A Winning Google Ads Setup For DTC Brands

A Winning Google Ads Setup For DTC Brands

March 27, 2024 PPC

Most ecommerce brands view Google as an afterthought behind Meta. They think that Google is not a strong acquisition channel for…

Collin Slattery
Collin Slattery
Founder & CEO

Most ecommerce brands view Google as an afterthought behind Meta. They think that Google is not a strong acquisition channel for new customers.

This is entirely untrue.

We work with dozens of ecommerce clients running Google Ads successfully. Google can be a profitable channel that drives a higher percentage of net new visitors than Meta for the majority of ecommerce businesses.

Then why do most ecommerce businesses struggle to see success with Google Ads?

They treat it like Meta.

Google is a completely different animal than Meta. The tactics and strategies that make a brand successful on Meta are ineffective and, in many cases, detrimental on Google. Ultra-consolidated account structures and going broad? This is a recipe for completely wasted spend.

They don’t understand the roles of each campaign type.

Meta has a very simple campaign setup. Your options are essentially an Advantage Plus campaign or a traditional campaign. There isn’t a lot of variability in campaign type and settings that are important. On Google, there are 9 unique campaign types and dozens of sub-types that you can build within those, and each subtype behaves completely differently from other types. There’s much more complexity within the system.

If you don’t have a deep understanding of Google as a platform, how campaign types function, and how to both work with and against the systems, you’re not going to see success.

There’s a default structure that we use with the majority of our ecommerce clients that is effective for brands spending from $20,000/mo to $2,000,000/mo on the platform.

However, before we go further, I want to speak on a subset of ecommerce clients who will struggle on Google. Because although Google is extremely effective for many brands, it is an ineffective for some.

Google is unlikely to work if you have a limited number of SKUs that also have limited search demand. For example, let’s say that you’re selling a subscription date box. There will be very little shopping inventory available, and the nonbrand search market is not very large.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s get to the account structure.

Feed Only Performance Max

I am a well-known detractor of Performance Max as a campaign type. It does a great job of selling remnant inventory you don’t want and hiding it inside blended performance. But the simple fact is that it is the successor to smart shopping. I also strongly suspect that Pmax gets access to higher quality shopping inventory of which Google deprives standard shopping campaigns.

Why you need it

The feed only PMax campaign is our primary shopping campaign. It is the highest spending campaign in most ecommerce accounts. We do use full asset PMax campaigns sometimes, but for a brand looking to get a stable footing on Google, a feed only PMax is the way to go.

Your feed only PMax campaign will be 20-40% of overall spend in the account depending on the number of SKUs you have and your ability to run nonbrand search effectively.

How we set it up

You absolutely must under all circumstances exclude branded search terms from PMax. We have seen clients incinerate $250,000 a month simply by including brand terms in Performance Max. What happens is brand terms will have an incredibly high ROAS, but the ROAS target for the campaign will be based on a nonbrand performance target. As a result, brand terms will get 10% of the spend, drive 90% of the revenue, and the other 90% of the spend is incinerated.

Do not do this.

Brand Search

Much ink has been spilled about brand search. Is it a tax on businesses? Do you need it at all? Why is it even allowed? Is it incremental? I recognize the annoyance of its existence, but it should be part of almost every ecommerce brand’s Google stack.

Why you need it

Brand search is going to hoover your absolute bottom of the funnel traffic. It is also going to defend against competitors who bid on your branded search terms. Bidding on competitor’s terms is a time-honored PPC tradition. If competitors are bidding on your branded terms, even unintentionally through use of broad match, you will leak customers to competitors.

It also allows you to control both the landing page experience and the messaging. Organic results are a crapshoot, and you can’t completely control what your SERP listing says or the page to which people are being sent. With ads, you control exactly what they say and the pages to which they’re sent. That has value, and we find that brand ads convert at higher rates than organic clicks because of this fact.

However, there are some brands that can get away without brand search. If no one is bidding on your brand terms, it can be worthwhile to test if you’re able to keep those customers without the spend. We do have some clients where we don’t run brand search, and it is something we like to test.

How we set it up

Poorly setup brand search campaigns are a source of massive waste for most businesses that come to us looking for help. In almost half of the accounts we audit, the savings we generate reworking brand covers our entire retainer. For some, the savings is a multiple of our retainer.

You CANNOT run brand on a tROAS or tCPA strategy without wasting money. When you run brand search on these bid strategies, the target is set too low, and your CPCs become inflated because Google can spend more money on clicks and still hit the target – so it will.

A telltale sign that this is happening is that your ROAS or CPA is much better than your target.

Running brand search on a target impression share strategy with a bid cap is how we do it. This reduces CPCs substantially. On average CPCs drop by 30-80% with a commensurate improvement in ROAS and CPA when switching from tROAS/tCPA to target impression share.

The goal with brand search is to maximize your contribution dollars and to generate the widest delta between ad cost and revenue generated. This involves some triangulation around a max CPC.

Branded Shopping

The next campaign type we have in our standard ecommerce setup is the branded shopping campaign. This is the most commonly overlooked campaign in many ecommerce stacks where brand exclusions are applied at the Performance Max level (as they should be).

Why you need it

Because we’re excluding brand from the Performance Max campaign, that means we’re also excluding ourselves from branded shopping inventory. Most ecommerce brands receive a lot of branded search volume that serves shopping inventory. This is especially true when people search for specific product names. For example, a search for “Gazelle size 12” is much more likely to serve shopping inventory than a search for “Nike”. Additionally, competitors will show up in these searches as well.

How we set it up

The setup for branded shopping campaign is incredibly simple. Since we already have our feed setup for the PMax campaign, all we need to do is set up a new shopping campaign.

The Performance Max campaign takes precedence over the shopping campaign, so nonbrand shopping queries will be served within the PMax campaign. A very, very small percentage of nonbrand queries will fall to the shopping campaign, but over 99% of the volume will be for brand and product-specific queries.

We’ll do a standard ad grouping setup where we break products out into logical categories which depends on your business and your SKUs.

The key with the branded shopping is to set a target ROAS that is significantly higher than you would otherwise be targeting. In general, we find that branded shopping has a lower ROAS than brand search but is much better than any nonbrand campaign. A good place to start is a
target ROAS that’s about 60-70% of what your brand search target and triangulate from there.

Nonbrand Search

“Nonbrand search doesn’t work for ecommerce.” If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been told some variation of this statement, I would be submitting a bid to buy the Chicago Bears. While many people believe this, it simply is not true.

For most brands, nonbrand search will not be able to reach the scale that Meta offers. But it can be an incredibly strong driver of net new customers.

Nonbrand search, when done well, is incredibly labor intensive but it will provide a stable and consistent source of profitable customer acquisition.

Why you need it

Nonbrand search has one of the absolute highest new visitor percentages of any campaign type you can run. We typically see net new visitor percentages in the 80-82% range at scale. This is significantly higher than PMax and any campaign on Meta. So, if you want to be reaching completely new people AND converting them into customers, then you should leverage nonbrand search ads.

How we set it up

This is where the vast majority of brands fail. They simply don’t understand how to set up nonbrand search campaigns. It’s not easy. There are a few big elements that need to be addressed.

First, keyword research and keyword targeting are paramount. Single word keywords in a broad format aren’t going to work. If you’re a sneaker company, targeting “sneakers” in a broad format is not going to work.

Some of the best keywords are solution-focused. We’re looking to hit people with a solution when they’re problem aware. “Best sneakers for flat feet” for example would be a much better keyword to target.

Other types of variants of these keywords can take forms like:

  • “Solution for *problem*”
  • “How do I address *problem*”

These keyword types are a great place to start for brands. If your market is large enough, the volume will be good and your product should (hopefully) be able to address a number of different problems.

A slightly different variant on solution-based keywords are keywords for groups of people. People are looking for products for themselves and the demographics that represent them. Some examples of these types of keywords can be:

  • “Best facewash for older women”
  • “Guitars for people with small hands”
  • “Hair loss treatment for men”

Between these two different keyword classifications, you have a good foundation for a successful nonbrand search campaign.

With your keyword list built out, the next step is building landing pages for each grouping. This might sound like it’s overkill. Can’t you just run your ads to your PDP?

No. You cannot run nonbrand search ads to PDPs.

Remember, your keywords and ads are selling your product as a solution to a specific problem or to a specific demographic. Is your PDP singularly focused on how your product addresses a specific problem for a specific audience? Probably not. So it won’t work for nonbrand search ads.

As I said before, nonbrand search campaigns are incredibly labor intensive, and this is one of the reasons why. Without dedicated landing pages, your landing page quality score component will be below average, your CPCs will be higher than they should be, and your conversion rates will be shit.

Your landing pages should be focused on the specific problem you’re addressing; it should be the focus of the copy, reviews, social proof, etc. The good news is that you can easily duplicate an LP template that is working and modify the copy and elements for each different problem.

We will typically consolidate our nonbrand into a single campaign unless there are specific reasons to have it segmented such as materially different tROAS targets for different families of products.

We also typically run nonbrand search on a target ROAS bid strategy. This will prevent Google from spending your entire budget with no performance to show for it. This is the Google equivalent of a cost cap on Meta. We’ll set this at breakeven in new accounts and walk our target up as we see spend and conversion data coming in.

The Final Verdict

The above campaign structure is a great place to start with Google Ads for ecommerce brands. It gives you access to the majority of high value inventory on Google, it takes advantage of new campaign types while protecting against waste, and it creates a stable foundation for future growth and expansion.

If you haven’t seen success with Google Ads yet for your brand, give our base setup a try. And if you’d like us to help with it, get in touch with me at collin at taikundigital dot com or use one of the forms on the site!

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