If you're looking at paid advertising for your ecommerce store, Google gives you a couple of options: a standard shopping campaign, or a smart shopping campaign.
Our traffic go-to Ilana Wechsler is here to explain the difference, and why or when you might choose one or the other for your paid adverts.
In the podcast:
01:35 – Say you’re just starting out. This is the scenario…
03:13 – A standard shopping campaign versus smart. How does one paid advertising option differ from the other?
06:43 – What’s good about smart shopping? Discover what AI can do for your advertising campaign.
07:34 – Things to look out for with smart. It does have its drawbacks.
10:33 – What’s going for the standard shopping campaign. A more manual campaign setup takes more effort, but has advantages.
13:08 – The best of both strategies. What do you get when you use them together?
17:29 – When to use smart over standard. This is when autopilot is good to have.
18:37 – Where standard comes in handy. If you’ve got time and willingness, this could be the better choice.
22:54 – What you can do based on this ep. A couple of action steps for listeners.
If you have an e-commerce store, or you’re thinking about having an e-commerce store, or you know someone with an e-commerce store, this episode is for you.
Say you’re just starting out…
Let’s say you have a Shopify store – a surfboard shop, because James likes surfboards. Someone goes to Google and types in, twin fin, 6’9, channel bottom, pin tail, and you carry a board with just those specs. What you want is for your ad to show up at just the moment that the user searches. That’s a Google Shopping campaign.
Now, as an advertiser, when you start to create your advertising campaign, you link it up with your Google Merchant Center and with your Shopify store. And you’ve got your feed, you’ve got your images of your products and so forth.
A standard shopping campaign versus smart
Then you’re faced with the task of choosing your paid advertising campaign – either what’s called a standard shopping campaign, or a smart shopping campaign.
As some listeners probably know, Google is going down the AI route – machine learning, artificial intelligence. On this podcast, AI has been discussed a few times, in connection with keynote presentation, copywriting, and traffic campaigns.
Smart shopping campaigns are where, essentially, you go to Google, you put in your website URL and a budget, and they go away and find new customers. Enticing, yes, but there are pros and cons.
Smart shopping campaigns, says Ilana, are pretty much the same as standard shopping campaigns, except fully automated. You have zero control. Your ads will be spread out over the web on search, display, Gmail and YouTube, in front of whoever Google believes is your target customer.
There’s no optimization. And it will essentially blend cold traffic campaigns with retargeting campaigns, which is usually a big no-no when you’re going down the manual route.
Does this have a continual testing campaign built in, asks James? Ilana would say so, but Google doesn’t say much about how the campaigns work. She has, though, seen many instances where smart campaigns are working and profitable.
What’s good about smart shopping?
A pro of smart campaigns is they’re very easy to set up. So if you’re new to the online world, you can simply connect your feed in the Google Merchant Center to your Google Ad account in your Shopify store. And away you go.
James would call that the easy trap. To his mind, anything that’s super easy often has a massive downside. It’s easy to start things or to have ideas about things. It’s hard to execute on them. So he’s always cautious.
Things to look out for with smart
So what’s the downside?
Ilana has had someone come to her whose smart shopping campaign was running and profitable. Which was great, but they wanted scale. They tried increasing the budget, and Google just wouldn’t spend it.
Another con is if you have a product name that can mean something else. There’s a surfboard, for instance, called Petal to the Metal. You could be attracting the wrong traffic for that. A smart shopping campaign won’t tell you that because you can’t dive into their search term report and see what your ads are showing for. So you could be wasting money in areas without knowing it.
You also can’t optimize a smart campaign, says Ilana. You have no performance data, no search term report that you can then apply to other areas.
“You get scale from multiple ad spots, but in a very strategic way.”
Say Petal to the Metal is your converting keyword. You can take that and create a search campaign. In terms of real estate on Google, you’ve got a Google Shopping ad, and you’ve got a Google search. So you’ve got two available, possible ad spots for one of your money type keywords. And that’s where you can get scale. It’s multiple ad spots, but in a very strategic way.
So with smart shopping campaigns, you could be missing the chance to use data from one area for your overall campaign. Whereas if you were to go manual, you’d get the valuable data that you can then use to inform your other campaigns.
What’s going for the standard shopping campaign
On the flip side, a standard shopping campaign gives you the full suite of controls. Obviously the pro with that is you can see all the data. It tells you what your ad showed for in terms of the search term report. And you can then, for instance, tell Google if they’re on the wrong track and showing your ads for the wrong search terms.
You can add a term as a negative, and so conserve budget by not spending your budget on inadvertent clicks or the wrong type of queries.
And the advantage is twofold. Yes, you can avoid wasting money, but also on the terms that are really good, you can expand and grow by directing more budget that way. And you can apply it in other areas by incorporating a search campaign.
So if a channel bottom twin fin is converting off the charts, says James, you can do a feature article on your site about the top seven channel bottom twin fins you should ride before you die. And you can do an SEO campaign around it, as well as an Instagram campaign. Had you been on a smart program, you wouldn’t have known the model was converting that well.
Exactly, says Ilana. And with a standard shopping campaign, you also have Google’s machine learning available to you. You can apply their automated bid strategy to your standard shopping campaign, and so still leverage Google’s machine learning. You’ll have the AI and the valuable data.
The best of both strategies
What Ilana’s seen work quite well for a number of people is a mix between a standard and a smart shopping campaign. So you could, for example, place bestselling products in a standard shopping campaign, where you can really grow and scale them. Then you can put the less-selling products, maybe accessories for your surf shop, in a smart shopping campaign, and mix them that way.
“Start with manual bidding.”
There is a con to standard shopping, says Ilana, in that it does require a bit of extra time and knowledge. However, she totally recommends a standard shopping campaign over smart, to start with manual bidding first. And then, once you have a bit of purchase data under your belt in your campaign, you can graduate to the AI learning.
Is that because you’re training it on what you want, James asks?
That’s the trap, says James. If you just tick the easy box, you don’t know what you’re getting.
And you become completely reliant on the smart shopping, Ilana says, because you’ve got no data to apply in other areas. And you’ve relinquished all control.
James likens it to the controls on a DSLR camera. Most people can take reasonable photos with the auto setting, but there are limits. You can get much better shots when you know how to use the manual controls.
One thing Ilana does want to mention is you can’t run the same product in both campaigns at the same time. Say you’re promoting a channel bottom and want to test smart versus standard. If you run them both at the same time, you’ll find the standard shopping campaign doesn’t get any impressions, because the smart is taking all the available ad inventory.
When to use smart over standard
Ilana does suggest using smart if you don’t have any expertise or interest or time to look at and use the search term data. By all means, it could possibly work for you.
Smart would be better than doing nothing, says James.
Ilana agrees. Maybe you want to test a shopping campaign quickly, and you only care about getting sales without even being able to optimize it.
Or, James puts in, you just want a little boost over what you normally do.
Where standard comes in handy
What Ilana does find sometimes is people do campaigns and get a taste for it, for actually how powerful it is. They think, if they could put a bit of time and effort into learning about it, how many extra sales could they get? That’s where standard comes in.
You would use a standard shopping campaign when you want that search term data to grow into other platforms, and then you want to know how your retargeting campaign is converting versus another platform (the smart shopping combines it all together). So you’ve got complete control, you can scale much easier and much faster. And obviously, you get all that data.
It’s interesting, says James, because his friend, Jason, does a lot of sales over Instagram. The data would really be handy for them to run paid campaigns.
Yeah, says Ilana. You can optimize the titles of what people are searching for, create content around it, and then advertise it on Instagram. It feeds into the big picture, because at the end of the day, Jason’s customers are not just on Instagram, they’re also searching on Google.
James has seen it from experience on his surf website, where the overwhelming traffic source for them is surfboard reviews. People obsessively look at surfboards over and over again. They’re on Google, they’re on YouTube, they’re on Instagram. So James’s team pulls in YouTube videos, Instagram photos, manufacturer’s website information, and surfboard reviews, and puts them into one article for each surfboard model. That’s what drives their traffic.
James thinks anyone in that industry is missing out if they’re only focused on just their store or just their Instagram page. Their strategy could be nine times bigger, too, if they started flipping the buttons, using Ilana’s traffic puzzle, which he considers currently industry best standard.
If you’re spending a cent on paid traffic, says James, you need this traffic puzzle.
If you’re an ecommerce store owner and this episode has excited you, Ilana’s advice is to try standard shopping first if you can. Because you’ll teach it what you want and what to avoid, and you’ll be able to get the information that you can then send into other platforms, and you can cross pollinate that into your social media channels or wherever your customers are outside of this ecosystem.
And Google search campaigns as well, says Ilana.
Even SEO and social media videos, says James.
What you can do based on this ep
So what are action steps from this episode, asks James? Say you’ve got an e-commerce store, and are choosing between smart shopping or standard shopping. You’re either not doing anything at all, or you’re doing one of them and maybe not the hybrid. Where would they start?
Ilana thinks it ultimately comes down to what level of involvement the listener really wants to have. If you think you’re never really going to log into your account, and you’re not the kind of person that really wants to see how hard you can drive things, then maybe a smart shopping campaign is for you.
You can easily launch one – Ilana has training inside Teach Traffic on that. She personally, though, is a big believer in a standard shopping campaign, just because of all the benefits they’ve talked about in this episode. And she teaches also some pretty advanced strategies with standard shopping, so that you can really get the most out of those campaigns.
She touched as well on the hybrid model, so there are shades of grey with how you can use both these campaigns. You can check out TeachTraffic.com if you need help. Ilana has a Google Shopping course, which goes through exactly how to set this all up for people.
You can expect more traffic episodes from James and Ilana in the future.