Google Unveils New Shopping Ad Formats And Packs More Demand Into Performance Max

Google announced the latest updates to its shopping ad products at Google Marketing Live on Tuesday, with changes on the backend to how advertisers use its tech and on the consumer side.

These changes are becoming more necessary as the mobile Google Search feed evolves from primarily text-based responses to more visual elements on the page, said Tina Weyand, Google’s senior director of product management for retail ads.

“The organic experience is becoming more visual,” Weyand said. “And, so, we’re making sure that our ads are also becoming more visual and meeting those consumer needs.”

In practice that means presenting mobile users who make what Google considers to be shopping-related queries with “visual and immersive” content in the search feed, including a swipeable feed of sponsored products, sponsored merchants with their own carousel of items and organic product displays.

The merchant-based sponsored search product in particular is the result of strong demand from advertisers and comes in response to how most Google search users shop in the feed, according to Weyand.

Someone who searches for a specific Garmin watch, for example, knows what they want and so it makes sense for the shopping search algorithm to display merchants which have that product for sale and places nearby where the item is in stock, via Google Maps. But when someone makes a more general search for something like “parents wedding anniversary gifts,” that person has intent but hasn’t made a decision yet, which makes it more valuable to surface merchants that offer a selection.

Google also plans to bring more video content to mobile shopping searches, Weyand said, “either coming from YouTube or other sources coming on to the feed.”

To the Max

The combination of Google products, namely Google Maps, YouTube and Gmail, to monetize the Google Search feed is a major priority for the company.

Those Google media properties are integrated with a product called Performance Max. By the end of this year all Smart Shopping campaigns and Google’s retail media service will be folded into Performance Max. When retailers or shopping advertisers sign up for Performance Max, these shopping optimizations will become the default search campaign formats using product details and creative already uploaded to the account that will then be managed and optimized by Google.

Performance Max is similar in nature to what Google calls “data-driven attribution,” the product that replaced last-click attribution last year as the default method for measuring conversions. Data-driven attribution combines data from across Google’s properties and ad tech to estimate which sites and apps contributed to sales and then assigns credit, as opposed to identifying a specific number of individuals who clicked on an ad before converting.

Performance Max is a prospecting and optimization product, not an attribution tool. But Performance Max does require advertisers to set their KPIs or business results in advance so that Google can do the optimization within in its own black box. Because Google is using first-party account data from Maps, Gmail and YouTube, it won’t allow advertisers to reidentify those users elsewhere.

Although Performance Max is a big part of Google’s plans, Google’s increased focus on commerce doesn’t guarantee that it will become a major consumer shopping platform. Google is a hub of search intent, sure, but it’s been attempting (with limited success) for years to gather more sales and payments directly on its properties.

The new shopping ad products and formats Google is now testing aren’t so different from its pitch during Google Marketing Live in 2019, when it first brought YouTube and Maps into shopping search results.

The new tech should help merchants increase sales with algorithmic info about which products are most likely to convert, Weyand said, or which data points could clinch a sale, whether that’s info about sustainability, reviews, a star rating or a lower price relative to competitors.

“We’re able to highlight merchants and bring forward their best products, key differentiators value proposition, and really open up the opportunity for them to find new customers,” Weyand said.

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