CSS for Google Shopping Ads

Google Shopping ads are an integral part of any eCommerce marketing strategy, with a reported 76% of all Google Ad spend going to shopping ads. And it’s not difficult to see why.

Developed especially for eCommerce brands, Google Shopping Ads are the ideal choice for getting your products in front of customers right as they’re ready to make a purchase.

Showcasing product images, key information and price right on the SERP, shopping ads are much more engaging than traditional text based search ads – as evidenced by the fact that 85% of all Google Ad clicks are on shopping ads – making them perfect for driving shoppers to your site.

But to get the most out of their Google shopping campaigns, many retailers are adopting the use of comparison shopping services (CSS).

What is a CSS?

Described by Google as “a website that collects product offers from online retailers and then sends users to the retailers’ websites to make a purchase,” a CSS in simple terms helps eCommerce retailers advertise their products online.

Some CSS will advertise products on their own websites, displaying them alongside similar products so that consumers can compare the different products available. While others will advertise their retail partners’ products through other channels – in particular, we’ll be looking at comparison shopping services that specialise in Google shopping ads.

Essentially, CSS show shopping ads in Google search results, the same way that Google Shopping does, as illustrated below.

Merchants create ads through a CSS the same as they would Google Shopping

Aside from the channels through which they advertise your products, or if they specialise in a particular retail sector, CSS will also differ in their service offering. A CSS will offer product feed management and/or bid management tools to help optimise your shopping ad campaigns for improved performance.

Benefits of using a CSS

There are two main benefits of using a CSS for your ad campaigns (either instead of, or alongside Google Shopping):

Cheaper Bids

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Google’s CSS partner scheme, it’s understandable that you might doubt the legitimacy of any claims that your ads might cost less if you use a CSS.

However, Google was hit with a €2.42bn antitrust fine by the European Commission in 2017 for giving an unfair advantage to its own shopping service and favouring its own ads over competitors’ in search results. This resulted in Google opening up the auction to more CSS partners and offering incentives for more to join – the most notable being cheaper bids.

Merchants who use a CSS will receive an approximate 20% reduction in cost per click for their shopping ads. This reduction in cost, offers a couple of advantages:

  • A cheaper CPC for CSS makes the auction more competitive, allowing CSS to appear and have the same opportunities as Google Shopping to serve ads in the search results.
  • Because CSS create ads and submit them to the auction in the same ways as Google Shopping, the maximum bids that you set will be the same as if you didn’t have the price reduction. Your maximum bid will now go further, increasing your position in the results, and/or increasing your overall impressions without increasing click prices.

Scale Your Ads

Saving money on your bids also offers more opportunities for you to scale up your ad campaigns. You have the option to reinvest the money you save through reduced bids back into your ad account, which (when managed effectively), can be a great way to grow your account and generate more impressions, clicks and sales.

However, it is important to note that, as mentioned above, despite a reduction in CPC, your ad spend may not actually decrease. Instead, your budget may essentially be re-invested for you, by increasing your ad visibility without costing you more.

What Changes When You Start Using a CSS?

Aside from the reduced CPC (and hopefully better performance as a result), you are unlikely to see any significant changes once you start using a CSS.

You are still required to submit your product details to Google Merchant Center (which is connected to Google Ads). You will have the same campaign settings, targeting and tracking options as you would in Google Shopping, so you won’t lose any control over your ads.

In terms of how your ads are displayed on the SERP, again, this is largely the same. When a customer clicks on your ad, it will still direct them back to the product page on your website as before. The only difference will be that the name of your CSS partner will be displayed at the bottom of your ad instead of the default ‘By Google’ label that is assigned to ads created through Google Shopping.

The CSS name is displayed on shopping ads in Google search results

How Many Advertisers Are Using CSS?

Depending on the retail sector you operate in, and how competitive your market is, the number of advertisers using a CSS to manage their shopping ads will differ.

In more competitive markets, you will likely find a higher proportion of brands using CSS to help them gain a competitive edge in the auction (either through cheaper CPC or the assistance of their CSS partner optimising their product feeds).

While in more niche markets where there isn’t as much competition, most of the brands appearing in search results may be advertising directly with Google Shopping.

We’ve had a lot of success using comparison shopping services for some of our eCommerce PPC clients operating in competitive markets, helping us to maximise their budgets and increase their return on investment.