It is absolutely vital to have a dedicated discussion about your company’s Q4 Google Shopping advertising strategy. We looked at our client performance in Q4 2015 and found that on the key shopping days in November – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday―Google Shopping revenue was up 55%, 38%, and 24% year over year (2014 vs. 2015), respectively.

These numbers are no surprise and many current Shopping advertisers are starting to find that a greater investment in time, budget, expertise, and technology is required to keep the channel thriving.

As an agency managing hundreds of Shopping clients, we take Q4 preparation serious and view it as a opportunity to reflect on recent campaigns & successes and most importantly review upcoming goals and opportunities for the holiday shopping season.

Below we’ve compiled a list of best practices & advanced strategies that we leverage to evaluate and prepare our clients as we head into Q4.

Google Shopping Q4 Preparation:

1. Reflect & Recap

Before you jump into a conversation about Q4 strategy, it is important to reflect on your recent Q3 campaign performance. This is an opportunity to review key wins at the channel, campaign & product level (as well as areas of improvement).

To better align your Q4 expectations with reality – be sure to review what kind of lift you saw in Q4 from the previous year as well. Identify which brands and or product types you saw upticks from.

This is also a chance to outline your new initiatives and top priorities. Are you expanding your catalog or launching new products or brands? Any pricing or shipping changes recently? As a company, it’s important to factor in any changes made throughout the year and how it could potentially impact your performance this Q4.

 

2. Budgets & Bidding Strategies

Traffic will spike in Q4, especially in the months of November & December. In addition to traffic, average CPCs will rise as competition increases. In order to capitalize on increased demand, retail brands will need budget to cover increased costs.

In our experience as an agency, we expect clicks, spend & average CPCs to increase 20-50% when compared with Q3. Typically, we recommend increasing daily budgets (prior to Black Friday / Cyber Monday) and monitor closely.

Another useful tip for promoting Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials is to set up a budget campaign for top performing products / categories that are guaranteed to do well.

For example, “ugly holiday sweaters” are likely to perform pretty well thanks to an influx of holiday parties during this time of the year. For those types of items, it makes sense to set up a budget campaign for your top performing campaigns.

3. Ad Approval

Retailers should also make sure their ads are 100% approved before they turn them on.

You don’t want to go through the trouble of optimizing all your ads for Black Friday and Cyber Monday – only to find out they have been disapproved by Google the day of the sale.

According to Google, all ads, whether loaded in an active or paused state, will be reviewed within 1 business day. Specially during cyber week, Google will be bulking up their work force to get these ads reviewed as quickly as possible.

Pro-Tip: The only exception to this rule is Google Shopping special offers, which is reviewed on the actual start of the promotion. 

 

4. Final Ship Date

As we head into Q4, make sure to define your final ship dates so that advertisers can tailor bidding accordingly. The final ship date is the last day that you can guarantee items to arrive by Christmas Day. You should also keep in mind when your final “Free” shipping date is as well.

Make sure to scale back AFTER your final ship date. Even though volume might remain high, CVR and orders will drop off. You want to make sure to adjust your budget (& bids) accordingly.

After the last shipping date, reduce your bidding rules. You don’t want to bid in late December based off Black Friday/Cyber Monday data. We reference historical data to gauge the drop-off after the shopping holidays.

Pro-Tip: Something to keep in mind – if you operate a B&M you might want to stay aggressive with your bids to drive in-store purchases. 

 

5. Data Feed

A product feed is how a retailer communicates their inventory to a given product advertising channel. Shopping channels like Google will cross reference this data with shopper search queries and your bids to determine ad visibility.

While most marketers understand the importance of uploading feeds – it’s often lost how critical it is to optimize the feed data and sync it with a comprehensive Google Shopping strategy.

Nothing can ruin a Q4 like a product feed failing, so it’s important to monitor your feed and the Google Merchant Center for any performance issues (Example: Did spend or order volume suddenly drop?).  Advertisers should closely monitor product level warnings, track and review performance prior to Black Friday / Cyber Monday.

Check out this blog post to learn more about Product Feed Optimization.

 

6. RLSA

Retailers can re-activate recent visitors with RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) for users visiting your site the week of Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday to stay front and center during the shopping holidays.

Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) is a feature that allows retailers to customize their search ad campaigns for people who have previously visited their site, and tailor their bids and ads to these visitors when they’re searching on Google.

When potential customers leave a site, remarketing lists help retailers connect with those shoppers while they continue to search for what they need on Google.

For example, Janice is looking for running shoes to give her mother for Christmas. She visits a sports apparel website and looks at the shoe section of the site to check out the available styles. Even if Janice does not purchase, thanks to RLSA, the site will add Jance to a “running shoe category” audience list. Then, the site can bid more for Janice the next time she searches for running shoes on Google again.

With RLSA, advertisers can set their bids, create ads, or select keywords tailored to those customers that have previously visited their website.

Check out this blog post to learn more about RLSA.

7. Customer Match

Advertisers can also leverage Customer Match to re-engage last year’s holiday shoppers who purchased from you during Q4.

Customer Match allows advertisers to upload their customer and promotional email address lists into AdWords. From these email lists, retailers can build campaigns / ads specifically designed to reach their audience.

With Google Customer Match, retailers can:

  • Generate awareness with customers that are likely to be interested in a product based off of past purchases.
  • Utilize valuable customer data to tailor messaging in marketing campaigns (ex: target shopping cart abandoners).
  • Drive purchases through upsell or crosssell strategies.
  • Leverage customer relationship management (CRM) data to promote repeat purchases and increase loyalty.

 

Although Google Customer Match is designed to help retailers reach their “highest-value customers” by strengthening connections with your known customer base on Google Search, it also helps retailers forge new relationships across other channels including YouTube Trueview & Gmail Native Ads.

Check out this blog post to learn more about Customer Match.

8. Special Offers

Last year, promotions were a big deal for Shopping performance in Q4.

We specifically refer to Special Offers, which are feed-driven promotions that show up on the PLA grid:

Online advertisers can feature coupons or promotions right in the search alongside their product or store information. Google Special Offers appear on Google Search ads and next to products or stores on comparison pages with a price tag icon.

Last year, retailers who waited too long to submit their Google Promotions feed likely experienced problems during Black Friday weekend. If retailers submit a promotion too late, the feed could get rejected. At that point, retailers are forced to remap and assign a new ID. By the time the process is approved, you could run the risk of missing out on Black Friday traffic completely.

Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday are known to increase search volume – this doesn’t necessarily translate to an increase in sales for every business. Logically, if you think about it – how likely is it that a business who sells plumbing equipment going to fair in comparison with a popular apparel company on Cyber Monday?

Unless plumbing tools become the number one holiday gift for 2016 – it’s not likely that Cyber Monday and Black Friday are going to be the biggest shopping day of the year for a plumbing equipment company.

“It really goes back to understanding the impact that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have on certain accounts. For businesses that sell electronics or apparel – it’s going to fly but not so much for a company that sells curtain drapes or light fixtures,” Anthony Artuso, Retail Search Manager at CPC Strategy said.

anthonyThe verticals that typically experience high volume for Black Friday / Cyber Monday and are likely to benefit from Special Offers include (but are not limited to):

  • Apparel
  • Shoes
  • Electronics
  • Sporting goods
  • Jewelry
  • Video games / software
  • Appliances
  • Brand names (JCrew, Anthropologie, Levi, etc.)

 

9. ISO Shopping Campaigns

ISO campaigns can be implemented to push certain products or to get max impression share on top Search Terms during Q4.

ISO campaigns are primarily used for resellers with a high SKU or MPN volume. We implement this campaign type for accounts in need of ROAS boost and efficiency gain with minimal volume loss.

This strategy is extremely useful for businesses with medium-size budgets who want to compete in the upper funnel search query market but need an extremely sophisticated strategy to ensure that their budget is being spent optimally.

ISO campaigns are similar to how advertisers think of text ad campaigns. With text ads, we can choose to set up our campaigns based on exact searches and bid higher and with more confidence because we know these are the exact searches we want to go after.

With ISO™ campaigns, although we can’t target keywords directly, we can leverage negative keyword lists in an alternative campaign and then utilize the priority settings so that searches funnel into the right campaign.

Advertisers shouldn’t have to share budget between top performing and low performing search queries.

ISO™ campaigns are constantly gathering new data so it’s important for advertisers to avoid the “set it and forget it” mentality. Shifts in the market are inevitable due to seasonality or trends – so it’s critical that advertisers keep a close pulse on which search queries are performing well for their products.

Check out this blog post to learn more about ISO Shopping Campaigns.

 

10. Geo-targeting Modifiers

We also recommend getting more aggressive with geo-targeting modifiers for best performing areas on the days leading up to Black Friday/Cyber Week. Geography based bid changes or modifiers is a feature which allows advertisers to change bid percentages based on locations.

Keep the following things in mind when setting up Geo bid modifiers for Google Shopping Campaigns:

  • First decide what regions you want to target based on your site, audience and performance goals.
  • Consider segmenting for online and brick and mortar locations.
  • Note customer intent based on location (remember location and targeting intent can be combined)
  • Utilize mobile ads for customers close to stores which can be redeemed in-store
  • Delve into Analytics data, and AdWords dimensions reports (Geographic report, location report, custom columns to reflect visitor data)
  • Avoid setting location to the entire US to limit click spend
  • Remove unwanted locations. Exclude areas which don’t improve ROI and increase click through.

 

Pro-Tip: Depending on your situation, you might want to get even more granular by drilling down to the city/zip code level if you haven’t already.


Additional Q4 Prep for Text Ads

Ad Extensions:

Ad extensions are a specific type of ad format that shows additional information “extending” from your text ads about your business. Ad extensions give your ad more prominence on the search results page and can be added manually and / or automated.

According to Roman Fitch, Retail Search Manager at CPC Strategy, ad extensions such as sitelinks, call outs and structured snippets can be an effective way to feature Cyber Monday / Black Friday specials about your business.roman-fitch

  • Sitelinks are clickable and can direct shoppers to a specific Black Friday page or a top-seller product page.
  • Structured Snippets are not clickable but allow retailers to feature their styles, product types, or brands. For example, a retailer could feature “Brands: Nike, Adidas, New Balance”. Google introduced new specialized snippet extensions for the Cyber Sales, including a “Black Friday” sale snippet and one for “Cyber Monday” which retailers can leverage to highlight their offers. 
  • Call outs are not clickable but include attractive offers such as “Free Shipping – Black Friday Only”.

 

“Scheduling your call outs is really important because it ensures they’ll only run at specified times and eliminates the possibility of sending conflicting messaging, not to mention it saves time,” Fitch said.

Retailers can create custom scheduling (by the day / hour) to cater to each of the upcoming sales including Black Friday, Pre-Cyber Monday, and Cyber Monday.

Also, it’s important to remember the custom scheduling time default is set to the retailer’s time zone. Marketers should take that into consideration when setting up their custom schedules. (For example, if you are managing an account in the U.S. that is based in Australia).

 

Price Extensions:

Price Extensions on mobile for text ads can be use to highlight your top products and promo pricing for the shopping holidays. Price Extensions can work for virtually any company. However, there are a few they will work especially well for price-competitive companies, service-based companies, and subscription model companies.

Google AdWords Price Extensions help advertisers:

  • Create Upselling Opportunities – This isn’t just an opportunity to appeal to the thrifty—there may be some searching for better value, even if it costs a little more. For example, if  someone is searching for a washing machine. An advertiser’s ad group for washing machines can show a Price Extension for three of my basic washing machines, and potentially, I could add on a bundled washer/dryer deal in one of those slots.
  • Take Up Space on the SERP – There’s nothing better than dominating the top of the mobile fold. If you’re running upgraded Sitelinks with description lines, the description lines don’t always show, but for Price Extensions, you’ll get those extra 25 characters. Also, you can choose which landing page to drive the traffic to for each item. Sitelinks are the only other clickable extension, so this gives you most links on the SERP that can be clicked, and link to a deeper, more specific page on your site.
  • Save Money on Unprofitable Clicks – Prices at the SERP level means your audience will be informed before they click. If your audience is price conscious and your products are on the expensive side, before Price Extensions, you may get a lot of unprofitable clicks. But if those same customers can see the price before they click on the ad, they will be less likely to click on the ad, and that will save the advertiser money.

 

Pro-Tip: Make sure your site is mobile optimized. According to Google, Price Extensions link to your mobile site, so it’s important to make sure your site is mobile-optimized.

Check out this blog post to learn more about Price Extensions.

 

Ad Copy Changes:

As a retailer or marketer,  you might be debating whether to highlight your holiday sales by creating a new batch of ads with updated ad copy featuring “Cyber Monday / Black Friday” or simply utilize ad extensions to highlight your sale.

An example of an ad copy change would be to include Cyber Monday in your title and/ or description such as “Nike Shoes – Cyber Monday Sale” & “20% Off This Cyber Monday Only”.

It can be risky to completely update your ad copy (especially if it’s just a one day sale) because when you change ad copy, especially headlines (to include “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday”) you run the risk of decreasing your quality score. 

It’s important to remember that ad rank (a combination of bid, ad quality, and the expected impact of extensions and other formats) is greatly impacted by quality score changes.

“If you change your headline, you might lose a little bit of your quality score and could be fighting an uphill battle from the beginning of that day – trying to get your quality score back up,” Lewis Brannon, Paid Search Manager at CPC Strategy said.unnamed

The silver lining is even if retailers lose some ad authority in the beginning of the day – they can still close out the day with good volume.

If retailers have access to a quality score tracker (a custom, javascript-based technology) – they should be able to track their quality score through Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the ad copy vs. ad extensions debate, there isn’t a one size fits all type of answer, but this is definitely something retailers and marketers should be aware of.

If you do decide to go ahead and update your ad copy- we recommend monitoring your quality score closely so you can be better informed when making this decision next year.

“In my opinion, I would probably stay away from changing the ad copy headline because the headline has the most impact on quality score. Unless, you’re average position is really low and your site links don’t normally show – then I would probably default to using fresh ad copy to make sure your message gets some visibility,” Brannon said.

“But, if you are brand with a solidified quality score and high ad rank, you might want to rely solely on ad extensions to highlight your offers, and avoid sacrificing quality score / ad rank on your top performing ads.”

For more on Q4 preparation, email tara@cpcstrategy.com

 

The Google Shopping Guide: 2017 Edition

Next-Level Implementations in 2017 for Advertisers on Google
 

About the AuthorTara graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.S. in Journalism / Business. Her passion for creative publishing and quality reporting landed her work opportunities at several companies in Massachusetts, New York and California. She is a leading voice behind CPC Strategy’s Blog. See all posts by this author here.