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Preparing for the Holidays with Google Shopping

As marketers we are always looking ahead. With October coming to an end, we need to start looking towards the most exciting time of year for most retailers - Holiday! With Shopping being a primary driver for overall growth in most SEM programs (88% of Google Paid Non-Brand Search click-share for Merkle retail clients in Q3) and retailers investing more and more dollars in the channel (+38% YoY in Q2 according to the Merkle Q2 DMR) it is critical to formulate a Holiday Shopping strategy that best supports your business.

To do this, you will want to budget effectively, ensure your campaign structure can support the expected increase in seasonal traffic, use Shopping formats such as Showcase Ads and Local Inventory Ads to reach new users and support store traffic, and incorporate seasonal offerings from Google and Bing such as Audiences and betas.

How to spend that Holiday budget?

Budgeting is incredibly important to a successful Holiday season. By this time, hopefully you know what your budgets will be in November and December; if you do not, that should be a top priority. As a starting point you should use last year’s performance as your baseline while accounting for missed opportunities from the previous season and expected growth this year. One key consideration going into this season is that 2019 will have the shortest Holiday shopping season since 2013, with 6 fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to 2018.

Retail Sales Forcast

  • Once you have your overall budgets, make sure you have sufficient daily budgets to support your promotional calendar as well as your strongest days from years past.
    • As a reminder, Cyber Monday will fall in December this year.
    • For the first time ever, based on Mastercard sales forecasts, the anticipated top online sales day will not be Cyber Monday.  Instead it is projected to be Tuesday in the following week (12/10).
  • With key days identified, it is important to consider your customer’s search behavior and know your conversion cycle. Past performance should tell you that users are searching ahead of peak sale days, so it will be important to flight your budget to support these days as well.
  • Granular forecast projections will hold you accountable in peak season and provide a measurement tool to keep track of performance during the Holiday chaos.
  • Lastly, be flexible. Fluid budgets across channels will allow you to feed the strongest drivers of performance.

What does a good Shopping structure look like?

Any good Shopping program is supported by an effective campaign structure. The most important piece to a campaign structure is complete product coverage with a good mix of granular and broad targets. Additional layers that incorporate Shopping priorities to support business needs such as new product launches or funneling user queries are “icing on the cake”. Whatever strategies you may be using, a thorough audit of your campaigns and product support will ensure you are prepared for Holiday.

  • You should review the granularity of your campaigns and make sure there are no other areas for further segmentation based on traffic volume. This general maintenance will help you prepare for the expected uptick in traffic volume during Holiday and give you more levers to granularly bid based on performance.
  • Review your campaign settings:
    • Increase campaign budgets to support higher levels of spend based on forecasts.
    • Confirm that priority levels are set as expected.
    • Check your network targeting for accuracy.
    • Ensure you’re serving the right catalog of products via inventory filters.
  • If you are using priorities to target certain queries, make sure that traffic is serving as expected from the designated campaigns.

What other features are available in Shopping?

To expand the reach of your campaign structure, you should look to incorporate Shopping products such as Local Inventory Ads (LIAs) and Showcase to reach customers outside of standard Shopping.

Local Inventory Ads

Don’t overlook LIA Shopping campaigns. If you are running LIAs or have physical store locations, you should take a similar tactical approach to these campaigns as in standard shopping:

  • Review product group granularity to ensure the top traffic product groups are segmented to the most granular level.
  • Check your campaign settings—look to support store visits by increasing your visibility during store hours and adding bid modifiers around store locations.

Google has released updates within the LIA format, mainly including the ability to create Merchant Hosted Local Storefronts (MHLS Basic) as opposed to Google-Hosted. This provides a much more seamless user experience and a greater ability to maintain conversion rate compared to that of your standard shopping campaigns. The barrier for entry to get Merchant-Hosted pages is more lenient than compared to years past and can greatly improve the online performance within this format. This is an important consideration, and if your program is held to strict online ROAS goals, this could be a major improvement. If you are not doing this already, this can be an easy win for your LIA program, so be sure to reach out to your Google representative to see what can be done to get started.

Chart 2

Showcase Ads

Support the upper funnel and be present to customers in the research phase of Shopping by running Showcase Ads. As a reminder, this is an ad format that shows primarily on mobile and is focused around generic upper funnel search queries. This is an immersive format where an advertiser can tailor content to a brand or category, while providing a Shopping experience with products that fit that brand or category.

Showcase ads

  • With Showcase Ads available to all retailers, if you aren’t running this format, you are missing out on traffic. While measurement on this format using last click attribution has not been as strong historically compared to standard shopping, the opportunity to expand your advertising reach and drive new customers produces an added benefit.
    • The recent launch of Target ROAS Smart Bidding for Showcase campaigns provides a great starting point to retailers who may be hesitant to run this format due to performance constraints
  • Keep your creative fresh—make sure to update your creative going into Holiday to better reflect the seasonal category trends.
  • In order to really grow your program within the emerging Showcase segment, it is important to evaluate Showcase using thoughtful metrics to account for the expected performance and reach of new customers. As a qualifier, Showcase Ads on mobile account for up to 25% of traffic depending on category.

Showcase mobile

OK. What else?

Generally, we see that traffic driven using audiences tends to outperform non-audience traffic when considering click-through-rate and conversion rate. During the Holiday season it is important to consider the benefits of layering audience targeting to optimize your bidding and provide further granularity to your Shopping program.

  • With observed declines in RLSAs’ reach due to ITP 2.0, consider expanding your audience types.
    • Increase your usage of similar audiences to find new customers who are expected to perform like your existing customer base.
    • Ensure you have customer match lists loaded (ex. Holiday Shoppers from Last Year)
    • Target Google’s Holiday audiences to capitalize on qualified shopping traffic.
      • Black Friday Shoppers and Christmas Holiday Shoppers – People who Google has identified will be shopping for deals on Black Friday/Cyber Monday or who will be in the market for Holiday gift shopping.
  • Use location bidding to drive customers in your strongest markets and strengthening bidding around store locations (if applicable). 


With the expected increase in competition during Holiday as retailers fight to meet their goals for the year, it is important to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Any opportunity to do so should be tested:

  • Merchant Promotions – Capitalize on your promotion cycle and advertise eligible promotions with Google Shopping. 
  • Engine Betas –
    • Dynamic Showcase Ads let Google’s algorithms decide which queries to serve on and the creative to use to improve the customer experience.
    • Buy Only, Pick Up In-Store (BOPUS) Annotations and Ship-to-Store can capture shoppers who might need their items quicker than they could get them through traditional shipping methods.

How can I keep track of all this!?

We provided a simple checklist to help ensure you have crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s in preparation for Holiday here