“I just got a mail from Google saying they’re suspending my Merchant Account got suspended!” Audrey messaged me.
Damn. This wasn’t good.
A couple of days before, she had reached out to me with some questions about Google Shopping. She was trying to figure out how to get started and create a Google Shopping feed but was running into a lot of errors. I had tried to give some tips, but now her Google Merchant account got suspended.
To fix that, we had to dig a little bit deeper..
Audrey had followed all of the steps herself: create a product feed from her store and link it to Google Merchant Center. But her products were getting disapproved and she kept getting errors.
Her account mentioned that the suspension had something to do with “data quality issues”. Which means that the content of the product feed was below Google’s quality guidelines. But with over 250 products and 15 attributes for each product, it wasn’t clear to Audrey what exactly was going wrong.
I’ve set up hundreds of Shopping campaigns and I’ve encountered these problems again and again. many times before.
So in the rest of this article, I’ll take you through the various parts of a shopping feed, how you avoid these devilish errors and how to get to fix them as quickly as possible.
- Basic Google Shopping Feed Fixes
- Dealing with errors in Google Merchant Center
- Advanced Google Shopping Feed Fixes
Part 1 – Basic Google Shopping Feed Fixes
Let’s start with the easiest part, the name.
The feed you need for Google Shopping is known under a ton of different names: merchant center feed, google shopping feed, product data feed, product feed, data feed, etc.
Those might sound complicated but all of these are the same thing: a file with all of the product information of your store in a format that can be read by another system.
These kind of feeds are used by a lot of different systems. But if you want to advertise your products in Google Shopping, you’ll need to adhere to Google’s requirements.
Google Shopping Product Data Specification
Google has a long list of specifications that explains which data they need and in which format they need it in.
If you’re having problems with your Google Shopping feed, this is probably where things go wrong.
The exact requirements depend on the type of products that you sell or the country you’re selling in.
In what follows, I’ll describe all of the required items. You won’t need to pay attention to all of these, but if you’re stuck, going through this list and understanding what goes on behind the scenes might give you a clue how to fix it.
The product id is the number you use in your store to identify a specific item. It’s important that the number is unique in your product feed. You can use your SKU number or the id generated by your store platform.
If you want to sell in the same country in multiple languages, you can use the same product id for the same item in a different language.
For the product title attribute you can describe your product in up to 150 characters.
Be sure to include the most important keywords at the start, because Google often will show only the first 35 characters, as you can see in the screenshot below:
In the Google Shopping portal, a bigger products title up to 75-100 characters are shown. But the majority of people won’t see this page:
The product title is one of the product attributes with the biggest impact. So make sure you include import product details like brand, color, material or size.
Pro tip: a good product feed title usually also is a title with a lot of SEO benefits
Avoid promotional text in your title like Free Shipping or Limited offer.
The product description is where you give all the product details a customer cares about: features, dimensions, use cases, etc.
These descriptions don’t show up in the search results, but they do in the Shopping portal (this is a tab of the search results page).
You have up to 5000 characters, but only few of those will actually show. In the screenshot about, 175 characters are shown. If we check the sellers website, the product description has over 1400 characters.
So use the limited real estate smartly. Get your most important point across first. And although the rest of the product description might not be visible, it can help Google to understand what other keywords your product would be relevant to appear for.
The google product category attribute tells Google which category your product belongs to.
the category attribute is required for products in the Apparel & Accessories, Media and Software categories. But I highly recommend to include the google_product_category attribute for all your other products as well.
You can only use the pre-defined values from the Google Product Taxonomy list. Don’t just settle for the highest level category, try to be as specific as possible.
Example: you’re selling a jersey for cycling:
Don’t settle for the general category: Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Activewear
But be as specific as possible: Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Activewear > Bicycle Activewear > Bicycle Jerseys
Being as accurate as you can helps increase your visibility.
Product type is another category indicator. It’s not required but highly recommended. This one is mainly used for the organization of your Shopping campaigns.
You’re also not limited to the categories that Google has, so you can create your own subcategories to make the organization easier.
If you do use this, be sure to include the full string. In the example above, maybe your store only sells cycling jerseys. So you could have:
Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Activewear > Bicycle Activewear > Bicycle Jerseys > Woollen Jerseys
Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Activewear > Bicycle Activewear > Bicycle Jerseys > Nylon Jerseys
You have to provide a direct link to the product page (not your homepage) and it has to include the https:// (or http://) part. If you have a specific page for mobile traffic, you can supply that link via the mobile_link attribute.
This is the main product image. If you have multiple images, use the additional_image_link attribute.
It’s best to use the best quality image you have, preferably 800px x 800px, but higher is always better. Ideally the shot needs to be of the product on a white background.
Don’t try to be clever by adding extra text or logos to the image, that won’t work.
But do have a look at the current search results. It happens often that all products have the same image, often dropshippers that use the product images supplied by the manufacturer. That means that you could stand out with a different angle or higher quality image. This is exactly what anime store DokiDokiDesu did.
Let’s take a look at another example of this tactic:
The product condition is a required attribute for all products. Options: new, used or refurbished
The product availability is a required attribute for all products. Options: in stock, out of stock or preorder.
The product price + currency is a required attribute for all products. For example: 15.00 USD. The currency needs to match the country you’re creating the feed for.
You need to include VAT into your price, except if you’re targeting USA, Canada or India.
The sales_price attribute to communicate a special deal on a product. It is a optional attribute with the same requirements of the product price attribute.
The attributes condition, availability and price are pretty straightforward. Google is very strict about the accuracy of all the data in your product feed.
What you put in your feed needs to match the data on your website. If the price doesn’t match, a product will get disapproved.
To avoid this, make sure update your Google Shopping feed is updated frequently. Check in the Automation section below for some tools that make this process easier by integrating with your store.
Gtin or Global Trade Item Number is a unique product identifier. You probably know these better as barcodes. Depending on you where you are located or source your products from, you’ll use a different system:
- UPC: 12 digit number mainly used in North-America
- EAN/UCC: 8,13 or 14 digit number mainly used outside North America
- JAN: 8 or 13 digit number used in Japan
- ISBN: unique identifier for books
If you have multiple options, for example a UPC code or an EAN number, you can use either one of them.
If you are selling a multipack or bundle, use the gtin of one of the products.
The brand name of the company that created the product. Don’t include your own store name or the name of your distributor. If it’s a product that you have created yourself and you’ve bought a UPC/EAN barcode from a party like GS1, do add your brand name here.
Mpn or Manufacturer Part Number. This is a number provider by the manufacturer of the product. It’s required for products that don’t have a valid gtin number.
The identifier_exists attribute indicates whether a product identifier exists for this product. Here is how to use it:
- You resell items that have a gtin / mpn and a brand: identifier_exists needs to be set to YES
- You sell old or custom items: identifier_exists needs to be set to YES (Google then won’t require a gtin, mpn number or brand for this products in your data feed)
If you don’t provide a value, Google will set it to YES.
For most products, Google requires 2 out of 3 product identifiers. These are these attributes form: brand, gtin or mpn.
For example: I tried to find the UPC number of a Garmin Vivosmart activity tracker. I opened up upcitemdb. The screenshot below shows me the number but also all variations of product names under this same upc number.
I assume Google has a similar database.
So if you would only supply the product title, they would be matching your product with searches for activity tracker. But because other products use keywords like wristband, fitness band or sleep tracker, your products could also appear for these search queries, without you needing to supply this information!
Don’t try to be clever and set the identifier_exists to false to avoid having to look up or enter all the part numbers. Google really needs this information to match you with the right search queries.
Special product attributes
Besides most of the required attributes covered above, some categories or cases require you to add additional information into your product feed.
The item_group_id attribute is necessary if you’re selling a product that comes in multiple variations like a different color or size.
The attribute indicates to Google that there is one “core item”, with small variations. It allows customers to explore variations right in Google Shopping:
Each of the products that has the same item_group_id needs to have one product attribute that differs
- Green chinos 32: item_group_id: chino12 – color: green – size: 32 – age_group: adult
- Green chinos 34: item_group_id: chino12 – color: green- size: 34- age_group: adult
- Brown chinos 34: item_group_id: chino12 – color: brown- size: 34- age_group: adult
- Blue chino 32: item_group_id: chino12 – color: blue – size: 32- age_group: adult
Below I’ll cover each of the attributes that is used in the variations.
The color attribute is required for all apparel items and indicated the color. The value you need to provide to Google needs to be the actual color spelled out: black grey, teal, etc.
If you have multiple colors, you can provide up to three color by putting a slash in between colors. For example: yellow/green/white
The gender attribute indicates the gender the product is for. Possible values are male, female or unisex.
The size attribute indicates the product’s size. Multiple value are supported, but you have to stay consistent across variations.
In our example above we were using the size for the pants: 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, etc.
If you’re also selling shoes you can use the common shoe size in your region: 7, 9, 9.5, 10, 10.5, etc.
Also S, M, L , XL is possible.
If the product contains 2 size dimensions, like a pair of pants, you can combine them separated by a slash: 32/34 for example (where 32 is the waist and 34 is the length)
The age_group attribute is required for all apparel items and it indicates which target audience the product is meant for. Possible value are:
- newborn: 0-3 months
- infant: 3-12 months
- toddler: 1-5 years
- kids: 5-13 years
- adult: 13 years & up
These values will help Shopping match products to search queries like “sun hat baby 7 months”
So in most cases, you’ll, use set age_group to adult. Note that this is different from the adult attribute, which is explained below.
The adult attribute is required if the products contains nudity or sexually suggestive content. if your product doesn’t contain this, you don’t need to supply it, it is set to no as default.
Often this is linked to a checkbox in your store’s back-end. I have had one client where this was all switched on by mistake, which caused the products not to be shown. So make sure this one is only turned on if it needs to be.
To finish, I want to mention the custom_label attribute. These are extra pieces of information you can add to your product feed. Adding custom labels to your Google shopping campaigns takes you beyond the setup and into the optimisation realm of your Shopping campaigns.
But I wanted to add them here because you need to provide this information via your feed.
The Google Shopping Policies
Besides all of the required product attributes, there are also some meta requirements you need to pay attention to. These are the various Shopping policies.
Violating these policies is what gets your Google Merchant Center account suspended. I’ll cover each of them below and show you how to fix them.
Prohibited or Restricted product policy
If you are selling products that are heavily regulated or not allowed on Google (categories like alcohol, adult content, tobacco, counterfeit goods, weapons, drugs, copyrighted content, etc.) you could run into these type of errors.
If you’re not sure about your products, check the list of prohibited or restricted items.
Landing page policy
Google wants the best possible experience for a user on your site. If the link you provide to the landing page is broken or returns a different kind of server error, that product or your whole feed might get disapproved.
A second common error in this category is sending the user to the homepage instead of the specific product page.
Welcome gates or popups that block the whole page are also not allowed by Google. So if you do use a popup, make sure it’s easy for the user to get around it.
Check the list of landing page restrictions.
Return and Refund policy
You need to have clear information on your site on how a customer can get a refund or how she can return an order.
If you don’t have these policies in place, your feed will be suspended, and if it remains unsolved, your account suspended.
You need to provide accurate and complete information with regards to the service (fast, slow, express, insured, etc.) and associated costs.
If you are shipping from outside the country you are targeting you need to provide clear information about the price and type of service. Also be clear about extra customs fees that might be applied to the order.
The basic thinking behind this policy is: don’t surprise your customer. Be clear what to expect and what it’s going to cost.
In most countries, the price you provide in your feed will include VAT. Only in the United States you’ll need to configure the tax settings in Google Merchant Center: which states do you owe tax in , what percentage, etc.
Going through all these attributes, I hope you’ve spotted the errors you were making before and have managed to fix them in your back-end.
If your account got suspended and you’ve fixed the issues that led to that suspension you can request an account review.In my experience Google is really quick (couple of hours up to 3 days) to lift an account suspension if you’ve put in the work to fix the problems. Be aware that this is a manual process, so there will be an actual person looking at your account. If you’re sloppy, lazy or didn’t make any changes, reviewing could take longer and longer or your account suspension could be permanent!If your suspension is lifted, you still might get some errors for the feeds that are in your Google Merchant Center account. Once you see errors pop up, you’ll have a couple of days to fix them or delete the feed from your account. But if the errors pile up and you don’t fix them, you’re on your way to an account suspension.
Part 2 – Fixing Errors In Google Merchant Center
All of the information above will already improve your data quality and shed some light to any policies you might be violating.
When you’re fixing your feed, you can use the Diagnostics overview in the Products section of Google Merchant Center to see if you’re making progress and indicate what other problems you need to fix.
There are 3 different levels where problems can occur:
These are issues that affect your whole account. For example:an unclaimed website, no Adwords account linked or a missing return & refund policy.
These problems are related to the fetching, uploading or processing of feeds.
These are the bulk of the issues you’re trying to fix with this article, mainly related to the data quality.
Clicking on each section will outline exactly what is wrong and what you can do to fix them.
Not every problem has the same importance, In Merchant Center there are 3 different types of problems:
- Errors: critical problems that need to be addressed asap
- Warnings: important things to fix when you’re done with the errors. These will often increase visibility
- Notifications: suggestions to optimize your product feed
Here is a look at a Google Merchant Center account with its share of problems:
Part 3 – Advanced Google Shopping Feed Fixes
By now you should have been able to fix a lot your feed issues.
But some problems require a different approach. In this section I’ll tackle these with different approaches and new tools that can help.
Creating a shopping feed from scratch
If you’re unable to get any of the integrations or feed generators to work, sometimes you need to get back to basics to find the underlying issue.
With shopping feeds, that means creating a new simple product feed from scratch where you can control each and every variable.
You can do this when you’re creating a new feed in Google Merchant Center. Google will generate a new spreadsheet that’s linked to your GMC account and which detects any changes and automatically updates the information in your product feed.
This is a very time consuming approach, plus all the data needs to be updated as soon as something changes in your store. So I only use this approach if products rarely change or if I need to troubleshoot why a specific product feed won’t work.
There also is an official google shopping feed template. It’s a copy of the template that you’ll get from Google Merchant Center if you use Google Sheets for your product feeds. Be sure to also check tab 2 in the document called Example. This will illustrate how to use the template.
Product variations, Bulk Changes & Multiple Feeds
Luckily, you don’t have to go through the above to create your shopping feed. Most ecommerce platforms will have some kind of integration with Google Merchant Center. Shopify for example has it’s own free app which pushes your products into Merchant Center.
And for some stores, that’s all they need. But in some cases you need extra flexibility or features that these basic setups are too limited.
To me there are a couple of features that make dealing with product feed a lot easier:
- Properly handle product variations
- Ability to quickly make (bulk) changes
- Manage multiple product feeds
- Take advantage of custom labels
- Use optimized feeds for Bing, Facebook Ads, etc.
Some of these or must-haves, others will save you some time.
There are a ton of tools out there that will help you do this (skip ahead for a big list of them). They all work in the following way:
- Grab product data from store (via app, plugin, extension, API, etc.)
- Ability to edit data in your product feed via the tool
- Push feed(s) to Google Merchant Center
All tools below will do #1 and #3. But not all will do #2.
With the free or cheap ones (except for Feed Rules), you don’t have the ability to edit any of the data in your product feed before it gets pushed to Google Merchant Center.
That means no bulk changes, multiple product feeds or custom labels.
These are often have the features that really make the difference. They go under a number of different names: data feed management software, feed management, shopping feed platform, etc.
Data feed management software
These are the main providers of this software:
- GoDataFeed (paid – starting from $29/mo)
- Channable (paid – starting from €19/mo)
- DataFeedWatch (paid – starting from $34/mo)
- Sales&Orders (paid – starting from $50/mo)
You’ll see the pricing vary widely between the different tools. Don’t make a decision purely based on price. If you’re interested in any of these tools, sign up for a trial and explore what they can do for you.
Pro tip: most of them will include a free setup, which will help you get your product feeds ready in no time!
Google Merchant Center Feed Rules
Feed Rules is a little known feature in Google Merchant Center can do some of the things these platforms can, only difference is that you can do it for free.
You can use these to add new information to your data feed and make bulk changes.
The biggest difference is that this functionality is limited compared to the paid tools.
There are plenty of Shopify apps to help you with your Google Shopping Feed:
- Google Shopping app (free – Shopify) – link
- Google Shopping Feed (paid – Simprosys InfoMedia) – link
- Shopping Feed (free & paid – Shopping Feed Inc) – link
- ShoppingFeeder (free & paid – ShoppingFeeder) – link
WooCommerce plugins and extensions
To generate your shopping feeds on WooCommerce, there are two big groups of plugins and extensions:
Without support for product variations:
- Google Product Feed (paid – WooCommerce) – link
- Woocommerce Google Feed Manager (free – WPMarketingRobot) – link
With support for product variations support:
To get your Magento product feed working, there are plenty of extensions available:
- Google Shopping Feed – M1 (paid – Magmodules) – link
- Google Shopping – M2 (paid – Magmodules) – link
- Simple Google Shopping – M1 (paid – Wyomind) – link
- Simple Google Shopping – M2 (paid – Wyomind) – link
BigCommerce now supports Google Shopping on all plans via the Sales&Orders app.
Other BigCommerce apps that will help you with Google Shopping:
3dcart also offers Google Shopping support with a variety of modules:
- Automatic Google Shopping Feed (paid – 3dcart) – link – screenshot looks like it +5 years old, so don’t know about quality of the app
- DataFeedWatch (paid) – link
- GoDataFeed (paid) – link
- Sales&Orders (paid) – link
- Google Shopping Merchant Center Module (paid) – link
- Google Shopping Export (paid) – link
- Google Shopping Feed in 3 min (paid) – link
In this article you’ve learned how to track down what was going wrong with your Google Shopping feed, identify how to fix these issues while also looking at some tools to make this whole process easier.
I hope it allows you to get passed the setup process and onto the fun part of advertising: watching sales come in 🤑
If you’re running into problems with your product feeds that I didn’t cover in this article, let me know in the comments!
My premium training course
If you like this post but want to go through the Google Shopping setup and optimization in more detail? Check out my Google Shopping course. Through a series of videos, you’ll go from scratch to having the first sales come in via your Shopping campaigns. The feedback so far has been really great so I encourage you to check it out!