Google’s Comparison Shopping Service (Google CSS). What is it? Who should use it? And how to do it well (episode 204)

In today’s episode…we’re getting into Google Shopping Campaigns – and how to take them to the next level to grow your sales, and fight off the competition.

Our guest is Jon Lord of Connexity.

As many of you know I’m a big of Google Ads fan, so at eCommerce expo last year, when Jon started to tell me about Google “Comparison Shopping Service – or CSS for short I couldn’t believe I didn’t already know about it.

And if I haven’t heard about it you probably haven’t either. So as Connexity are one of Google’s Premium CSS Partners here in Europe I thought it would be great to get him onto the show to tell us a bit about it and to make it work.

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Getting Started

google ads css podcast

Jon started out not in eCommerce but in marketing, using his degrees in Psychology and Media to land him a job in advertising right out of college.

Beginning his career with a focus on direct mail, Jon eventually moved into writing web copy for clients. After his stint in advertising he worked with a firm to develop the UK’s first transactional mortgage platform.

Since 2000, he has been involved in the development of online businesses—especially transactional businesses.

After 10 years in financial service with three different companies, Jon was interested in working in a new field and made the jump to running eCommerce affiliate ads for some of the biggest leaders in the tech industry, including Dell and Apple.

After 8 years on the affiliate side of the business, just when programmatic advertising was taking off, Jon started working for Criteo, focusing on Google as a key partner.

Google Shopping Campaigns

Google has traditionally gleaned revenue from their familiar advertising platform—Google AdWords. Around 2010, Google introduced a site called Frugal, which was a free product listing service.

This PLA (product listing ad) is now fully branded as Google Shopping and is the main shopping channel for eCommerce retailers that have large product feeds and want to syndicate them through the Google search engine. It runs on an auction based model based on a CBC as well as a quality score. The overall quality of your product feed and price point will ultimately determine where you are placed in Google.

What is Google’s CSS?

CSS is Comparison Shopping Services as defined by Google.

Historically, these are price comparison sites that have been allowed to bid within the Google shopping interface. Today, CSS partners are allowed to bid alongside Google’s own solution for top ad placements.

The competition within those spaces that wasn’t previously available creates an incremental opportunity to grow revenues from Google shopping. Jon says that for businesses seeing limited growth from their shopping channel, partnering with a CSS partner can glean 25% – 50% more clicks and sales coming through at the same cost of sale as a direct campaign.

At its most essential, CSS partners can help businesses get more spots in the top five product results list that is generated from keyword searches in Google. With this CSS strategy, business not only get more impression shares on that product term, but they will push out competitors who aren’t working with a CSS partner.

Overall, CSS gives their clients a greater chance of capturing users on a given search.

CSS opportunities for people who are ready to level up.

For advertisers and businesses who are seeing their Google Shopping efforts plateau, working with a CSS partner is the best way to level up. Currently there is a trend of click scarcity in the world of Google Shopping. Less growth in the channel means that costs for businesses, both on a CPC and total ad spend level, are increasing. Because Google shopping is one of the largest paid media channels for eCommerce, this is an issue for businesses trying to grow efficiently.

CSS and Direct Campaigns

Google does a good job of not putting the same products next to each other and Jon says that the incremental impact works best when businesses have a completely different bidding and account structure for their CSS and direct campaigns.

CSS is not meant to replace direct Google campaigns but rather act a compliment running alongside direct Google ads. The whole strategy works best when businesses design these ad campaigns to work in tandem. Rather than copycats of each other, the direct and CSS ads should be unique which will increase their potential for snatching up more spots in the coveted top five results.

CSS On a Budget

CSS is a strategy for companies of all sizes, but John points out that if you aren’t already working in Google shopping, then it doesn’t make sense.

However, for those businesses who are seeing diminishing returns in Google shopping, CSS is the next best step. Rather than a question of spend, John says it’s a question of performance.

The Business of CSS

Jon points out that there has been a lot of competition in Europe among CSS companies, but he still recommends going with a premium CSS partner.  In order to get the title Premium from Google, a company has to be running at least 100 merchants through the platform.

Jon says that the Premium title is a proxy for experience, customer service and an overall better performance.  In Europe he says there are around 10 premium CSS partners while in the United States, there is less competition overall. He also points out that CSS is a predominantly United States and Europe service that hasn’t expanded to non western markets.

Unlike direct Google ads, most CSS ads are run by the CSS partner on behalf of their client. John says that while a company could run their own CSS ad internally, it’s not standard practice.

Theoretically, a customer could dominate google ad results entirely by partnering with multiple CSS partners. For people concerned about running multiple campaigns for the same product, Jon says Google is structured so they will never be second priced against themselves while the algorithm on the quality side aims not to show the same exact product configuration right next to each other.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • CSS—Getting incremental sales via your google shopping channel. For companies who have plateaued, CSS is a great way to level up.

You can hear about all this on the podcast, for free – right now…

Tool Top Tip

  • CRM platform Hub Spot
  • Slack for collaboration and messaging
  • (Slack and Hub Spot connect with each other)

Growth Top Tip

Prioritize Product Feeds – For eCommerce, product feed is gold

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