“I just got a mail from Google saying my 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 sort her 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.
Clearly my advice had not worked.
Not being afraid to try things, she had managed to create a product feed from her store and link it to Google Merchant Center. But once her products were being processed, the errors started piling up. The feeds and products kept being disapproved.
Her account showed that the suspension had something to do with “data quality issues”. Which means that the content of the feeds wasn’t entirely according to Google’s wishes. But with over 250 products and 15 attributes for each product, it was hard to pinpoint exactly what was wrong.
And once in awhile, that’s exactly what happens. 5 minutes of work and everything is up and running.
But my experience with setting up these product feeds show that the reality is a lot messier. I don’t want to think of the many hours that I’ve spent tracking down errors and going line by line through Excel files to figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s because of spelling mistakes, missing information or bad data.
The effort involved with setting up your product feeds can vary immensely. I even know of some agencies that offer advertising services have stopped offering this service to their clients, which shows how hard it is to predict how long this will take.
So don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out straight away 🙂
Let’s dig into your product feed and solve those annoying errors so you can get to the fun part of improving your Shopping campaigns and watching the sales come in!
Creating a Google product feed from scratch
From scratch? Why not simply use apps, extensions, plugins or tools?
Often it’s the automation of product feeds with apps or APIs that creates the mess you’re in right now.
So to know what to fix, you need to know what kind of data these apps are putting together to create the product feed.
Keep it simple to start with. You can pick 1-2 products and create a product feed from that. That will make the troubleshooting a lot easier, because usually there will be the same mistakes for every product. So if you know how to fix one product, you know how to fix all of them!
Open this google shopping feed template and fill it in as we continue with the article. It’s a copy of the template that Google Merchant Center supplies you with if you use Google Sheets for your product feeds. Be sure to also check tab 2 Example. That will illustrate how to use the template.
Google Shopping Data Feed requirements
Google has a long list of specifications that explains what data and in which format you need to supply everything. If you’re having problems with your product feed, this is probably where things go wrong.
The exact requirements vary depending on the types of products that you sell or the country you’re selling in. But I’ll go over the required attributes, plus the recommended ones where things often go wrong.
This 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 numbers or the id generated by your store platform. If you’re setting up feeds for the same country in multiple languages, it’s ok to use the same product id for the same item in a different language.
For the title attribute you can describe your product in up to 150 characters. Google won’t display more than 50 characters on the search results page, so be sure to include the most important keywords at the start.
Do include product specifics like color, material or size but avoid promotional text in your title like Free Shipping or Limited offer.
This is where you give all the product details a customer cares about: features, dimensions, use cases, etc.
This text can show up in the search results or on the Shopping pages. You have 5000 characters, but only few of those will actually show. Get your most important point across first. The rest of the description helps to tell Google what other keywords your product would be relevant to appear for.
As with the title, avoid promotional text.
This attribute tells Google which category your product belongs to.
It’s required for the Apparel & Accessories, Media and Software categories. But I highly recommend to include it for the other categories 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
If you’re selling bundled products, pick the most appropriate category.
This 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 http:// part. If you have a specific page for mobile traffic, 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 800×800, 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.
Required for all items. Options: new, used or refurbished
Required for all items. Options: in stock, out of stock or preorder.
Include the product value and the currency: 15.00 USD. The currency needs to be the same as the country you’re creating your feed for.
Depending on the country you’re selling in (everywhere except US, Canada or India), you should include VAT in your price.
Common error #1
The attributes condition, availability and price are pretty straightforward. But Google is very strict about the accuracy of all the data in your product feed. They need to match with what’s on your website.
So make sure you update your product feed regularly, by hand or automatically. Check in the Automation section below for some tools that make this process easier by integrating with your store.
Gtin or Global Trade Item Numbers are unique product identifiers. You’ll probably know them better as barcodes. Depending on you where you are located or source your products from, you’ll have a different set of numbers:
- 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 and a EAN number, you can use either one of them.
Provide the name of the company that created the product. Don’t include your own store name or the name of your distributor.
Or Manufacturer Part Number. This attribute is a number created by the manufacturer of the product.
This attribute indicates if a product identifier exists for this product. If you’re selling old or custom goods, the value for this attribute should be set to false. Google then won’t require a gtin or mpn number.
Common error #2
For most new products, Google requires 2 out of 3 attributes form: brand, gtin or mpn.
Not supplying the correct information might get your item disapproved, or significantly limit the exposure you can get on Google Shopping. So it’s in your own interest to do include these numbers.
I was looking for the UPC number of a Garmin Vivosmart activity tracker so I had a look on 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.
Depending on the type of products you sell you might need to include additional product attributes.
This attribute groups different product variants like items in different colors or sizes.
color, age group, gender and size
If you’re selling products in the Apparel & Accessories category, usually clothing and shoes you’re required to provide the above attributes.
Other common errors
Prohibited or Restricted products
If you are selling products that are heavily regulated or not allowed on Google (categories like alcohol, adult content, tobacco, counterfeit items, weapons, drugs, 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.
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
You need to have clear information on your site on how a customer can get a refund or how she can return an order.
Not having that will get your feed disapproved 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.
Going through all these attributes, I hope you’ve spotted the errors you were making before and have got your mini product feed spreadsheet with 1-2 items.
Errors In Google Merchant Center
Now delete all the other feeds from your Google Merchant account or disable the automatic updates that pump in other data feeds. Upload your new feed as a test.
If your account got suspended 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 your test feed. Google doesn’t suspend accounts straight away. Once you see errors pop up, you’ll have a couple of days to fix them (or delete that 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.
The Diagnostics overview in Google Merchant Center can help you to identify the problems.
There are 3 different levels where problems can occur:
These are problems that affect your whole account or a specific country. It can be things like an unclaimed website, no Adwords account 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 quality of the data.
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
- Notifications: suggestions to optimize your product feed
If you’re still seeing errors come in, fix them before moving forward. But once your small product feed in Merchant Center is working, it’s time to scale up and look at automation.
Automate with data feed management software
Before giving you a list of recommended tools to use, I want to go over some pointers that will help you decide which tools you need right now.
- Create & upload product feeds
- Advanced product feed magic
1. Create & upload product feeds
Generating a product feed is the most basic functionality that all tools will take care off. They integrate with your store, take all your product information and put it into the right format for Google Merchant Center.
With some tools you’ll have to go into Google Merchant Center and upload the feed yourself, but other will also automate the uploading of the feed.
Google Sheets (free)
No matter which e-commerce platform you use, you can opt to do it manually like we’ve outlined before. But this requires you to upload a new file every time you make a change to your store or to your product feed document. A good alternative is Google Spreadsheets. Google Merchant Center is able to detect changes to this spreadsheet and will automatically update your product feed.
I would advise to do this if your products rarely change or if you can’t find any automated way to do this integration (if you have a custom site for example).
Platform specific tools:
- Google Shopping (free – Shopify)
- Google Shopping Super Easy (free & paid – Feedlist)
- RetailtowerPro – Shopping Feeds (free & paid – RetailTower)
- Shopping Feed (free & paid – Shopping Feed)
- DataFeedWatch (paid – DataFeedWatch)
- ShoppingFeeder (free & paid – ShoppingFeeder)
Without product variations:
- Google Product Feed (paid extension – WooThemes)
Supports product variations:
- Woogle (paid plugin – PatternsInTheCloud)
- WooCommerce Product Feed Export (subscription plugin – Export Feed)
- Google Shopping Feed (paid – Rocket Web)
- Simple Google Shopping (paid – Wyomind)
- Feed Manager (free – RetailTower)
- Product Feed Automation (free – GoDataFeed)
- Product Feed Generator (free – CPC Strategy)
- Data Feed Manager (paid – Wyomind)
- GoMage Feed Pro (paid – GoMage)
- Data Feed ― Advanced Product Feeds (paid – mirasvit)
- Google Shopping (Merchant Center) (paid – Prestashop)
- Google Merchant Center (Google Shopping) (paid – Business Tech)
- Google Shopping Export V2 (paid – community)
- Salesbooster (paid – community)
- Google Shopping (available on the plus & enterprise plans)
- If you’re on the Standard plan you’ll need to manually export your products
2. Advanced product feed magic
The tools above are the fundamentals. If you need more advanced features or more flexibility, you might need to use other tools.
For me there are two features that can make life easier:
- Ability to quickly make (bulk) changes
- Manage multiple product feeds
- Take advantage of custom labels
Ability to quickly make (bulk) changes
An example will help show the use of this feature. Let’s say that you’ve made a mistake when setting up your product categories, instead of listing the full category taxonomy, you’ve included only the subcategory:
google_product_category = Bicycle Jerseys
google_product_category = Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Activewear > Bicycle Activewear > Bicycle Jerseys
If you have a limited amount of products, or a lot of time, you can manually update all of the products in your store’s back-end. With many of the tools you can speed it up by editing many items at the same time.
This functionality also allows you to experiment with different content in your product feed vs on your website. You could test different product titles for your Shopping Ads for example.
The process look like this:
Product feed from your store > edited product feed from your tool > Google Merchant Center
Manage multiple product feeds
A second feature is the ability to create product or data feeds for other (comparison) shopping engines like Amazon, Bing, Facebook or NexTag. Having one central place to manage all those feeds makes things easier.
The list of data feed software:
- RetailTower (free & paid)
- DataFeedWatch (paid)
- GoDataFeed (paid)
- Feedoptimise (paid)
- Feed Manager (paid)
Take advantage of custom labels
Sometimes the basic Google Shopping setup won’t be sufficient to get an optimal ROI. If you add custom labels to your product feed you’re able to filter more specifically which products to show based on things like profitability, sales volume or price.
In post you’ve learned how to track down what was going wrong with your product feed, identify how to fix these problems while also looking at some tools to make this whole process easier.
If you’re running into other problems with your product feeds, let me know in the comments!