3 PPC Musts for the Small Fashion Retailer

In the strange corner of the world that is Search Engine Marketing, fashion retail is an amazingly competitive, often frustrating vertical. Nevermind the stress of trying to sell a hugely visual product using text ads, but especially for smaller fashion businesses, it’s incredibly difficult to stand out amongst the clutter and compete with retail giants such as Nordstrom or Target. Compounding this, if you’re a smaller business, chances are you and everyone you work with are also wearing a dozen hats, to run and grow the brand. Meaning you’ve got less time for hands-on, highly-complex approaches to marketing channels like PPC. (“We’ve got a runway show to get ready for, people!”)

For the fashion business without a giant team, without a giant budget, and starting on the DIY marketing track: here are three simple but essential AdWords strategies to keep you competitive and improve overall ROI from PPC.

If you’re already a mega-successful-fashion-industry-PPC tycoon (and we’ve worked with a few) this post might not be for you. We’ve written a ton of other great stuff on advanced PPC strategies and how to get started in pay per click advertising.

1. Branded Search Campaigns

Why is a campaign so important for people who already know my brand?
A branded keyword is any keyword that contains your company name or brand. A lot of smaller retailers wonder why they should spend or “waste” some of their limited PPC budget and time bidding on branded terms if their organic search listings “will show up anyway”. Although every account is unique and there are always pros and cons to any strategy, showing up in both paid and organic results when your brand is searched is proven to improve PPC performance. Here are just a small handful of reasons why you should bid on your own brand terms:

    • Own more of the search results page. By having your ads and products show up alongside your organic listing, you’re essentially getting more real estate within that critical search engine results page. It also gives users more opportunity to click through to a targeted part of your site depending on what they’ve searched, similar to a Sitelink Extension. Google has also done studies that show that search ads will not cannibalize organic traffic.
Branded Search Campaign Example - Portent
Branded Search Campaign Example - Portent

A great branded search campaign example, creating dominant share of search results page

    • Ensure you’re top of page. When it comes to paid ads, you have more control over the position of your listing, where organic ranking can be a slow and labor-intensive climb to the top of the pile. (Believe me, we did the work to get a client to the #1 position on “Wedding Dresses.”) Whether you’re already working your way up, recovering from a Google algorithm update, or just getting started, can you really afford to be absent when people search for you by name?
    • High reward for low risk. By virtue of Google’s Quality Score Algorithm, your brand terms tend to be significantly cheaper for you than non-branded terms, and have the highest conversion rates. Importantly, a “brand” campaign doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to your business’ name – it can be a profitable strategy to bid on your URL or even product keywords if there is enough search volume to warrant the setup and management time.
    • Don’t let competitors steal your traffic. Due to the competitive nature of paid ads there is a chance that other companies may be bidding on your brand name. Dastardly, we know. Again, you want to ensure you’re getting the most revenue possible from those hard-earned searches of your brand. Even if a competitor is NOT bidding directly on your brand name, if their ad shows up above your organic listing there is still a chance that you’ve lost the click and the customer at the last second.
Don't let competitors take your search traffic
    • Test your brand messaging. How well does your amazing brand statement and value proposition translate to a search result? How about a twenty-five-character headline, and seventy characters of text? Should you focus on different attributes of product or service online vs. in-store?
Test your brand messaging

If you’re wondering about what description or selling features of your business as a whole will resonate with a new shopper you have significantly more control over the messaging in your ad copy than in organic listings, especially if you want to run a true A/B test. Assuming your brand terms get a decent amount of traffic you can quickly test value propositions, calls to action, or promos in your ads to see what performs better and use this to improve overall brand messaging.

How do I set up a branded search campaign for a fashion business?

Create a separate (search network only) campaign in AdWords for branded terms (keywords that exactly match your brand name or contain your brand name). For the sake of clean data on what’s working, make sure you are not mixing brand and non-brand terms in the same campaign. Test using different “match types” and incorporating misspellings to capture as much branded traffic as possible. If you’re not familiar with match types, that’s a separate, fundamental piece that you should know or hire before you dive in.

Start with the basics before the accessories: Just like everything in AdWords, make sure your branded ads fall in line with best practices; the ad copy should be professionally written with correct grammar and punctuation and Google suggests using title-case for the headline and description. Include your brand’s value proposition and some sort of call to action to entice users to click your ad. Nowadays it feels like all fashion retailers have some sort of sale going on at all times, making it hard to stand out from the mass of “30% off Today Only,” “Sale on Sale!” and “Free Shipping and Returns!” If you have a specific promo make sure to include the promo code and possibly the dates of the promotion or when it ends to create a sense of urgency. AdWords also offers ad extensions which you can use for no additional cost and which allow you to add additional text, links, or contact information to improve the relevance and performance of your branded ads.

2. Google Shopping Campaigns

Why should I put my products in Google’s store window?
Google Shopping is a rapidly growing facet of PPC where users can search for and compare products directly in Google search as opposed to a specific retailer’s website. One of the most noticeable differences is that Product Listing Ads (PLAs) feature a product image directly in the search results. Remember that thing about fashion being just a smidge about the visuals? Let’s call this the shared runway show that never sleeps.

Also unlike search ads, PLAs are targeted through product data and categories instead of keywords. If you search for ‘floral dresses’ in Google search, the first set of results are PLAs.

Product Listing Ads Example
Product Listing Ads Example

The tiny runway that never sleeps.

Why wouldn’t you want your ad to show up in that first set of listings??

Here are a few reasons why you can’t afford to miss out on Google Shopping:

  • Higher click through rates. There is no doubt that these types of ads stand out compared to the other ads in the search results. The visual element simply draws more attention than ads with only text. Although results vary, many advertisers experience significantly higher click through rates and improved traffic volume with PLAs compared to their search campaigns.
  • Higher conversion rates. Since the searcher can see a product image, store name, price and other information before they even click through to your site, they’ll have a stronger sense of your product offering than shoppers from regular search ads. By the time they click on the ad they will often be closer to making a purchase decision, especially since they can compare your product with others before clicking through to your site. This ultimately means you drive more transactions and improve conversion rates, in exchange for letting Google show your wares.
  • Broader reach. Similar to bidding on your own brand terms to own a larger portion of a search results page, when you advertise with Google Shopping there’s an opportunity to show both your PLA and text ad for some searches. In addition, there’s even a chance that more than one of your PLAs can show for a given search.
  • Stay competitive. As more and more apparel businesses shift their advertising budget toward Google Shopping for these reasons, there is almost no question of whether you should invest a portion of your PPC budget and management time on this channel. For the smaller retailer, it’s another chance to broaden your presence in search results and to stay competitive against the big guys. To help you get your bearings, there’s even benchmarking data within the AdWords platform that can help businesses see how they stack up to their competitors, to help you continually improve your PPC results.

How can I advertise in Google Shopping?

Honestly, there are a lot of steps here, so we’ll go through pretty quickly. If you’re in need of a full DIY walkthrough, Google also gives a fine guided tour.

Similar to other PPC ad formats, in Google Shopping merchants bid on PLAs in a specific Shopping Campaign in AdWords. Before creating the Shopping Campaign, however, you’ll have to create a Google Merchant Center account where you’ll upload and store your product feed, which is a file that has all the info of the products you want to advertise (for example, brand, price and availability).

When the Merchant Center account is linked to an AdWords account that product info is made available to the Shopping Campaign. It’s essential that the product feed has all the required attributes and is up to date. Some businesses do this manually using spreadsheets; some use third-party feed-management services; and some use special software on-website to keep all the info in sync with Merchant Center.

Most ecommerce platforms fortunately have the ability to export your product feed automatically, and this is by far the easiest way to keep everything up to date. A spreadsheet created manually can provide good control for merchants who want to advertise just a small handful of products, but for a business with over 500 products it can get a little high maintenance.

3. Remarketing Campaigns

Why show it again if they didn’t buy?
If you’re not already a fan, remarketing is incredible. It allows an advertiser to target and serve ads only to users to have visited their website, a particular page or group of pages of the website, or even users who have taken some sort of action on the website. In short, your most qualified traffic.

For example, it’s possible to target users who have visited a specific product page, a collection of pages with words like “wrap dress” in the URL, or just any page on the site that’s not the order completion URL.

If you’re not already sold, here are a few reasons why you should invest in a remarketing campaign in AdWords:

  • Higher conversion rates: Most visitors to fashion ecommerce sites don’t show up ready to make a purchase decision straight away – a large portion will inevitably leave and a lot of shoppers won’t come back without some help. Remarketing allows you to serve customized text or display ads to this audience as a great reminder.
  • Cost effective: For a smaller or budget-conscious retailer looking for the absolute best value, investing more advertising budget in remarketing campaigns rather than targeting unfamiliar shoppers with broad, non-brand keywords (“women’s shoes,” “floral dresses,” etc.) will lead to cheaper cost-per-click rates and higher conversion rates by focusing on a pre-qualified audience.
  • Perception of scarcity/sense of urgency: With the speed of turnover in fashion inventory to keep up with changing tastes, shoppers who decide not to buy straight away may prematurely write off that near-purchase as gone forever. However, if you’re retargeting with previously browsed products, it’s both a reminder and confirmation that it’s still available. Done well, this can be a great moment to tap into that pleasant surprise to create a sense of urgency. Again, this is just one way of segmenting and targeting an audience in remarketing, and there are more than a few others.
  • Strengthen brand awareness. Where display campaigns can be used for building brand awareness early in a buyer’s journey, remarketing campaigns target an audience that is already familiar with your brand to varying extent. By using remarketing to show them branded merch that serves as a relevant, useful visual cue, you can strengthen brand awareness and affinity. On the flip side, frequency caps (the number of times an ad can be shown to a user in a given time period) are important features to use. Never let that shopper feel “chased” by your brand.

Good rule of thumb: if it’d be creepy in a mall, it’s probably creepy online. Adjust accordingly.

How should I get started with remarketing for fashion or apparel?

The easiest and most straightforward way to set up a remarketing campaign in AdWords is actually through Google Analytics. If Google Analytics (“GA”) is linked to your AdWords account, you can set up custom audiences through GA and target those audiences in AdWords without having to install any extra code. This can be found in the Admin section in Analytics under Remarketing – Audiences.

To note, the default audience is ‘All Users’, but there are a vast number of ways you can and should customize the audience based on your goal, and their past behavior on your site.

One relatively new feature in AdWords that’s particularly useful for fashion retailers is dynamic remarketing ads. Dynamic remarketing is useful in many industries but is powerful for fashion retailers because it’s designed to show an ad with the specific product a visitor viewed. Since the ads are dynamically created based on the product viewed this can be a great time-saver in managing PPC. Again, for dynamic remarketing you’ll have to have a Google Merchant Center account like you would for Google Shopping.

Overall, the ROI or success of your remarketing campaign depends on many different factors, such as your targeting method, frequency cap, budget, and general alignment with overall advertising goals. But there is no doubt that it’s an essential AdWords strategy for fashion retail.

Key Takeaways
Since many smaller ecommerce businesses need to be budget- and time-conscious when it comes to digital marketing, it’s important to focus heavily on campaigns that will best meet the business goals that brought you into digital marketing in the first place. For the fashion industry, which is obviously driven by the visual, Google Shopping and remarketing are powerfully targeted, visual formats that are well worth the investment. And for any small ecommerce business, bidding on brand terms ensures that you’re not losing out to competitors. For the bargain-hunter and the fashion mogul alike, these pieces go together like Blahniks and Burberry.

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