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Using Google's Automatic Item Update Tool to Keep Shopping Campaigns Accurate

Google recently released their Automatic Item Update tool out of beta for Shopping Campaigns. First introduced back in Q2 2013 for Product Listing Ads (PLAs), the Automatic Item Update (AIU) tool helps advertisers improve the accuracy of their Google Shopping listings by using product data pulled directly from the advertiser’s site.

What Does this Affect?

When an advertiser submits product data to Google, Google checks the data submitted against the advertiser’s website and will temporarily disapprove products if the data does not match; this includes, but is not limited to, price and availability. With Automatic Item Updates, Google will update items’ availability and price on Google Shopping with data from the website so that the product is not temporarily disapproved and can continue to be served through Product Listing Ads.

How Does Google Understand and Change Ads?

For AIU to work and function properly, Google has to understand what is on an advertiser’s website and match it to the product in Google Shopping. Valid schema.org microdata is required for Google to understand the website's content. Schema.org is a collaboration by Bing, Google and Yahoo launched in June 2011 to create a common set of standards for structured data markup on web pages. Think of it as a common language that search engine spiders use to understand the information on pages. Advertisers can test their microdata implementation with the Structured Data Testing Tool. You can test your site by inputting the URL of a particular page. Structured Data Test URL Or you can test the HTML itself before you push the site live. Structured Data Test HTML The tool will show what properties it has identified and will also display any required missing properties. Structured Data Test Returned Properties  

Structured Data Test Missing Properties

How can Advertisers Opt In?

The first step is to implement proper schema.org markup on the advertiser’s site. Once a site has the proper schema.org markup, the next step is to enable the Automatic Item Updates in the Google Merchant Center under the Settings tab. Once there, advertisers can choose to update price only, availability only, or both. After the AIU tool is implemented and working, the advertiser can also review updates made through the tool by visiting the Data Quality tab in the Merchant Center.

AIU Settings

Something to keep in mind is that Google must recrawl your site to benefit from schema.org markup so the impact for Shopping campaigns and organic listings may be delayed. Google's crawling and indexation of your site is dependent on the size and health of your site.

Benefits

Automatic Item Updates help with any latency issues between updates to an advertisers’ website and data submissions to Google Shopping. The idea is to provide a better user experience and help conversion rate because users see the correct information on the listing and do not click through to a price that is higher than what was mentioned on the listing or to an out of stock product. Outside of the user’s experience, advertisers can benefit by reducing their risk of an account suspension due to disapprovals due to price and availability. The necessary implementation of schema.org microdata also has benefits for other marketing channels. Schema.org markup allows search engines to better understand a site's content, and can aid in proper indexation of important content as well as better communication of keyword relevancy signals. In addition to the benefits that sites will receive from improved indexation, Google is also using microdata to populate "rich snippets" displayed within organic listings in the search engine results page (SERP). Users can see product reviews, pricing, availability, and other details on the SERP before they click through to a site. For price-competitive brands, displaying the price in organic listings has the potential for improved click-through rates. Schema in Organic Results

Limitations

While the Automatic Item Update tool can be very beneficial for advertisers, there are some limitations. First and foremost, AIU will not work if schema.org markup is not properly implemented on the advertiser’s site. Also, if Google finds too many mismatches the AIU will stop working and the advertiser’s account will be subject to disapproval. This is especially of concern for advertisers that update price and availability based on a user’s location, perhaps using IP detection, resulting in different values being displayed for different geographies. Additionally, the rich snippets in organic listings that Google displays can potentially negatively impact organic CTR to product pages if a retailer is not price competitive. Similar to the listings in comparison shopping engines, rich snippets that include price information will result in users price-comparing prior to clicking through to a retailer's site.

Final Thoughts

This is a great update to advertisers that experience disapprovals due to price and availability and is a potential sign to SEOs and digital marketers that search engines are going to rely on microdata more and more in the future. However, it is important to know that Automatic Item Updates is not a replacement for quality data submissions to Google or for regular updates to product data. The tool is designed to fix small problems with price/availability for a small percent of items. It also works best for advertisers that only change availability and price a few times during the day. If more frequent changes are required, setting up API capabilities is the best solution.
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