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.

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.

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.

Want a custom in-depth assessment of your paid marketing performance? Contact us to get started.

Inflow eCommerce Best-in-Class Research Study 2019

You might notice that our yearly Best-in-Class Research Study for 2019 looks a lot different from the Best-in-Class study from 2018. What’s the big change? In 2019, you can’t be “Best-in-Class” if you have major discrepancies between your desktop and mobile site. This year’s report combines mobile and desktop into a single 154-point matrix breaking

You might notice that our yearly Best-in-Class Research Study for 2019 looks a lot different from the Best-in-Class study from 2018.

What’s the big change?

In 2019, you can’t be “Best-in-Class” if you have major discrepancies between your desktop and mobile site.

This year’s report combines mobile and desktop into a single 154-point matrix breaking down the most important features an eCommerce site should have in 2019.

2019 Matrix Screenshot

Our matrix this year is mobile first: since Google now uses mobile as its first priority to index and rank your site, so do we. If your eCommerce site has a feature on desktop but not mobile, you didn’t get a full “yes” rating from us.

In 2019, users engage brands, not websites. Your cross-device experience needs to be consistent. That’s why the 2019 Best-in-Class Matrix reflects total web presence, with priority now given to the mobile experience.

Access the Full 2019 Best-in-Class Matrix

Previous Years:

What’s New in eCommerce and the Best-in-Class Report in 2019?

Our “Best-in-Class” analysis starts by building a master list of the best eCommerce sites based on our experience, what we hear from clients, and even our opinions. We then assemble our expert panel to narrow the list for our review.

Since 2013, we’ve assembled our annual Best-in-Class matrix by having our conversion rate optimization (CRO) team survey these sites, feature-by-feature, giving a “yes” or “no” rating to each one. Then we use these metrics to evaluate the latest trends among the top eCommerce sites.

In previous years, our matrix included 20 examples from desktop sites as well as 20 eCommerce sites on mobile. While there would be some overlap, we still compiled two separate lists.

For 2019, we’ve combined them into one. That means a few sites have fallen off our list, including Dollskill.com and BrasNThings.comand you’ll see a few reasons why later.

That brought the total number down to 25. That meant some cuts. But some new sites with strong mobile presence also entered the list, including:

What We Changed in 2019

We conducted most of this year’s analysis on mobile devices, then validated them on desktop. In previous years, we split these two variables on separate tables. Now, to receive our “yes” in any given feature category, your eCommerce feature has to be present in both.

But that’s not the only change in 2019. We’ve also made the following improvements:

Reorganizing categories.

We’ve updated our category structure so you can view important elements like Trust or Customer Support in aggregate. Previously, we went “Page-by-Page” with each eCommerce sitethe checkout page, the home page, etc.

Now we group our features by distinct themes so they’re easier for you to browse.

Increasing detail.

In our 2018 matrix, we included a single row for “Free Shipping”. That’s not enough.

Rather than ask if free shipping is merely available, we’ve gone a step further in 2019, including asking:

  • Does free shipping require your order to meet a certain dollar threshold?
  • Does the limit require membership?
  • Does a site offer free returns as well?

This helps expand on the quality of each feature, rather than simply denoting its presence.

Removing a few sites.

One prominent example of a site that fell off the list this year: DollsKill.com. Dolls Kill’s mobile site was not cohesive, missing a lot of the tools that aid in navigation in 2019. The entire site is built around the concept of “Dolls” as different style choices, however there are none to be found in navigation and they aren’t clearly messaged on the homepage or throughout the site either. Other elements like unintuitive product recommendations or missing the best practice of “0 in cart” suggested that DollsKill has fallen behind compared to other sites on the 2019 list.

BrasNThings.com also lost a lot of features: no “0 in cart,” no category navigation, and issues with displaying sizing availability in their product gallery. The product pages are not optimal, with important selections and calls to action well below the fold. We also found bugs on their site such as formatting problems on the cart slide-out, broken images, and toggling items-per-row on mobile. That won’t cut it in 2019.

This year, the name of the game is mobile compatibility and function. If you didn’t have it, you weren’t included in our Best in Class list.

Top Emerging eCommerce Trends from the Past Year

In comparing 2019 to 2018, we spotted some interesting trends. You can download the full report to spot many of these trends for yourself. Below, you can see how many out of our 25 Best in Class eCommerce sites included the following features:

#1: Expanding on Basic Product Reviews

Product reviews are great social proof for any eCommerce company, but today’s user expects more. That’s especially true when your competition is utilizing the following variables:

  • Q&A elements. What have other users asked about this product before, and what do the answers tell you about the product quality?
  • “Showrooming.” In our “Help with Showrooming” row of the 2019 report, we asked whether the eCommerce site included details like how the product fits. What size is the pictured model is wearing? What are other users saying about the fit of the clothing? More of your competitors are offering this information than ever before, and customers find it valuable.

Best-in-Class eCommerce Sites with Showroom Features:

Total Yes: 16

Total No: 9

#2: Facilitating Navigation

You saw DollsKill and Bras N Things drop from the list, partially due to navigation issues. The increased emphasis on mobile users means that you have to facilitate what they’re looking for as they tap their phone:

Subcategory navigation is the big trend now.  We found that this is so common that nearly all of the Best-in-Class sites considered now offer some degree of subcategory navigation on mobile. That changed in a hurry, as less than half of the sites examined last year utilized subcategory navigation.

We also started tracking for a Mega Menu this year. (Note we are defining a mobile “mega menu” as the navigation functioning the same as desktop with the top categories across the top, and sub-category navigation dropping down when categories are selected.) Many of the sites still aren’t utilizing Mega Menus on mobile, even though this is an element we at Inflow have tested with success.

For example, Zappos created exceptional mobile navigation by incorporating both Mega Menus and Subcategory elements so you could bring up the following with only two taps:

Mega Menu:

Total Yes: 8

Total No: 17

#3: Mobile Parity

You’ve already heard about the importance of matching your mobile experience with your desktop. Let’s take one example that demonstrates why this might be important.

In Row 64 of the 2019 Matrix, you’ll notice we looked for the element of Swatches on the Gallery. This turned out to be a key flag for emerging mobile trends: while many sites have used this feature on desktop, we noticed that more eCommerce mobile sites are starting to catch up.

You can use an insight like this by following the best practices of a site like ThirdLove.com, which incorporates whole product images for each color swatch. ThirdLove.com demonstrated one of the top emerging trends all year: features previously available only on Desktop are moving to mobile.

This trend also demonstrates how important it is to incorporate your favorite desktop features into your mobile presence. There are still opportunities to stay ahead of even the Best-in-Class if you emphasize migrating your favorite desktop features over to the mobile side. Our conclusions lead us to recommend that any eCommerce brand does this as much as possible to stay ahead of the curve.

Swatches on the Gallery:

Total Yes: 13

Total No: 12

The Biggest Declining Trends in eCommerce

The Direct Path from Homepage to the Product Page

It’s not always necessary to create a direct path to a product page from the home page, especially if you have a large catalog in the first place.

If you compare the 2019 Matrix to the 2018 version, you’ll find the trend has waned a bit. The top eCommerce sites were constructing direct paths almost universally in 2018, while this year, they dropped closer to 50/50. In our experience testing this, a larger site or catalog will have more trouble putting the right products in front of the right people.

What should your site do? It’s something that needs testing on a case-by-case basis; you might want to reach out to us for more insights if you’re unsure what to make of this trend.

Direct Path from Home Page to Merchandise:

Total Yes: 14

Total No: 11

Video and 360 Product Views

Most sites in 2019 were content to offer static images. They’re easier to fill in as they’re cheap, they’re simple, and providing full video or 360-degree functionality can become prohibitively expensive as your product catalog grows.

This trend may also stem from the increased emphasis on mobile: the necessity of loading video on mobile can distract the customer and get in the way of the shopping experience. We found that 360-degree views on mobile were rare, just like last year. Meanwhile, 2019 saw fewer Best-in-Class sites incorporating product videos.

Video on Product Page:

Total Yes: 6

Total No: 19

360 Product Views on Product Page:

Total Yes: 1

Total No: 24

Social Promotion, Sharing, and Signing In

There was a surprising trend this year: people are more distrustful of social links and sign-ins. Perhaps this trend reflects what we’ve seen in younger demographics for some time now: some research suggests that 1 in 10 users have deleted their Facebook accounts, while a Pew Research survey put the number at about 1 in 4. Poor P.R. for platforms like Facebook have made people in the 18-29 demographic skeptical about social sharing and sign-ins.

Above: Social sign-ins can influence mobile trust even if users have their own account.

Lower trust for Facebook sign-ins can affect how mobile users see your brand. One thing we’ve found at Inflow is that if you show a trust seal that people already don’t trust, it will hurt your overall trust as well.

This means that even if you give users the option of a conventional log-in, you have to be wary of the effect of social promotions, sharing, and sign-ins.

Social Promotion:

Total Yes: 3

Total No: 22

Social Sharing:

Total Yes: 6

Total No: 19

Social Sign-Ins:

Total Yes: 4

Total No: 21

Trends to Watch and Test for Yourself

Image Zoom

The overall trend in image zoom in 2019 was similar to last year’s: most eCommerce sites let you zoom in on an image, even in their mobile presence. The temptation is to view this as a stagnant trend and lump it in with “360 view” and product videos as not as important on mobile.

That’s a mistake. Because users can’t feel the products, they need to be able to see detailing like stitching and the quality of materials. The ability to zoom in on an image won’t be cost-prohibitive like video or 360 view, but could give you a distinct advantage over other products, especially in specific categories like clothing.

Image Zoom:

Total Yes: 19

Total No: 6

Discount Pricing

How should you frame your discount: as a percentage or as a dollar total?

Our results in 2019 suggest that this needs to be tested in every case. The top eCommerce sites in our Best-in-Class Research Study were split down the middle. Whether you choose to display a percentage or a dollar total for your product discounts will depend on your business and how large the individual discounts are.

There is a lot of price psychology that goes into factoring in this variable. Before you make a decision, you’ll want to dive into the research Matrix for 2019 yourself and see what companies like yours are doing.

Stating Savings on Product Page:

Total Yes: 9

Total No: 15

Total N/A: 1

Final Pricing in the Shopping Cart

Free shipping continues to be a top trend in eCommerce sites, which ties into the concept of final pricing: the more simple you can keep your shopping cart experience for the customer, the better. The top eCommerce sites in our matrix tend to display final pricing in the cart so there are no surprises for their customers.

Final Pricing in the Shopping Cart:

Total Yes: 19

Total No: 6

The Inflow Best-in-Class Research Study, 2019

Our report of 154 separate variables in eCommerce best practices includes explanations, even more trends, and more specific feature details than ever. But there’s one key change:

Mobile rules the day in 2019.

We’ve combined the desktop and mobile matrixes to deliver even more specific details in a more intuitive way. How can you tell which trends will have the greatest impact on you? Which of those “50/50 decisions” do you have to test, and what are the top eCommerce sites in your industry already doing?

View our grid of key features and see how today’s top brands have handled the shift to the “mobile-first” strategyand how you can too:

2019 Matrix Screenshot