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The Secret Culprit Responsible for Your Declining Performance in Google Shopping

Like a delicate biome, filled with fragile ecosystems of organisms all working off of intricate relationships between one another, the Google environment is no different. Every setting, toggle, lever, drop down, measure, and slider can have a devastating effect on your brand and it’s survival. Now, before this becomes just another plea to respect Mother Nature and the paradise she offers by guilting you about all the straws you’ve used in your life, let’s refocus on a specific part of the Google ecosystem commonly known as Google Ads and Google Shopping.

Google Ads, and in extension Google Shopping, offers digital e-commerce brands an opportunity to put their product front and center in the most populous ecosystem on the internet, but what happens if out of nowhere you start noticing a stark decrease in your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)? What once was a major driving force for your revenue is now throttling to almost nothing? Which relationship in an environment of limitless possibilities do you investigate first?

The first thought might be, well maybe one of the search queries is dominating the ad spend, constantly firing, but doing very little to turn people into buyers. This is a common issue that is best to eliminate right off the bat… after all, you gotta start somewhere.

Let’s say you’re past this point, and we don’t see the smoking gun we were looking for, the next logical step would be to investigate the settings. These knobs, dials, and sliders have a severe impact on the audiences and targeting settings of your overall ad group and even more importantly, each individual campaign.

Checking the audiences at the campaign level you MIGHT notice that if you are layering in RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) audiences the settings can be one of two things:

  • Targeting: target only audiences you’ve selected
  • Observation: target more users without restricting reach to just selected audiences

If your RSLA audience is set to “targeting”, rather than casting a wide net for new users that are searching for certain keywords as well as previous site visitors, you might only be targeting the latter which can be a very narrow segment of users. It is important to always monitor what your flexible reach audience targeting settings are both at the ad group level and campaign level which may or may not be as easy to find depending on what tool you are using to edit the ads.

By simply changing this RLSA audience setting to “observation” at the campaign level, you will see an immediate spike in the volume of users and eventually in revenue. Another good note to remember is that many times when you are creating new campaigns and layering in audiences, they sometimes default to “targeting”, so it’s always important to check, double-check, and triple-check your flexible reach audience targeting settings in order to make sure you have complete control over your digital biome.

It’s a jungle out there, and whether you are using plastic straws or metal straws. The most important lesson in maintaining and supporting the actual ecosystem you live in and the digital ecosystem you manage is to always be aware of how each setting affects your campaign.

  • Strategist came to me expressing the client was unhappy with the performance, particularly shopping
  • Shopping was once driving a lot of sales at a high ROAS, but the volume had suffered tremendously while being managed by a previous agency
  • I looked at the search queries, trying to find a smoking gun that might explain this as often times a few irrelevant queries can dominate spend in a given campaign
  • Finding nothing, I immediately went and investigated the settings of the campaign.
  • I noticed that the campaign had RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) audiences layered in, but the settings were set to “Targeting”
  • This means that instead of casting a wide net of new users as well as previous site visitors, the campaign was now casting a very narrow net and targeting only the latter, hence the drop off in overall traffic
  • Creating a new campaign and ensuring the RLSA audiences layered in are set to “Observation” improved sales and revenue greatly, and this pleased the client


MORAL OF THE STORY: Google Ads (formerly AdWords) has many levers to pull and performance can easily fluctuate due to constantly changing the landscape. However, if something doesn’t seem right, always check and double-check campaign settings (particularly audience settings in shopping) as they are the core of a campaign. A simple dive into Settings can solve a lot of problems down the line.

SIDE NOTE:  Flexible reach audience settings are only apparent in the interface at the AD GROUP level, so to be sure, sync the account with the editor and check the campaign level flexible reach as well. Also, whenever you create a new shopping campaign or add audiences to an existing, double-check these settings because they often default to “targeting”.

The spike in conversion volume can be seen directly below:

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