Featured News | December 17, 2018

Sceptical of Google Smart Shopping? We were too. But then…

Sceptical of Google Smart Shopping? We were too. But then… Image

It sounds too good to be true, but should you be so sceptical of Google Smart Shopping or can it indeed bring you digital advertising success?


Smart Shopping campaigns are a campaign subtype combining standard Shopping products and Display Remarketing assets, that uses machine learning to show a variety of ads across Google’s network. Google creates different combinations of images and text provided by you and automates ad placement and bidding for “maximum conversion value at your given budget”, or so they say.

But we, along with many others in digital marketing, were reluctant to test it.

Why? Because Google does the leg work. The lack of control and limitations are unsurprisingly off-putting to Merchant Centre account managers.

Here is a condensed list of the restrictions paid media account managers face with Smart Shopping:

  1. Cannot see the split between new traffic and remarketing traffic
  2. Cannot see what the spend split is between channels i.e. how much is spent on Google Search, or the Display network and so on
  3. Cannot see the ad impression share for any networks
  4. Can’t select specific item id’s in the shopping feed – limiting how we can structure the campaigns
  5. Can’t push one product over another, there’s no product level bidding at all
  6. Unable to control auction positions. There’s no manual CPC.
  7. There is no way to control search terms or negatives. You can’t even see what you’re ranking for.
  8. If it is successful, there’s nothing you can do to push it other than raising budget. Even then, you might not deplete the budget.
  9. Can’t bid on devices or select your own audiences
  10. Can’t create ad schedules and place bid adjustments on them

We know, it’s quite a list. You have basically no control over any of the variables that normally go into making google shopping a success. No wonder people are hesitant to use Smart Shopping!

However, we have seen Smart Shopping working well for one of our home furniture clients and have achieved a good ROAS so far, reaching over 2000% at one point.

How you ask?

We feel the main reason the Smart Shopping campaigns are performing so well and generating a high ROAS is mainly because the cost-per-click (CPC) is very low. Looking at October’s performance, CPCs were an average of 17p for Smart Shopping vs 80p for standard Shopping ads in some cases.

As the CPC is low, conversion rate doesn’t need to be as high as normal to get a good return; because the campaigns are generating more traffic for a cheaper cost. The conversion rate we have so far is 0.61% which is a lower rate than most shopping campaigns, but is achieving a high return. Brilliant, huh?

So, how does it work?

It works by taking your product feed and applies machine learning to show ads across the Google Search results page, display network, YouTube and Gmail.

Smart shopping leverages all the signals in the account; audience lists, device performance etc and has been designed to optimise for conversion value.

What kind of ads run?

Smart Shopping campaigns feature both Product Shopping ads and display ads (including remarketing ads and Similar Audiences), which are eligible to appear on the Google Search Network, Display Network, YouTube and Gmail (as mentioned above).

The ads show in the various formats depending on what device it’s on. The formats change to suit what device is showing and based on that, it may or may not show with the description.

What’s the bidding strategy?

It uses a “maximise conversion value” automated bidding strategy. You can set a target ROAS which is recommended.

Is my account eligible to run these?

You need to have 20 conversions over 45 days. Have that? Then you’re good to go.

What campaign priority is it on?

This runs on high priority. Not only is it high priority, it will show ads before traditional shopping ads – remember that.

google ads network examples

On the 29th November, our results over the last 30 days were:

smart shopping results vs regular shopping

We have hardly any control over where and how these ads perform. But, with Google appearing to prioritise these ads over others and with cheap click costs, we have found successes with Smart Shopping.

It may work for others, so we recommend testing it – if you meet all of the criteria needed to the run these ads of course!

Let us know if its worked for you, or we can help you run Smart Shopping campaigns so contact us now.

We’re proud to be an official Premier Google Partner.