of your campaign is working well.

  • You can’t see which placements converted. Was it YouTube? Display? No way to tell.
  • You can’t see any keywords that triggered your ads. You can’t even add negative keywords, to that fact.
  • You can’t add audiences. You’d expect you could at least add a few different audiences under observation… well, you can’t. No way to tell who’s converting, and use this data elsewhere.

In my opinion, this is the major downside of Google Smart Shopping campaigns – and one that almost gives us enough reason to abandon this campaign type.

Closing Thoughts

Now, even though I did save all critics for last, I do still recommend Google Smart Shopping campaigns for almost anyone in e-commerce.

In fact, some of my top performing campaigns are indeed Smart Shopping campaigns.

While that may sound a little scary as an agency or freelancer, if we’re able to use the tools given to us by Google, why not fully leverage them for better results for our clients?

Additionally, while Smart Shopping campaigns are easy to setup and relatively easy to manage, they do come with a learning curve.

We still need to point the campaign in the right direction, and that takes some skill and experience.

And that’s exactly where we, as agencies and marketing professionals come in. After all, automation is here to help us – not to replace us.

Have you had any trouble with setting up your campaign?

Let us know in the comments and let’s talk!

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