Google Catalogs Annotations: How to Enrich the Consumer Experience & Track Results

Annotations on Google Catalogs are so much more than just hyperlinks to product pages on your company’s ecommerce site. They are rich media repositories that you can use to extend the story that you are telling your audience through your catalog. And in doing so, you can deepen engagement, and hopefully, conversion.

Once your catalog is live, you will need to look at metrics to see whether your publication on Google Catalogs is reaching your company’s objectives. Google Catalogs provides its own analytic dashboard. But it isn’t like the Google Analytics dashboard and takes a bit of deciphering to understand.

This article will explain how to use annotations to enrich the consumer experience rather than just to point to product pages, and will also provide some FAQs on reading Google Catalogs analytics.


Check the Guide, Then Cheat

Google Catalogs gives pretty straightforward guidelines on how publishers should and shouldn’t annotate their catalogs. I would greatly advise publishers to read the Annotation Guidelines all the way through before beginning to annotate their catalog.

Read the rules, then cheat where it is appropriate.

How can you tell whether a particular cheat is appropriate? By looking at the catalogs that made it into the Featured Catalog carousel for examples.

King Arthur Flour is a gorgeous time waster for those of us who enjoy looking at food pornography. The Fall 2012 King Arthur Flour catalog made it into the Featured Catalogs carousel. On the page 4/5 spread there are some blatant Annotation Guideline violations.

  • Publishers are not suppose to place more than one web snippet on a page.
  • Web snippets are not suppose to touch.
  • Web snippets are suppose to be used to fill white space. They are not suppose to cover text or images.

I e-mailed support for Google Catalogs about the King Arthur Flour catalog rule breaking.


The response was encouraging.


This response indicates to me that Google Catalog’s reviewers are more interested in how the consumer will experience a particular catalog than in whether the publisher followed every last one of the annotation guidelines. This gives publishers creative leeway.

Create a catalog design that gives consumers the best experience on the Google Catalog platform and then annotate that catalog in a way that best suites the design.

Annotation Text & Grouping

One way to place annotations on the page in a stylish way that doesn’t crowd text or images is to group annotations. Grouped annotations are appropriate when there is one image and one description of an item but within the description there are multiple colors or sizes of the item.

In the publisher’s Google Shopping Feed each color/size combination of the item might be listed individually under its own SKU. But in the Google Catalog the annotation for all of those SKUs can be grouped.

When grouping annotations the publisher has to pay attention to the description text in each of the annotations in the group.

For example, if you have a product that comes in four different colors, it isn’t necessary to show then re-show consumers the full product description when they swipe through after the first color. In a grouped annotation featuring iterations of the same product, the publisher can limit the full description to the first SKU shown.

Video Annotations

Video annotations are a great way to highlight not just individual products but the publisher’s brand as a whole. The Video tab in the Google Catalog dashboard allows publishers to search for videos in the publisher’s own YouTube channel. Google Catalogs only allows publishers to link one YouTube channel with the catalog account.

Here are the steps you can use to show a video only to catalog viewers:

  • Upload the video.
  • Log into the Google Catalog dashboard and go to the edit screen for the catalog to which the video is going to be added.
  • Annotate the catalog with the video. If the video doesn’t show up when searching in the video tab, just wait a little while for Google Catalogs to update its feed from your video channel.
  • Once you have annotated the catalog with the video you may log out of Google Catalogs.
  • Log into YouTube.
  • Go to the Video Manager.
  • Change the video’s status to Unlisted (meaning only those with the link can see it).

Now catalog viewers can see the video but the video won’t show up on your YouTube channel feed or in search. Exclusive videos for a publisher’s Google Catalog can include promotion catalog-only sales, cross brand promotions, tutorial videos on how the measure oneself for catalog sizing, etc.

The number of characters available for a YouTube video title is a lot larger than the number of characters available for a video annotation in Google Catalogs. Publishers should edit the video title in Google Catalogs to fit the space allowed.

Underneath the title the consumer will see the length of the video. Consider adding an image to your catalog (a screenshot of the video perhaps) to entice consumers to click on the video annotation.

Enrich the Experience

If publishers use the interactive elements of Google Catalogs mainly to encourage consumers to put more products in their online shopping cart, then publishers have failed to see the full potential of this platform.

Google Catalogs is set up to allow consumers to browse by category, browse by brand or browse the Editor’s Pick/Featured Catalogs (which is, as of now anyway, a position that is not for sale). There are no pretty permalinks a consumer can type in on the desktop version of Google Catalogs to go directly to a particular publisher’s list of catalogs.

On the tablet version there is a way to put catalog pages into “favorites” but there is not a way, on the desktop or tablet version, to input a search query (such as a brand name) and search only the returned results.

I did not end up looking at the King Arthur Flour catalog because I was searching for baking ingredients. I was actually in the “K”s looking for the Koo Koo Bear Kids catalog to search for holiday gifts for my niece and nephew when the King Arthur Flour catalog cover caught my eye. I had never even heard of King Arthur Flour before viewing their digital catalog.

Consumers looking at your catalog on Google Catalogs may have no previous engagement with your brand. Once you have their casual interest, what are you going to let them know about your brand that will keep them engaged?

Invite Catalog Viewers to be More Engaged With the Brand

Using web snippets on the catalog pages to invite consumers to look at additional content on a publisher’s blog is one way to further interest to consumer who just stopped by to browse. Of course each catalog should contain web snippets leading to the social media pages of the publisher.

Image Galleries

Google Catalogs promotes image galleries as a way to show specific catalogs from a variety of angles. That is certainly an effective use of this type of annotation. But I advocate using image galleries to tell stories about what the brand is doing outside of the catalog.

Does your brand support a cause, have an internship program, buy raw materials from sustainable sources? Those are all stories that could be told in an image gallery.


If publishers are going to take the effort to design a stylish, digital friendly catalog, annotate it properly, and then add rich content, they are going to want to know how successful their efforts were. Google Catalogs does offer some integration with Google Analytics and an analytics dashboard of its own.

Stripping then reading codes

Google Catalogs allows publishers to amend codes to the product annotation link URLs. These codes can then be tracked in Google Analytics.

For this to work properly, publishers have to work closely with their development teams to ensure that the codes being amended are going to illuminate rather than obfuscate which click throughs are coming directly from the Google Shopping Feed and which click throughs are coming from Google Catalogs.

For example, to make sure Google Analytics doesn’t count referrals coming from “google_catalog” as coming from “froogle” or from google shopping the original “utm_soucre=google” and “utm_medium=froogle” would have to be stripped and replaced with “utm_source=google_catalog”.

Google Catalogs Analytics

The Google Catalogs dashboard has an Analytics tab which takes the publisher to a series of exportable line graphs showing activity on all of the publisher’s catalogs. Here are some FAQs to help publishers interpret the graphs.

Q: To what does the Page Views Per Day graph refer?

A: This is how many pages of all a publisher’s catalogs are viewed in one day.

Q: To what does the Catalog Users Per Day graph refer?

A: This shows the number of individual users who visit all a publisher’s catalogs per day.

Q: To what does Catalog Visits Per Day refer?

A: This shows the number of visits all a publisher’s catalogs receive each day. This metric includes repeat viewers. So if one consumer visits a publisher’s catalog three times in one day, each individual visit is recorded in this graph.

Q: What is Average Page Views?

A: This is how many pages the average consumer views in your catalog. Data with values under 10 are omitted to insure user anonymity.

Q: Is there a way to drill down in the Page Views Per Day graph and see which pages of particular catalogs got what number of views?

A: This option is currently not available but Google Catalogs says they hope to add it soon.

Q: Are the tracking codes that were added in the Google Catalogs Settings added to all the annotations or just to product annotations?

A: The codes are amended only to product annotations so the click throughs on video and web snippet annotations do not have trackable codes.

Q: When a consumer views a YouTube video while inside the Google Catalogs application (as oppose to opening the video up in the browser) is that view counted in the YouTube view counts?

A: Yes.

Q: When the publisher goes to his YouTube Analytics dashboard and checks the traffic sources from which people are clicking through to watch videos, will Google Catalogs show up as a distinct source?

A: Google Catalogs’ answer to this question via email was “We don’t think so. However, if this is very important to you let us know and we can add it to the roadmap.”

Q: Is there a way for publishers to drill down and see the regions in which the desktops and mobile devices are located that are looking at the publisher’s catalogs?

A: This option isn’t currently available.

Q: Where does a publisher who is considering the Google Catalog platform look to find out how many unique visits the Google Catalogs page is getting on desktops every month and/or how many mobile devices are accessing the Google Catalogs application each month?

A: Google Catalog’s answer to this question via e-mail was “We understand these are important metrics for your business, but unfortunately we don’t have them readily available. That said, we do hope to improve the information showed on the dashboard.”

Q: Where does a publisher who is considering the Google Catalog platform look to find the breakdown of visits (or percentage of visits) by category to see if people are really using Google Catalogs for to shop for more guy type stuff such as sports equipment, electronics, and auto supply?

A: Please see the answer to previous question.

Q: What is the distinction between the purple “Web (Organic)” line graph and the teal “Web (Shopping)” line graph?

A: Organic is people directly navigating to Shopping is people coming to a publisher’s catalog through some shopping integration.


Merchants have a lot to consider when getting ready to launch a product catalog on Google Catalogs. But with planning and consideration the merchant can create a user shopping experience that not only successful leads a user to conversion but also successfully tells the story of the merchant’s brand.

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