Getting Started

What Google Ad Platforms Should You Use

June 28, 2020

First, let’s look at the key differences between the primary shopping platforms or destinations that Google offers to online vendors (although we show for comparative purposes Google Text Search Ads, this blog will focus on the three platforms specifically designed for e-commerce vendors).


The Sales Funnel

To put these platforms in perspective, it is useful to understand where users being exposed to each are in terms of a sales funnel. The sales funnel ranks users based on their intent to purchase, with the top of the funnel representing the least intent and the bottom the highest intent to purchase.

The vast majority of total users in the funnel have low intent and doing text searches only indirectly related to a product (e.g., ski vacations). This group is at the top of the purchase funnel; they are “suspects”, not prospects. As they search they begin to be presented with products through either Surfaces across Google or Shopping Ads related to their search term. Clicking on specific product ads moves users down the funnel, as they are now looking at actual products and are showing a possible intent to purchase.

Users who choose to browse products on Google’s Shopping tab which presents listings of like products are also showing a higher intent to purchase. Clicking Shopping’s “Buy on Google” filter would be an even stronger signal. These products are from merchants participating in the Google Actions program and users may purchase these right on Google through its universal shopping cart with instant checkout.

Users browsing or searching on Actions’ are at the bottom of the funnel, demonstrating the highest initial intent to purchase. Users, one step away from an actual purchase, can make their purchase immediately, without being redirected to a merchant’s site, registering, and providing their credit card information.

Although purchases will occur at any point in the funnel, understanding the purchase funnel and how these three platforms address the range of users in the purchase funnel will help you understand how each may fit your needs.


Surfaces across Google

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. As a kid, I never quite understood it but being older and perhaps a bit wiser now, I know that rather than counting its teeth, I should just jump on this free ride … and enjoy!

The quick take-away is that everyone should take advantage of this free Google program. Why?

Surfaces is a Google platform (or destination as they call it) that displays your products on Google Shopping, Google Images, and Google Lens, as well as in Google Search Results Pages and other Google properties such as YouTube.

You get brand exposure when a user’s searches for products like yours, and you get a great display of your product line in Google Shopping when they search on your brand name. Users who click on one of your products are directed to your site.

To participate in Surfaces across Google, it’s as simple as uploading your products into the Google Merchant Center using our basic Google Shopping or advanced Google Actions app. For apparel and accessories products, and products with variants, your feed must also upload certain required Google attributes to qualify for Enhanced Listings. AdAmplify’s Shopping and Actions apps provide the tools to provide Google with these required attributes (which typically haven’t been set up for your store’s products, for example, gender and age group).

More on Surfaces across Google here.


Google Shopping Ads

Shopping Ads emerged from Google’s first foray into creating product listing ad formats dedicated to e-commerce merchants. Google’s goal was to provide a more compelling appeal to likely potential buyers among those searching.

This was achieved by giving prominence to graphically rich product ads at the top of Google’s search results pages. As they evolved, these product listing ads became increasingly attractive to merchants because of their superior ability to drive traffic to and purchases on the merchant’s online store.

Google Shopping Ads targets a very large audience of potential purchasers (those conducting product searches on Google) and is your best means of reaching this audience. The search audience at this time far outstrips the one below it in the purchase funnel, those who are browsing the Google Shopping tab. Although higher up the funnel, the sheer numbers, and the ability to convert these users to purchasers early play in the favor of using Google Shopping Ads.

The key distinguishing feature of Shopping Ads is that you manage and optimize your campaigns (through the Google Ads dashboard), unlike Surfaces across Google and Shopping Actions where Google is doing this for you.

Although this means an investment of time and a learning curve, especially if you haven’t run text ads previously, you have a greater degree of personal control over how often and in what context your ads appear.

You run and optimize your campaigns, establish your budgets, set your negative keywords, and devise your bidding strategies. You can also opt to target user geographic locations, selected audiences (e.g., those who have been to your website), even users’ device(s). As well, in addition to Google search, you can opt to run campaigns on Google search partners’ sites, or on channels such as YouTube.

Another attractive feature of Shopping Ads is that once your conversions reach a certain threshold, you may switch your bid strategy to target ROAS (return on ad spend) bidding. Here you can specify a target ROAS that you wish a campaign to attain (e.g., 400%, or $4 in revenue for every $1 you spend).

Your target ROAS has to be realistic, of course, otherwise your ads will appear less often (or perhaps not at all if you’ve set your target ROAS at an unrealistic level). In setting your initial target ROAS, you should calculate the ROAS of your ad spend to date and use this as a starting point, moving it higher over time. When using target ROAS, to meet your target Google uses its algorithms to target users who have a higher track record of past purchasing behavior or who have a greater likelihood of purchasing your specific product based on past behavior.

We’ve had a lot of success with this program, particularly where brands have unique products and little competition. Or have products where they can establish desirable characteristics or where the brand is building a growing reputation and strong user feedback via reviews.

Unlike Google Actions, users are directed to your site to make the purchase, so you have the information you require to run newsletter and retargeting ad campaigns to purchasers and subscribers.

If you don’t have the time and experience to set up and manage a Shopping Ads campaign, this program may not be for you. Also, if you cannot commit a budget to fund a minimum of four months running Shopping Ads campaigns, this program may also not be one you wish to pursue. Maximizing your results takes time, for Google algorithms to learn, for consumers to get to know your brand, and for your service reputation to become established.

Shopping Ads campaigns also reward regular monthly attention to campaign optimization. AdAmplify can provide this service for you, if you lack the time and/or resources, either doing the initial set up and/or ongoing management. If interested, contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss your needs.

More on Google Shopping Ads here.


Google Actions

With Shopping Ads becoming increasingly popular and increasing threats to Google’s ad business posed by Amazon’s move into paid ads on its marketplace, Google saw the opportunity to provide an ad format that allowed the user to purchase within the ad itself. Google Actions, along with its universal shopping cart, was a natural extension to the Shopping Ad.

To make this an attractive alternative for merchants, Google rolled out Actions as a cost-per-sale performance-based model, rather than Shopping Ads’ pay-per-click model.  Google doesn’t charge you anything to participate in Google Actions until one of your products is purchased. And then, the fee is only a small percentage of your revenue (between 5% – 15%).

So, it’s as though Google is financing marketing campaigns featuring your products on Google Shopping. And one sale each month will likely pay for any associated costs such as monthly fees for our app to upload your products to the Google Merchant Center.

To support the “Buy on Google” filter in Google Shopping,, Google also creates a “mini-store” for each participating merchant, meaning all your products are aggregated under your brand banner, making it easy for users to browse your entire product line.

Demands on your resources are low with Actions. No campaigns to set up and optimize in Google Ads. Orders are synced from Google to your Shopify store automatically (by AdAmplify), while fulfillment information from your store is synced back to Google. So, you continue to use the same processes you’re used to using in Shopify. As well, Google provides customer support for their orders. Which means you incur little in support costs for those sales.

If you carry products that are name brands and you’re set up to compete on price and shipping costs and are committed to maintaining a high retailer standards score, this may be the platform for you, for all or a small selection of your items.

If you manufacture or have exclusive rights to a well-known brand that you sell in volume, this would be a good platform for you to utilize.

If you have unique items that are subject to a reasonable number of searches, especially if you are the only seller, this should also be a good platform for you as well.

If you have products that are complementary and a first-time purchaser typically moves on to buy other products after the first one purchased from you, then Actions should work well for you as well. When one of your purchasers comes back to Actions, looking for a product that you carry, even when they don’t search on your store’s brand, Google will favor you in suggesting the sought-after item. As well, these purchasers are all candidates to be long-time direct customers.

The one downside to Actions is that Google does not allow you to directly market to an Actions purchaser unless they are opt-in during the purchase process and give their permission for you to market directly to them afterward.

Still, you don’t want to “ignore” this group of potential buyers, given Actions’ performance-based selling model and the fact that its users are much more likely to make a purchase based on their position in the purchase funnel. Also, if your products are an ideal fit, Actions can tap you into a growing audience on emerging platforms like voice, only open to merchants using Actions.

More on Google Shopping Actions can be found in these blogs: Setting the Table for Actions Success and Optimizing Results for Google Actions.



Two of these programs don’t require any upfront expenditure. Surfaces across Google is free. Shopping Actions is a cost per sale platform, so costs are only incurred on what Google sells for you. Shopping Ads is the only program that requires an upfront investment of marketing funds but once you qualify for target ROAS bidding, this platform can be a very positive contributor to your bottom line.

As well, the feed we provide to the Google Merchant Center is shared by all three of these programs, minimizing your work to support each of them

Running all three should be your goal, as each complements the other two, and together should give you a more comprehensive and pervasive campaign that increases both your exposure and overall performance.

Want to know more about these Google platforms? Explore the links on this page. Or drop us a note by filling in our contact form and letting us know the best way to reach you for a further discussion.

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