At Google Marketing Live on May 14th, Google announced a radical revamp of their Google Express shopping service. Even before this announcement, I was working with Google to get Threddies approved and setup using Google Shopping Actions. Google Shopping Actions (GSA) is a mechanism for exposing your products for purchase to the Google Assistant via Google Merchant Center. I had some very specific needs in doing this that required some additional work beyond the basic setup. In this article, I’ll walk through what I did and my reasons for doing so.
Hey Google, Buy some Threddies Scrunchies
Threddies has used Google Shopping Ads to promote many of our products across Google’s ecosystem since we started selling online. We currently use the Google Shopping Marketing campaign capability that is built into Shopify to do this. This setup exposes a product feed to Google Merchant Center using Google’s Content API. This allows us to keep our advertised products data (price, image, description, shipping, etc.) in sync with our website. The Content API is great! It gives prospective customers the best experience by providing up to date information. This eliminates any surprises when they ultimately click through to our website to make a purchase. A simple way to setup GSA would be to just expose this feed directly and call it a day.
Unfortunately, doing this isn’t what I would consider the best case scenario for a few reasons:
- What if I want to sell products that I don’t advertise or only a subset of those that I do?
- What if the new Google Shopping imposes constraints on data that Google Shopping Ads does not? (spoiler: it does, and I don’t like the idea of modifying my website content in order to meet these restrictions)
- Ideally, I’d like to keep promoting our website products completely separated from selling the products on our new ‘Google channel’.
In addition, selling on Google’s platform was going to be more costly than selling directly to our customers via our website. Google charges a ‘commission’ for each product sold. Google Shopping also prefers a straight forward shipping policy to make its ‘universal cart’ more appealing to consumers. Participating in the new Google Shopping also requires us to support a more liberal return policy than we currently allow. Based on this, the ‘feed’ used to drive GSA would need to allow us to provide a different pricing model. One that directly matched our website would not work.
Feeding the Beast
Google Merchant Center does support ‘supplementing’ feeds and I initially planned to implement GSA using a supplemental feed. Ultimately, I decided to setup a completely separate feed for GSA. I did this mainly out of my desire to have no impact or dependency on the Content API feed used for Ads.
I setup a brand new GSA specific feed using Google Sheets. In this feed, I added all of the products that I initially wanted to sell in the new Google Shopping experience. My initial product list pretty closely matches the products that we are selling via Amazon. We did this in order to provide an alternative to dropshippers of our products who were already on Google Express. This is a problem that we are familiar with from our other sales channels. People dropshipping our products from Amazon tend to provide a less than ideal customer experience for many reasons. We try to discourage this practice wherever possible.
Taming the Beast
The first attempt at getting this to work was a mess. Initially I had multiple versions of the same products showing up (at different price points) in both Google Shopping and Ads. This would cause us to pay to advertise products that would be sold via Google Shopping (not desirable!). It also surfaced products that I was advertising from my website in my Google Shopping store (at a deep discount because they were using the website pricing!). I fixed both issues by creating a supplemental feed for Google Ads. In this feed, I use the ‘excluded_destination’ attribute to prevent products from ever showing up in Google Shopping.
Things were starting to look better, but I noticed an issue with products that were in both the Google Shopping Actions and the Google Ads feed. Both Google Shopping and Ads would prefer the data that was in the Google Shopping Actions feed. This resulted in some of my highest converting products being advertised with the Google Shopping data. These ads also brought users to my Google Shopping store rather than my website. I made two tweaks to my Google Shopping Actions feed to correct this. First, I created distinct ‘ids’ for every product in the feed to prevent overlap with the ids that were provided via the Content API feed. Second, I used the ‘included_destination’ attribute to specify that the products in this feed should only be surfaced in Google Shopping Actions.
Getting things in Ship(ping) Shape
One final note if you’re using a similar setup (Shopify with the Google Campaign Marketing app). I noticed that my Google Shopping Shipping policies (setup in Google Merchant Center) appeared to get blown away every few hours
This was maddening and it took me a bit to figure out what was going on. It turns out that Shopify’s Google Shopping marketing integration was doing it! This was easy to fix after I understood what was happening. You need to navigate in your Shopify admin to Apps > Google Shopping > Merchant Center Account and in the Shipping settings section select to manually manage them in the Import method drop down. To be extra safe, modify the ones that are imported from Shopify to never be used by Google Shopping Actions in Google Merchant Center first and then create new Google Shopping Actions only shipping policies after saving your import method settings in Shopify.
Unless you want to be an early adopter, I would recommend waiting a bit… a better Shopify Integration is coming. If you have been accepted into the Google Shopping Actions program and have a similar setup, hopefully this helps! Try it out and let me know what you think! If you want to use the Google Assistant to buy your next hair accessories: “Hey Google, I’d like to buy some Threddies Scrunchies.” or check out all of our products in Google Express.