Google Shopping: How We’re All Totally & Utterly Screwed

Well OK, I’m being a tiny bit dramatic. But Google Shopping could totally and utterly screw you over if:

  • You’re not a major brand with an AdWords rep to spoon feed you
  • You’re not familiar with how shopping feeds, shopping engines & AdWords works
  • You haven’t started thinking about this and you’re an ecommerce retailer currently using Google Shopping feeds

There are some big changes to Google Shopping rolling out in October. After interviewing CPC Strategy’s CEO and interrogating multiple companies (engines, carts and CSEs), I’m finding out just how unprepared many people are for this massive change.

As our CEO, Ian Lurie, said to me after my rant, “Think about it. This is their (Google’s) biggest revenue generation possibility since AdWords. They just added a billion dollars to their bottom line.”

He’s right. There are some folks out there that are going to have to start paying for tons upon tons of what was previously deemed “organic” traffic. Granted, it’s Google’s engine. They’re one of the last of the major players to offer this kind of online shopping market for free. It was really only a matter of time. And now it’s time to pay the piper.

So where do you need to focus your attention now that these Google Shopping changes are right around the corner?

Within Google AdWords

When it comes to how unique AdWords attributes are going to play with feeds that may have been created for other platforms – it’s still unclear.

If you have 3,000 products and not a lot of time or revenue to be spending on product feed creation with 3rd party developers, you’re either going to blow a three day weekend on this or try and muster without. It’s those that muster without that concern me.

My internal monologue: This whole situation has shades of an early Content network where advertisers were opted in automatically on new campaigns and left to run wild on MySpace and YouTube. Right now, an advertiser throws up a feed from a cart without any AdWords attributes filtering and it looks eerily similar. Granted, not that bad, but history does like to repeat itself.

I totally GET that this is supposed to eliminate the “riff-raff.” But it is totally eliminating the smaller guys as well. And for a company that touts how friendly AdWords is, and created a small business center and that awful AdWords Express program and sends out countless $100 coupons to get started, this sure puts the bar in an unfriendly place.

Pay Attention to Your Shopping Cart Provider

When I interviewed CPC Strategy’s Rick Backus, I asked what the two hardest carts are to use when breaking into product listing ads (PLAs) – Magento and Volusion won (read: lost).

So I asked the reps of both at the tradeshow in Denver earlier this month and found that Magento uses 3rd party “extensions” for pretty much everything. If you want an extension it could cost you anywhere from free to $500 to get that feed going. If you don’t understand how to navigate an API or don’t have any development help, this is where the price tag gets steeper. If you have a more advanced version of the cart (not community), you get more bells and whistles and this might not even be an issue.


Volusion has the info for setting up the basic feed, but you have to pull multiple reports to “cobble” them together to create a full feed. For example, you’ll need to pull one set of attributes from the product info table and another set from the shipping table. Mix together, sort and add columns for AdWords (manually), and populate at will.

Again, you could find a 3rd party person to help you out for a fee. A gold level or higher cart merchant could get some internal Volusion staff help, but if you’re at a lower level, you’re going to need to do some heavy lifting yourself.

If you’re API savvy (or have someone that is), and if you happen to have a higher level of cart access/functionality (like Yahoo stores), you can leverage feed creation and submission much more easily than trying to pull together reports for less cost.

What do other carts do? You should really find out if you don’t know already. Maybe you did and you could have skipped this whole section… but if not, you might think about the cost of extensions and add-on support when calculating how much that ecommerce platform really is going to cost you.

Look to the Google Merchant Center

OK, you know your client has a feed (or should), but you haven’t seen it yet. Nor do you have access to their Merchant Center account. Or maybe you have access, but in order to see categories, brands or anything at all, you have to drill down to each individual product or pull some annoying report.

You know that bidding by “all products” in AdWords is like opting into the display network, automatic placements and then doing nothing else. Not a great idea. Just like you know that bidding the same for all categories, brands or any AdWords attribute, isn’t right.

If you have not been granted access to their Merchant Center – get in (all they have to do is add a user, though you’ll need a new email or to set up a multi-user account first). Get a copy of the feed. Find out what you can and can’t use. Don’t procrastinate on this. Multi-user accounts have been a bit glitchy though, I’ve gone through the whole process a couple of times with different clients/accounts and still not gotten the “access” part of a multi-user account to work, so be prepared to call the 1-866 line and have them tell you that the feature doesn’t exist. (This has happened twice now, with two different reps.)

Get familiar with the Merchant Center reporting as well. Go into the Performance area and run some reports by brand and product type to see what’s going on. You can’t export these reports and sometimes it’s like watching paint dry for them to generate, but it still helps you understand what you’re working with.


And if you want to see individual products, dig in and you’ll be able to see a lot more:


You Must Get Ahead of the Game

Yeah, I’m talking to you. Need a crash course in Google Shopping? Go read CPC Strategy’s free ebook.

Do not diddle around on this. Be prepared. There’s no definitive date in October for when Google is flipping the switch, but assume it’ll be at the most annoying time for you. Get ahead of the game and start talking to clients about this. Hound them for that feed. HOUND THEM I SAY!

You don’t have to listen to me, but don’t get all indignant when November comes around and your feed disappears or your budget is wasted on the mysterious category of “all products.”

My Free Google Shopping and PLA Webinar

If you really want to avoid being totally and utterly screwed by these massive changes to Google Shopping, you can join me for a free webinar on Google Shopping & PLAs. Thursday, September 27th at 11am PST.

Sign up here. Even if you can’t make it, I’ll still send you the recording and you can watch it later.

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


  1. Grappling with this for a client this week, thanks very helpful post 🙂
    Always surprised me it was free in the first place, Google now also setting minimum £25 payment to use free Adword credit as well…

  2. This is a great post Elizabeth and you’re right, there will be a lot of people who are soon to find themselves in a very different online environment. Staying on top of the game and keeping up with Google’s antics is hugely important. Looking forward to having a listen to your recording. Thanks for the Google update.

  3. My take on the new Google shopping policies is that they are trying to compete with Amazon.
    For large brands who can get their feeds setup correctly this is probably a good thing as Google uses them to stop Amazon eating too much of the transactional search market.
    For small brands, I don’t know

  4. I’m confused on your use of the word “cart” in some parts of this post. A cart is where a user checks out, and a “catalog” is where products are stored, yes? Wouldn’t the “catalog” produce the feed for Google to come get, and not the “cart”?
    Or when you say “cart” do you mean the entire ecommerce software platform (e.g. magento, volusion, piggybak)?

    1. Hi Dave-
      Depending on your set up, yes a catalog would produce the feed. So when I say “cart” I am indeed referring to your entire ecommerce software platform, as it’s a bit more encompassing for all the moving pieces within. Hope that helps clear things up!

  5. Thanks for the heads up and analysis! Extremely useful information.
    For the record, however, Google did not make a small business center. As part of its “Get Your Business Online” campaign to get small businesses hooked into the Google eco-system, Google partnered with the existing national network of Small Business Development Centers that are funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
    The SBDCs provide free consulting and business advice for small businesses in each of the 50 states.

Comments are closed.

Close search overlay