Google Product Category: How to get it right without going crazy?



    If you want to outperform your competitors on Google Shopping and pay less for the product ads, the secret lies in nailing Google's Taxonomy. The Google Product Category is a fundamental element of all Google Shopping Campaigns, and if you have discounted it until now - it's time to give it your full attention.


    Why focus on Google Product Category?


    The taxonomy is crucial for the product ads as it helps Google to identify if the products in a given feed are a good match for a given shopper query.

    Up until now, product categorization has been an exclusively the merchant’s errand, and oftentimes a cumbersome one. The latest Google update brings an interesting development to the table - an Automatic Category Assignment.

    This begs the question: do we still have to care about the product_category attribute, with the automatic categorization?

    Simple answer: Absolutely! 

    Keeping a close eye on your Google product categories is crucial for all Merchants in making sure their ads are served to the right audience. Furthermore, additional factors may come into play - for example, if you’re selling in the US the appropriate category will ensure the correct tax rate is applied to your items.

    That is why Merchants should definitely put assigning categorization on their feed-checklist.


    Categorization Challenges


    With the new automatic product categorization by Google, there is a risk of getting your products assigned incorrectly. That may bring about negative consequences for the advertiser, such as item disapprovals or having their ads triggered by irrelevant searches. This is why Google allows Merchants to override the automatically assigned category with ‘google_product_category’ attribute.


    Selecting the right category for your products is not rocket science, but the downside is that Google has more than 6,000 categories. Finding the right category becomes a tedious task especially for those who have large feeds with hundreds and thousands of diverse products.


    While on the topic of categorization we also shouldn’t ignore the importance of the ‘product_type’. The difference between the Google Product Category (google_product_category) and Product Type (product_type) attributes in Google Shopping often causes confusion in search marketers. Today we are going to clarify this difference once for all as well as outline best practices around these two essential attributes.


    Google Product Category full walk-through:

    Google Product Category: Everything you need to know

    All about the product type

    Google Product Category vs. Google Product Type

    The benefits of having the right Google Shopping Category


    1. Manual categorization

    2. Automatic categorization

    3. Manual and automatic categorization

    4. Add your product type on Google Shopping

    5. DataFeedWatch Customers: What to do if you already have the Google Product Category in your Feed

    Google Product Category: Everything you need to know


    The Google Product Category attribute does have an impact on your shopping campaign performance. For this reason, it is essential to get it right.

    New Updates for the Category Assignment

    In order to simplify the categorization process for its Merchants, Google implemented automated categorization for all products submitted to Google Shopping. As a result, making the feed attribute ‘google_product_category’ optional.


    Key implications of automated Google categorization:

    1. Less work

    Assigning categories from Google’s Taxonomy to each and every one of your products is no longer a necessity before submitting your products to Google Shopping. This should mean:

    • lower threshold for getting started with advertising your products
    • sparing advertisers the effort of choosing the right subcategory from over-6-thousand-long Google’s taxonomy list

    2. Accuracy issues

    While automatic categorization is a relief for Merchants to a certain extent, it could be a risky gamble to leave this part of your feed completely up to the category-algorithms.

    The risk of category mismatch is real:

    • the automatic assignment heavily relies on other attributes of your feed, such as title, description, brand, and GTIN - it becomes even more important to ensure the accuracy of those attributes
    • if Google incorrectly assigns the category, the Merchant Center may falsely enforce additional required fields upon your products (e.g. for Apparel or Software products)
    • an incorrect assignment may also lead to miscalculation of taxes for the Merchants selling in US

    3. Control over the targeting

    Many Merchants like to define their ad campaigns based upon Google’s product categories. But what if the product groups you have in mind aren’t in line with the automatically assigned categories?
    You may override them by populating the ‘google_product_category’ field.


    All in all, what may seem like the perfect solution on paper is not necessarily all-roses.


    If you want to ensure greater control of your campaign targeting and that your products are categorized accurately - the answer is to get the ‘google_product_category’ attribute right in your product feed


    Getting the Google Product Category Right

    As you can see from the following screenshot, a number (category id) is assigned to every Google taxonomy category and subcategory.




    You can populate the Google Product Category field with either the full category text or simply the category id.




    Setting the right Google Product Category is essential for Google to understand what type of products you are selling. This helps to match categories with the right search query as well as to make them compete in the same auction as other similar products in the same category.


    For instance, two products might have very similar titles but different categories. It is the case of movie DVDs and books when the former is based on the latter.

    For example, if you both sell "Harry Potter" books and DVDs, you want the DVDs to compete with your competitors' Harry Potter DVDs and the books with Harry Potter books. The same story applies to movie BluRay Discs and BluRay players.

    Google chooses what to show when based on the Google Product Category, among many other factors and attributes, like title, GTIN etc.


    There is another important reason why you don't want to get the Google Product Category wrong. Different product categories are treated in different ways by Google when it comes to advertising policies and editorial requirements.

    For example, the brand attribute is required for all products, except movies, books and musical recordings. For those products you might add the publisher as a brand.


    If you sell any other category of products and you don't want them to be disapproved, you have to specify the correct Google Product Category first and then fill the brand attribute.

    Some categories of products require a precise Google Product Category so Google can apply the relevant policy and ensure your feed will be approved. This is the case with alcoholic beverages.


    The promotion of those items is generally allowed but restricted to some countries and subject to strict policies.

    If you intend to sell alcoholic beverages you have to "declare" it in your Google Product Category attribute using the values Food, Beverages & Tobacco > Beverages > Alcoholic Beverages (499676) or any of its subcategories, or Arts & Entertainment > Hobbies & Creative Arts > Homebrewing & Winemaking Supplies (3577) or any of its subcategories.

    In this way, Google will check you meet the alcoholic beverages policy requirements and approve your products. Otherwise, without Google Product Category or with a wrong value, Google would automatically disapprove alcoholic products, without even checking if you meet the policies first.


    Other categories of products like Mobile phones or tablets with a contract or instalment plans, gift cards and software subscriptions require a specific Google Product Category.




    Check the Google help center article for more details. In Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, The United Kingdom, and The United States, the Google Product Category can also be used to organize product groups in Google Ads. In all other countries, only the Product Type attribute is available for this purpose.


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    All about the Google Product Type


    The main function of the Product Type attribute is to help you organize your Shopping campaigns in product groups for a more efficient bidding and campaign management.

    It can be assigned any value of your choice. However, as a best practice, Google recommends you organize the Product Type attribute in a similar way as of the Google Product Category.


    You can assign multiple category levels in order to facilitate your product segmentation in Google Ads. This is how a Product Type with multiple levels would look.



    Once in Google Ads you will be able to segment your product groups based on the Product Type attribute's multiple levels.

    In the example below the product type would look like this: books > secondary books > junior certificate, books > secondary books > transition year, books > secondary books > leaving certificate, etc... 


    In this way, you can potentially assign different bids to every category of product or simply report them separately. DataFeedWatch can help you assign a Product Type value to every product through simple IF rules.



    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    Google Product Category vs Product Type: The Difference


    Both attributes are basically used to categorize your products in your Google Shopping product feed.

    However, while with the Product Type attribute you include your own categorization and you can choose which value to use for each product, with the Google Product Category you have to follow a precise Taxonomy given by Google.

    This is because the two attributes actually have two different purposes. While the Product Type is used to organize the bidding and reporting in your Google Ads Shopping campaigns, the Google Product Category is used by Google to ensure that your ad is shown with the right search results.


    This difference is crucial when it comes to understanding how Google Shopping works and what to do to best optimize your campaigns. 

    Google Shopping is all about showing your ads as many times as possible in front of the right audience. Both the Google Product Category and Product Type help you achieve that, although from different perspectives.


    The former works at a feed optimization level, while the latter at a campaign level, unlocking the potential of a smart bidding management. For those reasons, given their different purposes, it is important you always set both attributes right.

    Even though the Product Type and Google Product Category attributes are not required within your product feed, it is best practice to make use of them as much as possible. 


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    The Benefits of Having the Right Google Shopping Category:


    There are countless benefits of going very in-depth with your categorization. Here's why you should take the time and do it properly.

    • Google will be able to better identify if your products are a good match for any given search query. Adding GTIN to your feed also enables Google to do that, but Google Shopping is also a Comparison Shopping site that is using the Google Product Categories for navigation and comparison.
    • The right category increases the chance that your products will show up for the right search queries and your CTRs will improve
    • By having better CTRs your product ads will have better chances when competing with similar products
    • If your ads become more relevant, the costs of your PLAs will go down
    • If you are selling in more than one country and you have mapped your categories for one of the feeds, you can copy the categorization for all the other countries where Google Shopping has a presence.

    Categorizing feeds with many different product_types is a tedious job, but the benefits are big enough to spend a few hours executing it. If you can’t make the time: outsource this to DataFeedWatch or to a freelancer to do it for you; it's money well spent!


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    1. Manual Categorization


    As we already  you may choose to overwrite the categories that Google automatically assigns to your products.

    The title says it all: you have to manually categorize all products. To do so, you need to go to Google's Taxonomy page, download the entire list of categories and subcategories. You can then proceed to select the best category for each product.


    You can download the list of products here and the use the search functionality in Excel to find the best categories for each product. This strategy works well if you don't have lots of products in your feed.


    Keep in mind:

    Choose wisely: an item could be a good fit for more than one category, so in this case, you have to select the most appropriate one.


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    2. Automatic Categorization


    How is this different from Google’s automatic categorization?

    The key distinction is that you can automatically assign categories of your choice, rather than leaving that up to the algorithms.


    Such a solution can be done only with the help of a third-party tool

    At DataFeedWatch, we have created a system to match each product type to the most appropriate Google subcategory, in a matter of seconds:

    1. You select the Default Category so that the products don't get disapproved - it should be a general category (if some products are not mapped with your subcategory rules, they will be put in this particular category)
    2. Choose field in your input feed that corresponds to your product types/categories  
    3. Generate rules based on this field in the data feed
    4. Type in a few letters and select the best category for that type of product



    The process is much faster and pain-free than having to do it manually. And to make it even better; if Google changes anything in their taxonomy we are automatically updating your categories.

    By mapping your categories using this system you cut down the risk of having products disapproved in the Merchant Center.


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    3. Manual & Automatic Categorization


    Sometimes, a combination between the two of them works best, because it allows for a higher degree of personalization.

    So, for example, let's say you sell dresses and you create the auto-generated rule as in the example above and assign the generic category Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Dresses.




    But, if you sell different types of dresses it's best to be as specific as you can and not put them all in the same category.

    For that you can go to Manual rules and create more specific rules, such as:

    Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Wedding & Bridal Party Dresses if title includes wedding.




    Keep in mind:

    - Rules added manually have a higher priority than auto-generated rules and you can actually overwrite auto-generated rules with manual ones.

    - So, if you have wedding dresses in the Dresses category in your store, it will go to Wedding dresses not to generic Dresses. This is because manual rules overwrite auto generated ones.


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    4. Add Product Type


    Sometimes there is confusion between the product type and the Product Category in Google. As a result, merchants provide Google with their product types instead of the required taxonomy.


    The product type is what merchants use to categorize the products on his website, and the Google Product Category is based on the predefined taxonomy.


    Even if the product type is not a required field by Google, it is very important to have it in the feed because:

    • it gives even more detailed information to Google about your product offering




    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.

    5. DataFeedWatch Customers: What to do if you already have the Google Product Category in your feed


    Sometimes merchants that decide to automatize their feed management have already the Google Product Category in their feed.

    For them, it would make no sense to spend again the time to map the categories, so we have a quick and painless solution: they can use the categorization they already have in the feed and add it as an optional field to the data feed.

    ‘google_product_category’ can be found in optional fields of Google Shopping channel. Just choose it and map with field containing proper Google categories data from your feed (both text and number values are acceptable).





    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.



    Having an accurate Google Product Category is crucial in improving the performance of product ads on Google Shopping. You can nail the right category by investing the needed time to this task by:


    • Manual categorization - need to download the Taxonomy here
    • Automatic categorization
    • Manual and Automatic categorization combined
    • Adding the product types to the feed - you can also use the product types for your bidding strategy
    • Add the taxonomy as an optional field to the feed


    Return to top of page or Get your Complete Guide to Data Feed Optimization here.


    Download our Guide to Data Feed Optimization eBook to learn more about:

    • How to improve the quality of your product feed?
    • Different shopping channel business models and which one works best for you?
    • What tactics to use to improve the shopping campaign ROI.




    Love it or hate it, Google's categorization is indisputably an advantage for all the retailers that know how to make the most out of it. We encourage you to make it a priority if you are advertising on Google.

    It doesn’t have to be this Sisyphean task. Especially now with Google’s automatic categorization and with the aid of third-party tools that can help you get your categories straight easily and in no time.

    If you have questions on how to best use Google's Product Category drop us a line!


    New call-to-action