Google Ads: Standard Shopping vs Smart Shopping – Which Is Better?

Google Ads Standard Shopping vs Smart Shopping – Which Is Better

Google Ads: Standard Shopping vs Smart Shopping – Which Is Better?

If you run an online business, you want to make money from it. To do that, you need to bring in customers. Lots of customers. You can’t expect them to just find you – you’ll have to go out there and get their attention first.

One of your best bets for doing that is by creating Google Shopping ads. This is an excellent way to get the word out about your products or services, in a cost-effective way. However, did you know that there’s more than one kind of Shopping ad you can try out?

There’s a big difference between traditional Google Shopping Ads and the newer ‘Smart Shopping’ ads. Not sure which one suits your needs? Let’s find out!

A Primer on Basic Google Shopping Ads

Google has offered ads for some time now. You can pay to have your ads featured in search results, for example. That’s a useful way to get your business in front of a lot of eyes – after all, this is Google we’re talking about.

Of course, not everyone doing a regular Google search is looking to buy something. However, that’s not the case for those browsing Google Shopping in particular:


This is Google’s dedicated e-commerce tool. It’s basically a search engine for products. Someone can search for “shirt with a picture of a whale”, and get a whole bunch of results. Clicking on one will take them to the seller’s page or website, where they can learn more and make a purchase:


Why does this matter? That’s because you can create Google Shopping ads that will be featured in those search results. This gets your products in front of people who are already searching for relevant items – in other words, the people most likely to actually convert.

Google Shopping ads are pretty low-cost, customizable, and not too hard to set up. You’ll need a Google Merchant Center and a Google Ads account first. For more details on how to get started with these ads, check out our full post on the subject.

Smart Shopping Ads and Why They’re Different

Google Shopping has been around for some time, and so has its ad-related marketing. Lately, however, you may have heard about a little something called ‘Smart Shopping’. This is a newer solution, introduced in mid-2018.

So what is Google Smart Shopping? In many ways, it’s very similar to regular Google Shopping Ads – in fact, it’s a part of the same system. You’ll still have to set up accounts on Google Ads and Google Merchant Center, for example. Steps like adding and customizing your products and selecting a region and budget also work similarly.

That doesn’t mean Smart Shopping isn’t different. You can think of it like Google Shopping ‘Plus’. It adds in a layer of automation that isn’t present with regular Shopping ads. Google’s cutting-edge machine learning tools are used to:

  • Determine how much of your budget to bid on ad space.
  • Decide where and when to display your ads for maximum effect.

In other words, you’ll provide Google with the relevant information about your products, needs, and budget, and it will do the rest. It’ll apply custom algorithms to try and get the best possible results for you, maximizing conversions while staying within your price range.

The Pros and Cons of Traditional Shopping Ads

All of this means that if you’re creating Google Shopping campaigns – and you should be – you’ve got a choice to make. Do you want to focus on traditional ads, or ‘smart’ ads?

Like most decisions in life, there’s no one right answer for everyone. Both types of ads can be effective and profitable, so you’ll need to make the final call yourself. To help you do that, I’m going to elaborate on the advantages and drawbacks of each type.

So let’s start with regular old vanilla Shopping ads. Their benefits include:

  • You get total control over your ad campaigns, with the ability to refine just about every detail if you like.
  • You can make decisions about what networks to target, when to schedule your ads, etc.
  • You’ll be able to take advantage of some extra features, like location targeting and negative keywords.
  • You can create multiple campaigns and set up a tier system that gives some of them higher priority on bids.

That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? So what are the drawbacks? The primary issues are:

  • Setup can be complicated and time-consuming.
  • Results depend heavily on your ability to make the right decisions for your ads – something that can be especially problematic for beginners and those without much time to learn the ropes.

I wouldn’t want to downplay the effectiveness of Google Shopping ads. I think they’re great, and many businesses have a lot of success with them. There are some flaws in the system, though, which is why Smart Shopping was developed in the first place.

The Pros and Cons of Smart Shopping Ads

You guessed it – I’m going to do the same thing now for Smart Shopping ads. In other words, we’re about to run through some more pros and cons.

Smart Shopping ads can be great because:

  • They’re quicker and easier to set up, saving you some time.
  • Your ads will have a wide reach – including exposure to many different audiences and networks.
  • You aren’t relying on your own skills or those of your team. Instead, you can benefit from Google’s well-honed algorithms to get the most out of your money. While not always perfect, Smart Shopping has positive reviews overall and can produce some strong results.

At the same time, there are a few potential issues with Smart Shopping ads:

  • You don’t get much control over how your ads are displayed – you have to be okay with taking a backseat and letting Google do the driving.
  • You’ll get access to less detailed analytics.
  • You miss out on some useful features like custom scheduling, network placement, location targeting, and negative keywords

As you can see, this isn’t exactly a simple choice. Both types of Shopping ads have some clear draws, but also some aspects that may give you pause.

Which Type of Shopping Ads Should You Use?

At this point, let’s summarize what we’ve learned about these two advertising solutions.

Google Shopping Ads: These are ads that you set up, customize, and schedule manually. They’re time-consuming and sometimes confusing to create, and rely heavily on your own skills and research. However, they also give you more complete freedom over your ads, and access to the full range of Google Shopping ad-related features and analytics.

Smart Shopping Ads: The first part of the setup for these ads is similar to regular Shopping ads. Midway through the process, however, you let Google’s algorithms take over and determine things like target networks and scheduling for you. You’ll get far less control and a few less features, but you’ll save a lot of time and get access to Google’s robust algorithms, which may be able to stretch your budget further and get better results.

The distinctions between these two types of ads are big enough that they lend themselves to different types of users and use cases. That can make it a little hard to pick between them.

You may prefer Google Shopping ads if:

  • You’ve got plenty of time to spend on researching your target markets and tweaking your ads and ad schedule.
  • You like having total control over your ads, or you’re uneasy about letting Google’s algorithms take charge.
  • You have a lot of experience with online marketing, so you know how to target and schedule your ads for maximum effect.

On the other hand, Smart Shopping ads might be for you if:

  • You don’t have much time to spare, or you simply like the idea of automating the process and getting it off your plate.
  • You’re new to placing online ads, and not confident in your ability to make the right decisions.
  • You want to put Google’s knowledge and experience to work for you, and use its algorithms to maximize your reach and conversions.

Which camp you fall into will help you decide what variety of ad to focus on. If at least two of the three criteria in either list apply to you, then that may be the best place for you to start.

However…I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy here. You aren’t limited to only using one or the other of these ad types. In fact, you can sometimes get the best results from using a mix of the two, or starting with one and then transitioning into the other.

Using Traditional and Smart Shopping Ads in Combination

There are a few ways you can benefit from both types of Google Shopping ads. If you don’t like making decisions, or you want to get the best of both worlds, here are two approaches you can take.

Since you have the ability to set up multiple ad campaigns, you can simply use the traditional system for some of them and the ‘smart’ system for others. For example, you could:

  • Use Smart Shopping for low-value, low-risk campaigns that you want to automate, saving yourself some time.
  • Use traditional Shopping ads for campaigns you want more control over – such as high-priority, expensive, or time-sensitive campaigns.

Another thing you can do is start with one type of campaign, and then transition into the other. Many people have found this beneficial, particularly when approached in a specific order:

  1. First, you start out with a standard Google Shopping campaign to learn the ropes and build up some sales.
  2. Then, you transition that campaign to Smart Shopping, in order to automate it and use Google’s machine learning to take it to the next level.

That technique also has another benefit. Smart Shopping campaigns work best when they have some existing data to pull from. So you can gather that data for Google by running a regular campaign for a while first, and only sending it to school when it’s ready (i.e., making it smart).


So what have we learned? First of all, I want to emphasize that Google Shopping is an excellent way to market your e-commerce business. It gives you access to a huge potential audience, and you have total control over how much you’re going to spend.

As for the two types of ads, traditional Google Shopping ads give you maximum control, at the expense of time and trouble. Smart Shopping ads save you time, but don’t let you tweak your ad placements and scheduling manually. In my opinion, you’re likely to get the best results by starting with standard Shopping campaigns, and then transitioning them to Smart Shopping campaigns.

Do you have any questions about how to get started with either type of Google Shopping ad? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

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