How To Fix Your Google Shopping Feed Without Going Crazy

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“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.

Bonus: This article dives deep (15m 10s to be precise) into the wonderful world of how to fix your product feed. So if you don’t have the time right now or would like to have a PDF for future reference download it here.

 

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.

In a classic Google-move, they make setting up Google Shopping campaigns seem like a walk in the park. Click some buttons, link some accounts, sit back and watch the sales roll in.

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.

id
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.

title
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.

description
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.

google_product_category
This attribute tells Google which category your product belongs to.

It’s required for the Apparel & AccessoriesMedia 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.

product_type
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

or

Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Activewear > Bicycle Activewear > Bicycle Jerseys > Nylon Jerseys

link
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.

image_link
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.

google-shopping-images-nike_free_5_0
Example of similar product images on Google Shopping

condition
Required for all items. Options: new, used or refurbished

availability
Required for all items. Options: in stock, out of stock or preorder.

price
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
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.

brand
Provide the name of the company that created the product. Don’t include your own store name or the name of your distributor.

mpn
Or Manufacturer Part Number. This attribute is a number created by the manufacturer of the product.

identifier exists
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.

If you don’t know where to get them, check with your suppliers, they should be able to provide them. If you can’t get them, try checking on sites like upcitemdb or barcodelookup.

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.

UPC_lookup
Looking up the UPC number of a product

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.

item_group_id
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.

Landing page
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.

Shipping policy
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:

Account level
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.

Feed level
These problems are related to the fetching, uploading or processing of feeds.

Item level
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.

Google Merchant Center Diagnostics
The Diagnostics overview in Google Merchant Center

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.

Important features:

  1. Create & upload product feeds
  2. 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:

Shopify apps:

Woocommerce:

Without product variations:

Supports product variations:

Magento extensions:

Prestashop modules:

Bigcommerce apps:

  • 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_categoryBicycle Jerseys

instead of

google_product_categoryApparel & 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:

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!

Bonus: Done for now but want to fix future errors quickly? Download a PDF version of this article for quick reference.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you Dennis! My team will be glad to help any of your readers on their Google Shopping Feed. 🙂
    We know it can be tricky, so we created the tools for it.

    Best.

    Olivier – CEO Shopping Feed

  2. says

    Hi Dennis,

    Many thanks for this great article. Indeed, Google Shopping can be tricky. My team and I have been maitaining our Google Merchant Center module for PrestaShop (this one: http://addons.prestashop.com/en/comparison-shopping-prestashop/1768-google-merchant-center-google-shopping.html) since 2010, so we’ve lived through quite some stories and have great experience helping customers with it. Feel free to send any PrestaShop shop owners our way, they won’t be disapointed 😉

    -David @ Business Tech

    • says

      Hi David,
      Google Shopping has evolved a lot since 2010 so your customers are lucky to benefit of all those battle scars 🙂
      -Dennis

  3. says

    Hellow sir i am using woocommerce and i want to link my product to google shopping and i want to know how it update automatically after adding a product to store

    • says

      Hi Md asad,
      The Wocoomerce extension mentioned in this article (Google Product Feed) will do exactly that: automatically update the product feed and send it to Google Merchant Center.

      Let me know if that works for you!

  4. says

    Hey dennis

    Is it possible to change feed titles keeping it little different from website titles in an automatically magento updated feed (daily updation) . Any smart way to let the feed gets updated regularly via FTP except for the title. This way i can insert few high performing search terms into the product titles

  5. says

    For Shopify customers using the free Shopify app, there are some limitations if you are a clothing retailer selling a product with various color variants — The app will only publish the first variant.

    To get around this (and have some custom control over your feed if you need it) you can actually generate the proper feed xml by using a custom Collection template. I’ve described the process here: https://business.czarto.com/2016/06/14/shopify-google-shopping-feed/

    Best,

    Alex

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Alex. That’s an interesting solution to get around the variations limit. This is going on my to test list!

  6. says

    Thanks so much for this article and for the Merchant feed template. I was desperately searching for this info and some template and I found what I needed. A big thank you!!!!

  7. says

    For those of us making bespoke or customised products, there are several considerations – particularly when it comes to google-product-category, brand and item identifiers (mpn, gtin, etc…)

    I use Zencart (latest version) and then install some really good third-party plugin modules:-
    Sitemap.xml generator
    Google Merchant Centre Feeder
    Google Analytics Tracking Code Creator

    The key is the CHRONLOGY in which you set things up.
    1. Make sure your webshop is ORGANISED and STRUCTURED, where the site admin has the capacity to contain all the data relating to how Google uses the above protocols. So, understand what Google needs from your site in order for the site admin functions to create data feeds that comply with Google’s standards and taxonomy. Make sure your product data is able to store (in the database and in individual data fields) all the parameters that need to indicate to Google, that your eventual data feed is compliant.
    ALL e-commerce sites should be SSL Secured, and it is BETTER if you have a dedicated IP address for your site’s hosting, onto which a DEDICATED SSL Certificate is installed. Google is making it almost “mandatory” for e-Commerce sites to have SSL, and will favour SSL sites in search ranking and results. If you host on a “portal” (organisations that advertise that you can have a webshop up and running in 10 minutes), you may be obliged to use their “shared” SSL – which is better than nothing, but not ideal. If you can, build and host a STAND-ALONE web shop, where you are in full control. Not everyone can do this – but it’s by far the preferred way to sell on the internet.
    2. In Google Merchant Centre, some product categories have additional required data-sets. For example – GPC (Google Product Category) 166 – Clothing & Accessories… additional REQUIRED attributes (in addition to the global required attributes), include AGE, and GENDER. So make sure your software enables you to add these attributes when a GPC requires you to do so.
    3. Once the structure of your website is 100%, Create your Google Analytics account and make sure that the tracking codes are kicked into action when needed. For example (such as on non-product pages), it is not necessary to invoke certain google remarketing jscripts. However, when a product page is rendered, the page source should contain additional Google jscripts when/where necessary.
    4. Run your website (and various web-pages) through Google’s pagespeed checker. Take note of what may be slowing the site down. Google also has testing tools for “mobile-friendliness” and what is called “Structured Data” (the latter growing in importance for good SEO and search results rendition. If you get poor scores on any of these tests, your site’s technical guys need to be kicked in the a…
    5. When your site is BOTH technically and content “competent”, it’s time to submit sitemaps. Here, you create a Google Search Console account, and when ready, use its features to upload a sitemap.xml file. Then LINK the Search Console account to your Analytics account.
    6. If you plan on using Google Advertising services, then create your AdWords account now. Start simply, with a single, easy campaign, and just one or two ads. (Within a week or two you can start going into more detail – but at first, the main thing is to have it ACTIVE.
    7. Then, generate your product feed (usually an XML file).
    8. Create and configure your Google Merchant Centre account – again, linking it to both Analytics and AdWords accounts. They all need to “talk to each other”.
    9. Upload (or submit) your product data feed and “populate” Merchant Centre with your products. Do this first using the TEST UPLOAD on Merchant Centre, as there are bound to be errors. You can download a CSV report, showing ALL the errors. Fix any errors, then TEST again. When the test results of the feed upload show NO errors, submit the feed as “Standard” and this will populate Merchant Centre with your products.
    10. You may need to wait a day or two before all your products indicate as being “active”. Only when they are active, can you then go back into AdWords and create a specific “shopping” campaign that MUST be linked to the relevant Merchant Centre account (and associated product feed / data).

    Over the years, this has become more detailed and complex – and is best handled by someone who has experience and knowledge. Messing it up can wreak havoc on your search results, your advert quality scores and (eventually) your bank account…

    • says

      Wow Grahame, thanks for your contribution!

      I absolutely agree to get your foundation straightened out before you start with feeds. If you get stuck somewhere along the way, it’s usually very messy to clean up (believe me, I’ve been there :P)

  8. Lindsay says

    Thanks for the great article! We are using WooCommerce. We have set up two feeds in Google Merchant – one targeting the US and one targeting Canada. We’re using the same xml file from WooCommerce for both feeds. The Canadian feed works perfectly. But the US feed has shipping errors on every product. The shipping is set up in Google Merchant as a flat rate for the US – very straightforward. It must be common for companies to run shopping ads in multiple countries using woocommerce, but we just can’t seem to get it working. Any ideas on how to fix our shipping error? Thank you 🙂

  9. Tom says

    Hi and thanks for the superb tutorial,

    I tried a lot’s of feed plugins for woocommerce and found only one for free which works quite good for GMC: https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-product-feed-manager/
    In the free version it is limited to 100 products (I guess per feed) and does not support variations. The payed version is 69€ (which I havn’t tried yet) supports also variations and other stuff.
    Just wanted to let you know!

    • says

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks for letting us know! The plugin market is always changing so it’s good to hear about your experiences with this one. I’ll add that one to the list.

  10. s_vinod says

    Hi Dennis,

    I’ve an issue with Google Merchant center. I’m getting few errors like “missing required attribute gender”, “missing required attribute color” etc. . I’m using Rocket Shopping plugin, where I’ve mapped columns but still it’s not fetching data from magento.

    • says

      Hi s_vinod,
      I haven’t used that plugin myself, so not sure what’s going on. But here is how I would investigate:
      – check the feed (xml) that you’re uploading to GMC, to make sure that those values are exported
      – check the products with the warnings in GMC: are those values coming through?
      – do you have the correct google product categories? (if you list a product as fashion, you’ll need to supply those values)

      Hope these suggestions help!

  11. says

    Hey,

    A client of mine mytruwood.com is struggling with getting their DPA ads and google retargeting dynamic ads images to appear bigger.

    It seems a bit smaller than was wondering if there is a way to make it so the images of the watches were a bit more zoomed up so it showed off more of the watch than the whitespace around it.

  12. Mil says

    Hi Dennis,

    Hope you are well?

    To begin I would like to thank you for writing this article, I found it very enriching and useful.

    I am a Digital Marketing Executive for a greeting card company.

    We are currently facing an issue with our product titles in our product feed. We have an extensive list of 3000 cards in the feed, since launch our PLA’s haven’t been performing well at all.

    The main reason being because of the card title, which aren’t SEO friendly. These product titles describe the card e.g. one of our father’s day cards:”A MEDAL?! – FUNNY FATHER’S DAY CARD”, as you can imagine nobody is going to look for a specific card title like that or very rarely.

    The problem all of our product titles are taking pulling the titles we have on Magento. We would like to update the product titles with the category they belong to + The name of the card artist. to retake the father’s day card it would result in e.g.: Funny Father’s Day Card By Antoine Holmes. However, considering that we have 3000 product title to update I was curious to know if you knew an extension or a software that would enable me to operate bulk changes instead of having to go through all the product title and change them one by one?

    Have a good weekend,

    Thank you for your help,

    Milan

    • says

      Hi Milan,
      Thanks for your comment!
      I have to say I’ve never managed a store on Magento so I don’t know the ins and outs of the platform.

      A quick search showed by that it won’t be very easy to do in the interface & I couldn’t immediately find a tool to do this for you.

      But perhaps Excel can? I’d try something like this:
      – Export all products, category & artist. If this last piece of data is part of your description, you need to put that in it’s own column.
      – Create new product names based on your criteria
      – Import new names & merge info based on product id or sku
      – Re-create your product feed

      Since these changes might also impact your URLs, make sure to put the proper redirects in place.

      Hope this helps!
      Dennis

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