Competitive Advantages in PPC: using the Google Merchant Center


Anyone can learn about PPC and keep their account ticking over but there’s never, ever enough time to get everything done that can be. For an agency the time limits are often even tougher and this means identifying and weighing up different priorities, making judgement calls based on experience and only doing what will get the biggest return for the account. In essence it’s a lot of compromising, a lot of missed opportunities and you’re always playing catch-up.

But that’s where agencies excel by having the experience to cut through the forest and find the biggest returns. It’s rewarding but it’s still a bit depressing to only ever do a fraction of the things you’d like to do to an account. Therefore what we’re actually trying to do at Attacat is to find ways of eradicating the need for so many of these compromises. By being able to tie up two or even three different priorities into one task without having to compromise on them is where we can gain our client’s their advantage over their competitors.

Compromises, compromises

Now one of the biggest compromises we regularly have to make is scale vs relevancy – you either have a few well sculpted, highly relevant ads or you have a huge volume of standardised and vaguely relevant ads. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other (they both suck) but for eCommerce site’s the latter is usually the preference. Targeting users at the point of sale with product-specific ads should yield a higher conversion rate than using more generic category ads so it’s a good place to start, but this likely means creating an ad group, keywords and ads for every individual product which is often just too much work to be worthwhile. The alternative is to focus on product category based ad groups with more generic keywords, and this is tempting because not only do you need far fewer ad groups, but you are also addressing the entry points for new traffic at the start of their purchase funnel. However you’re sacrificing good conversion rates and good click through rates, pushing up your CPCs and causing your ROI to suffer – not a good start to an eCommerce campaign!

Product Listing Ads ID numbers

Google actually comes to the rescue a bit for this with Product Listing Ads, which allow you to run highly relevant ads for all of your individual products, and the best bit is that it takes about 2 minutes to setup and cover your whole catalogue! Worst bit is it takes your competitors 2 minutes as well. In fairness though in the 2 minutes it’s possible to setup one Product Listing Ad that targets your whole inventory, meaning you’ve got the same CPC bid for all your products. So to get an advantage here you could take it a step further and use an export of the Google Merchant Center product feed to quickly create a campaign and ad group structure targeting each of your products individually by ID number, so each ad group = one product. This provides great visibility for which products are performing, because otherwise you’re basically blind. Even in Google Analytics all traffic is recorded as * in the keywords parameter unless you target by a specific attribute so it’d be worth breaking the traffic out into ad groups just for this alone.

As an example, you could rename the Brand column as Campaign, Title as Ad Group, and ID as Product Target Value. You’ll need to create a new column titled Product Target Condition and fill this with only “id”.


 Automated bidding using ROI

This then allows you to tailor your bids based on the return you get from each individual product. Even better, once you’re confident enough in the performance you could setup automated rules to optimise these bids for each individual product based on the actual ROI they’re driving (conv. value / cost is equivalent to an ROI calculation). The Conversion Optimizer function in AdWords can automatically optimise your bids towards your target CPA, but not ROI so we need to do a bit more legwork here using the automated rules. How frequently these rules run will depend on the volume of sales you get through each product.


So we’ve now got Product Listing Ads for your entire inventory, with bids automatically optimised for each individual product targeting your chosen ROI – not bad for a little bit of work.

Creating text ads from the Merchant Center feed

The Google Merchant Center feed is a fantastic place to start your creating text ads for your ecommerce account because of all the information is has there already organised. The destination URLs are a godsend just on their own! The feed’s columns can be used to create a robust structure with relevant ads very quickly.

  • Campaign – Create this column by just renaming the Brand column.
  • Ad Group – Rename the Title column.
  • Keyword – Use the title column to break down the absolute minimum head term you can get away with. A few clever find and replaces should be able to strip out a lot of the useless words and leave you with the core defining terms. Would recommend modified broad only to begin with.
  • Headline – Use the Title column again, and arrange by length (using the len Excel formula). Strip out unnecessary terms until it fits.
  • Description Line 1 – This is where the Price column comes in really handy. Use this column to automatically place the prices into the body of the ad. If you offer free delivery above a certain price, you could even use an IF statement to complete the ad with a free delivery message or an alternative. Adding the price into description line 1 increases the chances of the price being added to the top line of the ad. You could add it to the headline for some of the ads that have enough space.
  • Description Line 2 – I’d recommend using the Title or Description columns to populate this field. Chances are a lot of context was sacrificed in the headline so this description line could clear up the remaining details such as size, colour and gender etc.
  • Display URL – It’s pretty simple to add the Campaign name column (previously Brand) to the end of your domain name.
  • Destination URL – Already done for you!

Below summarises which columns form the new ones for the Editor upload, and on the right are examples of formulas used to merge the data.


By keeping the same Campaign and Ad Group structure as the PLAs, the both the PLAs and the text ads can run simultaneously in the one ad group, reducing the distinction between your text ads and your PLAs, which less face it at this stage there isn’t really any difference anymore and it’s much easier to treat the two formats as two halves of the same strategy.

Updating prices in your ads

The danger with having the prices in the text ads like this is that they’re always changing and need to be updated. While you can do this with the API it’s not always practical for everyone. However if you’re willing to take a little bit of time you can update these prices using downloads of the Merchant Center feed. The reason it’s possible is that as each product ID number has an associated ad group, and each ad group has an associated ad, you can use a VLOOKUP function in Excel to regularly compare the current prices from a fresh download of the feed with the prices in your current ads. If the price in the new feed is different to the one in the ad, then pause the ad and upload a new version with the new price. Not as efficient as using the API but a great way to provide highly relevant ads without the legwork involved in setting up API scripts.

What’s next?

Phew! Feels like my head’s exploded a bit there but this is really just scraping the surface of what can be done with the Merchant Center feed. PPC is accelerating away from old techniques like keyword research and ad copy writing, and is becoming strongly focused on using tools and managing automations. It’s very exciting and provides great opportunities to those up to the task of mastering a whole new landscape, so I’m worried by the people I meet who mistake this rebirth of PPC as a demise.

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