Why Smart Shopping Campaigns Are Like Driverless Cars

In 2017, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said Google were an “AI first company”.

Fast forward to May 2019 and he announced “We are moving from a company that helps you find answers to a company that helps you get things done” following this by saying “We want our products to work harder for you in the context of your job, your home and your life.

Ultimately, technology should enhance customer experience, and one example of this could be Smart Shopping; a feature within Google Ads designed to make your life easier, although it certainly has its pitfalls, as you’ll find out below.

The way smart shopping works is Google automates ad placements and bidding for the best possible conversion value at your given budget. The ads not only show product list ads on the search network, but also show dynamic remarketing ads on the Display Network, YouTube and Gmail.

The automated ad creation and placement means that ads will appear in the ad spaces they’re relevant to and that your bids will be set to maximise your conversion value. This is great for you as a user, providing you trust Google and their algorithms – which you should, or should at least learn to!

So for you as an advertiser, this means if you have the same product included in both a standard shopping campaign and a smart shopping campaign, the ads from the smart campaign will be eligible to serve rather than the ads from standard shopping or display remarketing campaigns. Chances are this crossover won’t happen too often, but it’s something worth noting nonetheless.

So, before you set up a smart shopping campaign, you’ll need:

  1. To ensure you’ve set up conversion tracking with transaction-specific values
  2. An active, verified conversion tracking tag to set up a smart shopping campaign
  3. To add a global site tag to your website (although you should already have this done!)
  4. Have a remarketing list of at least 100 active users associated with your account for smart shopping to get off the ground.

Now for the really cool and clever stuff: what’s great is that if the user has previously visited and shown interest in products on your site, your product feed will be used to automatically create a relevant ad. From a Google search perspective, a user’s search queries and predicted intent is used to determine which product from your feed should be shown, while on the Display Network, ads are personalised based on user engagement with your website. All this without you having to do much at all in terms of campaign and ad group creation!

Smart shopping campaigns were launched at the beginning of May this year and it is still too early to say if they would outperform regular shopping campaigns, and we’ve seen a mixed bag in terms of results across a range of accounts, however, there are a few bugbears that we’ve spotted with them. Here’s some of the most annoying features about this new feature, mainly things that aren’t available in Smart Shopping campaigns:

Negative keywords are not available:

Google argues that the products shown from the searches are relevant, and their AI wouldn’t enter the user into that specific auction if it didn’t think the user was interested in that product/likely to convert. Like me, I dare say most advertisers won’t be best pleased that lack of control you have over what search terms you do and don’t trigger for.

Location targeting is not available:

In fact, all you can do is set the country of sale, but you can’t target a specific region or exclude a city. Whilst this may well change in the future, it’s not great for geographical quality control. It’s almost like Google are trying to annoy users.

Device targeting and bid adjustments are not available:

Much like the last point, you aren’t able to control bids specifically at device level. This is something that can prove to be extremely valuable in standard campaigns within Google Ads, however, this distinct lack of optimisation opportunity for the advertiser certainly leaves a lot to be desired, again on the control front.

Audience targeting is not available:

As featured earlier, an advertiser must have at least one audience list with 100 users, however, you can’t decide which audience to use when it comes to targeting. Instead, Google will choose this automatically based on its machine learning algorithm. So if you have a cart abandoners audience that would be extremely useful, but also have a highly targeted page specific meets operating system audience, which one would Google pick? Who knows. Well, Google do.

Whilst there are some amazing smart bidding strategies and campaigns coming from Google, Smart Shopping may now be a step too far for many advertisers, especially when it comes to what you can and can’t control. Smart Shopping is essentially you giving Google full control of what it does with your budget and the results it gets. A slightly more controlled environment, while still featuring automated bidding strategies, would be a campaign with a target ROAS or target CPA bid strategy in place. This way you give Google your return or cost per acquisition target, but can still control the structure, time of day breakdown, locations you target in more detail and the audiences that are included and targeted. Equally, you can control the STQR to exclude certain search terms you know will never be relevant and therefore should be excluded and added as negative keywords.

To summarise, smart shopping campaigns are like driverless cars, a great idea, but in reality, they still need a bit of work and ultimately the user prefers being in control in the driving seat, for now anyway.