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What Google Ad Platforms Should You Use

December 14, 2020

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

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 Google’s Free Product Listings 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 Buy on Google program and users may purchase these directly through Google’s universal shopping cart with instant checkout.

Users browsing or searching on Buy on Google’ 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.

Free Product Listings

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?

Free Product Listings 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 user’s search 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 Free Product Listings, it’s as simple as uploading your products into the Google Merchant Center using our basic Google Shopping or advanced Buy on Google 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 Buy on Google 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 Free Product Listings 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 Free Product Listings and Buy on Google 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 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 Buy on Google where users purchase using Google’s shopping cart, Shopping Ads users are directed to your site to make the purchase, so you have a direct relationship with each of them as they bought on your site.

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.

Buy on Google

With Shopping Ads becoming increasingly popular, plus the 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 Buy on Google, along with its universal shopping cart, was a natural extension to the Shopping Ad.

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

Then on July 23rd, 2020, Google announced major changes to the Buy on Google program. Gone were the commission fees, Buy on Google like Free Product Listings was now a free program. Users still purchased through Google’s shopping cart, with each order being pushed to the Google Merchant Center, but the customer relationship was passed off to the merchant rather than being owned by Google as it was in Buy on Google. This meant that the merchant looked after customer service and refunds, rather than these being performed by Google as had been the case.

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.

The fact that Buy on Google is now free makes it very attractive, especially as demands on your resources are low with Buy on Google. No campaigns to set up and optimize in Google Ads. Orders are synced from Google to your Shopify store automatically (by AdAmplify). So, you continue to use the same processes you’re used to using in Shopify.

You don’t want to “ignore” this group of potential buyers, given the fact that they are more likely to make purchases based on their position in the purchase funnel. Also, if your products are an ideal fit, Buy on Google can tap you into a growing audience on emerging platforms like voice, only open to merchants using Buy on Google.

More on Buy on Google.


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

Two of these programs don’t require any upfront expenditure. Buy on Google and Free Product Listings are both free. 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.

Why run Shopping Ads when Buy on Google and Free Product Listings are free? Although these free programs shouldn’t be passed up, the thing that you want to remember is that there are no guarantees of the exposure you will receive from them. Much depends on your products and the competitive landscape for them. Shopping Ads gives you options to influence how often your ads are seen, and ultimately to control your ROAS, and these are the factors that we believe should be considered when making your decision to go with paid Shopping Ads.

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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