A Simple eCommerce SEO Tactic We Used to Help Drive 46% More Traffic to Category Pages Over 18 Months

Here’s how adding descriptions to the top of eCommerce category pages helped drive 46% more organic traffic over an 18 month period.

In March of 2016, we began adding approximately 150-word descriptions to the tops of category pages for one of our clients, in addition to updating pages that already had some copy. This client was an eCommerce business offering a wide range of products grouped into 400+ categories. Our goal was to increase organic traffic to their category pages.

Over the course of about 18 months, we found these category pages to have 46% more organic sessionscompared to the 18 months prior. While we can’t attribute these positive results solely to the page descriptions because there were many other tactics being used simultaneously, we believe they are at least in part responsible for this increase in traffic to this page type.

In general, we think this SEO tactic (adding short 75 – 100 word descriptions to category pages) is something many eCommerce sites could possibly benefit from exploring as part of their overall SEO strategy.

While no tactic works 100% of the time, we feel that testing to see if adding short descriptive copy on category pages produces a positive impact is worthwhile for most brands (we discuss possible exceptions below).

In this post we will cover:

  1. Our process for creating the page descriptionsincluding reasoning behind specific decisions that were made.
  2. Which sites may be more or less likely to benefit from this strategy.
  3. Other tactics that we commonly deploy when optimizing category pages.
  4. Specific considerations that you should think about when making SEO decisions for your store’s category pages.

If you’d like to talk with someone on our team to see what actions could be taken to improve SEO for your eCommerce business, you can start a conversation with us here.

The Importance of Category Pages for eCommerce SEO

Before we dive into the process we followed for creating the on-page descriptions, I want to step back and take a look at where category pages fit in eCommerce SEO.

When we talk about foundational pages on an eCommerce site that we want to optimize, we’re typically talking about the (a) homepage, (b) product pages, and (c) category pages.

  1. Homepages are typically seeking to rank for the brand name and more general keywords related to that business, whereas…
  2. Product pages are optimized to rank for more specific search phrases when they’re most relevant to the user.
  3. Category pages are where we optimize for the many users who begin their search with a more general term of what they’re shopping for, when they would usually expect a list of products rather than get taken to a specific product.

Users who search terms that are best answered with category and product page results show high product/conversion intent, and that’s why these pages are particularly valuable to rank for.

Now let’s look at the steps we took to create category page body copy for our client.

Our Process for Creating the Category Page Descriptions

With this particular client, we started with a batch of category pages that we prioritized based on organic traffic and revenue potential. When we finished that batch, we moved onto the next batch of priority pages. And we’d work on 10-15 pages at a time.

For each batch of pages, we followed these 3 steps:

  1. Keyword Research and Selection
  2. Keyword Organization
  3. Writing the Copy
  1. Keyword Research and Selection

For each category page, we began our keyword research using Google Search Console and Keyword Planner (although today we typically use Ahrefs). We looked at current page rankings and competitor keywords to identify which phrases looked promising.

We selected keywords based on key criteria including:

  • They showed good traffic potential
  • Searcher intent matched the purpose of that category
  • Keyword difficulty wasn’t too high

  1. Keyword Organization

Once we chose our keywords, we organized them into primary, secondary, and tertiary keywords.

The following keyword type descriptions are from our eCommerce & SEO Copywriting Guide (updated last year) where we write about optimizing product and category pages in depth.

  • Primary Keyword – this keyword has the best combination of relevancy and search volume.
  • Secondary Keyword – this keyword has the 2nd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary keyword.
  • Tertiary Keyword – this keyword has the 3rd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary and secondary keywords.

  1. Writing the Copy

We then wrote 100 to 150 words trying to incorporate the keywords described above naturally within the copy, titles, and headers.

Back then we were recommending 150 words, but more recently we’ve been recommending 75-100 words. This is in part due to wanting to balance SEO with other factors like conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experiencewhich we’ll discuss more below.

For Whom Does this Strategy Work Best?

As of right now, we think this tactic applies to the majority of eCommerce sites.

For clients that have category pages that are ranking well but coming up just short of page one (with page two performers for good related general keywords), we have seen that these sites can really benefit from adding body copy.

We have also seen cases where clients saw no improvements in traffic.

If a client comes to us and their category pages are already ranking well for the general keywords that we would want them to, we may not see much additional benefit from adding descriptive copy to those pages.

And if you’re an extremely large brand like Nike or Home Depot, with a lot of authority, this may not be a high priority tactic to test (along with other common SEO tactics).

But for the vast majority of sites, by signaling to search engines about the contents of the page, the body copy can be both helpful for the user and give a better shot at getting that bump from page two up to page one.

Let’s now take a look at some other tactics we use to help them get that bump.

Other Tactics We Deploy When Optimizing Category Pages

Adding page body copy is just one of a number of other category page SEO tactics we can test. Here are some others that we’ll also analyze and/or use when we think they’re necessary or appropriate.

Descriptive Title Tags

A title tag is the category name and it should be descriptive and specific. For example, if the category page only contains yoga pants for pregnant women, we’d use something like “Pregnant Women’s Yoga Pants” for the title tag instead of just “Yoga Pants.”

Interlinking

Interlinking is the tactic of linking to 1-3 related categories or subcategories contextually within the category description. Sometimes it’s a mix between categories and links to popular products within that category page.

Category Maintenance

This is the practice of making sure we maintain categories by fixing broken links (from other pages) as categories and subcategories are deleted.

Checking Technical Aspects

  • Canonical tags
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Site speed

Reviewing How Filters/Facets Are Currently Working

In an effort to not waste crawl budget spending time on thin pages that are essentially duplicate content, we check to see if filter/facet pages are indexable and crawlable.

Other Considerations for Category Page SEO: Conversion Rate and User Experience

Because context is so important when it comes to SEO, tactics like adding category page body copy is mostly used on a case by case basis, and not just simply done no matter what.

When we consider using this tactic of adding on-page descriptions, we think about balancing SEO with conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experience concerns.

In particular, one of the biggest issues to consider when adding descriptive text to category pages is the risk of conversion rate reductions due to pushing products down the page. At Inflow, since we also have a CRO team, we have the privilege of discussing these issues with them on a case-by-case basis when working on SEO for a client.

To make decisions about balancing CRO with SEO, we think about things like:

  • Are the products going to be pushed below the fold?
  • Will the content take away from the product browsing experience?
  • Is it possible to add the content elsewhere besides the top of the page?
  • Would this page benefit from using “read more” links?
  • Is endless scroll being used (which would prevent us from being able to add content at the bottom)?

And when we consider balancing user experience with SEO, we ask questions like:

  • Could the user benefit from some explanation of the category and/or links to popular products to help them start exploring?
  • Is there helpful content that the site has produced that we could link to for those that need more information before browsing products?

Adding Descriptions to the Bottom vs. the Top of Category Pages

Before we wrap up, I want to touch on the tactic of adding copy to the bottom of category pages, as this topic comes up often in eCommerce SEO. Our overall stance on this topic is that it could insinuate to search engines that the content is not important.

Google has suggested that content this far down the page is deemed unimportant (because if it was important, why would it be at the bottom of the page?). Most readers may not get this far down the page and the content can be seen as over-optimized.

To summarize, for clients with opportunity to improve rankings for category pages, we explore the possibility of adding content if we believe there’s a lot of opportunity, but also keep in mind all of the possible issues mentioned above.

When it comes to the time it takes to see results from tactics like adding category page body copy, it could take as little as a few weeksand on the flip side, it could produce little results.

The key is to always be thoughtfully testing and trying to make improvements to overall site quality.

Are you in eCommerce? You can always reach out to see if this or other SEO tactics would be a good fit for your business. It’s what we do!

Case Study: How Pruning This Online Store’s Blog Boosted Strategic Content Revenue by 64%

For the subject of this case study, one of our clients benefited with a 64% increase in strategic content revenue after we helped to prune their blog content. Read on to learn more!

This content pruning case study demonstrates how deindexing blog content can lead to a better ROI from content overall.

Based on our experience auditing hundreds of online stores, we know that deindexing “dead-weight” pages is a relatively easy method to boost your SEO and revenue.

Most eCommerce stores focus on improving their content and expanding on it to improve their SEO. As you know, this often requires significant time and resources.

It’s counterintuitive, but you can increase the traffic brought in by your existing content without adding new content or improving existing content.

This can be done by deindexing low-performing blog posts.

Pruning low performing content typically requires way less work than adding more content. Thus, pruning is a tactic with a great ROI for eCommerce thanks to the high SEO impact and low investment of time and effort.

In this case study, we’re going to show you:

  • The criteria and process we use to quantitatively evaluate which content to deindex or remove.

  • How to determine which content to keep and allow Google to crawl.

  • How pruning pages for one of our eCommerce clients led to a 64% increase in revenue from their strategic blog content.

In short: If you want your best-performing strategic content to bring in even more traffic and revenue, you’ll want to read this case study. (Or contact us to see whether your site could benefit from a similar SEO strategy.)

The Benefits of Pruning Blog Content

It’s a persistently common misconception that more content is better.

Google released their Penguin update in 2012 to reward sites for having quality content. This was Google’s algorithm adjustment to improve user experience during a time when many websites tried to rank through mass-publishing low-quality content (like those 300 word keyword-stuffed articles).

Despite current best-practices, the idea that more content will always help a site rank hangs around quite stubbornly.

The bottom line is: You can’t assume that all of the pages on your site are helpful. The pages with low stats might be dragging your overall quality down.

In our audits of online stores, we’ve seen many lifts in traffic and revenue following a full content audit of both blog content and content in the store or shop pages. This involves a comprehensive analysis, followed by executing the action steps that will lead to improvement.

Usually, this results in deindexing up to 5%-20% of a store’s product and category pages in order to create better SEO results.

That said, we know that sometimes it takes a small SEO win through pruning a limited amount of content and seeing the results to get the confidence to do more.

For that reason, we’ll occasionally suggest starting with a strategic content audit (sometimes called a blog content audit) to “prove” the results from pruning non-catalog content first.

After seeing the positive and measurable results, most clients go on to perform an audit of catalog content as well.

For the subject of this case studyHomeScienceTools.coma store we assisted, benefited with a 64% increase in strategic content revenue after we helped to prune their blog content.

Pruning Dead Weight: A Real Life Example

HomeScienceTools.com is an online store that provides educational scientific products.

A screenshot of the Home Science Tools homepage

The “Learning Center” blog on this store is hosted on its own subdomain.

We did a content audit of Home Science Tools Blog

We performed a content audit of this section of the site and handed off our recommendations of pages to prune in early August, 2018.

This was followed by pruning roughly 200 pages, or about 10% of total pages from the blog’s subdomain. Starting with the worst quality offenders.

These pruned pages had little or no organic traffic, total traffic, conversions, and links pointing to them. These metric factors are the basic criteria for what constitutes an underperforming page.

The results after removing this blog content?

Pruning has provided an increase in organic keywords for Home Science Tools
Rankings went down very slightly for HomeScienceTools.com primary domain initially, then went to spike up quite a bit in the 90 days after pruning (a typical pattern we see) – with a continuous increase.

Clicks and impressions to the store reflected the upward trend in rankings:

There has been a significant upward trend in clicks and impressions since pruning, as show on this graph.

The stats after pruning blog content from the subdomain?

  • Organic sessions to content grew 104%
  • Transactions grew 102%
  • Strategic content revenue grew 64%

What HomeScienceTools.com Had to Say

We followed up to see what this store’s impression of the process was.

According to Brandy Hansen, marketing director at Home Science Tools, doing this audit was part of a general track of continuous audits and improvements to the website.

On the subject of continuous improvement, Hansen also stressed that they were seeing results continue to trend up past these cited numbers. In her own words:

“At Home Science Tools, we continually focus on improvement what needs to be done to take our service, business and offerings, to the next level. This audit was timely, necessary and strategic; it helped us not only appropriately remove underperforming assets but synergistically brought together what we needed in order to escalate our organic growth.”

In other words: this was a crucial part of a larger overall growth framework for improving performance, and it provided tangible and significant results.

A full-on audit of the site’s vast amount of catalog content could yield similar but larger performance improvements.

However, even limiting the scope of pruning to the blog content alone allowed the best content on the site to stand out to Google in terms of quality…and get recognized by the algorithm with better rankings.

Link Equity Distribution

One reason that pruning low performing content works is because of its impact on link equity distribution.

The big idea here is: if a page doesn’t bring you value through total traffic, conversions, or links pointing to it, then it’s dragging down the potential benefits provided by quality pages that do carry their own weight.

In that case, pruning the low performing content can (and should) be seen as a business decision to stop flow of resources (link equity) to a part of the business that doesn’t bring value.

What is Link Equity?

Link equity is a search engine ranking factor predicated on how links distribute value and authority to pages.

When thinking about link equity, I liken it to having a set amount of money in a bank account.

You can distribute a link’s equity any number of ways, but the more pages you distribute equity to, the smaller the amount transferred to each page.

Websites that distribute their link equity over a smaller number of pages tend toward more strength and value per page, and thus a higher quality overall.

Many sites unintentionally dilute their link equity over many low quality pages. A content audit and pruning helps to optimize link equity distribution and improve performance.

How to Identify and Remove Low Performing Pages

While you will be quantitatively evaluating pages according to their metrics and pruning them, there’s more than one way to prune.

Actual removal is generally better for SEO (for crawl budget reasons), but sometimes the content warrants a “noindex” tag.

There are going to be some low performing pages that meet most of the criteria for pruning but provide other value to your business.

For example, tag pages on a blog where categories are also present, because they help with navigating a site:

Inflow homepage

Example of a blog category / tag page on our own website listing published case studies.

In cases like tag pages that provide usability or some other value outside of their SEO and revenue metrics, a “noindex” tag reduces their weight from your site’s SEO while still allowing the page to remain usable outside of the search engine results.

The Strategic Content Audit Process

When we perform a content audit for client sites, part of that larger process is a sub-process specific to auditing strategic content.

The criteria are quite detailed but also systematic and easy to follow. You can get started with this process by downloading our content audit toolkit.

The outline of this process is:

  1. Make a copy of our “Strategic Content Audit Template” Google Sheet.
  2. Export strategic content URLs and their data to Google Sheets
  3. Determine Action and Strategy
    4. Look for Pages to Prune and Consolidate
  4. Look for Pages to Keep As-Is
  5. Look for Pages to Improve
  6. Prune Outdated and Off-Topic Content

Where should you draw the line on what to prune and what to keep?

A good general guideline is to prune pages with little to no organic traffic, little to no conversion data, and little to no links from external websites by removing them entirely.

Pages that don’t match this criteria but have other intrinsic value to your business or customers, such as blog tag pages, should remain on the site because they enhance user experience but cause SEO issues when overdone and indexed.

In these “keep” cases, you can either deindex the page or improve it if it needs to be indexed. While tag pages don’t usually need to remain indexed, the content that should be indexed are FAQ, About, and Author pages, and you can mark those pages for improvement if they aren’t performing well.

Results and Impact on Traffic and Revenue

We perform this strategic content audit process very often for clients.

As mentioned, it’s part of a general site audit where we find adjustments and improvements to make.

For clients who aren’t ready to do a full-on audit, we’ll often recommend to get your feet wet with a strategic content audit and track the results.

What tends to happen is a noticeable improvement from the strategic content audit (as in this case study). That proof helps clients become comfortable with pruning their low-performing catalog content, too, to create similar results.

A site with over 500 pages can benefit greatly from pruning. Generally, a bigger site will see bigger results from this process as the results become magnified by the size of the website.

To show you other cases of amazing results brought on by auditing and deindexing content, look at these case studies for further reference:

Conclusion

Regular marketing audits are essential to running any online business. Auditing content should be a regular audit for online stores, as eCommerce stores often deal with index bloat from too many low quality pages.

Dipping your toe into content auditing by pruning strategic content is a great place to start if you aren’t ready to do a full-on audit of your online store.

We have experience from helping hundreds of online stores perform this and other SEO audits. If you’d like to see how we can help, please contact us about auditing your site today.

Google Shopping: How to Set Up, Optimize, and Execute Your Campaigns

In this guide, we’re diving into Google Shopping campaign setup and execution. Here we’ll teach you the nuts and bolts of setting up, optimizing, and executing your ads campaigns.

In this guide, we’re going to share the strategies and tactics we use to help our clients set up and run top-performing Google Shopping campaigns. We’ve previously written case studies and strategy articles (which we link to below) around Google Shopping, but in this piece, we’re diving into campaign setup and execution and linking to our other resources for readers looking for more detail on any particular topic.

Google Shopping consists of two platforms—Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Google Merchant Center. Google Merchant Center is where your product data feed lives and Google Ads is where you can build and optimize your campaigns, set your budget and adjust your bid strategy.  

Here’s what we’ll cover to teach you the nuts and bolts of setting up, optimizing, and executing your Google Shopping ads campaigns:

(Who We Are: At Inflow, we work with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. You can talk to one of our Google Ads specialists to see how we can help you increase ROAS. Get started now.)

What Are Google Shopping Ads

Google Shopping campaigns—also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs)—are somewhat of a hybrid between dynamic search and dynamic remarketing ads. You upload your product feed to Google and then Google automatically displays your ads based on searches it deems relevant. You might think this is bad since you aren’t creating the ads and bidding on keywords. However, if you are doing the work of optimizing your data feed frequently, this can work in your favor as you are showing up for only the most relevant searches at a fraction of the cost of PPC search ads.

In fact, Google Shopping campaigns drive 76.4% of all retail search ad spend, and contribute to 85% of all clicks.

Say you sell Levi’s blue jeans. While there is nothing wrong with this text ad per se, it does lack most of the purchasing triggers like high-quality product images, product descriptions, and customer reviews.

A Google search text ad for Levi's jeans.

Whereas with Google Shopping ads, it looks and feels like you are on an eCommerce listing page already. You have all the info: images, price, review ratings, details, size information, etc.

So you can browse and find the one you want instead of two text ads offering little information. In addition, the ad takes you directly to the product you see as well, instead of a more generic landing page. So, you send traffic further down the funnel and decrease the amount of clicks to final purchase.

Optimizing your data feed allows you to show up for the long-tail keywords with higher buying intent.

Speaking of relevant, when you take the time to optimize your data feed, you can make sure you show up for the long-tail keywords that are the most likely to lead to a sale (such as Levi’s men’s black jeans, size 38) and deliver a shopping ad that specifically takes traffic to a jeans product page with that size and color.

Creating Your Google Shopping Campaign

Choose Your New Campaign Goal  

The first step is choosing your goal or objective such as:

  • Sales
    • If you are first starting out, we’d recommend choosing this goal. If you want to change it later on, it’s easy to adjust.  
  • Leads (and showcase shopping ads)
  • Website Traffic
  • No goal

After selecting “Sales” you can then proceed to “Shopping,” choose your merchant center, and finally select the “Standard Shopping” campaign option to proceed. The next part of the campaign setup includes items like geo targets, budget, bidding strategy, campaign priority and device specific bid adjustments. (We’ll cover these shortly.)

Set Up Your Ad and Product Groups  

You will now be able to create ad groups and product groups. This should be influenced by your business, product performance, as well as your data feed. One quick way to start is to create multiple ad groups, each of which covers a category of products.

For instance, shoes vs pants vs shirts etc. Make sure to pull out the appropriate category and exclude the rest. To make sure you have your bases covered, we recommend having a very low bid, catch-all ad group as well (in case you forget to pull out a specific category).

You’ll want to adjust this approach as you collect data, incorporate more insights and take advantage of custom labels for attributes such as product margins, seasonality, sales, etc.

Pro Tip:  If you want to brainstorm additional campaigns, ad groups, or product group structures, check out this article.

Bidding

While automated bidding can be effective as you can set it to either maximize clicks, enhance CPC, or target ROAS, it can also lead to some wasteful spending if not managed properly. You also need to reach a minimum conversion threshold to use many of the automated strategies. It’s usually best to start with manual bidding until you have a better idea of how the products will perform (conversions, conversion rate, ROAS levels). Then based on performance, you can test out automated bidding more selectively.

In addition to starting with manual bids, it’s a good idea to review the “Products” report for your campaign regularly. Filtering products with low or zero impressions can help you identify opportunities to bid higher on products with little data. You can also filter based on product status (in case products are getting little-to-no impressions due to warnings or disapprovals), which you’ll need to fix in Merchant Center.

You can also build campaigns that specifically target seasonal products (for example, snow blowers) and implement geographic bid modifiers for regions where your products are more relevant such as in North Dakota and Minnesota. By doing so, you can maximize your exposure in those regions while maintaining a more cost-effective bid in other regions (or removing them entirely).

You can also do this with device bid modifiers, as they tend to perform at different levels. In general, while you can use bid modifiers to increase or decrease bids, you can also use them to remove a device/region/audience entirely, particularly if you have to be budget conscious.

Pro Tip: Before you start running any campaigns, make sure your ad account is properly linked to Google Analytics and you have set up eCommerce conversion tracking.

In addition, it can be easy to get carried away with all the segmentation, which we’re typically fans of! The big thing to keep in mind, however, is that granularity should be dictated by volume of data as well.

For instance, if a product category is getting few impressions (5000/month), it probably doesn’t make sense to group this one in its own campaign, which has multiple campaigns based on regions and device types. That’s overkill, unless you have all the hours in the day to manage it 😉

Set Up Promotions

One way to increase conversions is to run promotions. There are four types of promotions you can run for specific products including:

  • Offering a monetary discount (ex: $10 off)
  • Offering a percentage discount (ex: 10% off)
  • Including a free gift with purchase (ex: Buy one pair of jeans and get a free pair of socks)
  • Free shipping

For example, say you sell wooden desks, you could offer $20 off to anyone who sees your ad on Google.

An example of a desk for sale that has a $20 off coupon if you see their ad in Google.

Enable Product Ratings

Another tip for increasing sales is to enable product ratings, which allows customers to rank your products from 1 to 5 stars.

To enable product ratings, you need to apply within your Google Merchant Center account. This feature is open to anyone with 50 or more customer reviews. In your application process, you’ll have to upload your review feed or link to one of the many third-party review aggregators.

Smart Shopping Campaigns

Smart Shopping campaigns are fully automated campaigns powered by Google AI and machine learning algorithms. You set your desired goal target ROAS (so be sure to group products that perform at similar ROAS levels in these campaigns) and then Google automagically surfaces the most relevant products to potential customers across search, display, YouTube and Gmail.

While these campaigns may save you a ton of time, we wouldn’t recommend throwing your entire product catalog and ad campaigns to Google AI.

For one, Google optimizes for transaction history. If your eCommerce store doesn’t have a lot of data, this can lead to subpar optimizations. In general, you have little-to-no control outside of choosing the products and setting the ROAS target. You can’t add negative keywords. You can’t create product-specific bids in case you’re more concerned with outranking a competitor. You can’t add any bid modifier for device type, etc.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is, you can’t really do too much analysis either, no search queries or network placements to determine what specifically is working. All that said, it’s still worth testing.

It is for these reasons that we recommend starting small with only one ad group, letting it run for at least 15 days and then analyzing the results.

Set Up Remarketing for Your Google Shopping Campaigns

Another way to increase sales is through remarketing. There are two types of remarketing campaigns — Dynamic Remarketing and Remarketing Lists for Search/Shopping Ads.

  • Dynamic Remarketing is display ads that follow shoppers across the web on the Google Display Network. These ads also create dynamic image sets of products people have viewed or added to cart (i.e. YouTube Ads and Google Display Ads).
  • RLSA—Remarketing Lists for Search/Shopping Ads—to use this targeting, you build audience lists either via Google Ads or Google Analytics based on pages someone visited on your site, time on site, specific goals you create, sources of traffic, etc. Most segments you create in Google Analytics to do analysis can be turned into an audience. Once you build this audience, you can attach it to either a Search or Shopping campaign and add a corresponding bid modifier (or leave it in observation mode just to collect data). From here, if someone meets the criteria of your audience list AND searches for one of your targeted keywords (or product), you can decide to bid more aggressively on them, or you can even create a search campaign that only targets this audience and deliver custom messaging.

When you see how effective remarketing ads can be, it can be tempting to go all-in. However, we recommend paying attention to ad frequency (particularly for dynamic remarketing in the display network) as ad fatigue is a real problem. You could end up turning off potential customers. For example, Monday.com use of YouTube ads are a great example of remarketing overkill.

Follow the Google Merchant Center Guidelines

Google Merchant Center has a ton of guidelines and not all of them are obvious. Some of the biggest mistakes we see our clients make are:

  • Not having a returns and refunds policy on their site (or hiding it).
  • Promoting pre-orders or products that are out of stock (Note: This is why optimizing your data feed regularly is so important.).
  • Data mismatches between the product feed and the website. For instance, the price may not match, or the image may not be correct. A dynamic feed solution can help deal with this stuff before it becomes a problem.

Optimizing Your Google Shopping Campaign

To increase sales, make sure your campaigns are set up effectively. There are several tactics you can use with product groups, priority settings, and negative keywords.

Set Up Product Groups to Increase Sales

Instead of manually building ads and bidding on keywords as you have with text ads, with Google Shopping campaigns, you have product groups.

You can then divide your products into groups based on 8 categories:

  • Item ID
  • Brand
  • Category
  • Product Type
  • Custom Labels
  • Condition
  • Channel
  • Channel Exclusivity

If you are not sure where to start, structure your ad/product groups by product type. This gives you more flexibility to optimize your campaigns and adjust your bidding strategy.

How you structure campaigns should be catered to your eCommerce business’s objectives, seasonality, margins, etc.  For example, if you have product-specific margins, then you can create a custom label that tells you what your margin (percent or dollar value) is for each product, and group products into those tiers so you can optimize towards profitability. If you have a blanket margin, then you can be a little more flexible with your setup.

Use Negative Keywords and Campaign Priority Settings to Increase Conversions

An additional way to increase sales is through negative keyword lists and adjusting your campaign priority settings.

Campaign Priority Settings

There are three levels for any campaign—high, medium and low. Google will serve the campaign with the highest priority.

Negative Keywords

Campaign/Ad Group negative keywords will prevent your products from appearing in certain Google searches for that campaign or ad group. These can be exact, phrase, or broad match.

  • Exact Match– only the exact keyword you select will be excluded. If a search query contains more terms before or after keyword you select, it will not be excluded.
  • Phrase Match– only the exact keyword you select will be excluded in addition to the search terms that contain your keyword in that exact order with any terms that precede or follow your keyword.
  • Broad Match– as long as every word in your negative keyword can be found in the search term, in ANY order, it will be excluded.

We recommend updating your negative keyword list at least once a week. Some good negative keywords to include are any search terms with low buyer intent.

A more advanced tactic is using a tiered strategy. Say you have an online business selling Men’s Levi’s Boss Jeans, you can use a tiered strategy using campaign priority settings and negative keywords to bid higher on specific long-tail search queries and lower on more generic ones.

So if you know that when someone searches for “jeans,” they convert at a low rate, but after performing analysis, you find that when the search term contains “Levi” in addition to “jeans” it performs at a higher ROAS, and when it also contains the term “Boss” on top of the brand name, it does even better, then you have the opportunity for 3 campaign tiers.

  • The first campaign (tier 1) will be high priority and low bid—intended to capture general search terms. You can use negative keywords to remove brand and style terms.
  • The second campaign (tier 2) will be medium priority and medium bid—and will catch all brand and style terms to start with. However, you will want to use negative keywords to remove style/model terms (like “boss”) so that this tier will only capture brand terms without the style modifier.
  • The third campaign (tier 3) will be low priority and highest bid—intended to catch whatever you negated from the prior tiers, including the combination of brand + style terms.

Once you secure the proper negatives in place, then you can focus on tiers. However, be careful when you optimize. There is always the possibility that you bid too low in tier one and general terms go to tier 2, which you’re bidding more aggressively on.

Also, if you exclude a product in tier 1 but not the other tiers, that product’s general terms will go to the other (higher bid) tiers. So you have to make sure your campaigns are set up with the same products and that you keep a close eye on them.

There are 3 tiers: tier one (high priority, low bid), tier 2 (medium priority, medium bid), and tier 3 (low priority, high bid).

Analyze Google Shopping Campaign Ad Data Regularly

It is always important to review your ad data on a regular basis. There are several segments you can review in Google Ads, and there’s endless performance data you can review using Google Analytics.

Google Ads can help you understand traffic potential (search impression share), competition (auction insights) and so much more. Google Analytics is excellent for reviewing other engagement metrics, attribution (how does your channel play with all the others?), etc. You should use your findings to:

  • Update Negative Keywords regularly
  • Analyze conversion rates by product group (such as by product id, product category or product type)
  • Perform geographic and device analysis
  • After collecting enough data, test bidding strategies including dayparting.

This will help you steadily increase ad performance over time.

Conclusion

In summary, these are some ways to improve Google Shopping ads performance, lower cost per click, and generate more sales.

Note: You can talk to one of our Google Shopping experts about how we can help you improve your ad performance by reaching out here.

16 AdWords (Google Ads) eCommerce Strategies to Maximize ROAS

Discover our favorite strategies for improving AdWords (Google Ads) eCommerce performance covering Google Shopping Ads and more. Find out the exact strategy used to maximize ROAS for our clients.

In this piece we’re going to take a systematic look at how we optimize Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) eCommerce campaigns to find the best performing strategies.

We’ll be covering a total of 16 different strategies that apply for Google Shopping ads and Smart Shopping Campaigns, Dynamic Remarketing, Search Ads, In-Market Audiences and finally Dynamic Search Ads.

For each Google Ad type, we’ll be covering:

  • The core strategies we use to get the best return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Use-case scenarios where we’ve seen good results from implementing these strategies.
  • Some of the newest features and product offerings — and how to make the most of them.

Because these strategies all fall inside two of Google’s main product offerings, we’ve split this guide up into two parts:

Part 1: Google Shopping ads

We’ll walk you through 7 different strategies that bring the best ROAS for eCommerce companies. We’ve gone into a lot of depth explaining how you should be building out and optimizing your shopping ads from scratch.

Part 2: Google Search ads

Here we cover 9 of our favorite internal strategies for maximizing ROAS from search ads. We’ll also answer the question: does my company need to run search ads in tandem with Shopping Ads?

  1. Google Shopping Campaigns (or Product Listing Ads/PLA’s)
  2. Google Search ads

First we’ll start with a quick review of the different Google Ads platforms and their use cases. If you know these already, feel free to skip ahead using the links above to get straight to the strategies of choice.

(Who We Are: At Inflow, we work with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. You can talk to one of our Google Ads specialists to see how we can help you increase ROAS. Get started now.)

What’s the Best Google Ads Platform for Selling My Products?

You’re probably already using Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) to sell your products, but if you’re not, it’s important to have a bit of background info on the Google Ads ecosystem.

Google Shopping ads (also known as Google Product Listing Ads, or PLA’s) are probably the best fit if you’re a B2C selling products online.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Google Shopping ads are useful if you're a B2C selling products online.

All you need to participate here is a product feed and an eCommerce website.

Google Search ads is perhaps the most well-known of the Ads products due to its longevity and it’s where your text ads are displayed when they match keywords you specify.

Search Ads is different to Shopping Ads because of the way the platform operates. Search Ads gives you more control over keywords, and in turn, shows text ads within your Google search results.

Google Search ads give more control over keywords and are displayed with text ads.

Shopping Ads, on the other hand, are based upon your Product Feed — which needs careful optimization to target the right searches. The product feed contains all the necessary information relating to your product: brands, quantities, sizes, colors, and so on.

This renders a shopping-product ad within the Google SERPS, as well as the relevant pricing and review information.

If you’re a big online retailer, you’ll probably be investing most of your paid ad spend on a mixture of Google Shopping ads and Google Search ads. Participating in both platforms often leads to enhanced product visibility across the customer buyer’s entire journey, from research through to purchase.

This is key when you consider how the customer’s research and purchase journey spans across multiple devices and is made up of many micro-moments — even if you’re only running search ads to cover branded queries.

Our Tried-and-Tested Google Shopping Strategies for Maximizing ROAS

Here at Inflow, we’ve helped hundreds of online retailers from all kinds of industries to maximize their return on ad-spend (ROAS). This is the number one goal afterall.

What follows are 8 of the strategies that have worked best for us on Google Shopping ads over the years.

Note: Do You Trust the Reliability of Your Google Analytics Data?

It goes without saying that you need to be 100% sure of the accuracy of any analytics data before you start investing in Google Ads — or in any other kind of marketing activity.

We always spend time digging into Google Analytics, or whichever reporting tool is being used, to ensure the historic data looks clean and there are no nasty surprises.

If we can’t measure performance to a good degree of certainty, we can’t measure the growth we’re about to deliver. (Then we can’t create case studies like this one.)

Having a reporting tool is not a prerequisite, but we love it when a client comes to us with at least 6 months historic data to delve through. (A full 12 months of data is even better when you’re in a seasonal industry.)

1 – Our 3 Tiered PLA Structure: To Bid More Aggressively on Specific Search Phrases to Maximize ROAS

This is by far our favorite way to achieve the best ROAS from a PLA campaign.

In a nutshell, the 3-tiered campaign structure allows you to focus your spend on the search phrases that drive your sales — something which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

There’s no point wasting spend on non-performers: you want to focus on Search Queries that drive the highest ROAS.

Below we’ve listed the 3 step approach we take when building out campaigns using the “Negative Keyword Waterfall” approach:

Step 1: Review Your Historic Search Volume to Find the Search Terms That Drive Your Revenue  

You need to find the search query themes that generate the most transactions for your company.  

The goal here is to create two groups; one that has the high converting search terms, and another with the low – medium converting search terms.

The best performing search queries group will likely contain several branded terms, with specific model names, SKU codes, part numbers, and other searches that show a high purchase intent.

Step 2: Begin with 3 Shopping Campaigns — Tiers 1, 2 & 3 with the Required Priority Levels

We will setup these 3 campaigns with a shared budget, and each with a different priority level.

(Note: When learning this strategy, remember that in this context, priority setting doesn’t reflect the group’s priority, it’s just the order in which Google will cycle-through the campaigns).

Tier 1 will have the highest campaign priority setting, which indicates to Google that search queries should start here.

This tier, like all the others, contains every product available on the site but with many negative search phrases applied (which we’ll come to shortly).

In tier 2 (or campaign 2), we’ll adjust the priority setting to medium and this is where the average to medium performing search terms live.

In tier 3 (or campaign 3), we’ll adjust the priority setting to “low” and this is where the best converting search terms exist.

There are 3 tiers: tier one (high priority, low bid), tier 2 (medium priority, medium bid), and tier 3 (low priority, high bid).

Step 3: Build and Apply the Negative Keyword Lists

In tier 1, we will be applying negative keywords based on the search queries we want active in tier 2 and 3.

By adding these negative keywords to tier 1, it prevents them from landing in tier 1 and pushes them to the next tier in the funnel — Tier 2.

At tier 2, we again add negative keywords but this time only the best performing search terms.

At tier 3, we don’t need any negative keywords applied as any of those lower value search phrases should have been filtered out already from tier 1 or 2. This was the ultimate goal —  to be able to exclude those lesser converting searches and to bid more aggressively on all searches making it to tier 3.

(Note: We’ve seen some agencies get a little zealous with the amount of tiers they create and it becomes very difficult to maintain — the smallest change in any campaign can completely wreck the entire system. For that reason, we typically keep it to a 3 tier setup).

2 – Identify Your Store’s Best Sellers So You Know Where to Prioritize Your Budget

One of the easiest ways to grow your ROAS is to do a deep audit of your Google Ad campaign to identify historic best sellers — then bid higher accordingly.

You can combine this strategy with the tiered approach outlined above in strategy #1, where you bid your best sellers up on the product or product group level.

Take a look at your historic data (if it’s available) and identify those top selling products.

You can also use the likes of Google Analytics to find best sellers and eCommerce conversion rates, plus the relevant ROAS/ROI metrics.

3 – Regularly Audit and Optimize Your Google Product Feed for Better Overall Performance

If you take away just one thing from this piece, it should be this: your Google Product Feed is essential for succeeding with Google Shopping ads.

Auditing your feed is one of the first things we do when working with a client. This is a vital part of the campaign as it’s a vital cog in the Shopping ads algorithm, so it deserves a lot of attention.

We recently wrote a more detailed piece on how to optimize your Google Product Feed that explains exactly why and how you should be optimizing your feed and covers how to setup and execute your campaigns.

In short, you need to ensure your feed contains all the required product information. If not, you risk a) not showing up when people are searching for your products, and b) being charged a higher CPC to show your ads.

Be sure to keep your product title names relevant without keyword-stuffing.

It’s also vital to keep product titles relevant without keyword-stuffing. This not only helps to enhance visibility for those high intent searches, but it also helps to boost CTR from the ads.

4 – Our Mobile-Optimized Strategy for Improved eCommerce ROAS

Our own research has confirmed that mobile shoppers behave differently than desktop shoppers — no surprises there. The actual queries that convert on mobile aren’t necessarily the same ones people use from desktop.

But many eCommerce teams don’t have a specific approach when it comes to mobile users, aside from reducing mobile bids — which can be a wasteful approach.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Segment mobile customers

We repeat the search query analysis as mentioned in strategy #1 to segment mobile customers so we can determine a historic mobile-only ROAS.

If we find a gap here, we setup our own tiers with the appropriate negative keywords for mobile users. In the end, we may have 6 tiers setup for a client; 3 for desktop and 3 for mobile.

This beats simply adjusting bids on mobile or desktop. It’s a more holistic and strategic approach to optimising for the customer’s device at that moment, and for the entirety of the customer’s journey.

We find it pays to go into much depth with this.

5 – Seasonality Is Often an Untapped Opportunity (Find Those Crucial Periods for Your Client & Bid Aggressively)

If our client’s in a very seasonal industry, it’s crucial to keep time of year in mind and bid on products/product groups within the tiered structure accordingly.

For example, you should bid higher on flip flops in the summer and snow boots in the winter—but the tiers will remain the same.

By bidding higher on the best converting products in summer, you can maximize ROAS during these peak months when there’s a bigger search demand.

And during those quieter periods in winter, we’ll reduce bids but ensure we’ve still got a good presence — so we often find ourselves bidding differently depending on the time of year.

Take one of our wholesale retailers as an example. They operate in the back to school vertical, so understandably they get peak traffic ahead of the new school year. Search behavior changes in the lead up to these months.

We want to ensure we’re visible during periods of high search activity, whilst ensuring budget for the year isn’t exhausted.

We’ve seen this work across a range of seasonal verticals, and it isn’t something that we’ve noticed many other agencies or in-house teams doing.

(Note: It’s important to fully understand the 3 tiered approach before diving into this strategy or the mobile specific one. The inventory listed will need to be the same across tiers, otherwise you may experience leakage!)

6 – Let Google Optimize (With Supervision!) When There’s No Obvious Tiered Structure or Search Query Tiers

Smart Shopping Campaigns utilize a mix of your product feed and Google’s machine learning to take care of campaigns on your behalf.

We like to bundle any products into a Smart Shopping campaign when they don’t necessarily belong to another tier as explained in strategy #1 above.

These are the smaller products, maybe those lower-priced accessories, which can be left for Google to deal with. Google will then optimize for best-fit based on transaction history: but it doesn’t always mean Google will do the best possible job.

We’ve witnessed occasions where there wasn’t much transaction data for Google to use. Then when we saw a couple of mobile transactions occur Google went very aggressive on mobile — and caused ROAS to plummet.

In this case it would’ve been best to wait until there was more significant transaction data available before leaving it in the hands of them to automate.

7 – Using Dynamic Retargeting to Boost Your PLA’s eCommerce ROAS

As annoying as some people might find them, retargeting ads do convert, and extremely well.

Over time they’ve been shown to have a great ROI so they really work well to supplement your search marketing strategy.

The dynamic retargeting feature from Google Shopping enables you to automatically show ads to people who came to your site without completing a purchase.

It makes use of your product feed to determine the products they display and can intelligently group these together based on what’s likely to convert best.

Using dynamic remarketing is a fairly straightforward strategy to skyrocket eCommerce performance — it’s a must for any online retailer.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Setup dynamic retargeting ads to close the deal
An example of a dynamic retargeting ad

The Best eCommerce Strategies for Google Search Ads

We’ve covered 7 Google Shopping Campaign strategies above in quite some depth.

But whilst it’s easy to forget, running Google Search ads in tandem with Shopping Ads is a good strategy to cover all your bases.

Here are 9 more essential strategies we use to maximize eCommerce brands ROAS from search ads:

8 – How to Best Structure Your Google Ads Account for More Granular Control (And a Better ROAS!)

Often the best way to setup your client’s account is to actually just mimic their own navigation menu.

They’ve gone through the effort to build it out the way they have — so it’s probably been made that way for good reason.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Structure your Google ads account in a similar way to how they setup their own website navigation.

If they’ve got a top-level page that contains a category of products (eg shoes) and then sub-categories that contain brands (adidas, nike) then it probably makes sense to have a shoe category, and individual brand-specific ad groups within your Google Ads account.

Setting up in the way above saves a bit of time when it comes to structuring the account, and will make budget control easy too.

With this approach you can also get as granular as you like when it comes to ad group and keyword grouping.

It will also help when other people on your team need to dive in to manage the account, as well as keeping things clean for the reporting team later.

9 – Deep Link to Best-Sellers Within Text Ads & Make It Easier for Your Customers to Checkout

Often within your store’s categories, there will be a handful of outstanding, top selling products.

Instead of directing customers to an individual category page it will often make sense to take them direct to the best selling product page instead — that’s usually where they end up anyway.

You could easily have a few text ads setup on rotate which deep-link to a handful of the top-selling products, and simply monitor which ads bring in the most conversions.

You can run A/B tests on this in the background and keep a close eye on the products that really push the needle on your ROI.

This makes the path-to-purchase cleaner for the customer, and helps to improve your Google Quality Score, too.

In this instance, the keyword/search intent, ad text, and landing page experience is all well aligned and optimized.

In the cases where there is no clear best-seller, it would make good sense to direct the customer to the most relevant category page instead. This approach is often used when bidding on the less specific, short-tail keywords.

10 – Have an Industry-Specific (But Agile!) eCommerce Approach and Test Everything

The strategy we use at Inflow for running Google Search Ads will ultimately depend on the industry the client operates in, and of course the eCommerce platform they use.

We’re forced to tailor our approach to suit our clients (and more pertinent: their shoppers) so when it comes to strategy we’re always flexible to changing our tactics to suit what works best.

It’s important to have an agile approach when it comes to eCommerce marketing since things change quickly and the search landscape is constantly evolving. You need to always be open to new opportunities and test everything!

We like to use Google Experiments within Google Ads to test how variations of campaign setups perform versus our original campaign, helping to shape our ongoing strategies.

11 – Don’t Neglect Any Google Ad Extensions, Especially Price Extensions

We always ensure that every possible extension has been built out when a campaign goes live. Setting up all eligible extensions will give you a better Quality Score on your account and enhances your chances of taking up more valuable real estate within the SERPs.

The obvious choice when it comes to eCommerce clients has to be the Price Extension. This will highlight the product price within the text ad when someone’s shopping for your product.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Be sure to utilize the 'price' extension because it adds more value to your site.

Ensure your account has the following extensions active and optimised:

  • Callout extensions
  • Structured Snippets
  • Promotion Snippets (essential for Black Friday and other sales)
  • Sitelink Extensions

12 – Product SKU’s, Part-Numbers, and Model Numbers Are a PPC Specialist’s Dream

When running search ads, you’ll want to bid heavily on product SKU and other identifier codes, model numbers, replacement part keywords, and so on.

Whilst these might not have a huge search volume when compared to some other non-brand search queries, they’re going to have a super high conversion rate.

Someone entering a search query for “washing machine” or even “best washing machine” is probably going to be fairly high in the purchase process. They’re probably still shopping around and trying to come to a decision about the particular model they want.

But what about someone searching for a specific washing machine model, like “Samsung WW70K5413UX”? You should be throwing your money at Google for that type of search query.

We often scrape our clients product feeds to get a list of these numbers or SKU’s before using Dynamic Insertion within the Headline of the text ad and the Display URL to help boost CTR, as well as using keyword level Final URLs to send the user to the exact product they are searching for.  

13 – Ongoing Scheduled Maintenance and Optimization Is a Must for All Google Ad Campaigns

Let’s say your ROAS is ticking over nicely at 300% each month. While that’s great, it’s not to say it’s bringing in the most possible revenue.

You shouldn’t neglect campaigns even if they’ve got a great ROAS (that 300% could all be based on a few branded search terms and nothing else that’s going to drive your sales).

Ongoing scheduled maintenance and optimization is vital to ensuring your search strategy doesn’t get left to stagnate.

From regularly reviewing the ‘Search Insights’ report and checking in on the ‘Search Impression Share’, while verifying that rogue searches aren’t eating up your budget — there’s always plenty to do.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Regularly review your reports for accurate information on how your ads are running.

This goes back to strategies #4 and #5: mobile search behavior is different than desktop search, and seasonality is an important factor to consider too.

Checking how those two variants might affect your search campaigns on an ongoing basis wouldn’t go amiss — especially if you’ve got an old account that has gone a bit stale.

14 – In-Market Audiences Offers Keyword Flexibility (And More Aggressive Bidding Strategies)

In-market audiences can be used within your Search Campaigns to ensure your ads are being seen by a wider audience than normal with a different matching criteria applied.

The in-market audiences to choose from can be viewed from this downloadable Google resource and consists of groups of people who are supposedly in the market for a particular product or service.

Let’s take an example of an online retailer of car wheels and accessories. If somebody searches for a product that is similar to one that the car retailer sells, Google will place them in a particular audience group.

Be sure to target a specific audience with your ads.

As an advertiser, you can then choose to target that particular audience group with your own search ads.

It sometimes makes sense to adjust bids according to your audiences, upping them when they match a particular, high-intent group.

It can also give you flexibility when it comes to your keyword strategy — you don’t need to be quite as granular, because you know this person is (in theory) already interested in what you’re selling.

15 – Dynamic Search Ads Suit Clients with a Huge Product Inventory or No Accessible Product Feed

Dynamic Search Ads are perfect for those who have a lot of inventory but not a lot of time to list everything.

The penultimate Google Ads type we’ll share is our strategy for is Dynamic Search Ads.

This is Google’s offering for those with a massive inventory of products to sell, perhaps without the time required to list individual ads for each product.

Using this method, Google’s ad crawler will scan your entire website and create ads automatically based upon what it finds.

That might be a bit too much control for some, but for others it can be a real time-saver.

For us, we love to use it as a tool to create keyword lists in the unlikely case we may have missed some good search terms during our own keyword discovery phase.

(Note: If you do opt to make use of a Dynamic Search Campaign, you’ll want to ensure you’ve added your normal search keywords as negatives to ensure there’s no overlap.)

Ultimately, Dynamic Ads can be a good low-budget and minimal fuss campaign set to run in the background with low ongoing maintenance required.

16 – Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAG’s) Can Reduce CPC and Grow ROAS

Last but not least, Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAG’s) can be a really simple but incredibly effective way to push out the ROAS.

Using historic conversion data, you can quite quickly identify the few keywords which are bringing in most of your revenue (see the 80/20 rule).

These keywords should be listed in their own individual ad groups (1 keyword per group often gives the best results here) with exact match targeting enabled.

Ad texts are then optimised to match that specific keyword, which helps give a great quality score to Google, and hopefully generates a good CTR too.

In your other Ad groups, you’ll want to ensure exact match negative keywords are applied for the terms above to ensure there’s no overlap which may lead to bidding against yourself in the Ads Auction.

Often by making use of the SKAG strategy, you will see a reduction in CPC, and over time you can push more and more spend into the campaign; you’ll want to cover as much of the search demand as you can.

As with all of the strategies listed here, you’ll want to play around and test the above before you jump right in and make any drastic, lasting changes.

Google Shopping Product Feed Optimization: How to Optimize Your Data Feed for Better Ad Performance

Our guide to optimizing your eCommerce product or data feed for Google Shopping ads to get the lowest costs per click and highest ROAS. We’ve curated these lessons from working on hundreds of eCommerce shopping ad campaigns.

When most people think about optimizing their Google Shopping ads, they focus on optimizing their campaigns, bid strategy, and execution.

While this is important, we’d argue that the more significant wins come from optimizing your data feed.

Your data feed is a subset of all of your products. It’s a digital product catalog that contains attributes like product title, description, GTIN, category, etc. This is what’s used to determine how often and for what keywords you show up for.

Google Shopping consists of two products – Google Ads (formerly AdWords) and Google Merchant Center. Google Merchant Center is where your data feed lives and Google Ads is where you can optimize your campaigns, set your budget and adjust your bid strategy.

We’ve divided this guide into two parts:

Part 1: Data Feed Optimization: Getting your data feed optimized is the foundation of successful Google Shopping Ad campaigns for eCommerce companies. Most guides on this topic don’t cover this in-depth but we’ve dedicated an entire part to this step. We’ll outline our experience in how to properly manage Google Shopping ads for hundreds of eCommerce companies.

Part 2: Campaign Setup and Execution: Here we’ll teach you the nuts and bolts of setting up, optimizing, and executing your Google Shopping ads campaigns. (Note, this will be published soon, and then we’ll link to it here.)

In this post, we’ll walk you through these four steps for how to optimize your data feed:

  1. Optimize These Five Attributes (At a Minimum)  
  2. Monitor Google Merchant Center Regularly
  3. Update Your Feed Regularly
  4. Analyze and Cross-Reference Ad Performance Data

Why Does Data Feed Optimization Matter?

The more information that you have in your data feed, the more relevant you are for people’s searches. In turn, Google will reward you by showing your ads more frequently and for less money.

Optimizing your data feed is like building a house. The data feed is the foundation on where you build all of your Google Shopping campaigns. If the foundation is off or your data is bad,  you will have a hard time performing well on Google Shopping.

Here are a few things that happen when your feed isn’t optimized.

  • You won’t show up for certain searches.
  • It will cost you more money for your ads to show
  • Your competitors will take up more space than you.
  • You won’t get correct visibility which could lead to overspend.

For example, say you sell Nike shoes. If your titles only contained basic information such as, “Nike red shoes” and didn’t contain size information, color information, or model information in your product title, then you would not show up for some of the highest intent searches.

If you did end up showing up, you would be spending a lot more for that ad than competitors who implement a feed optimization strategy.

Instead of "Nike red shoes", being more specific is better in the long-run.

Optimize These Five Most Important Attributes

GTIN

The GTIN is the UPC of the online world. When you’re a reseller or a manufacturer of goods, you use that information to track your products across Google’s Surfaces and to keep an eye on MAP pricing through the Manufacturer Center.

The only time that you don’t need a GTIN is if you’re selling one-off goods—meaning you sell one-off antique furniture, used products, or when you’re selling things as a bundle. When you have the GTIN, it’s important to include it because of all the information it provides.

Product Titles

One of the biggest mistakes that we see brands making is keyword stuffing their titles—and it ends up backfiring. Google will penalize you for long titles (i.e., anything over 75 characters). If your title is over 150 characters, they won’t approve your ad.

Product titles are important because Google Shopping is all broad match. There’s no phrase or exact match. The algorithm uses the title to identify what the person is actually searching for and matches those keywords with the feed.

The key is to be precise and include the most relevant information in your titles. However, it is important not to keyword stuff your titles. Your title should reflect how your customers or prospects are already talking about your product.  

Data feed optimization: Instead of "men's jeans" you're better off getting more specific like "Men's Levi’s Boss Jeans Size 34"

For example, if you sell jeans, you need to include all of the main keywords in the titles, such as: ‘Men’s Levi’s Boss Jeans Size 34’. The more relevant information that the user includes in their searches, the more likely they are to buy.

If your product title is only “men’s jeans” you’ll appear on all of the general searches, but you’ll miss out on the higher-intent searches that are the most likely to result in a purchase.

This can happen when you directly import the titles from your Shopify store directly into Google Shopping without optimizing them.  

If you are having issues optimizing your feed or just want a second pair of expert eyes on it, you can reach out to us and one of our Google Shopping experts will help you out.

Product Type

In our experience, Google is increasingly putting more relevance to the product types. They contribute to the overall “quality score” of your data feed.

We recommend you follow the structure/breadcrumbs on your website. This is the best way to get proper visibility over all your products.

Product Category

The product category is how Google categorizes products inside Google Shopping itself.

Because there are over 6,000 default categories, we recommend you get as granular as possible. Some of these categories can go down five tiers or more. You will want to use a categorization tool to help you with this. Here is a full list of categories to help with this process.

For example, if you sell reading glasses and you haven’t optimized your product categories, your products might be showing up under drinking glasses instead of reading glasses.

Product Description

The description carries less weight than the other four attributes above because it takes about two clicks to see (as opposed to the title, price, and brand, that show up immediately in the shopping results—without any additional clicks from the user). However, this is still worth optimizing because of its use of added relevancy.

Here are a few tips for optimizing your description:

  • Put your product title at the end of your description.
  • Add high relevance keywords into your description
  • Identify added HTML that was not removed. There are many times that these pieces of code will get caught in the description.

Understanding Google Merchant Center

With text ads, you can see a quality score, such as an 8 out of 10. However, with Google Shopping campaigns, you don’t get a numerical score. Instead, you have the Google Merchant Center.

The Merchant Center acts as a QA source to make sure your data is clean and accurate. When you upload your data feed into Google Merchant Center, you’ll see errors, warnings, and disapprovals.

While Google will still show your ads for certain searches, it will end up costing you more money than your competitors who have optimized feeds. So, when you start seeing these errors come in, you want to clean them up ASAP.

There are three different levels of issues in the Merchant Center—by account item, feed, and account level (with account level being the worst).

Account Level Warnings

Account level warnings can lead to larger issues such as Google shutting down your Merchant Center. If you get an Account Level Warning, such as a verification issue, you should fix it immediately so that you can keep your ads running.

Feed Level Warnings

There’s also a feed check, where they’ll go through your data feed and make sure it’s delimiting correctly, and all the files are set up and readable.

Item Level Warnings

SKU or item level warnings are at the product level, meaning that they’ll go through all of your products. They’ll let you know if you are not including specific attributes, and give you a warning or a recommendation. This is where most issues are found and will need to be fixed in the data feed.

Update Your Data Feed Regularly

To improve your campaigns, get in the habit of updating your feed anytime your product prices, availability, or inventory levels change.

For example, if you sold 500 products last month and now you are only selling 350, you need to update your data feed. Otherwise, you’re paying to market 150 products that you aren’t currently selling. Worse, they’ll 404 in the Merchant Center and bring down the quality of your feed.

In addition, when working with our clients, we ask for a dynamic file meaning that we pull in your new file of all your products every single day. We optimize those products through a custom tool and then upload it in Google Merchant Center.

This should be done by someone who has feed optimization experience because many times when you try to do this on your own (or use one of the $50/per month automated app optimization platforms), you won’t have an analyst looking over the feed. This results in random keywords being added into your titles with inaccurate attributes. You’ll end up with a feed that isn’t fully optimized, and it could cost you more money in the long run.

At Inflow, we do all of these optimizations in-house, which means that we don’t make cookie cutter optimizations like most of the tools out there.

Analyze Ad Performance Data

You should also cross-reference Google Shopping data with search volume and other ad data sources. Some key things to look at are conversions, search volume, and negative keywords for your Shopping ads.

This is a great place to start looking for additional optimizations to add back into the feed. By analyzing the feed and campaigns from this level, it should help you steadily increase performance over a longer period of time.

Conclusion

Optimizing your data feed is a powerful way to improve Google Shopping ads performance, lower cost per click, and generate more sales.

We’ll be sharing more details on Campaign Setup and Execution in Part 2 of our guide—stay tuned!  

An SEO’s Perspective: How to Scale Quality Content Production

A professional SEO consultant on how to scale content production (in particular for eCommerce websites) while still maintaining quality standards and complying with Google’s E-A-T.

For eCommerce companies looking to increase organic traffic, “scaling” content production, that is, building systems to produce a higher volume of content is usually a strategy that is on their radar. We hear this often from clients: “We’re looking to scale content production”, or “In the past, we tried scaling content production, then this happened”, etc.

The logic is simple: more content for Google to index should lead to more organic traffic.

Loosely speaking, that logic is sound.

But Google continues to update their algorithm to emphasize content quality above all else, hoping to keep giving searchers better and better results for their queries.

So, eCommerce companies looking to “scale” content production volume need to do so carefully. If that scale in content creation comes with a reduction in quality, in Google’s eyes, then it can either (a) render your content marketing efforts fruitless or, worse, (b) actively hurt rankings.

We see these mistakes made often. For example a company “scales” by hiring a bunch of junior copywriters (and maybe junior SEO team members) generally resulting in:

  • A lot of low-quality content with little authority and inaccurate information
  • A lack of brand authenticity or connection
  • A traffic spike without the accompanying conversions and new customers

In other words, lots of time, effort and marketing spend with little to show for it.

But there is a better way.

In this guide, we want to lay out an operational plan to scale content production while maintaining high-quality content, so you can reap the most SEO benefits possible.

Specifically, we’ll cover how to:

Content Strategy: Maintaining Quality While Scaling Volume

A great content strategy is important for all brands looking to scale content since it helps you think through your needs, define and track your goals, and reduce the chance of spending foolishly on content promotion (or, the wrong hire!).

However, content strategies—and how to put them together—are covered a million different ways around the web, to varying success. This doesn’t make this less important (it’s critical, in fact) but I don’t want to spend all our time on this vs. the operational game plan since that element is largely forgotten.

So when it comes to content strategies, follow the great advice you’ve already seen out there, and:

  1. Ensure you think through & define all the items that are applicable to you on this list.
  2. Plan for how you want to display E-A-T on your site.

Google and other search engines are placing a greater emphasis on “E-A-T”, or “Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness” for all websites, broadly speaking. Specifically, to a greater degree, to all YMYL Sites (Your Money or Your Life) sites—websites covering content related to finances, medical advice, legal information, etc.—as well as anyone accepting & processing private data (aka: all eCommerce cart pages due to credit card processing!).

Whether or not your site has E-A-T (spoiler alert: it should,) you should think through how well you show your E-A-T to your customers—and Google—on your website.

Quick example: if you are a YMYL site selling medical devices, you wouldn’t want some junior copywriter doing research on the internet, regurgitating three different articles, changing some copy around, and then creating a new post. That’s a recipe for inaccurate information and low authority. (And just because it might be accurate doesn’t inherently make it authoritative.)

You need to look at your website as a whole—including each piece of content and all pages—and objectively ask, “Is this supporting the goal of my website? Is this helping or hurting my E-A-T?”

  • Always showcase E-A-T through your Homepage and About page. Clearly explain how long you have been in business, along with the relevant degrees, certifications, and awards that are applicable to your industry. Also, ensure that security and trust seals and badges are present & functional.
  • When creating strategic content, showcase E-A-T on all of your writer and/or editor pages. These pages should highlight the expertise, industry experience, etc. of the specific writer/editor in question—as it pertains to the subject matter they cover.

Try to remember that showing your expertise, authority, and trust isn’t just about Google and growing your organic search traffic—it’s about actually being an expert, having authority, and developing trust with your customers/consumers.

Here is a checklist we put together to help.

After all, if you don’t have E-A-T, why should they trust you enough to buy anything from you or work with you? Improve your E-A-T to better connect with your customers, increase sales/leads, and grow your business.

Scaling Your Content Operations: Building the Right Team

When it comes to building content teams, people often focus on the ‘what’ and forget the ‘how’. They approach it by hiring a bunch of writers, who don’t have contextual expertise in what the business does, nor real content marketing strategy experience. This creates challenges in building a high quality and scalable content marketing system.

Start with Content Responsibilities

You need to define the team structure to execute against your content strategy in a way that works for your business—considering the job functions, roles and ownership you already have—and what gaps you need to fill.

Start by defining your content team’s RASCI:

  • Who’s Responsible: who is owning the various critical project elements?
  • Who’s Approving: who needs to approve the plan and work?
  • Who’s Supporting: who is executing the various project elements? And who’s responsible for what pieces?
  • Who’s Consulted: which stakeholders have needs that must be defined and met as a part of the project?
    • Make sure you don’t forget your SEO, social media & email channel owners as stakeholders.
  • Who’s Informed: who do you need to keep looped in?

Don’t just plan based on who you already have hiredplan for what you know you’ll need to execute your strategy.

The primary responsibilities of any content team include:

  • Ideation
  • Planning
  • Copywriting
  • Researching
  • Editing (i.e. brand and copyediting)  
  • Optimizing (i.e. SEO, conversions, readability, etc.)
  • Distribution
  • Analysis
  • Expertise (i.e. Depending on the team, this is usually either the writers or editors.)

You’ll also want to think through:

  • Who or what team is ultimately responsible for the expertise, authority & trust (or E-A-T) of your content?
  • Which responsibilities will be owned by what roles in your content team?
    • With training & involved stakeholders that evaluate performance & provide feedback loops, consider that some responsibilities (say, copy editing, social sharing, on-page SEO and content ideation) can be carried out by trained team members.)
  • Whether you want to hire full-time, part-time or externally for each role.
  • Where and when will everyone work?
    • Not everyone needs to be in the office 24/7.
  • All the tools, resources and processes needed to help the team do those jobs.

The way you structure your marketing team will vary based on the needs of your business, your brand, and your strategy/goals.

Here are three “outside the box” team structures we’ve seen work well:

1) Invest in Editors Internally; Outsource to SME Copywriters

Are there content marketers in your subject matter already out there blogging and making a name for themselves—that you can hire as freelancers?

Then focus on building an editorial team to help own ideation, brand/tone/style execution, SEO on-page execution and copy-editing, and outsource the copywriting. The SME copywriters will bring their existing audience & authority in association with your brand.

For example, if you sell gardening equipment, you can reach out to bloggers or content creators in the gardening space who already have an expertise and a following. You can hire them to write the content, and have your editors edit it so that it’s on brand.

2) Hire SME Internally; Outsource to a Content Agency

When you’ve already hired subject experts internally, but they are too busy to write strategic content as often as you’d like, a content/inbound agency might be a good fit.

In this scenario, anyone can submit content ideas, the content agency writes and edits it, and the internal SME reviews & signs off on it prior to publication.

3) Hire SME Editors & Specialized Ghostwriters

When expertise is expensive or highly specialized—like when you need to create medical content, but can’t afford to hire a bunch of doctors to write it—consider hiring a smaller team of SME editors with expertise that are willing to read, edit, approve, and put their name/reputation onyour strategic content.

Then seek out specialized ghostwriters that you can hire internally to write & research content, ensuring accuracy & minimizing the time investment on the part of the Senior editorial team.

In each of these scenarios, the key is to ensure that there is someone (or some team) who is in charge of subject matter expertise. They should bring the authority of their expertise to the content. Then you build a team around them that executes on the tasks they cannot support on, thus reducing your costs and increasing your scale.

Plan for Content Production Processes & Tools

After you have your roles & responsibilities defined, it’s time to think through the processes & tools they’ll need to make your workflow actually flow according to plan. We’re talking about processes that will affect content strategy and result in high quality content, not just a “style guide” that most companies already have.

Start with defining those things that multiple people or teams will touch, so you can clarify things like handoff timing & expectations of what’s included in that handoff. Examples may include:

  • Content ideation
  • “Claiming” a topic to write about
  • Turning in content for review
  • Content approval & publication

Ensure your teams are organized and have methods for easily sharing insights required by other teams.

One such example here is a tool called a Content Matrix: a visual representation (or mapping) of all of your strategic content & the pages on your site you want to drive traffic to (usually services you provide or stuff you sell) along with their corresponding target keywords, personas, customer funnel stages, calls to action, etc… the sky is the limit!

A Content Matrix efficiently maps your content and what you want to do with it, enabling things like:

  • Visibility into what content has already been created (or could be improved)
  • Visibility into what SEO targets an existing piece of content is targeting
  • Prioritization of what content you want links built to
  • What gaps you might have in content (or goods) for a particular persona, or in a particular stage of the customer funnel for a key persona
  • Clarity on what CTAs might be meaningful on a specific piece of content (based on the persona + customer funnel stage that persona is in & where you want them to be)

Sidenote: Here is a downloadable content matrix template that our team created.   

Don’t forget about ongoing training & feedback loops.

Let’s say you’ve decided not to hire a huge SEO team internally, and instead, you are outsourcing to an inbound agency (might I point out—we’re pretty good at this!)

On smaller projects, it’s pretty easy to hand the logical tasks (like in the following list) to this team:

  • Who’s going to own on-page optimization?
  • Keyword research?
  • SEO topic ideation?
  • Hub page strategy & organization?

Then you want to scale your content, but you don’t have a huge budget to also scale up your SEO.

This is where training and feedback processes can help.  

For example, you can document your processes, tools, and SOPs to train team members on lower-level tasks & ask SEOs to have a consistent process for evaluating their work to create an ongoing feedback loop. You can create similar processes for social media and improving conversions. This also makes it easier to onboard and ramp up new hires.

Evaluate Your Results

Because your content strategy, team structure, and goals aren’t static, you need to build in a process for re-evaluating them at a set cadence.

You should regularly check your KPIs and evaluate your performance against them, taking time to note which content pieces (and types of content) are moving you further towards or away from those goals.

When something works in unexpected ways (e.g. viral growth,) you want to lean into that, but this can also end up distracting you from the end goals, which may or may not be a good thing. Having this process in place ensures you make these changes intentionally instead of chasing shiny objects.

Conclusion

In sum, this is how you can build an authoritative operation plan that supports your content strategy to maximize SEO traffic and conversions.

Edge SEO for eCommerce: How to Spend Less for Faster SEO Implementation

Learn how to use Edge SEO to implement SEO changes without coding or requiring developers to change your backend.

eCommerce companies trying to improve their SEO often run into a host of bottlenecks that get in the way.

These bottlenecks can occur for a few reasons:

  • Long development queues, meaning that even quality SEO recommendations could take months to incorporate;
  • Unavailable, cost prohibitive or otherwise uncooperative developers;
  • Limits to functionality, such as a hosted platform not allowing you to edit your own Robots.txt file, or the inability to host a WordPress blog on the same subdomain as your store.

These boil down to two problems: either your eCommerce platform won’t let you make these SEO changes, or development logistics, costs, and personalities get in the way.

Each of these problems point to the same potential solution. In this article, we’ll be discussing a unique strategy currently gaining steam in SEO circles. It’s one we think many eCommerce could use: Edge SEO.

Edge SEO, originally coined by Dan Taylor of SALT.agency, can make implementing some SEO modifications quick and inexpensive with simple tools we’ll highlight here. In this article, we’ll discuss what Edge SEO is, how it works, and outline some specific use cases for your eCommerce site that make it easy for even non-developers to implement several specific SEO changes in a hurry.

Note: You can talk to one of our SEO experts about how we can help you implement SEO changes faster with Edge SEO, as well as do an overall eCommerce SEO audit, by reaching out here.

What is Edge SEO?

Let’s start with a simple explanation of Edge SEO. Edge SEO is a process or method where code modifications (in this case for SEO purposes) that you would generally make in your main codebase, are implemented instead “at the edge” of a CDN (Content Delivery Network).  

As requests and responses are sent between a user of your website and your main web server/host these requests can be “captured” and “modified” at the Edge—allowing modifications to be made to the HTTP response and accompanying HTML, CSS, and JS code (and effectively “implementing” SEO at the edge).

Users and bots like Googlebot only see/crawl the modified code thereby making it appear as if these changes were made on your main codebase.  

A graphic depicting how Edge SEO works with the server directly in the center, surrounded by the CDN and then finally the user.

With the proper tools in place in your “middle layer”—the CDN—you can implement changes with a few clicks and work around the limitations of your eCommerce platform and your development queue.

How Edge SEO Lets Marketers Implement Site Changes (No Coding Required)

Here is the flow of how to “do” Edge SEO compared to traditional methods of implementing SEO advice.

Your SEO agency, consultant, or in house employee, delivers a set of recommendations. Let’s say they involve things like making changes to robots.txt, setting up a bunch of redirects, and more.

We’ll call these “site changes”.

Normally, you’d have to ask your development team to implement these changes, and that’s subject to the obstacles we mentioned at the top of this article.

With the Edge SEO process, the marketing team instead would use some sort of cloud network or CDN platform. One of the most well-suited ones out today is Cloudflare, so for the purposes of this article, we’ll use them as an example.

So in the Edge SEO process, instead of going to developers to do your redirects, you’d go directly inside Cloudflare and make them there:

Cloudflare lets you make redirect changes directly.

Note: no coding or server-side programming is required to do this.

Out of the box, Cloudflare lets you make certain site changes that often fall in the bucket of “SEO tactics”, including:

  • Auto Minify HTML, CSS, and JS
  • Image Compression
  • Redirects, including 301/302 redirects
  • Managing your DNS (to verify domain properties in Google Search Console)
  • Implementing HTTPS and other security layers
Manage speed performance settings within Cloudflare too.

But what about additional site changes that SEOs often recommend (and we often recommend for our client’s when optimizing their sites), such as:

  • Editing large amounts of title tags and meta tags for product pages
  • Making changes to the robots.txt file which can be limited by some hosted platforms
  • Adding image alt attributes across a large set of product pages
  • Hosting a blog in a subdirectory, as opposed to an additional subdomain
  • Uploading a list of redirects in bulk
  • Implementing Hreflang tags
  • A/B testing your SEO

Fortunately, Cloudflare has a feature that lets you essentially make any site change using Javascript code called Cloudflare “Workers” (an additional $5/month).

Normally this would require another bottleneck: more work from your developers. Fortunately, there are now tools that integrate with the Cloudflare Workers feature—so you can circumvent developers or limitations of your eCommerce platform to implement these changes as well:

  • Spark is a “meta CMS for SEO teams,” currently in the alpha testing phase. We have early access to this and have found it’s especially powerful for additional features like setting up A/B tests. If you’re interested in experimenting with Edge SEO, consider registering with them.
The Spark interface
  • Sloth.cloud is currently in version 1.1, and gives you more robust features for using Cloudflare’s Workers feature. That includes A/B testing as well as modifying or overriding your Robots.txt file.
The Sloth interface

Armed with tools like Spark and Sloth, any non-developer with access to Cloudflare Workers can implement advanced Edge SEO changes. These tools, integrated with Cloudflare Workers, will fill in the missing gaps of Cloudflare’s “out of the box” solutions and let marketers quickly and easily implement site changes that can improve organic rankings as per their SEO experts’ recommendations.

Next, let’s look one by one to a series of typical site changes that—in our decade of experience doing eCommerce SEO—many eCommerce sites may need to make at some point.

Use Cases: Solving Specific eCommerce SEO Problems with Edge SEO

Handling ‘Out of Stock’ Products

A product that’s gone out of stock still leaves a product page behind. This can get tricky with SEO depending on what you plan to do with the page. Edge SEO makes it easy to incorporate one common choice: redirecting a product page to a category page or even 404ing the discontinued product page if it makes sense to do so.

For further reading on what choices you’ll have to make, refer to our post on How to Manage Out of Stock Products for SEO. You’ll find Sloth.cloud’s Redirect Manager/Implementation tool to be convenient for implementing redirects. This can also be done directly in Cloudflare’s interface with Page Rules.

Mass Adding Image Alt Attributes to Product Images

You can mass add image alt attributes with Spark. For example, you can configure Spark to use the “variables” scraped from within a product page to automatically create image alt attributes. It only requires a one-time setup from your end. This is critical for any team with thousands of products requiring on-page SEO improvements like alt attributes for images.

Using a Blog Directory Instead of an Additional Subdomain

If you run a blog hosted on a different subdomain than your store, putting that blog on a subdirectory on your main subdomain (recommended for SEO benefits) has required complex workarounds like installing and configuring a reverse proxy with unique configuration code to link www.yoursite.com/blog to the hosted blog.

For many, the easier strategy is simply to use a subdomain, blog.yoursite.com, instead. This is, in turn, less effective for SEO.

Luckily, there is now a new and much easier way to serve your blog on your main subdomain using Cloudflare Workers directly as neither Sloth or Spark support this feature yet.

Collecting and Accessing Your Log Files

Hosted eCommerce platforms are notoriously stingy about providing easy access to your log files. You can collect these logs yourself using Edge SEO through a platform like Cloudflare. Here is a resource for one way to set this up manually; you can also use a tool like Sloth to help configure the implementation.

Refer to our guide on basic Log File Analysis to find everything you can accomplish with these logs, especially to identify what the Google Bot is or isn’t crawling on your site.

Editing robots.txt and Proper Canonical and Meta Robots Tags

Robots.txt

Very few systems will limit your ability to edit Robots.txt—but when it’s a problem, it’s a big problem. Edge SEO makes it possible to work around this with a simple interface.

For example, using Sloth allows you to log in, make simple edits to your Robots.txt, save those edits, and go about your day.

Canonical and Meta Tags

You won’t have a lot of access to these edits when using a hosted platform that limits. Edge SEO can make an effective workaround.

Since even Googlebot will view your SEO implementations as though they’re native to the code on your server, you can handle your canonical and meta robots tags in the same way. The changes will have the same SEO effect as if you changed your underlying server’s code—only you’ve done it from a simple interface.

Implementing Redirects

Implementing redirects isn’t always a challenge, but many eCommerce platforms will limit what you can do.

Using a platform like Cloudflare along with an Edge SEO helper tool like Sloth makes it possible for you to easily setup one-off redirects or upload a list of redirects in bulk.

With some self-hosted platforms, implementing these redirects would require you to install a plugin. This can throw a wrench into your overall site performance and security. You avoid the downside by implementing redirects via Edge SEO and skipping the plugins altogether.

Improving Site Speed

Many site speed improvements can be quickly implemented directly in Cloudflare. For example, Cloudflare offers an “Auto Minify Javascript/CSS/HTML” feature which removes all unnecessary white space from your code, speeding up download times to the user. To activate this feature, you simply log in to Cloudflare and check the appropriate box. Be sure to test your results, as sometimes auto-minifying can cause bugs to appear.

For more background on minifying Javascript and improving Site Speed, visit our post on maximizing speed in eCommerce.

Implementing Hreflang Tags

Since Hreflang tag management is central to good international SEO, and using the Hreflang tags properly can result in an influx of international traffic, it makes sense to get it right.

Hreflang tags are notorious for creating problems for the teams in charge of implementing them. For example, which team at your company is responsible for managing these tags? With multiple markets making changes, you might run into issues with controlling your site versions.

Implementing and maintaining Hreflang tags on your site is another limitation of hosted eCommerce, but you can get around this via Edge SEO and implementing your Hreflang strategy using Sloth.io and Cloudflare Workers.

DNS-Level Verification

It’s important to verify your site as a domain property in Google Search Console so you can access all of your data—across every subdomain—in one GSC profile.

You can use Cloudflare to manage your DNS as well, helping ensure you get verified as a domain property.

This feature is native to Cloudflare, which means you can use it right “out of the box” even before you sign up for Workers or implement tools like Spark or Sloth.

A/B Testing Changes in Your SEO

A/B testing SEO changes on your own without some sort of tool in place is extremely difficult. You’ll also be responsible for custom-building your own tests.

But because an Edge SEO platform can function much like a meta-Content Management System, you can use a tool like Spark to build and execute an A/B SEO test, and run them at scale. There’s no need to run expensive tools or run them regularly at a much larger scale with substantial dev investment for each custom test.

Conclusion

Edge SEO is here, and it’s easier than ever. Today, the available tools make it simpler to circumvent your eCommerce SEO limits and optimize your site on your terms—all without relying on your developers for every SEO related modification.

Note: You can talk to one of our SEO experts about how we can help you implement SEO changes faster with Edge SEO, as well as do an overall eCommerce SEO audit, by reaching out here.

Are eCommerce companies too reliant on paid marketing? Our take from working with hundreds of companies.

Are eCommerce companies too reliant on paid ads? Will they saturate their market? Our paid marketing team weighs in on these questions.

Are eCommerce brands too dependent on paid advertising?

This is an assertion that has been floating around in marketing and startup circles lately. In particular, we’re seeing a slew of new venture-backed eCommerce startups emerge with a glut of investor cash available to spend aggressively on advertising.

This was also the central premise of an article from Andrew Chen, who is a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He argues that many companies die from their over-reliance and addiction to paid marketing channels.

He writes, “The key insight here is that paid marketing is tricky to grow, at scale, as the primary channel. It’s highly dependent on both external forces – competition and platform – as well as the leadership team’s psychology when things get unsustainable.”

Is paid marketing a dubious channel for eCommerce companies? This is an important question to ask.

Since we’ve helped hundreds of eCommerce brands over the last decade grow via paid and non-paid channels, we have a unique perspective to share with the eCommerce community.

This article answers this “overreliance” question by looking at a few core pieces of any eCommerce company’s marketing strategy including:

  • Attribution: Ensuring you have accurate measures of cost of acquisition by channel
  • Scale effects: Our thoughts on how paid channels diminish or don’t in efficacy with scale
  • Saturation: Most brands are at risk of “saturating” a market with paid ads

In short, while we agree with Andrew on a couple of smaller points, based on our experience,  we feel that most eCommerce brands shouldn’t worry about an overreliance on paid marketing as long as attribution is properly accounted for and return on ad spend (ROAS) is monitored.

Let’s get into the details.

Understanding True Customer Acquisition Costs

A key component of this “overreliance on paid marketing” argument is that a company needs to have an accurate measure of each channel’s Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and that simply monitoring “blended” Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) is dangerous, as it can lead companies to waste thousands — if not millions of dollars — on unprofitable ad spend.

We agree.

While Blended CAC means slightly different things to different people, in general, it refers to just tracking a single number for acquisition cost that is total sales divided by total marketing costs.

Obviously, this leads to the danger of profitable channels obscuring the existence of unprofitable channels.

For example, if a company was losing money on Facebook ads in a given month, but had their product picked up by Good Morning America and got a bunch of sales that way, their overall company CAC could look good. It would hide the fact that Facebook ads were not profitable (or not as profitable) as they think.

But, this problem isn’t an issue as long as you’re looking at CAC by channel. And in our experience, the vast majority of eCommerce companies today do this already.

For our clients, we look at CAC, and more importantly, return on ad spend (ROAS) at a far more granular level than just channel. We look at CAC and ROAS:

  • At the platform level (Adwords, Google shopping, Facebook, Instagram)
  • At the campaign level
  • At the ad group level
  • For specific keywords, products, terms, creative, and more

So we have an extremely detailed understanding of ROAS along all paid acquisition programs down to specific ads and attributes.

We recommend all eCommerce companies think of CAC and ROAS at this granular of a level.

Because this depth of understanding lets you do things like lower cost per acquisition (CPA) from $47 to $9 in a Google Shopping program and develop best practices for how to compose adwords ads for the highest ROAS.

So, while blended CAC isn’t an issue, there is another attribution problem that many eCommerce brands fall victim to that we’ll explore in the next section.  

Analyzing Last-Click v. Multi-Touch Attribution Models

One mistake we do see eCommerce companies make, however, is just looking at last-click attribution in Google Analytics. This is the default attribution for Google Analytics.

In our view, this can really handicap a company’s understanding of

  • The true ROI of paid ads
  • The role that paid ads take in a customer’s entire journey with your brand.
Last Click Attribution Model example

Last-click attribution makes it seem like your customer acquisition is linear, takes place on a single device, and then gives all the credit to the last touch point. A customer sees an ad. Then, clicks the link and buys from there. If they buy immediately, the ad gets credit. If they later come in via the homepage or organic search and buy, then the ad would get no credit under the last click attribution model.

Obviously, this framework is extremely limited.

In today’s market, most customers will have multiple touchpoints with your brand before they buy. The average customer may click on your ad, read a few of your tweets, check out some product reviews and then Google their way to a blog post (Note: We’ve shared multiple case studies on eCommerce blogging and content such as buying guides helping with sales) – all before they ever make a purchase. When you look at it from the lens of last-click attribution, the blog post will get credited with the sale. The reality is your paid advertising, social media and content all assisted with that sale.

A flowchart showing how sales work. Generally, consumers don't immediately purchase during the same visit.

One way to improve your view of the role these multiple touchpoints play in “assisting” with the ultimate conversion event is by analyzing sales via one of several multi-touch attribution models. Multi-touch attribution is not perfect, as it still doesn’t account for cross-device touches (i.e. if someone click an ad on their phone then later buys on their computer, you won’t know it was the same person and that the ad contributed to this sale), but it’s a clear step up from last click attribution.

For example you can use a few GA reports to look into this. For example, using their built in “model comparison tool” you can evaluate sales via last interactions (simple last click attribution) or other models, such as “position based”, where first and last are given more weight and the middle interactions less:

Google Analytics attribution model sample

Here is Google’s explanation of their different attribution models.

Scale Effects Don’t Have To Work Against You With Paid Marketing

Even after properly calculating acquisition costs, understanding attribution, and ensuring that each paid platform, ad campaign, or even each ad is profitable and meets your company’s target ROAs, the “over-reliance on paid marketing” theory argues that eventually, as you try to scale paid channels, your ad costs will grow.

In the Andrew Chen article we cited at the beginning, he argues:

“Saturation is also a thing. As you buy up your core demographic, the extra volume comes from non-core, who are less responsive.”

We think this worry, that you may “saturate” your market, should not be a big concern for the vast majority of eCommerce companies.

Here’s why.

First, many eCommerce companies are selling products that have a steady and consistent demand from new customers. For products like this, you can use paid marketing to consistently get in front of new waves of consumers looking to purchase your products.

For example, let’s assume you manufacture and sell furniture. Furniture has been in consistent demand for centuries. You will always have a steady influx of new potential customers looking to buy furniture. So we think this view that there is some “core demographic” of customers who, once you show them enough ads, will tire of them, and you have to move on to less profitable demographics is faulty because:

  • There are paid channels like search, where you can serve ads on extremely high intent keywords: “Black 3 seater leather sofa”
  • The people searching for that next month are likely different from those searching this month, thus you aren’t wearing out a single group from over exposure

Second, as we mentioned above, there are so many digital touchpoints today (versus when Dropbox was testing paid ads 10 years ago, as in Andrew Chen’s article), that viewing paid marketing simply as a direct, last click acquisition channel and nothing more is not sound.

In many industries, consumers need to see and build trust with brands before deciding to purchase. They want to compare brands. They want to educate themselves about products. They want to read reviews and see social proof. All of these touchpoints can be aided with paid marketing.

Thus, we feel that a holistic paid marketing strategy for any eCommerce company will involve getting in front of the consumers in all of these situations.

As you spend more and more, are there diminishing returns from a ROAS perspective? No doubt. But will most brands really saturate all paid channels and not be able to find as profitable channels to spend more capital? We think this is highly unlikely. Of course anything is possible.

If you truly have enormous amounts of investor capital waiting to be spent, perhaps you’ll reach saturation. But even after working with hundreds of eCommerce companies for over a decade, we haven’t run into it.

Conclusion

We argue that for the vast majority of eCommerce brands, you are unlikely to hit 100% saturation levels. Instead of pondering it, focus on improving ROAS. This includes attribution modeling and understanding all of the assisted conversion touchpoints that your customers have before they buy from you.

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