If you muck about in ecommerce, PPC, and product feeds, you're probably aware of Google Merchant Center, which is the front end interface for Google Shopping (formerly called Google Products, formerly called Froogle, etc.) The Google Shopping product allows you to send up a feed of your products, and have them displayed in various places on Google search properties. You can also tie them to your AdWords PPC account via Product Listing Ads (PLA), and display pictures of your products alongside your ads. In fact, Google has announced that all product listings would be transitioned to paid listings, and that it would be transitioning out the free listings altogether.
Now, my job is not to get into the philosophical argument of whether or not this transition is a low blow to ecommerce sites, paid inclusion, or some other scourge; that's already been covered, and by better and more widely read writers than I. My job is to get my clients' products in front of everyone who may be searching for them. To that end, I spent most of this week trying to get several thousand products into the Merchant Center, and there are some serious – serious – problems with the user interface.
If Google is going to push people to pay for these listings, then we need something worth paying for.
I was not a complete newbie to the Merchant Center; prior to this we had a healthy sized product feed going up every week through 2010, but then we changed ecommerce platforms, and hadn't had time to write the new feed until now. My client had an existing Merchant Center account, and it was already tied to their AdWords account, so that was in place. I logged in as the client, and added my first test feed. Once we determined that was working, I uploaded my first live feed, which included 958 products. I created my PLA campaign in AdWords, and set up my catch-all ad group first, so everything appeared to be as it should be. My plan was to get all the products into the feed first, and then fine tune the AdWords bidding later.
Along the way I realized that I could add additional users to the Google Merchant Center. It's a lot easier and more convenient for me to log in with my own Google account, so I added myself as an additional user. Which was great, except that after I did that the client account (which is also entirely under my control) wasn't sent a notification by Google that someone else had access to its Merchant Center. Uh – SECURITY! Over here! The User Settings aren't exactly front and center, so it would be entirely possible to miss an unauthorized user with access. Other Google products will notify you of changes to users; it should be included here too.
Even weirder, when I logged in to the account as myself, I got this honking big pink notice – apparently because I had not tied the CLIENT's Merchant Account to MY OWN AdWords account, despite its already being tied to the CLIENT's AdWords account. Got all that? Essentially, it's not smart enough to realize that every user on the account doesn't want the products tied to their own account.
If I log in as the client, I don't get any error message. I went back and forth a few times – error / no error / error / no error. D'oh. I bopped over the Product Forum to report this, and was told by a top contributor there that it was safe to ignore the error message. Since I was told this exact same thing by an AdWords rep about a false error message in my AdWords account as well, let me put this in all caps for you: NO IT IS NOT SAFE TO IGNORE ERROR MESSAGES EVEN WHEN THEY ARE FALSE, WERE YOU NEVER TAUGHT ABOUT THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF? If my accounts get clogged up with false error messages, then I don't find the real error messages when they happen. Fix the fake error messages, please.
Also, the $100 credit is a nice offer, and almost might have made me feel better if it hadn't expired on August 15, 2012. Today is August 30, 2012.
But okay, my products are in place, and they all look dandy. Except wait. The product screen only shows me 50 products at a time. I can't expand this to 100 or 500 lines; it's just 50. I have 958 products total so far, so that's twenty pages to thumb through if I want to look at one particular product. This is really going to be a pain when I have 3500 products.
Oh well, I'll just search for it. Except I can't. There's no search. There's just a Lookup by ID box at the top and bottom of the field. They are referring to the product ID field that was included in my feed, but which does not show up on this screen. In order to get the Product ID, I need to click on the Product link.
I need to say this again. I can't use the the Product ID to find a product until I find the product and click on it to get the Product ID. Or I can go find my original feed file on my computer, and look it up there. By this time I'm aware of a dull pain behind my eyes.
Maybe I can click on the column headings, and sort it that way, that might help. Nope. Not one of the Product Headings is clickable; there is no way to sort this list of products.
Wait a minute. What's that hazard sign doing in the Product Ads column? Mousing over it, I get a label that says “Product Ads: Disapproved or Invalid.” I click on the link, and it tells me the same thing: Product Ads: Disapproved or Invalid. It doesn't say why. And I still have green check marks for this product under Product Search (Searchable) and Search API for Shopping (Searchable). So for some reason it's available in the feed, it's searchable in Google Shopping, but it's not eligible for a paid ad. I scroll through a few more pages (50 products per page – grrr!) and I notice a handful of these symbols. Since I am not given even a hint as to what is wrong with these products, I would really like to look at them all at once, to see if maybe I can see some common characteristic that would clue me in as to why they triggered the symbol. But of course, I have already determined that I can't sort on the Product Ad column. Wait a minute! There's a little filter dropdown in the upper right corner! Maybe that will do it. It takes almost a full minute to search through 958 products (did I mention that everything about the Merchant Center is about seven times slower than every other Google product, even AdWords??) Problem is, none of the dropdown options appears to apply to my situation. I am offered All, Active, Inactive and Searchable. The product is included in All, and Active. Google says I have NO Inactive products at all. Selecting Searchable appears to make the disapproved item go away, but it just gives me all my APPROVED items – do I really have to count them all out and figure out what's NOT there?
And just to add insult to injury – you're gonna love this – after I run the Searchable filter, look what it says at the bottom here:
HUNDREDS? Seriously, Google? You couldn't even give me a COUNT? W. T. F.
Over on the Product Forum, I see other people have gotten these disapproved ads messages too, and they are advised to take it up with AdWords. Ok, I will do that, but don't you think it would be more efficient if you gave me a way to grab all of them at once, instead of feeding them to Support one product at a time?
I need to get this wrapped up because writing blog posts is not my thing (obviously) and I have other stuff to do today. So I won't elaborate on how Google wants you to use a field called adwords_labels to target your PLA bids to specific groups of products – but if you DO use this field, they don't display it in the interface; nor is it available in your AdWords account so you can easily target it. Basically the only way to do any of this is to keep your original text file feed open and loaded in Excel at all times while you work.
Nor do they give you the option to just EXPORT the data they have, so you can look at it and sort it any way you want. If I had that, I could even find all my disapproved ads.
The thing to remember through all this is that I have so far only put in 958 products. This client has about 3500 total. But even that is pretty small potatoes. What do the people with 10,000 products, or 50,000 or 500,000 do? Do they have access to some interface or API I don't get to see, or are they struggling with this as much as I am?
I have been saying the same thing over and and over to Google (and Microsoft) for ten years, and it's just as true now as it ever was.
I have NO budget constraints. If this channel provides reasonable ROI (and we believe it will), then I can instantly get approval to spend twenty times my monthly budget with you. We've had a good history with AdWords and Google Product feeds. We want to up our game. We're willing to pay to do it. The one thing we don't have is unlimited time to spend on it. The easier you make it for me to use your products, I guarantee you, the more money I dump in your everlovin' corporate lap. WHY are you making it so difficult?
I'm sure there will be more once I start targeting bids. Stay tuned.