Last updated on November 19, 2019

What Google Shopping campaign approach works best for you?

One of the first things to consider when starting or rebuilding Shopping campaigns in Google Ads is what campaign type and approach fits best with your needs and requirements. In this article we structured and compared the different approaches. 

It basically comes down to 4 Shopping campaign approaches you can choose from:

1. Manual bidding
Choose your own campaign-, ad group- and product group structure. Set and manage all the bids for products and/or product groups yourself. 

2. Automated bidding (Target ROAS / Target CPA)
Choose your own campaign-, ad group- and product group structure. Set all the bids for products and/or product groups yourself. 

3. Hybrid
A mix between the manual (1) and automated approach (2). With a hybrid approach some campaigns are managed manually and some are managed by automated bidding. 

4. Smart Shopping
Let Google do all the work for you. Just put all your products in a campaign, set a goal and let the Google’s intelligent algorithms do all the work.

The main differences in these approaches are two things: 1. the amount of control you have, and  2. The amount of autonomy you give Google to automatically manage your campaigns. We have structured the four campaign approaches by amount of control and amount of Google automation:

The 4 campaign approaches structured by amount of control and Google automation

Let’s discuss these four campaign approaches and when you should choose them:

Manual bidding

If you prefer maximum control over your campaigns, a manual approach is a good one to consider. But be careful, it requires some specialism to set up a good manually managed campaign and it also requires expertise to maintain such campaigns. Especially a good setup can be time consuming. But if done well the results from a well-designed account can be great. You are and stay in control of everything and every bid in the auction is set on your terms. Manual bidding in shopping campaigns is a different cup of tea compared to keyword driven campaigns though. A bid raise brings you in other search term auctions, which makes it a lot less straightforward than keyword bidding most PPC advertisers are used to.

A campaign set on manual bidding does not mean it can’t contain automation. You could use Ads scripts for automated rules on bid changes, structuring and other optimization tasks like adding negative keywords. You can also use an external tool to manage your campaigns. 

What we see from our experience is that manually managed campaigns are often chosen by experienced advertisers. Many senior PPC specialists, agencies and large advertisers choose this approach, since they are capable of designing and managing campaigns that deliver great results. They worship the craftsmanship and are completely in charge of what happens and get optimal insights and learnings to further optimize.

However, next to the great accounts we have seen, we saw far more accounts with manual campaigns that are just not built and managed very well. These accounts can waste a lot of money or miss a lot of potential revenue, caused by a very weak setup and optimization. For those advertisers a bit more intelligence from Google automation would have been a better option.

A good manual setup uses the waterfall principle to structure search queries with campaign priorities. 

Hybrid campaign approach

A growing group of advertisers are using Google’s automated bid options (target ROAS or target CPA). But many are just not willing to give up control in some parts of their campaigns. 

Take for instance a brand that is fine with whatever Google does with getting the best results from generic search terms, but wants to be able to invest deep in maximum visibility when people search for branded terms and be able to control what products to highlight in that case.
Or take for instance a hockey socks webshop, that is fine with what Google does in optimizing the broad range of generic search terms, but wants to stay in control over the auction and what products to show when people search for the high volume exact search term hockey socks.

In these example cases a hybrid campaign approach is a perfect balance between Google’s intelligence in some campaigns and maximum control in others.

Using a hybrid campaign approach is perfect for advertisers who are fine with using Google’s bidding intelligence, but want to stay in control of some specific auctions. 

The split in manual and automated campaigns can be made for products/categories (“we want to control our core category televisions ourselves but the other categories can managed automatically”) or by search term / funnel stage (we want Google to manage the generic terms, but we want to control the branded terms ourselves”). See how you can split in search terms or funnel stages using  the waterfall principle.

Automated bidding

Bidding is a profession in its own right. You can achieve great results with manual or rule based bidding, but when done improperly one can miss the point. An algorithm never gets tired of changing bids to achieve the optimal point. And when using Google’s automated bidding intelligence many extra signals around for instance user profile, device, time, geography and search term are taken into account to determine the bid per query. 

Automated bidding is suited for advertisers that do not want to design a time consuming manual bidding strategy and manage bids, but do want to keep a certain amount of control (being able to add search negative keywords, split in groups with different CPA or ROAS goals, etc.). If you trust Google automation and want to keep insight in what is happening (search terms, etc.), automated bidding is the right thing for you. 

You can accept that you do not have many possibilities to boost products or terms manually. It is for instance harder to push products or promotions temporarily and it is also harder for an algorithm to handle seasonality and peaks. 

Smart shopping

Smart shopping is a campaign type on its own. It is suited for advertisers that want to benefit most from everything Google has developed to help you achieve the best results in the easiest way. If you see Shopping Ads as a channel you just switch on, and want the least amount of time to set up campaigns, smart shopping is a good option to consider. You have to take for granted though that smart shopping is a black box. It does not give you any insights whatsoever in what is happening around for example placements, or search terms. 

With smart shopping you also directly advertise on all networks, so also on the Google Display Network, Gmail and Youtube. A good place for retargeting people who have viewed your products. You cannot switch this off or control this. Some advertisers see this “holistic approach” as a benefit. Others hate the idea of having a campaign that shows ads everywhere and cannot be analyzed or controlled. 

We think smart shopping fits best for advertisers that do not have much experience with Google Shopping and do not want to invest time or money in getting this expertise. Especially for advertisers that do not mind the black box and think they will not ever be looking at search term reports or what network worked best for them. With this in mind, Smart shopping is especially interesting for the large group of small merchants but also  larger merchants that do not (want to) spend time and effort in this channel. If you do want to be able to analyze and optimize a little bit, automated bidding could the better alternative. 


Every advertiser is different. In terms of spend, expertise, interest, goals and requirements. Some want to be in control and others love a quick and easy approach. Some love it when Google brings in campaign automation and others are sceptical about it. An agency will in many cases say it is best to go for a more controlled approach, since this takes time and expertise. Google will in most cases say a more automated approach works better. There is no “best approach” that works for each advertiser though. With the differences we explained in this article you can now easily see where you stand and choose the approach that works best for you. 

Having said this, we do have an opinion of course. We are most enthusiastic about the hybrid approach. It is a perfect balance between control and Google automation. In some parts (funnel steps, search terms, products, markets) you may want more control and for some parts you may want to rely on the intelligent bidding by Google. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *