Google Merchant Center (also called GMC) is the hub to manage your product feeds.
If you want to run Google Shopping ads, it’s an essential part of the setup process.
And most of the time, that’s all the attention it gets. Fix the product feed, connect with Google Adwords and move on.
But if you never come back to Google Merchant Center, you’re probably leaving money on the table.
So in this article I’d like to show you a couple of underused features that you can use to optimize your product feed and improve your Google Shopping campaigns.
After verification of your website, your first big task in Google Merchant Center is to submit your Google Shopping feed to use in Adwords. That data feed is the list of all your product info in your store.
There are three ways to do this. Which one is best for you depends on your ecommerce platform, your technical expertise and your fondness for manual labor:
Option 1: Plugin /extension / app
If you’re running your store on a popular platform like Shopify or WooCommerce, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
Check out more options here.
Some of these tools will use the Google Merchant Center API. Which simply means that your product data will be automatically transferred to the right place. Easy right?
If your app doesn’t connect to GMC, you’ll probably get a feed URL. Read on to learn what to do with that.
Option 2: Upload your own feed
If you need to upload your own feed to Google Merchant Center, you’ll need to make you’re submitting all the values in the correct format.
Tip: if you’re using the manual upload or Google Spreadsheets, I highly recommend you to start with a test feed. If you use the standard feed and are a bit slow to fix any errors that pop up , you run the risk of getting your account suspended!
A test data feed allows you to discover mistakes and fix them before everything is “submitted for real”. Afterwards you just need to upload it to the standard feed.
Option 3: Google Spreadsheets
This last option is the most manual one. Google Merchant Center gives you a product feed template with some instructions on how to fill in all of your information.
Since you’ll have to update this file every time a product changes, I recommend this for smaller webshops with only a few products that rarely change.
One of the most important things about your data feed is that it stays up to date. So picking an option (1 or 2) that does this automatically is a huge advantage .
Configuring Shipping and Tax Settings
Next to uploading your product feed you also need to provide Google Merchant Center the details about the shipping and tax settings of your store.
You can either do that on the product level, or store-wide. I prefer this last one as you’ll only need to make one change when something changes like a free shipping promo or new minimum free shipping amounts.
Google Merchant Center Diagnostics
Once your data feed is uploaded, there is a pretty big chance that you’ll discover a lot of errors like missing product numbers, missing categories or incorrect data formats.
To handle these issues, Google Merchant Center has a special section called Diagnostics. It will tell you exactly what and where all the problems are happening.
You’ll see two kinds of notifications: warning and errors.
Errors are things you absolutely need to fix before you can appear in the Shopping results. Warnings mean your products can show up, but not get as much visibility as you can.
So while the errors are essential to even show up, the warnings are where you can make the difference and maximize the potential of the products in your feed.
Let’s take a look at the 3 different levels of errors and warnings you’ll find in Diagnostics.
1. Account level
Account levels errors and warnings are issues that affect your entire Google Merchant Center account.
These are the most fundamental problems in your account like the link between AdWords and GMC, website verifications or policy violations.
2. Feed level
If there’s any problem with uploading, fetching or validating feeds, you’ll see errors and warnings pop up in the feed level section.
Most common problems are feeds that aren’t uploading, you’re using the wrong format or a feed has expired.
3. Item level
If all the above issues are taken care of, you’re left with the specific issues of your products.
These are usually missing or incorrect attributes, or policy violations (like a different product price in your feed compared to on your store) or wrong in/out of stock handling.
If you forget a specific attribute for all of the products in your feed, you’ll see a lot of errors pop up. So normally you need to fix them one by one. But GMC has a new feature that will help you tackle these problems in bulk.
Tip: Check the Products > List section in Google Merchant Center and click on one of the products you see there. IF you then expand the Information you provided us section, you’ll see the actual information that’s included in your product feed.
One of the newest and least known features of Google Merchant Center is called Feed Rules.
These rules allow you to add or modify specific information to the data feed that’s coming out of your ecommerce platform:
Ecommerce platform > Google Merchant Center > Feed Rules > Google Adwords
Using Feed Rules has a couple of clear benefits:
- Fix errors in your shopping feed
- Make bulk changes to your feed
- Optimize your feed with things like custom labels
If you need to fix a lot of issues, it’s best to fix it as close to the source as possible. That way you edit the original data and avoid double work.
But if you don’t have access to the actual feed or can’t make any changes to it, feed rules are a good option.
The biggest down downside of GMC’s Feed Rules is that you’re limited in the flexibility.
So if you find that you’re running into some of its limitation, it’s time to consider some alternatives.
Google Merchant Center Feed Rules Alternatives
Feed Rules is great if you:
- have a small amount of products
- don’t need to make a lot of changes
- only use your feed to advertise on Google Shopping
Many of them will do a lot of the heavy lifting to get your feed in the right format. And they have a lot of extras for you to adapt and optimize your product feed even further.
Another advantage is that they support multiple shopping channels, like Bing product ads or Facebook Dynamic Ads. That means you connect your store, make the tweaks once and then connect it to all of the channels.
The downside is that with most of these tools you’ll pay a monthly fee. But most of them are well worth their money in terms of time and opportunity cost savings.
You can get away by setting up Google Merchant Center once and never looking at it again.
But I hope this post has convinced you to take a better look at the tool to try and take your campaigns to the next level!