PPCHow E-Comm Retailers Can Rock it With Inventory Campaigns

How E-Comm Retailers Can Rock it With Inventory Campaigns

Do you have trouble managing an ever-changing product inventory through paid search? Meet inventory-aware campaigns. This post walks you through how to use your existing data feed to power these granular, dynamic campaigns in DoubleClick Search.


Do you have a large website with an ever-changing inventory of products? Do your items seem to go in and out of stock on a daily basis, with products frequently being discontinued or re-created in the latest spring colors?

For many online retailers, this continual change is the norm – but for the e-comm experts who manage their PPC accounts – this can mean pure chaos!

The Problem

As PPC professionals, our goal is to serve potential customers with ads that are highly relevant to their search terms. So, when a user wants the Triple Warm Fleece in Forest Green, that user wants to see a specific ad mentioning that exact fleece, with a strong and persuasive call to purchase, which echoes, “Yes, yes you do want this fleece. This is your fleece.”

However, if that fleece is out of stock, and we show potential customers a search ad for it, we’re sending out false hope, whispering, “Why yes, here is that fleece,” but then send them to an out of stock page, a discontinued page, or worse – a 404 page! Really, there’s no quicker way to lose credibility as an advertiser or a retailer than promoting a product that no longer exists.

Not long ago, we had three options in order to cover granular product-related searches:

  • You could create “catch all” campaigns using a combination of phrase and broad match terms to pull in a user’s given search query. The problem with this strategy is that ads were too generic and didn’t give users that “wow” experience (no green fleece for you!).
  • You could create manual campaigns and ad groups to support each product, but this was too time-consuming and inefficient – it didn’t work well for shifting inventory and would often lead to the unfortunate Triple Warm Fleece experience mentioned earlier.

You could rely on product listing ads (PLAs), which use a retailer’s data feed to create image-based ads specific to the product, but these were a completely different format than the traditional search ad and were positioned differently on the page.

So if you can purchase both PLAs and search ads, why can’t both offer a granular user experience?

The Solution

In August 2013, DoubeClick Search launched inventory-aware campaigns, which use a retailer’s existing product feed, from within their Google Merchant Center account, to create ad groups, keywords, and ads that focus on the retailer’s available inventory.

The feed is automatically checked every few hours, so if an item is removed from the feed for any reason, or is marked as “unavailable,” the ad groups associated with that product will automatically pause.

The opposite is also true – if a new product emerges in the feed, a new ad group will automatically be created for that product based on the advertiser’s specifications.

Not only will this save you time, but also money that would otherwise be wasted on keywords for products that no longer exist. Not to mention, no more potential 404’s for your customers!

The great part about inventory-aware campaigns is that more than 95 percent of a given campaign is built dynamically based on rules that we, the advertisers, can set. These rules are what power inventory campaigns and are responsible for how we cover granular searches and serve highly relevant ads. These rules give us control.

For example, if you have multiple columns in your feed covering Product Type, Manufacturer’s Product Number (MPN), Product Name, Color, and Price – these columns can all be used to power rules that run ad groups, keywords, and ads.


One quarter after adopting inventory-aware campaigns for a large retail client carrying more than 4,000 unique products, my agency saw some amazing stats when compared to our manually managed campaigns. This included a:

  • 51 percent rise in ROAS.
  • 26 percent jump in CTR.
  • 50 percent boost in conversion rate.

Additionally, inventory-aware campaigns allowed us to expand keyword coverage on both products and MPNs by 49 percent. During this quarter, we saved an estimated 38 hours since implementation. And we all know, time is money.

How to Get Started With Inventory-Aware Campaigns

Before you launch yourself into the world of inventory-aware campaigns, ask yourself the following pre-launch questions:

  • Is my inventory unmanageable?
  • Do I have a product feed?
  • Is my feed updated often enough to account for changing inventory?
  • Do I use DoubleClick Search and Google Merchant Center?
  • Do I have a campaign/ad group breakout strategy that works for me?
  • Can that strategy be aligned with my existing feed?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then give it a shot!

Now, to begin, let’s go back to that Triple Warm Fleece example we love and use it to build an inventory-aware campaign:

Product Feed Sample

Once we’ve created a solid strategy for breaking out campaigns and ad groups (a highly recommended first step) and we’ve hooked up our Merchant Center to our DoubleClick Search account, we’re ready to start creating campaigns, whether it be for our AdWords account or our Bing Ads account.

In DoubleClick, you’ll want to Create New Campaign > Inventory. Then you’ll be asked to fill out the following information:

  • Campaign Properties:
    • Budget
    • Network
    • Location
    • Language
    • Ad Rotation
    • Delivery
    • Etc.

We’ve got the first part down, now let’s set up a rule about what ad groups this campaign should house, and a naming convention for those ad groups. It would look something like this:

  • Product Selection (what products belong in this campaign?):
    • Product Type: Jackets>Fleece
    • Gender Contains: Unisex

You can select nearly any column from within your feed to pick and choose the types of products you want in this campaign.

  • Ad group (what shall I name you?):
    • Ad group Contains: [MPN]

Well, that was easy.

We’ve now set up a campaign to capture all products in the “Jackets>Fleece” category that are also labeled as “Unisex” within our feed.

Then, we’ve designated that we want separate ad groups, labeled out as each MPN. (I always use MPN for my ad groups, because it is unique for every color and style.)

Next, we need to create an ad template that we can use for all ad groups within this campaign. Here, we’ll also use our feed columns to create the perfect ad and make it very relevant.

Note that some third-party management tools can be used to create additional rules that will shorten the characters within a feed’s columns so that they are the desired length. DoubleClick Search can help here too, by giving you some Excel-type functionality in the Ad Template and Keyword Template sections – including IF statements, Substitute, Upper Case, Lower Case, and more.

  • Ad Templates:
    • Ad Template Name: Jackets / With Price
    • Ad Title: Buy [PRODUCT NAME]
    • Ad Description Line 1: Buy the [PRODUCT NAME].
    • Ad Description Line 2: Starting at $[PRICE]. Shop Now.
    • Display URL: www.MySite.com/[MPN]

You can play around by using different portions of your feed to generate effective ad copy – and there is a lot of room for testing. For now, let’s work on some keyword templates that will work throughout the campaign.

  • Keyword Templates:
    • Keyword: [MPN] jacket
    • Match Type: Exact
    • Bid: $1.01
    • Destination URL: [PRODUCT URL]

Other keywords we can create would include: MySite [MPN], [MPN] fleece, [PRODUCT NAME], [PRODUCT NAME] [COLOR], [PRODUCT NAME] [MPN], etc. The combinations are endless!

However, you do want to note that if you have one jacket with a particular product name (Triple Warm Fleece), but it is available in multiple colors (Forest Green, Ruby Red, Blackest Black), each with it’s own unique MPN (0012, 0013, 0014), the [PRODUCT NAME] keyword will only run in the first ad group that gets created. This means that DoubleClick will not re-create the same keyword in multiple ad groups.

This is helpful so that you aren’t pushing up your own bids, but sometimes, you might want to manually move keywords around to send traffic to a particular, or more popular ad group. So, if I move [Triple Warm Fleece] (the product name) from the Forest Green ad group (0012) to the Blackest Black ad group (0014), a user who just searches for [Triple Warm Fleece], will now see an ad specific to the black fleece instead of the green fleece, since that is a more popular color.

After the keyword setup, you’re finished. Your campaign will automatically start to populate with information from your feed. If there are any errors in creating a portion of your campaign, you will get emails at the address you specify.

From here – it’s all about the optimization.

If you have any questions about how to make inventory-aware campaigns work for you, comment below.


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