Smart Shopping was introduced by Google in 2018 signifying another step towards automated and machine-learning focused advertising. Tested and developed under the universal shopping beta banner, this new feature made its debut in Google’s goal-optimised portfolio on 8th May 2018.

So, how does Smart Shopping differ from its hugely successful predecessor, Google Shopping? And is it right for your digital advertising objectives? Conversion Science has garnered some insights over the past couple of months and before you pause all your regular Shopping campaigns and embrace Smart Shopping 100%, we suggest that you weigh up the pros, cons and limitations pretty carefully.

Smart Shopping in a nutshell…..

….Is a feature which marries the visual appeal of Google Shopping and the dynamic flexibility of responsive remarketing in a campaign. Google promises expanded reach of your ads over the Search Network, the Display Network, YouTube and even Gmail.  Using your existent product feed and assets, injected with machine learning, a host of relevant ad permutations are created. The strategy based on automated bidding, ad placement and ongoing testing of text and image combinations is geared to provide you with the best possible conversion value for any given budget. .

Smart Shopping definitely has its Pros……

If you’ve experienced the tedium and heavy lifting of setting campaign priorities, product groups, bids and negative keywords in traditional shopping campaigns, you’re bound to agree that there is a lot of allure in this new low maintenance, self-driving campaign subtype.  Now smaller businesses with limited budgets can also qualify for an unprecedented reach and the maximised conversion technology of automated bidding.

It’s a great tool for vendors to access upper funnel users. In this stage of intent, brands are explored, discovered and introduced. With Google Smart Shopping, you can group a selection of products together and present them to users or even showcase a catalogue of related items. These showcase ads will display for broader/ generic terms such as “T-Shirt”, and a useful format to utilise when trying to influence brand consideration higher up in the conversion funnel. With maximum CPE (Cost Per Engagement) bidding you only get charged  when someone expands your ad, spends 10 seconds in it or if a product or link is clicked on.  The first click on your ad is effectively free. Perfect for start-up ventures!

Plus Smart Shopping is simple to use!

Merely set your campaign budget. Set your target. And allow Google automation and machine learning to do the rest for you.

There are a few requirements before you get started:

  • You must have a Google Ads and Merchant Centre Account
  • Your product feed should be uploaded and approved on your Merchant Centre Account
  • You must be tracking transaction specific conversion values (allowing the algorithm to optimise towards return on ad spend)
  • Ensure that you have a remarketing global site tag on your website
  • A minimum of 20 conversions in a period of 45 days across existing shopping campaigns is required
  • You must have an audience list comprising more than 100 users

And, finally, adhere to the Google personalised advertising policy

Right, sounds easy enough. So, what’s the catch?

Well, as with any Smart type tools, there are a couple of drawbacks.

Expect to sacrifice some of the granular control that you have grown accustomed to – after all Smart Shopping is part of the bigger drive toward an automated (read labour-free) solution. The promise? You can sit back and focus on other high-level tasks. The caveat? You have to let Google do much of the driving

Reporting-wise, limitations may be summed up as follows:

  • You cannot segment by placement to determine which networks are performing better, thus you can’t identify whether your shopping component is performing better than your display component.
  • Columns that are not available are search impression share, click share, search lost (budget and Search lost (Rank)

Targeting restrictions are:

  • No settings available for negative keyword control
  • Location targeting is limited to country of sale but region or even city exclusion cannot be specified
  • The Ad schedule feature is not available
  • One cannot target specific devices
  • You do not have control over the target audience

Moreover:

  • Shared budgets are not available
  • To date, Smart shopping campaigns are not supported by Google AdWords Editor.

Keep in mind that any machine learning requires time to optimise.   Allow a new campaign to run for at least 15 days before you assess its performance. Furthermore, the bidding strategy needs time to settle and adapt. Accrue enough data to ensure that your reports are meaningful. Google suggests 2-3 weeks of data.

Remember to focus on conversion value and not on clicks. As the bid strategy allocates budget towards clicks that maximise conversion value, you may see an initial decline in click volumes.

Note that it is crucial that conversion delays are adjusted for in any data analysis.

So, in conclusion

Smart Campaigns would appear to be a bit of a mixed blessing.

On the upside, you’re handing over control.

In the smart world of automation, time-consuming and laborious tasks typical of managing a full-sized Google Shopping Campaign are a thing of the past. Smart Sopping frees you up to undertake the strategic stuff.

On the downside? You’re handing over control.

As an account manager, you will probably miss those tweaks like prioritising certain products within a single campaign or those cost-mitigating tricks of the trade like preventing your ads from showing up in tandem with low-intent queries.

With Smart Campaigns you lose the ability to fine tune aspects which would have previously given a campaign the competitive edge.

It’s early days yet but let’s face it, ultimately, Google automation and machine learning in any form challenges the micro manager in every one of us!