Table of Content
What Google Shopping and Search ads do
The two ad types are run through the Google Ads platform and they are designed to help advertisers drive relevant traffic to their website that turns into sales or leads.
They both use a PPC (pay per click) model meaning the advertiser pays when someone clicks on their text or Shopping ad. How much they pay is determined by the advertiser and how much they are prepared to pay per click to stand out amongst the competition. In this sense, the two ad types are similar.
How Users See These Shopping and Search ads
How the user (person searching online) sees these ads differs between Google Shopping and Google Search ads. Firstly, their appearance is a little different and their placements are slightly different too. Let’s dive in a little deeper into each of these.
What Google Search Ads Look Like
When someone makes a search on Google, the top 4 results and bottom 2 on the results page are typically paid-for results (this varies a little for mobile). The text-only results with the word ‘ad’ next to them are Search ads and look something like this:
What Google Shopping Ads Look Like
When a user searches on Google for a product, if there are advertisers and/or merchants using Google Shopping, they can see shopping results related to the search they made. These look something like this:
With Google Shopping ads, the aim is to show the user the 3 primary pieces of information that customers usually consider when making a purchase:
In a Google search, these can also appear together which looks something like this:
Other Google Shopping Placements
You may be thinking, “hang on, I’ve seen these somewhere else”. You’d be right. Google often trials new placements for Google Shopping ads around the internet. Sometimes on its search engine results pages, sometimes not.
For example, despite removing the right hand side adverts in 2016, there have been a few right hand side placements showing up for shopping ads:
You may have also seen them in the images section of Google too. They look something like this:
What are the differences between Shopping and Text ads?
While you’ll see both ads when making a search on Google, there are some important differences between the two.
Text Ad Basics
Google text ads allow you to advertise both your products and services as search results. These are the ads you usually see without images, but offer additional ad extensions which can include image extensions. This allows the advertiser to show more content and more chances to call out potential promotions and unique sales points.
Using the location extension gives shoppers information that Shopping ads can’t, like your physical location and opening hours.
Unlike Shopping ads, you’re able to choose when you want your listing to show by bidding on keywords. Depending on which keywords you choose, you can target shoppers who are closer to the deciding stage of the buyer’s journey since they’re looking for something specific.
They’ll typically show right above and below the organic results. Often there will be 3 or 4 grouped together, but this can vary depending on the search.
Shopping Ad Basics
Google Shopping ads appear most commonly at the top of the SERP and also have a dedicated tab. As we mentioned, you won’t be able to bid on specific keywords, but by submitting optimized feed with detailed & accurate titles descriptions, and a negative keywords list you can still influence who is finding your ads.
Google shows up to 30 Shopping Ads (formerly product listing ads) on desktop and up to 15 on mobile. Now, while your products can appear as Shopping ads more than once, only one search ad per advertiser can show up at a time. This means that you can show multiple results in Google Shopping, but only one in search.
How do Shopping and Search ads perform comparatively
The big question is; which type of ad should you be running? However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. You could run one or the other or both and the level of success you are likely to receive comes down to a number of factors including:
- Your industry
- The type of website you run
- Profit margins on per item
- Levels of competition for your items
- Average CPC (cost-per-click) for each item
- Demand for your products
- Awareness of your products (e.g. do you sell something people haven’t heard of before)
To help you understand more about the possible levels of success, let’s take a look at some performance statistics that others have experienced.
A study by Merkle in 2018 showed (sign up required) that Shopping ads were dominating compared to other search ads. At that time, Shopping ads amounted to 60% of all clicks for Google paid advertising. And in their most recent study, they’ve found that this number has basically stayed the same.
However, another study by Clutch found that 49% of the people they polled were more likely to click on a text. In comparison, 31% would click on a Shopping ad instead (the other 16% went to video ads).
Examples of Shopping vs Search
As mentioned above, the level of success can depend on your industry - there’s no right or wrong for each platform, it’s simply a matter of testing both to see which works best for you. As an example of some results by industry, Storegrowers published a few case studies from companies using Google Shopping. Here is a quick overview of some of the results they saw:
1. An online retailer within the beauty industry:
- A CPA (cost-per-acquisition… how much it costs to achieve a conversion) that was 60% lower for Shopping compared to their Search campaigns.
- Google Shopping delivered double the return on ad spend compared to their search ads.
- A conversion rate that was 3 times higher than that from the search campaigns.
2. Front End Audio (a retailer of sound and recording equipment). They were running Search Ads but improved their results by using Shopping Ads. Here are some of the improvements they saw:
- Reduced their CPA by approximately 70%.
- Increased CTR (click-through-rate) and increased their conversion rate.
3. Vineyard Vine (a retailer selling men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel). They began running Google Shopping and found:
- By using Google Shopping they found their conversion rate was 84% higher than search & 112% higher than display.
- They also found that their overall ROI was higher on Google Shopping compared to any other digital channel they utilized.
So we’ve looked at some of the statistics and results around Google Shopping and why you should look at both platforms, but are there scenarios where you shouldn’t or wouldn’t be allowed to run Google Shopping?
Unfortunately, yes. Let’s look into some of the limitations in more detail...
Google Shopping or Google Text Ads?
There are certain circumstances when you can't (or shouldn’t) advertise on both. Let's take a look at each type of ad.
When You Should Choose Text Ads:
If you advertise anything else other than physical products available to buy online, you can't advertise on Google Shopping (there are a few exceptions like software subscriptions and mobile contracts). Think of service-based businesses such as course providers or used car sales.
In fact, Google Shopping is designed for online retailers, not for services. If you only sell flights or hotel rooms, you can't advertise on Google Shopping. You might want to check out Google Hotel Ads instead.
If you sell yoga lessons or language classes, unfortunately, Google Shopping is not for you either. Also, keep in mind that Google Shopping shows images as well as text. Therefore, additional policies apply.
In fact, Google doesn't accept images showing shocking content, nudity or violence. It is the case of book covers for instance. Although books are allowed to be advertised on Google Shopping, if the cover image doesn't comply with the policies, unfortunately, that specific book can't be advertised.
If this sounds like an issue you might run into, you can advertise it on Search as the cover image wouldn't show.
Text ads will also benefit you if most of your business is run through a physical shop. You’ll be able to advertise your phone number, opening hours, and even stop your text ads from showing at times when you’re closed. That way you won’t be wasting any of your budget on unnecessary clicks.
So, to sum it up, choose text ads when:
- You’re selling services rather than physical products
- You’re selling lessons or tickets
- The images related don’t comply with Google’s policies
When You Should Choose Shopping Ads:
The previous instances were mainly about policies and things you can't do as you wouldn't be allowed by Google rules. But if none of those policies apply to the products you want to list then Google Shopping could be right for you.
In fact, there isn't really any case where you can advertise on Google Shopping and you can't on Search. There are instances however where you advertise on Google Shopping but we simply wouldn’t recommend advertising on Search as well (although you would be allowed to do so).
That would be times when advertisers are selling niche products that probably won’t generate a ton of searches. It also includes products that have long and complex names that shoppers aren’t going to remember, or even be searching for, to begin with.
In a lot of cases, you don’t even need to choose between the two. Instead, maximize your visibility by combining Google Shopping and text ads. The interesting thing for you, as said, is that text ads can show up alongside Shopping ads.
In fact, Google ran a study showing that shoppers who viewed both shopping ads and text ads from a retailer are 90% more likely to go to their website. So, imagine your products showing up multiple times in Shopping plus as a text ad, all at the same time. Well, you would really be the king of the SERP!
In the image above, you can see that Nearly Natural appears 3 times on the SERP (search engine result page). They have 2 Shopping ads and one search ad. Showing for both makes the advertiser’s message stronger and more prominent than the others.
In the case of the screenshot above, you can see that some ad extensions are showing alongside the search ad. Potential customers can see at a glance what other artificial plants the advertiser is selling. If they had a physical store location that would also be really important to show here as well.
As you can see there are many reasons why you would want to advertise with both Google Shopping and text Ads. Let's recap them:
- Greater exposure and visibility
- Give competitors less space on the SERP
- Reinforce your branding message and image
- Strengthen your promotional message. More text to use, more content to show
- Use ad extensions to add relevant information and call out other products, promotions, and more
In order to really get the most out of Google Shopping and Search Ads combined together, we recommend you implement feed-driven text ads. We covered the topic extensively in our previous posts.
Google Shopping and Search Keywords
One of the biggest differences between Google Search and Google Shopping is the way the keywords work. Google Search ads require the advertiser to input the keywords they want to show up for whereas Google Shopping keywords are sourced by Google automatically by pulling the keywords from the product titles and descriptions.
Whilst Search and Shopping use keywords differently, it is still important to undertake keyword research when using either ad type. This will give you a good idea as to how many searches there are for each keyword.
A great way to do this is to use the Google keyword planner. This is a free tool from Google that allows advertisers to input keywords or a website and Google will suggest keywords it thinks you should or could go after.
Upon entering your keywords, keyword planner will look something like this:
As you can see from the above, the results in the top section refers to the stats for the keywords you have inputted. Below that are further suggested keywords.
In the example above, we can see that ‘eco friendly sunglasses’ has significantly more search volume than ‘eco friendly eyewear’ which would suggest I might want to put some effort into showing up for ‘eco friendly sunglasses’.
Why does this matter? Well, that depends on whether you are using search ads or shopping ads. For the shopping ads, you might want to think about getting the higher volume keywords into the titles and descriptions. When it comes to search, you can go ahead and bid on both the keywords.
Both Search and Shopping ads use negative keywords. These are the keywords that you do not want your ads to show up for. For example, you may want to exclude terms such as ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ if that wouldn’t best reflect your products.
Negative keywords can also be a great opportunity to control what keywords your shopping ads show up for. Negative keywords can be set at account, campaign or ad group level.
Typically, the account-level negative keywords are great for implementing negatives that you wouldn’t want any of your ads to show up for at all. Whereas the campaign and ad group level negative keywords are a good way to ensure the best possible ad is showing up for that particular search.
For example, let’s say you have Shopping campaigns around fancy dress items for children. Your campaigns may be split out by each type of outfit. With that in mind you may want to exclude the term ‘dinosaurs’ from the Superhero Outfits campaign and exclude ‘superhero’ from the Dinosaur Outfits campaign. This will help to ensure that you are not cannibalizing your own ads or showing up for the wrong kind of searches.
Whilst you can do the same with Search ads, you are less likely to come across this issue due to the fact you are specifically choosing which keywords you would like to show up for.
Once you have selected the keywords you would like to show up for, the implementation of the keywords is where you’ll likely see the biggest difference between the campaign types.
Implementing Keywords: Search Ads
Implementing search ad keywords is pretty straightforward, after creating your Google campaign and ad group, you simply input you keywords into the ad group:
It’s also worth noting that there are match types with Search ads. By inserting square brackets around the search term tells Google that you want that keyword and nothing else to show up.
By inserting quotation marks around the keyword, it tells Google you are happy for additional keywords to show up in the search term. For example, let’s use the term ‘blue shoes’, these are how match types work…
- Exact match. This would look like this: [blue shoes] - this tells Google you do not want additional terms to come into that search term at all.
- Phase match. This would look like this: “blue shoes” - this tells Google that you do not mind terms showing up before or after the term, e.g. your ad would show up for someone searching for blue shoes for treadmill running.
Conversely, match types do not apply to shopping campaigns due to the fact that you are not selecting the keywords.
Implementing Keywords: Shopping Ads
To get your Shopping ads showing up for specific keywords, the process is a little different compared to search campaigns. You will need to weave them into your product title and product description.
It is important to remember that your space is particularly limited when writing your title and description. Neither prospective customers nor Google will thank you for keyword-stuffing (putting as many keywords into a specific space).
You need to accurately provide the relevant information around the product in the title and description, avoid waffle or overly-descriptive terms that do not help identify the product (e.g. cute, perfect for, awesome).
How bidding works with Google Shopping and Search ads
As mentioned above, Google Shopping ads do not allow you to bid on specific keywords, with this in mind, the bidding process works a little differently between the two. There are two different bidding options in Google Ads: manual CPC or automated bidding. For the purpose of comparing the two we will look at manual bidding first.
Here is an overview of how they both work:
Search allows you to bid on specific keywords that you want to show up for. As an advertiser, you select the keywords that work best for you and choose the maximum amount you’re prepared to pay.
As you can see from the above, next to the keyword you can choose your bid by clicking on the bid amount.
With Google Shopping, you are bidding on the product itself rather than the keyword. Once you have selected the products you want to push, you can choose the bid for all the products in the ad group (ad group max CPC) or you can specifically choose the maximum bid for each item.
This is where some people choose to have an ad group for each product so they have full control over the product bidding and keywords that show up for it - this comes down to preference though and not essential.
So, what are the similarities in the bidding process and how does the bidding differ?
- When setting a manual bid, you can get quite specific and choose what works best for your products.
- A great tip for both search and shopping is to find a ‘biting point’. Work out what gets you enough traffic and conversions and then bring down the CPC bit by bit. When it is not getting you the traffic you need, you can increase bid.
- The auction process itself works in the same way for both ad type. When a search is relevant for your ad, you go into a bidding auction with other advertisers
- Search = bidding on keywords. Shopping = bidding on products.
- Suggested bids - in the keyword planner, Google gives you an idea as to how much you should bid to be at the top of the page. This only applies to search.
- Different CPCs - Often, advertisers find that the amount they bid for a search ad vs. a shopping ad differs greatly. Oftentimes, the shopping ad will be cheaper by comparison but this varies depending on the industry, competition levels and more.
As mentioned earlier, Google offers the option of automated bidding. Whilst what you are bidding on is slightly different between Shopping and Search, the options for automated bidding are fairly similar.
Automated bidding effectively means you are letting Google choose what the best CPC is for you and your goals.
What bidding options do you have and what is available on search/shopping?
Available on Search Only
- Target CPA - target cost-per-acquisition. This is where you tell Google how much you are willing to pay for a conversion and Google will do the bidding process based on this goal. This does require having conversion tracking set up accurately.
- Maximise conversions - this is where you ask Google to bid whatever it feels necessary to achieve as many conversions as possible.
- Maximise conversion value - Letting Google bid as much as it feels necessary to achieve as much value as possible. This requires conversion value tracking to be set up accurately.
- Target impression share - The impression share is the percentage of the relevant searches you show up for. If you show up every time there is a relevant search, your impression share would be 100% (for example). In this option you are choosing how often you want to show up for these searches and letting Google take care of the bidding to achieve it.
Available on Both
- Target ROAS - target return on ad spend. This is where you tell Google how much of a return on investment you want from your ads. You will need conversion value tracking to use this option.
- Maximize clicks - this is where you ask Google to bid to get as many clicks as possible.
This option is available on both search and shopping and allows Google to make slight bidding changes depending on whether it believes you are likely to get a conversion. It’s usually best to wait until the campaign has at least 15 conversions before opting for this so Google has enough data to work from.
How Smart Campaigns work
For those less experienced or simply have a very limited amount of time for the Google Ads platform, Google offers Smart campaigns.
These are campaigns that focus more on automation allowing the advertiser to focus only on the strategy and overall business goals and let Google take care of the rest. It also helps by taking away some of the everyday tweaks and changes needed in a standard campaign in order to make it a success.
The set up and way Smart Shopping is run is again different compared to search campaigns. Let’s look a little more at both of these:
As mentioned above, smart campaigns are heavily based on machine learning and automation. Google uses data from Google as well as retailers to automatically optimize the campaigns with the aim of generating the best possible ROAS (return on ad spend).
The set up is fairly similar to normal shopping campaigns in that you need to have a feed and make sure you meet the requirements. You also make use of the Merchant Center.
The biggest difference between smart and regular shopping campaigns is the amount of control you have over the ads themselves. With the automation coming into play, it’s a relatively hands-off process going forwards.
It’s worth bearing in mind that with any automation, you do need a certain amount of data for the optimization and learning to pick up and understand. With that in mind, sometimes you may find that Smart Shopping can take a little while to begin to see improvements. Shopping campaigns are based on the advertisers knowledge and will not require this data.
Pro tip: Make sure you have set up conversion tracking prior to setting up Smart campaigns. That way, Google’s machine learning will be based on what actually makes money for your business.
For more information, we have also created a detailed guide on how to set up, run and make a success of smart shopping.
Smart Text Ads
Much like smart Shopping ads, smart search or smart text ads are designed to automate the optimization process.
The set up of keywords themes is very simple where you select your keywords (Google will find similar keywords), ad copy (URL, headlines and description lines - the order they show up will be based on Google’s machine learning algorithms), negative keywords, budget and where you want ads to show up.
This takes away the need to spend time tweaking bids, altering ad extensions, amending bid adjustments and more.
Another option to automate search campaigns is the use of Dynamic Search Ads (DSA). This is set up in a similar way to search campaigns, but you include the URL that you are driving traffic to during the Ad group creation and Google will identify keywords to show up for. Not only does this save time researching keywords, it also allows you to reach more people.
Smart Shopping vs Smart Search Campaigns
As an overview, here are the primary differences between Smart Shopping and Smart Search campaigns:
- Negative keywords cannot be added to shopping campaigns.
- Much like standard campaigns, keywords cannot be selected for smart Shopping
- Ad appearance is different and Shopping ads rely on a feed.
There are also a number of similarities which includes:
- Automated bidding
- Automated placement (where the ads appear, e.g. Google Partners)
- Both need a certain amount of data for the optimization to work best
- Works better with conversion tracking in place.
So which one should you try? Well, if you’re planning to use smart campaigns, we would recommend trialing both to see which will deliver the best results.
Campaign Priority for Shopping Ads
Seasoned Google advertisers will probably already be aware of what happens when you have two Search ad groups competing for the same thing. Google will select what it believes to be the best match. This is not necessarily a huge issue, but it can lead to the less relevant ad being shown or skewing the impression share stats. That’s why many advertisers are very careful to ensure there is little-no crossover between each ad group and campaign.
But Shopping is a little different. Sometimes you may find yourself wanting items to be in two or more campaigns at the same time. This is where the campaign priority feature is invaluable.
Campaign priority is listed as low, medium or high and can be altered in the feed or the campaign settings. This underrated feature allows you to select which campaign you would like to show up when there is a crossover. All campaigns are set to low unless otherwise specified in the feed or selected in the settings. This also only applies at campaign level, not at ad group making it pretty powerful to use.
A great example of when this is useful can be when you have a bestsellers campaign. One of the bestselling items may also appear in another campaign but you may choose to give priority to the bestseller campaign as it might have a higher return on investment - allowing you to give more budget to these items.
This is a feature in Shopping campaigns only and not for text ads.
Surfaces Across Google
As mentioned earlier, you also have surfaces across Google. These are free Shopping ads that appear in a range of placements from Google such as Shopping tab, Google Search, Google Images, Google Maps, and Google Lens.
It is strongly recommended that you find out more about them and get them in place if you are running Shopping ads. You have a lot to gain and nothing to lose running them. Read up on Surfaces across Google with our complete SaG guide.
What are Conversion Rates?
The term ‘conversion rate’ refers to the percentage of people who landed on the site and proceeded to purchase (or convert in any way you are measuring conversions, e.g. sign ups, form downloads, phone number clicks, etc.).
This is something that many advertisers have found differs when it comes to running both search and shopping campaigns. Typically, shopping campaigns convert a little higher. Why? Well, for two main reasons:
- The customer has already seen the key information before clicking on the shopping ad; the price, what it looks like and the title.
- Shopping ads with lots of attribute information in the feed are likely to show up for specific searches. The more specific searches often convert higher. For example, if someone searches specifically for ‘blue circular placemats’, then they see an ad displaying the exact blue, circular placemats they want for a good price, there is a strong chance that by the time they reach the site they are ready to commit to their purchase.
Pros and cons of Search ads and Google Shopping
With everything above in mind, let's recap and go over all the pros and cons of text ads vs Google Shopping and vice-versa.
Pros of using text ads
- Prominent on the search engine result page
- Great visibility
- More text and more content
- Your ad might be bigger than your competitor's if you use all the lines and ad extensions
- Ad extensions
- Give more chances to get a clickthrough
Cons of text ads
- Not suitable for products with long and complex names
- More complex to implement than Google Shopping
- CPC might be more expensive than Shopping
- Easier to implement for a high number of products
- No need for keywords, potentially more chances to show your products
- Usually, Shopping ads are more engaging than search ads as they show an image as well
- CPC can be relatively cheap compared to search
Cons of Google Shopping
- Only suitable for online retail businesses
- Strict policies around image content
- Ads show limited content
- All ads are of the same size. Hard to stand out from competitors.
Both Google Shopping and Text Ads have their pros and cons. The first step for you to master these two ad types is to be aware of their benefits and limitations.
If you are not sure which type of ads you should use, you should trial both. Over time you will likely find out which is working best for you. Keep an eye on which ad type is driving the best conversion value for the best cost.
If you find one ad type outperforms the other, you can go ahead and place more or all of your budget on this ad type. Otherwise, running both can get you some excellent results too.
Our recommendation is to always use both whenever you can. If for any of the reasons explained above, you are not able to take full advantage of the two combined, make sure you use at least one at its best.
Recommended further reads
- Automate Text Ads Using a Data Feed
- [Case Study] Increase Your ROI by 181% with Automated Search Ads
- 11 Google Search Ads Optimization Tips for B2B Advertisers [EXPERT Level]