Google Ads: Practical Tips for Small Online Stores

Google Ads often represents the largest source of revenue for small online stores. Take our shoe store, Saapavabrik, which serves as a testing ground for Hertwill, as an example: in 2023, we generated €133,294 in sales solely through Google Ads, achieving a return on investment of €10 for every €1 spent. Some stores we partner with are even realizing returns of €15-€23 per every euro spent.

Compared to Facebook ads, Google Ads provides a better way to target individuals who are at the lower part of the sales funnel and already have an intent to purchase, unlike Facebook, where the focus is often on targeting individuals at the higher part of the funnel. Despite these impressive figures from Google Ads, we’ve observed that many small stores either do not utilize Google Ads at all or aren’t leveraging them effectively. In this post, we’ll share some essential tips we learned from running Google Ads Campaigns for Saapavabrik but also from some successful stores partnering with Hertwill. These tips are meant for online stores with revenue between €0 and €10,000.

General Tips

  1. Ad Bonus. For many markets, Google provides an ad bonus for new accounts, so be sure to take advantage of this offer when you sign up.
    Google Ads bonus for Estonian market.
  2. Goals, Objectives, and Bidding Strategies:
    1. Set the primary conversion goal for the account to ‘Purchase’. It’s common to find ad accounts mistakenly focused on ‘Page View’ as the primary goal which doesn’t make lot of sense if you run an online store.
    2. For all campaigns, the marketing objective should be ‘Sales.’
    3. Opt for the ‘Conversion Value’ bidding strategy to maximize the return from your ads. Accounts selling products priced similarly might benefit from the ‘Conversions’ bidding strategy with a targeted cost per action.
  3. Landing Pages – Whether it’s the homepage, a category page, or product pages, they must be well-designed and trustworthy, aligning closely with the campaign messages. For example, if you’re running a search campaign targeting keywords related to combat boots, the landing page you direct users to should closely match those keywords. Otherwise, you risk disappointing your users (they’ll bounce) and wasting money.
  4. Patience is Key for Results. Google Ads campaigns should be run continuously, as their learning phase, depending on incoming traffic, can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Pausing ads and making significant changes can force them to re-enter the learning phase, during which Google’s targeting is less effective. You can typically assess the effectiveness of a Google Ads campaign after 2-3 months, assuming the campaign’s targeting has been actively refined during this time. We often see merchants run campaigns for a week without any improvements and then decide it doesn’t work. Also, improvements don’t need to be made only within Google Ads; they can also be necessary in your online store.
    Online store owner patiently waiting for Google Ads results.
    Online store owner patiently waiting for Google Ads results.
  5. Budget Considerations. The minimum budget for a campaign should be at least €200 per month in smaller markets, and between €500 and €1000 in larger markets. It’s possible to work with smaller budgets if your targeting is exceptionally precise and on point.
  6. The more accurately you define your target customer, the more effectively you can focus your ads, leading to faster outcomes. This also means you can operate on a smaller budget if you target specific niches, such as handmade or leather combat boots, rather than a broad category like all boots. Therefore, if you’re on a tight budget, aim for long-tail keywords and strive for precision to avoid competition with Zalandos of the world.
  7. Montior your ads. Don’t simply leave your campaign running for a month or more and then review it, concluding it was unsuccessful. Google Ads campaigns require ongoing refinement in Google ads and in your store; it’s advisable to monitor campaigns at least once a week initially.
  8. For ad texts and visuals, Google’s Ads Transparency Center is useful (link), as you can check out your competitors’ ads there and get some inspiration.
  9. Utilize Google Analytics to monitor the performance of your campaigns. Ensure you have a Google Analytics account linked to your Google Ads account. Also, verify that your business has a Google Merchant account, with your products uploaded to Google Merchant, and that this account is connected to your Google Ads account.
  10. Starting from March 6th of 2024, Google requires you to update the consent mode for traffic from the European Economic Area. I recommend checking out the “next steps” section at the end of this article: Google Tag Manager support. If you operate a WooCommerce or Shopify store, you can find plugins and apps recommended by Google to simplify setting up the consent mode at CMP Partner Program with Google. However, if you’re not concerned about achieving the maximum results from your ads and the potential loss of some data in Google Analytics—which might be acceptable initially in the early stages of your online store—you don’t need to take any action at this moment.

Campaigns & Ads

No matter which type of campaign you are setting up, please ensure you put effort into the assets. For example, make sure that the headlines, descriptions, pictures, and videos are of high quality and that every ad contains multiple assets. We often see merchants running campaigns with just a few visuals, thereby diminishing their chances of success. Additionally, for search ads, ensure that the ad text matches the search terms while also being engaging enough to encourage clicks. If you’re a small online store with a limited marketing budget, here’s some good news: Google values high-quality ads. This means that with great ad quality, you can outperform competitors with larger budgets.

  1. Search Ads often offer the best ROI, and for our shoe store, Saapavabrik, they generated the majority of our sales. The cost-per-click for search campaigns is usually higher compared to other types of Google ads, but the users’ readiness to make a purchase is also higher (lower funnel activity), making them often worth the higher cost. In highly competitive markets or with limited budgets, it’s advisable to target lower positions and more cost-effective keywords (opt for longer phrases over general terms, e.g., “men combat boots” instead of “boots”).
    1. The bidding strategy should focus on maximize conversion value (target ROAS), with ads directed to specific product pages or category pages that closely match the search intent and search terms (although sometimes homepage also works). For example, if you’re targeting “handmade leather handbags,” ensure that the landing page the user is taken to is specifically about handmade leather handbags and that it clearly communicates this, so users understand immediately.
    2. The campaign’s marketing objective should, like with other campaigns, be sales.
    3. When researching potential keywords, Google Keyword Planner is a valuable tool. However, don’t only think in terms of product categories (e.g., handbags) and brands, but also consider genres (e.g., women’s sandals) and seasonality (e.g., winter boots), as research in Google Keyword Planner shows that people still use gender and seasonal terms in their searches. Generaly, you want to find keywords with a good search volume but not too high competition, while ensuring your online store offers products that match these keywords extremely well.
    4. Search terms can broadly be categorized into: 1) Product-related terms – such as “winter boots” or “scented candles”; 2) Brand terms – like “Dr. Martens boots” or “Hoka store”; 3) Competitor terms – For example, if you’re selling outdoor products in the German market, Bergfreunde would be one of your competitors, thereby making ‘bergfreunde’ a competitor term; 4) Related terms – these are terms that may not directly relate to what you’re selling, but are still relevant to your customers’ interests. For example, if you’re selling combat boots, your customers might also search for “tactical backpacks.”
    5. The sweet spot for an limited budget online merchant selling products from lesser-known brands lies in ‘product-related terms’. You might also consider targeting competitor or brand terms, but be aware that competition for these terms, especially in larger markets, tends to be high.
    6. Product-related terms: If you run a store that sells boots, consider starting broad and then becoming more specific with your keywords: from ‘boots’ to ‘men’s boots’, then ‘men’s combat boots’, and finally ‘men’s winter combat boots’. Of course, this strategy depends on the competitiveness of the market you’re in; for instance, ‘men’s winter combat boots’ might be too narrow for some markets, whereas ‘boots’ could be too broad for all markets. Regardless, when conducting keyword research, try to think like your customer and how they would search for products.
      Worldwide monthly search volumes.
    7. When you grasp the search terms you aim to target with your search campaigns and understand how to group them together, such as if you run a shoe store, it might be beneficial to create separate campaigns for distinct categories of search terms (e.g., sandals and slippers).
    8. Invest effort into crafting highly relevant and compelling ad headlines, descriptions, visuals, and other assets. All ad assets should align as closely as possible with the search terms your potential customers are using. For instance, if ‘men’s earrings’ is your target search term, ensure that this term is also reflected in your ad copy. Additionally, include a diverse array of ad assets. Keep in mind, the quality of your ads, along with your budget, plays a crucial role in determining their success.
      Images for Saapavabrik search ad.
    9. And please make sure that your store matches what you are promising in the ads.
  2. Display Ads are shown across the internet as banners or videos, targeting either users or specific placements in landing pages. Targeting users is generally more cost-effective and efficient than targeting websites (placement). Generally, the cost-per-click for display campaigns is lower than for search campaigns, but the user’s readiness to purchase is also lower (mid and top funnel activity), meaning the user might not have the intention to buy immediately. In general, the ROI for display ads is lower compared to search ads, but even with small budgets, your ads can be seen by a wide audience. If you’re new to Google Ads, it’s recommended to start with search and shopping ads, and later explore display ads and other campaign types.
    1. If your product catalog is integrated with Google Ads through Google Merchant Center and you have a remarketing tag on your store, you can set up a dynamic display remarketing campaign. This means visitors to your store will see ads for products they viewed on your site across Google placements. Some stores have achieved significant sales with this approach, often performing much better in generating sales than regular display campaigns, though it requires more skill to set up. For guidance on this, you might find this helpful, but as I mentioned, this is advanced level setup.
  3. YouTube video ads (Google Video Ads) are video format ads displayed on YouTube at the beginning, middle, or any segment of videos. They use a cost-per-view payment model, which allows for a high number of impressions at a low cost. Primarily serving top-funnel activities, these ads are designed to create awareness rather than directly drive sales or revenue. Therefore, don’t focus on them in the early days of your online store
  4. Performance Max campaigns encompass all Google channels, targeting users across Google’s platforms to generate sales and revenue. This type of lower funnel activity campaign typically offers lower cost-per-click rates compared to display and search campaigns. For optimal performance, it requires text, images, videos, target groups, and existing conversions. After you’ve set up your search and shopping campaigns, consider giving Performance Max campaigns a try, but put some effort into your texts, visuals, etc. Some more mature stores are seeing great results with this campaign type.
  5. Shopping ads are displayed in the Google search engine and the display network when the campaign is linked with Google Merchant Center and products you have in Google Merchant Center. These ads show product images, descriptions, and prices. As lower funnel activities, they drive sales and revenue. Besides Search Ads, this is the one campaign type you should definitely set up for your store. The traditional shopping campaign is evolving into Smart Shopping, where the Performance Max campaign is augmented with Merchant Center, and the system generates shopping ads and finds appropriate placements. When creating a campaign, although products are coming from Google Merchant, you should still put in some effort for texts and visuals. Also, fill in some keywords in the Search Themes field and help Google algorithms out in the Audience Signals section where you should also include your website visitors as one audience. Keep in mind that Search Themes are not the same as search terms, but rather overall themes that help Google to identify customers likely to convert.

Add Assets and Extensions

Ad extensions are highly recommended because they provide additional information, make ads visually larger, and enhance ad quality, ultimately reducing cost per click. In reality, this is often the most underrated aspect of Google Ads campaigns – many merchants overlook setting up sitelinks or structured snippets, though they are very beneficial.

Essential assets and extensions you should definitely use:

  • Sitelinks: Include URLs to specific landing pages (not the homepage), with a minimum of four, and include additional descriptions. Pay attention to the level at which sitelinks are attached (account, campaign, ad group) to ensure the correct language is displayed for different languages.
  • Callouts: Highlight value propositions like “free delivery,” “fast shipping,” “warranty,” etc.
  • Structured Snippets: List information on a specific theme, such as brands available on the website. Language selection is important here too.
  • Call Extension: Displays a phone number with the ad, which turns into a clickable button on mobile devices to start a call. The country code is defined by the country selection and does not need to be added separately to the number. This is crucial if your store has a contact number.
  • Promotion Extension: Displays a discount rate and directs users straight to the relevant page. A promo code can also be added directly to the ad.
  • Image Assets: Show product images alongside text ads.
  • Business Name: Displays the company name.
  • Business Logo: Displays the company logo.

What else to keep in mind?

  • These tips don’t guarantee success; it’s more about suggesting “have you tried this? It might work.” You’ll need to experiment to see what works for your store.
  • If you dont know how to act on any of the tips or implement them, please google or ask chatgpt, there is lots of information about everuhting, including how to set bidding strategies or set up a conversion goal.
  • This blog post does not delve into the complex topic of attribution, and as an early-phase online store, you shouldn’t be overly concerned about whether a specific Google campaign is 70% or 80% responsible for a sale.
  • Traffic to your store doesn’t matter if the store doesn’t look appealing, sells subpar products, isn’t optimized for conversions.
  • A healthy online store should bring in traffic and customers from various channels, not only Google Ads.

We hope these tips help you on the road to building a successful online business. And hopefully, you’ll choose Hertwill as your partner on this journey.

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