Google Product Category: Everything you need to know
Google has its own system of categorization, or taxonomy. By using your product's data like titles, descriptions, and GTINs, Google will now automatically assign a category for each product you submit.
In the past the google_product_category attribute was required. But in order to simplify the categorization process for its merchants, Google implemented automated categorization.
Even though this attribute is optional, it still has a big impact on your Shopping campaign performance. For this reason, it is essential to get it right.
Automated categorization: What does it mean for merchants?
There are benefits and drawbacks for merchants that stem from Google's switch to automatic 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.
- Advertisers are spared the effort of choosing the right subcategory from the over 6,000 long Google 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. It's always best to keep an eye on the categories that have been assigned to your products.
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 merchants selling in US.
These are all issues you want to avoid. A fully optimized feed can definitely help Google pick the right category with greater accuracy.
3. Control over the targeting
Many merchants like to define their ad campaigns based on Google’s product categories. But what if the product groups you have in mind aren’t in line with the automatically assigned categories? You can override them by populating the google_product_category field manually.
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.
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.
Product categorization used to be exclusively a 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?
The 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.
How Google Product Category affects your ads
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 instead.
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.
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're 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.
Two products might have very similar titles but different categories. This can happen with DVDs and books when the former is based on the latter.
For example, if you sell both "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.
Selling alcoholic beverages
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.
If you're selling products related to alcohol production then you can use 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.
Selling subscriptions, gift cards and mobile devices
Other categories for products like mobile phones and tablets with a contract or instalment plans require a specific Google Product Category. So do gift cards and software subscriptions.
If you're submitting a gift card then this is the categorization you'd use:
Arts & Entertainment > Party & Celebration > Gift Giving > Gift Cards & Certificates (53)
And this is what software would look like:
Software > Computer Software > and of its subcategories like Antivirus & Security Software (5299) or Educational Software.
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.
Localized Category Names
It's possible that localized Google Product Categories can be named differently, even when they're in English. For example, if you're selling clothes in the United States and in the United Kingdom you'll notice that the two have different labels.
US: (178) Apparel & Accessories > Clothing
UK: (178) Clothing & Accessories
In case of any discrepancies between the written titles, the category ID number comes in handy. This number will be the same across product category lists of all languages.
Click on each country to download an excel sheet with the localized Google Product Categories:
When using DataFeedWatch, you can search with a keyword and select the right category you're looking for.
But, you don't need to worry about any mismatches happening. We actually use the category ID number when passing your product data to Google Merchant Center. So you can rest assured knowing your feeds are always correct.
Categorization challenges and benefits
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of taking the time to get your categories right, and the challenges that you might face while doing so.
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.
- Other channels use Google's Product Category like Bing Shopping, Facebook Dynamic Product Ads, and Criteo. Once you're done selecting the right categories for Google you can proceed and expand your multi-channel strategy.
- 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.
It can be a tedious job, but the benefits are big enough to spend a few hours executing it.
Like we mentioned before, there are some prominent challenges you might face with your product categories.
- Automatic categorization means possible risk of getting your products labeled incorrectly. That may bring about negative consequences 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.
- With over 6,000 categories in total, finding the right one becomes a tedious task especially for those who have large feeds with hundreds and thousands of diverse products.
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!
All about Product Type
While on the topic of categorization we also shouldn’t ignore the importance of the ‘product_type’ in your feeds and campaigns.
Adding Product Types
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.
Sometimes this confusion can cause merchants to provide Google with their product types and think the job is done, instead of checking on Google's taxonomy.
The product type is what merchants use to categorize the products on their website, and Google Product Categories are 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 as well for a few reasons:
- It gives even more detailed information to Google about your product offering
- It adds another descriptive layer to the taxonomy
- You can use it to bid on your product types to get better results
The main function of the Product Type attribute is to help you organize your Shopping campaigns in product groups for 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 or 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.
Google Product Category vs. Product type: The differences
Both attributes are used to categorize your products in your Google Shopping product feed but today we are going to clarify the differences once and for all.
The main difference between the two is that with the Product Type you include your own categorization and you can choose which value to use for each product. With the With the Google Product Category you have to follow the precise Taxonomy given by Google.
This is because each attribute actually has 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 how 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, the best practice is making use of them as much as possible.
When to Use Manual and Automatic Categorization
So now that you know what the google_product_category attribute is and why it's important, let's get into how to optimize it. When tackling your product categorization, you have three methods of going about it:
As we already discussed, 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 product category Help Center page and then 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 then 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.
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 only be achieved 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:
- 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).
- Choose field in your input feed that corresponds to your product types/categories
- Generate rules based on this field in the data feed
- 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 you don't need to worry - we’ll automatically update your categories.
By mapping your categories using this system you cut down the risk of having products disapproved in the Merchant Center.
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 one, such as:
Apparel & Accessories > Clothing > Wedding & Bridal Party Dresses if title includes wedding.
So, if you have wedding dresses in the Dresses category in your store, it will go to Wedding & Bridal Party Dresses, not to the generic Dresses. This is because manual rules overwrite auto-generated ones.
Keep in mind: Rules added manually have a higher priority than auto-generated rules. You can even overwrite auto-generated rules with manual ones.
DataFeedWatch Customers: What if you already have the Google Product Category in your feed?
Sometimes merchants that decide to automate their feed management already have the Google Product Category in their feed.
For them, it wouldn't make sense to spend time mapping the categories again, 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.
The google_product_category attribute 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).
Like we touched on in the benefits section, many other channels utilize Google’s Taxonomy. Setting up a multi-channel strategy is easier these days than ever before. And the more you optimize, the better your results will be.
So if you're using a shopping cart software like Shopify, you'll simply need to sync your store with DataFeedWatch and then all your optimized product categorization data will be synced.
The same goes with selling or advertising on Facebook. By using our pre-set feed templates you'll be able to copy the data from your Google Shopping feed and use it with your Facebook Catalog giving you better results for each.
Categorization and Google Taxonomy Overview
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
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!
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.