advanced google shopping campaigns query sculpting

Query Sculpting: Advanced Google Shopping Strategy

Online shopping has been growing fast in the last years and experienced a pandemic-fueled boost in 2020 and is expected to hit 4 billion dollars. Research shows that by 2023, the US alone will have 300 million online shoppers. That’s 91% of the country’s population. 

Since the US is the leader in online shopping worldwide, with 69% of all online shoppers worldwide, and Google Shopping has been available here since 2013, you’d expect most advertisers to adopt advanced Google shopping campaign strategies. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While many advertisers and agencies excel in paid search, most are still struggling with shopping. 

I get it. Deciding on how to structure your shopping campaigns can be challenging, especially if you have thousands of products in your store. Do you add all your products in one ad group? Split into branded and unbranded campaigns? Divide by categories? Most advertisers resort to leaving all products in one ad group or set up Smart Shopping and hope for the best. 

However, hope is not a strategy. I wanted to re-introduce you to a Google Shopping campaign structure that almost always works. Of course, the success level will vary, depending on your product type. It will improve your results and eventually make managing shopping campaigns easier – the query sculpting or the query level bidding shopping campaign strategy. 

The problem with Google Shopping 

The biggest issue with Google Shopping, especially for seasoned search advertisers, is that there is no keyword targeting. You cannot choose which search queries your products appear for, and you let Google match the most relevant product from your feed every time a search occurs. 

Out of the box, you have very little control over which queries Google thinks will match your products, so deciding on your Google Shopping campaign structure may make one of the most significant challenges faced by Google Shopping advertisers. The only management tool at your disposal is negative keywords. 

The other problem is that since you don’t have keywords, there is also no match types and no account of query intent. Essentially, you’re telling Google that you’re willing to bid the same for generic queries such as [designer shoes] that show no purchase intent and high intent queries such as [buy green blue sparkly your brand designer shoes]. 

Enter Martin Roettgerding.

Query Sculpting by Martin Roettgerding

Negative keywords allow you to manage your Google Shopping campaigns because you want to exclude irrelevant search queries. If someone is searching for “designer bags” and you’re selling pre-school backpacks, it wouldn’t make much sense to bid on this query, so you’d add the query to your negative keyword list.

In 2014, Martin Roettgerding discovered that you could also use negative keywords to structure your Google Shopping campaigns and invented the query sculpting campaign strategy. 

According to the query sculpting strategy, you create a shopping system comprised of 3 similar shopping campaigns with the same products and one shared budget rather than creating one shopping campaign. The campaigns use tiered bidding and the campaign priority feature to control which campaign will be triggered in response to a search query. 

query sculpting chart
query sculpting table

In this strategy, the shared budget forces all three campaigns to compete in the same auctions and use negative keywords, bids, and campaign priority to filter queries into the right campaign. The premise here is that you should always capture both the generic and cheaper queries with high priority campaigns with low bids. But should sift through and bid higher on valuable search terms such as your branded keywords and product-specific keywords and bid much higher because conversion rates will be significantly higher. 

My agency has been implementing this strategy since 2015 with hundreds of clients. Below you can find a quick run-through of our variation on Martin’s original strategy. 

Query Intent Google Shopping Strategy

Working with many niche brands and smaller direct to consumer brands, we discovered that there weren’t many product-specific searches. By understanding query purchase intent, we can develop a campaign strategy that will fit most small-medium and niche brands.

Our assumption is that most of the terms that will trigger your campaigns will be a low purchase intent traffic, simply by being niche. However, specific queries, keywords that are important to your audience and call out your niche show high purchase intent.  

query intent chart
query intent table

Our goal is to create a shopping campaigns system that will allow you to easily bid separately depending on the search query.

  1. Low intent – general search queries that are relevant to your product but show low purchase intent. These queries can still convert, but you’re not willing to bid high for a chance that it’ll happen. All keywords that show high intent and branded keywords should be excluded; you should also exclude your general negative keywords list.
  2. Branded – search queries that include your brand keywords or branded keywords of brands you sell (if your store brand is largely unknown). Branded traffic tends to convert very well, so you don’t need to bid high but only enough to keep your ads competitive.
  3. High intent – the meaning of high purchase intent will vary depending on your product. One of the brands we worked with has a store offering faux fur clothing. In their small niche, queries that include “faux fur” are considered high intent. In contrast, to another client who offers upscale furniture brands, queries that contain these brand names are considered high intent simply because when a user searches them by name, they most likely are looking to buy.

Campaign priority in Google Shopping

Campaign priority (low, medium, high) should be used when you have the same products in multiple shopping campaigns, such as the query intent structure. Using a shared budget and the same products in each of your trio of shopping campaigns, you’re forcing them to participate in the same auctions, essentially competing against one another. The priority setting tells Google which campaign should be used first for a query and the negative keywords filter the queries to the correct campaign, and the bid sets the rank in the auction for that query. 

Now let’s go through how to set these up in your account, step by step.

Query Intent Strategy in Action

Step 1 – Create a Low Intent shopping campaign

If you have never run shopping campaigns, you can go ahead and simply create a new shopping campaign with all products in one ad group (the default Google setting). However, if you have active Google Shopping campaigns running, I recommend keeping your existing campaigns and using your existing ad group to avoid losing optimization history. 

  •  If you intend to include all of the products in your feed in your new campaign, you should use your existing ad group. 
  • If you would like to exclude some product categories, you should create a new ad group with all products in your existing campaign. 

Create a standard shopping campaign:

create campaign google shopping campaign

Set Low Intent campaign priority High. Remember, we’re trying to capture everything that could be relevant so we’re telling Google to serve this campaign first so we can filter the queries into the right campaign.

google shopping campaign priority1

Create one ad group with all of your products and set max CPC to something that’s considered low in your niche. We like to start with $0.5-1. If you see later that you’re not getting enough impressions and your bid is too low to be competitive, you can always raise it higher.

google shopping create ad group

Step 2 – Create query-based ad groups

Split the “all products” ad group:

google shopping split ad group by type

You can go as granular or as general as you’d like but, the most important is to create ad groups according to your query behavior. At the very minimum, I recommend building your ad groups around product types or Google product categories

Yes, creating granular ad groups requires extra work, but it will pay off in the future when you can use negative keywords to optimize your campaigns and funnel the traffic to the right ad group. 

advanced google shopping account structure - split ad group by type

If you have less than 100 SKUs, it is worth investing additional effort to create single product ad groups (SPAGs). In my experience, this is the best structure for smaller accounts but becomes unmanageable in large accounts with thousands of products. 

google shopping split ad group by id

Duplicate your new granular ad group as many times as the number of your product types and rename each ad group to one product type.

google shopping rename ad groups1

Go in each ad group and exclude all product types, except for one. Don’t forget to exclude “everything else in all products.” Repeat the process to create all your ad groups for all your product types.

google shopping exclude product type

For SPAGS (single product ad groups), you’ll create an ad group for each of your products.

google shopping rename ad groups2

And exclude everything but one product.

google shopping product id

Step 3 – Create Branded & High Intent campaigns

Remember, the core of this strategy is the same products competing in the same auctions so to create your shopping system you’ll simply duplicate the Low Intent campaign twice.

google shopping duplicate low intent campaign

Rename to High Intent and Branded.

google shopping rename to branded and high intent

Step 4 – Set campaign priorities and bids

Remember, you’re using campaign priorities to tell Google which campaign to serve first and how much you’re willing to bid to filter your query to the right campaign.

google shopping set priority branded

Set medium default CPC bids for all ad groups

google shopping set bids branded
High Intent
google shopping set priority high intent

Set a very high default max CPC for all ad groups

google shopping set bids high intent

Step 5 – Add negative keywords.

Now it’s time to apply negative keywords to each of your shopping campaigns:

  • Low Intent – All branded terms, high purchase intent, account negatives list.
  • Branded – All unbranded search terms.
  • High Intent – All branded terms and low purchase intent queries.

Step 6 – Set a shared budget.

google shopping shared budget library
Add new shared budget
google shopping account  shared budget2

Your new shared budget will be the same budget that you used to cover all your previous shopping campaigns. However, if you’re unsure how much to allocate to your new shopping system, we recommend a minimum daily budget that will cover at least one conversion per campaign (average shopping CPA x 3). The reason is that you want to give each of your shopping campaigns a chance to convert each and every day.

Check out our Google Shopping budget calculator.

If you’re still unsure, a good place to start would be an average Google Shopping CPA

Source: Wordstream industry 2020 benchmarks
google shopping shared budget3

Step 7 – Ongoing optimization

That’s it! You’re done building. Now it’s time to lean back, have some coffee, and let the magic start happening.

Let your campaigns start gaining traction, for at least a week, and then you’ll start manually sculpting your traffic by building your negative keyword list in each. Feel free to raise and lower your bid according to your performance but remember to always keep your bid low in the Low Intent campaign, higher but medium in your Branded campaign, and very high in your High Intent campaign.

The outcome

The test of a good strategy is the test of time. Since 2015, my agency has implemented Martin’s strategy in hundreds of accounts, big and small. Of course, results vary depending on your product, your brand, and many other factors. However, I’m convinced that overall, this is the best performing long-term shopping campaign structure. 

  1. Your shopping traffic tends to rise, but your cost will most likely rise as well. This makes sense because you’re getting into more auctions by filtering different queries into their own campaigns. This strategy also gets you into higher bid auctions, which you couldn’t have gotten before by applying the same average bid on all queries. 
  2. Your conversion rates tend to rise significantly. We’ve seen conversion rates rise anywhere between 25% un up to an incredible 200%. This is the entire point of this strategy, decreasing traffic from cheaper less-converting queries and increasing traffic from expensive but well-converting queries. 
  3. The average order value may decrease as you’re getting traffic from more product-specific terms. These users are focused on buying something particular and often will not shop around your store. We also see a drop in pages per visit. 

Three caveats to this strategy

The first one, have you noticed the “long term” part? 

This is not a strategy that will start delivering results from day one. It needs time to optimize. I’d recommend letting it run a minimum of 30 days before assessing its performance and let the Google algorithm do its job. The longer it runs, and the more you optimize it, the better it performs over time. 

The second caveat is also the first rule of Google Shopping success with any strategy. Your Google Shopping campaigns can only be as good as your product feed. Yet product feed optimization is something almost all advertisers ignore entirely. 

The reality is that no matter which campaign strategy you choose, nothing is going to work as you expect if you don’t have an optimized feed with proper SEO titles, Google product categories, product types, and relevant product details. The reason is that you need to allow Google to match the query to the right product with your titles and allow yourself proper product segmentation. 

The third caveat and the most difficult one to accept for many account managers is that this strategy requires more work. But only at the beginning when you must go into your campaigns and manually add negative keywords, but you’ll discover that in time you’ll get your campaigns to a point where they run smoothly and only require routine maintenance. 

Nice to meet you

Helen Evenchen

It’s time to grow

I work exclusively with fashion brands, DTC brands, and online stores.