Google Merchant Center

How to Use Google Product Category Attribute in Google Product Feeds

0 · by Dennis Moons · Updated on 7 June 2023

Adding the right categories helps your products to be matched with the right search queries. That’s what Google’s product category aims to define, the right category of products for the right searches.

In this article, we discuss what google_product_category is, how it’s used in Google Shopping, which format is accepted, and how it relates to product_type.

As with any other product attribute in a feed, there are common challenges, and we will touch on those as well.

Let’s dive straight into it.

This article is part of our Google Data Feed hub.

What Is the Google Product Category Attribute in the Product Feed?

As the name implies, google_product_category is a product attribute that’s used to categorize the items you sell. 

It’s one of the ways for the search engine to understand the product, along with the product type, product detail, GTIN, MPN, brand, and other similar attributes.

Google’s product categorization is important because it’s the base for matching items from your product feed with user search queries. In a way, it’s a shortcut to determine whether your product is relevant for the user.

Google Shopping is also a comparison engine, and the product category attribute helps to ensure that the item you sell will compete with similar items (classified in the same category) during an auction

This is part of the process that goes on when Google checks your bids and decides to show your product ad to a user.

Let’s delve deeper into Google’s product categories in the Merchant Center.

Is google_product_category Required?

Today, google_product_category is optional, but up to April 2019, it was a required attribute.

Google’s initial intent was to create an elaborate product taxonomy list that helps categorize all items that are for sale on their platform. Sometimes, merchants themselves provide more detailed product categorization, and Google embraced this by introducing the product_type attribute.

If you don’t add a value for google_product_category, Google will populate it automatically, and the categorization is upgraded with new entries on an ongoing basis. 

Important note: When we say that this product attribute is optional, it means that merchants are encouraged to check the attribute value and provide a more suitable category if the one that’s assigned automatically is not precise enough.

It’s a constant work in progress for Google, but for merchants, once you set it, it’s pretty much done.

How Is google_product_category Used in Google Shopping?

In theory, product_category can be used to manage a Google Ads Campaign by segmenting groups based on this attribute. 

However, merchants usually make sure the product is classified in the right product category and leave it at that.

Having the right category for your products is useful in more than one way. These are some of the google_product_category attributes: 

  • For calculating taxes – this applies to US taxes. Correct product categories will enable you to pay tax within the correct tax bracket.
  • For alcoholalcoholic drinks have to be submitted to the right category to adhere to Google’s advertising policy
  • To remove additional required attributes – if Google automatically assigns an incorrect product category, this can result in imposing additional attribute requirements for your items that aren’t relevant. 

Keep in mind that the values for the google_product_category attribute have to be listed in Google’s product taxonomy. Let’s see how this is done and go over other formatting rules.

Formatting Options for google_product_category

The requirements for this product attribute are very strict and have to follow product data specification to the letter; its values have to be one of the categories in the taxonomy list

There are two ways to provide the Google_product_attribute: with the full path for that product category, or using product category ID.

  1. Adding Full Path of the Product Category

This is when you include multilevel categorization separated with the sign “>.” 

For example: “Food, Beverages & Tobacco > Food Items > Cooking & Baking Ingredients > Baking Soda.” Be as specific as possible (don’t stop at “Food, Beverages & Tobacco > Food Items”) and choose a category that best describes the product.

  1. Adding Product Category ID

There is a numeric ID for entries in the taxonomy list. For the example above, it’s 5774. 

Sometimes, it’s more practical to use the numeric product category ID, especially if you sell in countries with different languages (the product names are different and can be easily set for each country, because the numeric ID is the same). 

Product category names can differ in English too – the same item can have a different name in the US, the UK, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. The numeric ID helps avoid confusion.

How To Add google_product_category to Your Product Feed?

As we already mentioned above, if you don’t add a value for this attribute, Google will automatically add a product category to your feed. If you add a product category on your own, Google will use your entry.

However, there are some nuances you need to be aware of before you decide to leave the default entries for these attributes as is.

Automatic categorization of products in your feed works great for commonly sold items; you can even get the right category expressed in a multilevel value (parent category, child category, product category, or product full category). 

Important note: When you let Google assign a product category for items in your feed, check if they are correct. This is especially important for those who don’t sell commodity products or are in a niche market.

Do note that Google’s product taxonomy list is also used by Bing Shopping and for serving Facebook Product Ads, so the work that you’ll put into finding the right category for your product will pay off, especially if you have a multichannel marketing strategy.

Merchants can provide either a full path or category ID, but not both. If there is no category for your sale item in the taxonomy list, you can enter a new category using the product_type attribute.

Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences of these two attributes.

Google_product_category vs product_type

The purpose of Google product categories is to improve Google’s service. Advertisers and merchants don’t get any practical use from this attribute. 

On the other hand, the Product_type attribute was introduced to give merchants an option to enter product categories that are not listed in the taxonomy list. It’s an optional attribute, and merchants have the liberty to choose the format of the value – it can be any word as long as each level is separated with “>.”

Attribute requirementOptionalUsed to be required, now it’s optional
Value entry methodManuallyMerchants don’t need to add it. If it’s empty, Google will add one (most often correct but not always) automatically, but merchants are encouraged to make manual tweaks
Product CategoriesFlexible, merchants can create their own multiple level product categoriesGeneric, merchants specify items by choosing one of the available product categories
FormatAttribute values are defined by the merchantAttribute values have to comply with product data specification
ScopeImproving organization on a campaign levelIt’s a broad categorization for Google, and it affects listings at feed optimization level
ExampleHardware > Power & Electrical Supplies > Solar Panels > Solar Panels for RVsHardware > Power & Electrical Supplies > Solar Panels > Solar Panels for homesHardware > Power & Electrical Supplies > Solar Panels > Solar Panels for sailboatsHardware > Power & Electrical Supplies > Solar Panels > Solar Panels for office and workplaceHardware > Power & Electrical Supplies > Solar Panels

For example, if you sell football jerseys, Google’s product taxonomy list allows you to choose:

“Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Uniforms > Sports Uniforms > American Football Uniforms”

With product_type, you can add an additional level to include specific teams, like Jets, Chiefs, Cardinals, Eagles, Giants, Saints, etc., and this can potentially help you better target fans looking for a jersey of their favorite club. 

You can get really granular, and this attribute is used for campaign organization (usually for reporting and bidding).

Some merchants decide to use the same value for both google_product_category and product_type. 

This is possible as long as the value for google_product_category attributes is included in the taxonomy list. However, it’s recommended to use the opportunity and add a new “product_type” category aside from the generic values and product data in “google_product_category.”

Let’s check the common problems advertisers run into with Google_product_category in Google Merchant Center.

Common Problems With the google_product_category Attribute

Since the format of this attribute is clearly defined, issues with the feed emerge when merchants don’t comply with that format. If you submit a value that’s not in the taxonomy list – your item will be disapproved.

The automatic categorization can be incorrect – this is another common problem with the feed. We already discussed this: you can easily override an incorrect google_product_category to avoid miscalculation of taxes or shipping costs, or to eliminate required fields that aren’t relevant for your product.

When you select a value for the google_product_category attribute, use the latest taxonomy list (added after August 2011). Also, make sure you comply with the requirements for language and with your country’s laws.

Optimize Your Product Feed With Google Product Category Attribute

Although google_product_category is an optional attribute that’s assigned automatically, advertisers should invest the time and effort to make sure their products have the right categorization. These categories are used to provide better matching of products with search queries, so they are very important.

The values for this attribute must follow product data specification rules, and advertisers only need to choose one of the offered product categories. 

Each value has to be included in the taxonomy list, and this makes the task of getting the right category a bit easier.

Dennis Moons

Dennis Moons is the founder and lead instructor at Store Growers.

He's a Google Ads expert with over 12 years of experience in running Google Ads campaigns.

During this time he has managed more than $5 million in ad spend and worked with clients ranging from small businesses to global brands. His goal is to provide advice that allows you to compete effectively in Google Ads.

Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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