e-Commerce AdWords newbie? Start with Product Listing Ads

From brick and mortar to e-Commerce

Yes, you read that right. Precisely. What if your first Google AdWords campaign, ever, was a Product Listing Ads one?

If you’re expanding your business online, or turning your brick and mortar shop into a pure online presence, I say that Product Listing Ads is what you should start with.

But why? It sounds so … strange

Yes, it does. But everything revolves around your products. The way you organize and decorate your real shop, and the way you do the same with the online one. Everything is supposed to lead the potential customer to the product(s) she might be interested in. You don’t build websites to showcase your designer’s work or to share cats pictures. You do it to sell your products. Period.

So why worry, at this stage, about keywordsmatch typesnegative keywordsad rotationconversion optimizer and all sorts of other AdWords terms that make your head spin?

Why think about which text ads would sound more catchy, whether to bid for more general or more specific terms, or where exactly on your website should you land certain search queries / ad combinations?

Let’s make things clear: if you’re selling stuff online, and if you’re doing business in a country where Google Merchant Center has already launched, you’ll have to create Product Listing Ads (campaigns) anyway.

You’ll have to do it because:

  • Your products are the core of your business
  • Product Listing Ads attract a whole lot of attention, with those nice pictures of theirs
  • Your competition already does it and if they do, you won’t be able to counter them with text ads

Nice product listing ads with images

So how about using PLAs as a quick way of getting your product inventory online and also as a way to learn how your potential customers search for your products and interact with your website?

All you need to know about setting it up is here. In a nutshell, you’ll have to:

  • Create a file which holds a list of your products either in XML format, or if it sounds too complicated, tab delimited text. If you cannot do that, you can ask whomever manages your website to do that for you.
  • Create a Google Merchant Center account, upload the compliant feed, and wait for it to get approved.
  • Link the Merchant Center account with an AdWords account, and create your first campaign.
  • Open a Google Analytics and a Google Webmaster tools account if you did not already and link them to AdWords and between them.
  • Set your campaign budget and your bids (you can even do it at product level, if you want, by creating one ad group per product and assigning only one product target to it).
  • Launch your campaign and let it run for a while.

Another good reason for starting with Product Listing Ads and not text / display ads is the following: if you want to manage your first AdWords campaigns yourself, chances are that you’re not too familiar with all the ins and outs of the AdWords system.

Disclaimer: If you’re among the 5% who study hard before diving deep into advertising, congratulations, and sorry for wasting your time. This article is not for you.

But if you’re not, I think it would be great to learn how people search for your products.

You’ll be amazed to see, by looking at their search terms, how they mix brands, product categories, SKUs and color variations, in ways you would have never imagined.

And from that stream of search terms you’ll select

  • your negative keywords
  • new keywords for different campaigns

You’ll also see that sometimes people search for a specific model, land on the right landing page and yet don’t buy from you. Some of the reasons for that behavior may be that they don’t trust your website, or because your price is not right. And you’ll learn about your website’s performance that way and you’ll take steps to improve both the website’s functionality and your offer.

And if you create separate ad groups for each of your products, and if you use a solid naming convention, you’ll also be able to see how you’re doing at brand level, or at product category level. Therefore you’ll know where to invest more and where to cut your costs. Where to try and get a better deal from your supplier and which brands or product categories you should forget about.

And terms such as conversion rate, cost per conversion, etc. will be easier to grasp when thinking about a product, whose margin per sale/conversion you know, and where you can see how many clicks it took to convert and what the average cost per click was. You’ll see that if you make 10 bucks per sale and pay 25 cents per click, and if shipping costs you 5 bucks, you can only afford 20 clicks to sell one item, and therefore you need a 5% conversion rate to break even.

And that’s because you’ll focus on the right things: your products and your website, and not let all the other bells and whistles, dials, buttons and levers distract you.

Because that’s what Product Listing Ads are all about: your website and your inventory. A huge chunk of your e-Commerce business.

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Transparency. In e-commerce, business, life

Transparency in e-commerce, business, life

One afternoon, about two weeks ago, I was buying the last things we needed before we went on a short holiday. There I was, in the parking lot, putting bags from my shopping cart in the trunk of my car, when the phone rang.

I was convinced it was my wife, telling me that there’s one more thing to buy. I always get that, most of the time when I’m already past the cash register or already on the way home. Murphy’s laws are inspired from reality, after all.

But no, it was not the case. This time it was a salesperson from the phone carrier I’m under contract with, telling me that they had a great, custom-tailored offer for me. As I frequently do, I told him to use my e-mail address to communicate that offer to me. He told me that he cannot do that, and that it’ll only take 2-3 minutes of my time. I didn’t have three minutes then, as I had to finish packing and go home. I suggested him to call me in a quarter of an hour. Nope, he did not want that so we finished our conversation then and there and I drove home.

Once I got home and unpacked, I called him back and asked him to tell me what it was all about. And he told me. Basically, I was going to pay pretty much the same or less, lose part of the data included in the plan which I was not using entirely anyway (I usually spend time in wireless-covered areas), get way more free voice minutes in all kinds of networks (which I did not really need, as I seldom go over my plan’s limits), etc., etc. Somewhere, during this conversation, he also told me that I won’t be able to buy a new subsidized phone for the next two years if I accepted the offer. But it got lost in the sea of information. My fault, somewhat. Or maybe entirely.

The offer sounded good, I could not identify any catch at that time, so I said ok, we’ll go with it. I had 14 days to change my mind, so that was good. But a few days later, when I really had the time to think about it, after a few days in the sun, it hit me. The price difference between a subsidized phone and a no-plan one was much higher than any economy that I could have made by switching plans. And, for the last year of my contract, my phone would have been out of warranty. Which warranty I just used to get a new charger, because the old one was no longer charging my phone completely. Suddenly, the deal that sounded ok-ish to begin with, was no longer good at all.

So what did I learn from it? That I should not commit to something before weighing in all the pros and cons. Which someone cannot really do during a phone conversation. So, basically, I should never commit to anything over the phone, when dealing with salespeople. Why? Because one can easily get into a bad deal when time is short and attention is not fully there. Why does that happen? Because sometimes, when rushed, we’re not able to see the catch. And we all hate to realize what the catch was later on.

So where am I going with all this? Why did this go to the e-commerce category as some of you may have noticed (wishful thinking, I know)? Because it’s the same. We need transparency, especially in e-commerce, when we cannot see the seller. We need to know what our options are, what we gain if we pay a little more and if those things we gain are really useful for us. We also need to know what we lose if we pay a little less and if that loss is meaningful to us or not. Because if we don’t, we’ll be resentful. We’ll hate the experience, we’ll remember it for a long time and we’ll talk and write about it. And today it will become known not just to our mother and father, sister and brother and two close friends – as it did many years ago – but also to people who’ve never met us. To people who’ve never lived in the same city / country / part of the world as us. And only some of them will remember the details. Many of them will remember that a certain particular offer, from a certain particular company, sucks. When it fact it may be pretty well-suited for other people, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t well-suited for me. Some of them will even go further with the generalization and say “Company X* sucks, I read some nasty things about them on the interwebs. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but in any case I think you should stay away from them. And, say, how are the kids lately … ?

And in e-commerce, when you’re not transparent enough, people will seek that transparency elsewhere. Review websites, price comparison websites, blogs, all kinds of sources out of your control. And what’s even worse is that on all those websites, while looking for reviews and opinions and comparisons, they will be exposed to offers similar to yours. And then … you’ve lost them. Or many of them. You’ve lost them because after working so hard to get them to your website, you did not make things clear enough. Transparent enough. Obvious enough. You did not tell them that apart from option A, there’s also option B that gives them two extra features for X more money. And also option C, where they pay Y less, but lose two features which do this and that.

Had you done that, had you

  • provided them with enough information
  • enabled reviews on your website
  • made yourself available for an honest phone conversation
  • done everything in your power to be as transparent and as customer-oriented as possible at the very moment you had the customer on your website

you’d have significantly increased your chances to close a deal and to win a satisfied customer.

Because the lack of transparency might have worked in less open environments, many years ago. And even today, it may help you win a game here and a set there. But in today’s internet-dominated society, with information everywhere, it will most certainly make you lose the championship.

I still think that the guy on the phone could have easily asked: “Do you think you’re going to want/need a new phone in less than two years? Do you think that you’re now talking less with your friends than you’d like you and that a new, more relaxed plan, might make you talk more at no extra cost? Is it worth it, to you, to give up a X EUR advantage and a one year warranty in order to win Y more minutes of quality conversation with your friends and loved ones? If it is, you should sign up on this offer”.

But no, he (his company, actually) preferred to go for the quick win. And that’s fair. It’s their decision. But it’s my money. And also my decision. My loyalty. My overall impression.

* I will not reveal the name of the company or the details of the offer for the very reasons outlined in this post.

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AdWords phone and verbal conversion tracking

Stop making excuses and start tracking your leads and conversions, even if they happen over the phone or through e-mails.

It’s pretty amazing how features which are available since long, long time ago are still neglected by both advertisers and their customers.

And how customers and advertisers keep throwing money out the window without the faintest idea about the profitability of their “investment”.

I’m not going to insert the famous Wanamaker “half the money …” quote here, because:

  • By now everybody knows it
  • It’s false (in many cases). It’s way more than half.

Here’s a quick way to track conversions which start on the website and end on the phone (or in e-mails).

Instead of hiding behind the “our leads/conversions are happening over the phone, and we cannot ask our customers which ad they clicked and what they searched for” poor excuse, talk to your webdeveloper, the person doing the advertising, and the one answering your phone / e-mail.

Here’s what each has to do:

  • the advertiser has to tag his campaigns (auto-tagging, specific tagging, it doesn’t matter)
  • the web developer has to detect an AdWords visit and
    • switch to the AdWords phone number (show that number for AdWords visitors)
    • switch to the AdWords contact e-mail (send contact e-mails to that address)
  • the person answering phones / e-mails has to log them, together with their source

Piece of cake, for any of them worth their salt. They’re not perfect, but you have an indication. You can tell if on one day you’re doing better or worse. And if you don’t have many campaigns, and you can use more extensions, you can track each campaign. You can even generate a code on the website and have the customer give it to you over the phone, or include it in the e-mail, and then you can track everything down to search term and ad level if you want to.

If you can’t do that, the you can talk to your customer. You, the advertiser, can call him, as often as you can afford, and ask him how things went since your last talk.

You can ask him how many phone calls he received, and how many orders / leads he got. You can ask him what kind of orders they were, and you can deduct which campaigns went well and which nose-dived. If you and your customer work as a team, you can do it.

Not long ago, I convinced a friend of mine, the very first person whose account I managed, to use a different phone number for AdWords calls. And he agreed. Shortly after that, I was walking with him not far from his office, when I heard a phone ringing. He smiled, reached into his pocket and told me “AdWords”. And he went “Yes, that’s us. Sure, how many would you like? Ok, this is the price, you can pick them up anytime”. That was a live conversion, for the campaign related to the product he was talking about.

He gave up carrying three phones (he already had two when we started using the AdWords phone) abouth a month later. By that time advertising costs were insignificant compared to his AdWords-related revenues. And it was him who made that conscious decision, I did not push him.

He now talks to his customers and asks them how they found out about him. And I talk to him, several times a week, sometimes daily. And he tells me what he sold, how many, what the approximate revenue is, how many customers were new and how many were return customers. In my turn, I tell him what his AdWords expenses are, which products spend more, which less, which cities are more active and which less. That’s verbal tracking. And it works. In any case, it works much better than no tracking at all. I learn about his business, he learns about what I do. And together we managed to turn a  secondary product into a main revenue source.

A few days ago he asked me, for the first time “can you see how many people have downloaded my price list?”. I smiled, but he could not see me. I was tracking downloads and hits on the contact page since I set that website up.

“Yes, I can. About X% of your visitors download your offer. That’s about Y a day. Most of them download it from product page A, then C, then B, and you also have some downloads from D and E.” They’re from city A, B, and C. “C, are you kidding me? Are people from C visiting my website and downloading my offer?”. “Yes they are”. “Amazing”.

Amazing, indeed. Yet so simple, so affordable and so effective.