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Getting started with catalog ads

How can catalogs help you to bring in more customers? This blog post will go through everything you need to know to get started with catalog ads.
Zach Reiff

If you've never used a catalog ad to promote your business on social media platforms before, then you're probably wondering where to begin. This blog post will give you the basics you need to get started with catalog ads on social media channels, plus you’ll find out our secret method to creating effective catalog ads that will stand out in the feed and catch the attention of your customers. 

What are catalog ads?

Catalog ads are shoppable ad formats designed to showcase the products, services, or experiences you sell online. If you have been on Facebook or pretty much any social media website, then you’ve definitely seen a catalog ad. Probably lots of them. 

You know the ones in your feed that typically include a product image on a plain white background? That's a catalog ad. 

They aren’t just on Facebook. Catalog ads are often used on other platforms too, including Snapchat, Pinterest, and TikTok.

Why are catalog ads effective?

As any online advertiser knows, there are countless ads and product recommendations vying for your customers attention. So what makes an online catalog ad so effective? 

One of the key factors is the ability to serve the ads to users based on their previous interactions with a website or app. By showing the most relevant products to the user, it can greatly improve the amount that your ads will convert.

Another way to make your catalog ads effective is to use third-party tools to help your catalog ad creative stand out amongst the rest. We like to call this “enriched catalog ads”, which for any marketer is going to be life-changing, and you’ll see why shortly. 

Which platforms use catalog ads?

Catalog ads are used by many online social media platforms, most notably, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest. For all of these platforms, you will have the option to upload your product catalog via CSV, XML, or have it directly imported from another source, like the product feed on your ecommerce website (think Shopify or similar ecommerce sites).

However, each social media platform varies slightly on how to import this data, so be sure to take a look at the requirements for each, or you risk having your items and product data formatted incorrectly, which will cause issues when it comes time to create your ads. 

Additionally, each of these platforms have slightly different formats of catalog ads, so let's take a look at some of the differences between each one. 

Meta ad formats

When you use the Meta Ads Manager for managing your catalog ads, you have a couple of different options of ad formats to choose from, including carousels, collections, collaborative ads, and finally there are Meta Advantage+ catalog ads (which you may know as dynamic ads). If you haven’t used any of these before, here's a quick breakdown of each type:

  • Meta Advantage+ catalog ads: Advantage+ catalog ads will automatically show relevant items from your catalog to people based on their interests, intent and actions online. These are only possible if you have a Facebook pixel installed on your website.
  • Collection ads: Collection is an ad format that shows four items from your catalog under a hero image or video, and users can click on items to learn more or browse similar items.
  • Carousel ads: Carousel is a very popular ad format that shows multiple images or videos people can scroll through, each with its own link. 
  • Collaborative ads: If your brand sells items through a participating merchant, collaborative ads allow you to run direct sales campaigns. Your merchant partner shares a segment of their catalog with your business, which you can use to run Advantage+ catalog ads.

Note that some of these formats are only available for mobile, such as collection ads. It’s also worth mentioning that in order to manage your Instagram catalog ads with the Meta Ads Manager, you will need to have a professional Instagram account that is also linked to your Facebook Business Manager and Meta Ads Manager accounts.

One interesting thing is you don’t actually need to have a separate website to create catalog ads with the Meta Ads Manager, as you can create, advertise, and sell your catalog all from within the Facebook and Instagram platforms — which is not the case for some other platforms, as you will find out below.

Snapchat ad formats

On Snapchat, your product catalog can be used to advertise across a variety of formats, including single image ads, collection ads, and story ads. Similar to Facebook, it is also possible to create dynamic catalog ads on Snapchat, which will serve relevant ads to the user based on the products they have viewed on your website. To use the dynamic catalog ads, however, it will require you to install a Snapchat Pixel on your website (or add the Snap App ID to your mobile app). 

Pinterest ad formats

On Pinterest, there are two main different ad formats available to promote products that are in your catalog: shopping ads and personalized collections ads. 

Shopping ads are just a single image ad whereas personalized collection ads are a multi-image ad, that are followed by a group of products that are relevant to the user’s interests. 

In addition, you can also use dynamic retargeting to target people on Pinterest who have already visited your website or have items sitting in their shopping cart.

One thing to be aware of is that in order to be able to upload a catalog to Pinterest in the first place, you will need to have “claimed” a website as yours on Pinterest. 

This is done by verifying website ownership by adding a DNS TXT record, or uploading an HTML file to your website. It sounds complicated, but the Pinterest website has step by step instructions on how to claim a website, so even if you are a beginner it is pretty easy to follow.

What you need to get started

No matter the platform you decide to use, you will need to have the following:

  • A product database or feed to form the basis of the ad catalog. This is usually going to come from the items on your website, but can also just be a spreadsheet of some kind. The database needs to have all of the products you are planning to sell, including all the variants of each product. This means if you have three different colours of a shirt, and they all come in three different sizes, you need to have each one added as a separate variant. 
  • You will need high-quality images of your products, ideally several of each one. Generally, a 500x500 image size is best.
  • Product prices, SKUs, and any other relevant product information and attributes you want to track

It is also important to consider things such as your budget, audience, and your goals for catalog ads. What are the metrics that you will use to measure your success? All of this should be thought about before you start. 

You also need to consider other logistical elements that may come into play, such as how you will integrate your ad catalog with your existing tech stack and maintain an accurate, consistent database of information. By taking the time to answer these questions, you will set yourself up for success when it comes time to start setting up your catalog ads.

Setting up catalogs

As mentioned above, the ways of setting up and adding items to your catalog vary between each platform (because of course, that would be too easy if they were all the same). Luckily we’ve gone ahead and looked into all the deets for each and saved you the hassle. So here’s what you need to know, broken down by platform:

Facebook and Instagram 

Methods for adding items to your catalog:

  • Manual: Add items using a manual form in Commerce Manager.
  • Data feed: Upload a spreadsheet or XML file to add items in bulk. You can upload a file once or set up scheduled uploads to happen on a regular basis.
  • Meta Pixel: Import and update items automatically from your website using a pixel. This method is fairly complex, and if you aren’t super tech savvy you may want to get a developer to help you install the microdata website tags.

The best way really depends on several factors, such as how many products you need to add, how often your items change, and the type of things that you sell. 

Here is a graphic from Facebook comparing each upload method and the requirements.

Other requirements for using data feeds:

  • Must be one of these formats: CSV, TSV, Google Sheets, XML (RSS/ATOM).
  • File size limit: 100 MB for a one-time file upload or 8 GB for a scheduled feed. We also support compressed ZIP and GZIP files up to 30 GB. Files over 4 GB may take several hours to upload, so you may want to split it into multiple feeds and upload them separately.
  • Item limit: One million items per data feed recommended. If your data feed contains more items, split it into multiple feeds and upload them separately. You can upload as many data feeds as you want, but they must all contain different items.
  • Line length limit: 5 MB (5,242,880 characters) for each line or row of your data feed.

Snapchat

Methods for adding items to your catalog:

  • Using a CSV file, up to 500mb 
  • From a data feed using any of the following:
    - HTTP, HTTPS, SFTP, or FTP protocols
    - CSV, TSV, TXT, or XML file formats

Pinterest

Methods for adding items to your catalog:

They also accept compressed files (.zip, .giz, .gz, .bz2 and others) but do not support encrypted, password-protected compressed files. Google Drive and Dropbox feeds are also not supported.

I don’t know about you, but I get bored just reading about the different requirements, never mind actually having to create and upload the files manually for each platform. That’s why there is another, much more efficient, less boring method of doing this, and it works for ANY of the above platforms. 

But before we share our secret hack for catalog ads, we need to talk about one more very important thing …

Managing catalog ads

Something that can often be overlooked or not really considered by business owners is how they are going to manage their catalog. When you start out, you likely won’t have many products, so managing your catalog just doesn’t really end up on your radar. But as your company grows, you’ll notice that without proper management, things will end up getting disorganized, and fast. 

Managing your catalog that you use for your ads is one thing you need to do right, because when you don’t, it can cause a whole host of issues for you down the road. 

An unorganized catalog will not only be super annoying to use for your team, it will also cause problems for your customers. Poor tagging and item inaccuracies can lead to unsatisfied buyers, increased product returns and negative online reviews. Not good. 

Managing the catalog isn’t an easy task though, because there are so many different aspects that come into play. You need to be using accurate tagging for your products, ensure that your inventory is updated in real-time, and also maintain consistent product details on all the various channels. Not only that, there are often multiple stakeholders involved in all of this, making the whole thing that much more complex. 

So how can you manage your ad catalog effectively? Well we’ve got one suggestion that works brilliantly, and that is using Marpipe.

Managing your ads in Marpipe

When you use Marpipe for your catalog ads, you don’t need to worry about any of the complicated stuff above, because most of it is done within the Marpipe platform. All you need to do at the end is add our generated .csv file to your social media ad accounts, and your products will be added to the platform automatically. It’s so simple, it is basically magic. 

But the sweetness of using Marpipe doesn’t stop there. No, that is only the beginning. Because the best part of using Marpipe is creating enriched catalogs. 

You are probably wondering, “What the heck are enriched catalogs?” 

We’re so glad you asked. 

What are enriched catalogs?

Enriched catalogs are the best way to make your ads stand out amongst the sea of other catalog ads that your customers are bombarded with every day. And this is done by spicing up your ad creative with things like, in-image copy, customer testimonials, reviews, badges, sale prices and different backgrounds. 

Marpipe will help you take your boring white background catalog ad, and make it eye-catching, memorable, and most importantly, effective. 

And with shoppers becoming increasingly savvy about online ads, and stricter privacy rules for advertisers, it's clear that having enriched catalog ads will play an essential role in making sure that your ads are seen and clicked on. 

Basically, enriched ads are the bomb dot com. 

Just ask our customers, who have seen their ROAS triple in just one month of using them

Not only that, creating an enriched catalog is simpler than ever with Marpipe. Check out our one-minute demo to see how easy it really is. 

Enriched Catalog ads are a great way to reach new customers, boost your ROI, and increase your ROAS. If you're thinking about launching a catalog ad campaign, keep in mind the tips we've shared in this blog post and you will be well on the way to a successful catalog ad campaign. If you want to know more about how catalog ads work, or how to create an effective campaign that resonates with your target audience — we've got you covered

Think you’re ready to get started? Get in touch with a member of our team today to learn more about using Enriched Catalogs ads for your business.

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