To help you with all of this, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the Google Merchant Center: what it is, what it does and how to use it to create incredibly effective Google Shopping campaigns. Let’s get started!

What is Google Merchant Center?

As good as Google’s algorithms are, Google still can’t read minds. Google AdWords doesn’t know what you’re selling (product name, SKU, size, color, description, etc), if it’s in stock or how much you’re charging for a particular item. You have to “feed” that information to Google.

To give Google all of this information, you need a Google Merchant Center account.

Using your Merchant Center account, you can upload a shopping feed with information (availability, price, color, etc) about all the products you want to sell. This tells Google what’s in your product catalog and what information should be in your ads.

Creating a Merchant Center Account

To create a new Google Merchant Center account, you first need to decide what email to use. Typically, I recommend using the same Google email account you have connected to your AdWords account (although this is not required). That way, you only have to keep track of one email address for all your Google Shopping accounts.

Once you know what email you want to use, creating an account is as simple as clicking the big green “sign up” button and connecting your Google account (you can sign up for an account here).

Once your Merchant Center account is created, you will want to connect it to your AdWords account. Navigate to the dropdown menu in the top right corner of the page by clicking on the three dots.

From the dropdown, select “Account Linking”. You will then be shown a suggestion to link the AdWords account that is already linked to your email.

If you are using a separate email address for Google Merchant Center, you will simply need to click “Link Account” near the bottom of the page and enter your AdWords ID.

The next step will be verifying your website on Google Merchant Center. This is simply to verify that you are the owner of the website you are trying to advertise. This is done by navigating to the Business information tab on the left column and then selecting “Website”.

Here, you will be able to link your account through one of four methods:

  1. Downloading a snippet of HTML code and adding it to your websites theme file in the <head> tag.
  2. Verify through an HTML file you will upload to your site. (Google claims this is the most popular method)
  3. Verify through Google Analytics
  4. Verify through Google Tag Manager

Incidentally, if you’ve already verified your website through Google AdWords using this email account, you won’t have to worry about this step (see why I recommend using the same email address for both accounts?).

Shipping and Tax settings are the next things that you will want to set up within Merchant Center. But don’t worry, the process is pretty straight forward.

For the tax settings, click on “Tax” in the left-hand navigation menu:

The good news is, you only need to set up rules for the states that you charge sales tax in (typically just the states you have a physical store in).

Shipping settings may require a little more work based on the complexity of your shipping rules. Google will not let you run any Shopping campaigns until you add this information, so click on “Shipping” in the left-hand navigation.

You will need the locations, weights, and prices of the different shipping options you offer.

By the way, if you offer free shipping, make sure you select Fixed Rate and enter $0.00 for the price. If you fail to do this, you will not see the “Free Shipping” promotional text in your Google Shopping ads.

Connect a Feed

Congratulations, you are now ready to connect your product feed to your Google Merchant Center! This can be done in a number of different ways, but to set up your product feed, you’ll need to click on “Products” in the left-hand navigation menu and then click on “Feeds”:

Here are some of the more common ways people connect their feed to their Merchant Center account:

  • Upload a .TXT or .CSV file with all the right google product attributes
  • Connect your feed via API – There are many apps or plugins you can use on your website that will connect your product feed through an API integration
  • Use a feed on a URL to have it dynamically update

Once the feed has been connected using one of the above methods, you will then be able to see whether your product is pending, approved, or disapproved.

Dealing with Feed Problems

The initial approval process on a new account can take up to 72 hours. If it has been longer than that, contact Google support and tell them it has been longer than 72 hours and they can manually push it through same day.

To be honest, I have had experiences waiting weeks for a product feed to be approved, just to find out that if I had called in after 72 hours I could have had it approved that same day. Don’t make my mistake.

In the event that your product feed has products that are disapproved, don’t panic. Head over to the diagnostics tab within Merchant Center under Products. Here you can see any errors that Google has detected with your feed. You can even download a .csv of the products that were disapproved and why they were disapproved.

If all of your products were disapproved, you will want to click on the account section of that diagnostics page. If there are specific reasons why your account has been disapproved, you can find out why here by clicking on the Learn More link next to the error.

In my experience, this link tells you exactly what you need to know to fix most issues quickly. As soon as you have updated your product feed to comply with Merchant Center standards, make sure you go back into the settings of the product feed and click Fetch Now. This will update the feed with the new changes you have just made.