Google Shopping for the fashion industry: 9 essential CSS tips you should know

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Fashion retailers face huge challenges in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt an industry which contributed £35 billion to the British economy in 2019, employing 890,000 people. Even the growth in online shopping has failed to lift many clothing stores, with a few notable examples of surges in sales during the UK lockdown proving to be the exception.

If your fashion business is struggling, Shopping Ads on Google provides one way to potentially find new customers. It’s also a flexible way to respond to a constantly changing market, particularly seasonal holidays and events which would normally trigger demand for new outfits.

Our essential CSS tips and tricks are based on many years of experience working with the biggest and best fashion companies. 

“We gained incremental sales, increased our ROI on our own campaign and gained additional support for Google Shopping by partnering with RedBrain. If we didn’t have an additional campaign running for us at the same as our own, we would have missed out on £500k in sales.

RedBrains consultative approach to our Self-Service CSS activity has helped us grow total sales and improve performance. Their expertise in optimising product catalogues down to SKU level has let us see performance at a greater level than ever before.” – Nicola White, Head of Performance Marketing at Missguided.

Hopefully this guide will not only help fashion brands and retailers to survive the current challenges for their businesses, but also handle industry-specific challenges for advertising in more normal times.

The benefits of Shopping Ads for fashion

There are a number of reasons why fashion businesses should benefit from using Shopping Ads on Google, or investing some time and resource in improving their current campaigns.

The visual nature of Shopping Ads lends itself to clothing and apparel campaigns. With an ever-increasing number of UK shoppers using Google for product research and discovery, your products can be shown at their best.

In addition to appearing on relevant search results and in the dedicated Shopping tab, your adverts can also appear on other Google properties and third-party websites via Google Search Partners, and the Google Display Network. Product Listing adverts are also being displayed on Google Image search results, which is particularly relevant for consumers researching particular styles.

Fashion also appears to be a key area for Google to roll out additional features to aid Shopping campaigns. The Clothing and Accessories category has a wide range of required and optional product information which can help find the right customers, including size, age group, colour, material, pattern and sizing system. 

At the start of 2020, Google released a new mobile browsing option for U.S users to see clothes, shoes and accessories in one place, with retailers included in the new feature for free.

Consumer behaviour continues to change due to concerns prompted by Covid-19. With potential customers researching in greater detail before making an in-store visit, there are opportunities to also drive footfall by highlighting health and safety updates, click and collect options, or other relevant information.

Earlier this year, Google unveiled free Product Listing adverts to help struggling retailers (swiftly followed by Bing Shopping). Another route to gaining incremental sales without upfront financial cost is to partner with a CSS provider such as RedBrain, which gives you a managed CSS service paid for by commissions on successful sales.

“Upon discovering the savings available we decided to test delivering our Google Shopping Ads using a CSS partner, we explored the range of providers available and could see the clear benefits of working with a Premium CSS Partner like RedBrain. We are currently increasing the Budget for our CSS activity weekly based on the performance to date and hope to continue seeing these great results!”  - Hannah Mckie - Digital Marketing Manager at Cotton Traders

A further benefit is that Google’s dominant position in retail search means that other platforms utilise Google product feed data to power their own eCommerce solutions. This applies to both Bing, and the new Facebook and Instagram shops which could have a big impact on fashion retail in the coming months. So, the tips and tricks which work for Shopping Ads on Google could also deliver further sales via Bing, Facebook and Instagram.

Shopping Ads on Google: Challenges for fashion retailers:

Fashion is a fast-moving industry which typically requires a quick response to changes in consumer tastes and trends. In addition, most products will be available in a variety of colours, sizes and materials, with stock levels rapidly rising and falling.

This means any Shopping Ads campaign needs to account for expected seasonal changes and sudden changes in demand. It also needs to remain accurate for pricing and stock levels to avoid products being disapproved by Google, or potentially disappointing customers who may switch to other brands and retailers.

Shopping Ads on Google will always provide a greater challenge for industry sectors which experience greater instability. Typically, historical data will be used to calculate the right bidding costs based on a Return On Ad Spend (ROAS), but if you’ve sold out of the most popular colours and sizes for a particular product you may find yourself overbidding to try and sell the last size XXXXXS example.

Instability also means you need to maintain greater manual control over your campaigns, or via your Google CSS partners. Automated tools using artificial intelligence benefit from large amounts of stable data, so will be much less effective for a constantly changing market. At RedBrain, we benefit from working with a wide selection of data across leading fashion retailers to produce better results, in conjunction with human expertise. This isn’t an option for an individual fashion brand or business which only has access to proprietary data.

Tip 1: Optimise Your Product Data Feed Attributes

A strong foundation for Shopping Ads on Google success across every industry, supplying the right product data is particularly important to ensure customers can find the right clothing and apparel. Not only will this ensure satisfied shoppers, but it will also cut down on the expense of dealing with returns, particularly with extra hygiene measures required due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Attributes to use include size_system to specify which national sizing you are using, size_type for the cut of the item (e.g. regular, petite, maternity, tall or oversize), and the size itself, which should be kept as consistent as possible. If sizes contain multiple dimensions such as formal shirts, you can condense them into one value, such as ‘16/34’Tall’ for a 16-inch neck size, 34-inch sleeve and Tall fit.

You can also use up to five custom label attributes per product to help organise your bidding strategy. This can help you to organise and manage seasonal or holiday items, for example, allowing you to optimise your bids for specific periods more easily. Or it can be used to record the year a product was launched, allowing you to pause or remove older items more easily as they become obsolete.

More details can also be included by using the color (ensure it’s consistent across your product range and website), material and pattern attributes to help Google display the most relevant products to the right search users. The full list of product attributes is available here, and most will also be used by Bing, Facebook and Instagram.

Tip 2: Make full use of product images

It seems obvious, but many businesses fail to make the most of their product images in Shopping Ads on Google. The recommendation for a main photo is a minimum width of 1440 pixels with a 9:11 wide-to-height aspect ratio for vertical images, and 4:3 for horizontal pictures.

Clothing can be modelled, but if you’re using a full-body image you should avoid cropping out the head and feet. If you’re selling non-clothing products such as shoes, handbags or accessories, these should be displayed alone in the main image. Photography has always been a key part of the fashion industry, so it’s not surprising that good product images can make or break a sale.

Fortunately, you can add up to 10 additional images for clothing and apparel, which allows you to capture detailing, demonstrate non-clothing products being modelled, and also permits you to stage your products.

Tip 3: Use product titles intelligently

Optimising your titles will improve your search relevance and entice more potential customers to click through to your website. Although there are 150 characters available, only the first 70 may appear, so it’s important to include the most important details or any non-visible attributes as early as possible.

A simple formula is Brand + Product Type + Other Important Attributes, such as personalisation. You can also repeat some of the important information contained within your product attributes such as size_type, gender, colour, material or pattern which it’s likely to be most relevant and appealing for shoppers. One way to quickly test changes is to use Feed Rules which can overwrite product titles by creating a combination of attributes. You can see how to set up feed rules, here.

Tip 4: Group your products by type, category and variations

Grouping your products is vital to an optimised Google Shopping set-up. Your product type value should be as detailed as possible, e.g. Clothing & Accessories > Clothing > Outerwear > Coats & Jackets > Denim Jackets, while your product categories should be 2-3 levels deep.

You can also manage variations of a product by grouping them under an ‘item_group_id’ value. While Google requires you to submit every size and colour version of a product as an individual item without your feed, using a numerical item_group_id allows them to be matched together.

Related items, such as a coordinated outfit or different styles of the same product (for example, short-sleeved and long-sleeved) shouldn’t use this group ID. Instead they can be sold as a bundle using the ‘is_bundle’ attribute.

Id title Item_group_id Size Colour
8842-lb Broad Stripe Button-Down Shirt – L 8842 L blue
8842-lg Broad Stripe Button-Down Shirt – L 8842 green
8842-lo Broad Stripe Button-Down Shirt - L 8842 L Orange

 

If you’re looking to group all types of clothing into a particular campaign, this can be done via Groups in Google Ads rather than using the item_group_id. This also allows you to set priorities to ensure the right adverts are shown at the correct times.

Tip 5: Use Ad Groups and Priorities to promote the right products

Google Ads allows you to try a range of different approaches to your campaign structure. The most granular option is to manage individual products separately, which can be impossibly time consuming if you’re not utilising automation and artificial intelligence to help.

Another alternative is to use the custom label attributes and Ad Groups to collect suitable products within your campaigns, allowing for easier management for all summer or winter items, or everything that is in a current sale.

It also allows you to prioritise which campaign advertising is shown for products which appear in multiple groups, by setting a higher priority for the most desirable and highest converting option.

Although Shopping Ads on Google doesn’t allow you to target customers by keywords, you can avoid products showing up for undesirable terms by adding negative keywords to avoid paying for unwanted or non-converting clicks. 

Tip 6: Remarketing reaches a qualified audience

Most people working in marketing or advertising will be familiar with the rule that it’s easier and more cost-effective to sell to an existing buyer than attract a new customer. Customer Match can help you to optimise your campaigns by optimising your bids based on the activity of your existing customers.

You can also use Shopping remarketing lists to segment site visitors by previous engagement on your website, identifying those who are loyal customers, repeat visitors, or have abandoned a shopping basket mid-purchase.

Uploading existing customer data can also let you use similar audiences for Search and Shopping, which helps you find people who share interests with your best customers. It does this by looking at the search activity of your current purchasers and identifying the terms which drove purchases, and then finding other people currently looking for similar search queries.

Tip 7: Use appropriate Shopping Ad Extensions

There are several Ad extensions which are available for Shopping Ads on Google, which can increase your clickthrough rates or store visits by helping your advert to stand out or by offering added information and incentives to customers.

It’s free to add extensions, but Google will only show them if it feels they’ll improve your advert performance.

Three of the Shopping Ad Extensions that work well for retail are

Tip 8: Adjust your budget and bidding for seasonal changes.

Shoppers are increasingly researching and purchasing products in advance of seasonal changes and events, and that trend has been accelerated in 2020 by concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic impacting incomes. 

As customers start preparing for the future earlier, it’s important to adjust your budget and bidding on relevant products to ensure you appear prominently for the growth in interest. Monitoring tools including Google Trends and Rising Retail Categories, and the performance reporting in Google Ads will help to ensure you can respond quickly and effectively

Tip 9: Location targeting

Although the UK isn’t the largest region or country, the demand for specific fashion items will certainly vary in different areas. Location targeting allows you to select specific areas for your ad to be shown, or where it should be excluded from displaying.

For example, you may wish to show adverts for bikinis and summer wear at different times for the south coast of England and the north coast of Scotland. Or you may sell clothing which will appeal to customers around specific areas or events. Location targeting will help you refine your advertising to ensure you reach more of the parts of the country. 
If the prospect of implementing these tips seems overwhelming, then you can start gradually, taking each piece of advice in turn. And if you need to find incremental sales more quickly, why not contact RedBrain to find out more about how our commission-based smart shopping solution can provide increased revenue with no upfront fees.

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