Zombie SKUs: What They Are, How They Work & Results

In your Google Ads shopping and/or Performance Max campaigns, have you ever noticed that some of your products get lots of impressions and clicks while others never seem to show? Sometimes, Google seems to latch on to products to the point of ignoring others that are just as profitable to your company. Enter what we like to call the ‘Zombie SKUs.’

What Are Zombie SKUs?

So what is a Zombie SKU? According to my homemade Webster dictionary, a Zombie SKU can be defined as a product listing that is getting no love or is ‘dead’ to Google. The product is literally getting zero clicks or zero impressions over a set period of time. 

So why should you care about these products? Well, these seemingly “dead” products might surprise you when given a chance. Let’s take a deep dive to see how to bring these products back from death’s door.

Bringing Zombie SKUs Back to Life

The tactic to bring Zombie SKUs back from the dead is simple: create a Performance Max (PMax) campaign, without assets, that solely includes those Zombie SKUS. This is essentially a Smart Shopping campaign that uses smart bidding.

Real World Results

Our Google reps brought us this campaign strategy in Q4 of 2023, so we have been testing it for several months, and we’ve seen generally positive results. 

CompanyIndustryFocus Metric# of Zombie SKUsFocus Metric Average YTDGoal
Company AFootwearCPA65,000$4.45 CPA$5 CPA
Company BFoodROAS293.10 ROAS4 ROAS
Company CAutomotiveROAS6,4813.88 ROAS3 ROAS

Key Findings and Insights

  • Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) Optimization: In the table above, Company A, focusing on CPA for its e-commerce footwear campaign, picked up right from the beginning, staying well under its CPA goal. Even more notably, their performance improved from being the third-best converting campaign in January to the top converting campaign in February (out of nine Performance Max campaigns).
  • Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) Challenges and Improvements: Company B, despite initially falling short of its ROAS goal, has shown signs of improvement, reaching a ROAS of 3.88 in the last 14 days. This is a positive trend and also contributed an additional 5% in incremental conversions. 
  • High-Value Conversions in the Automotive Sector: Company C stands out in the automotive sector with a ROAS that exceeds its goal and the highest average order value of any campaign analyzed (compared to 11 campaigns). While only driving 5% of overall conversions, the significant average order value suggests a focus on high-quality, high-value conversions.
Three questions that might come up with this approach:
  1. Is 5% growth worth it? My usual intent with this campaign type is to see what more can I get out of Google Ads. Results will vary, and 5% growth is a whole lot better than no growth at all. We are trying to push more products to get those additional sales, and it seems to be working. 
  2. Is this going to cannibalize our other campaigns? These are SKUs that are currently getting zero clicks, so there will be no cannibalization. Further analysis does not show any drops to the existing campaign in the immediate days or even weeks following the campaign launch. The other campaigns really continued business as usual, which is exactly what we would expect.
  3. How often should I update my zombie SKU list? This is something we have been trying to decide. I don’t necessarily want to disrupt what is working, but theoretically, you can find zombie SKUs within the zombie campaign and break that out further into a Zombie 2.0 campaign. This is really a personal preference and not something I have tested…yet. 
Finding Zombie SKUs

How to find your zombie SKUs is actually very easy. The three steps below will help you identify these products: 

  1. Log into your Google Merchant Center account.
  2. Navigate to the All Products tab housed under Products.
  1. Add a filter using the Clicks attribute, and set that to zero.

Just like that, you have a list of SKUs to work with for your zombie campaign. 

What you will need to do next is download this list as a Google Sheet and use one of the custom labels to indicate they are a Zombie SKU – that will let you break out just these SKUs in your Asset Group.

The easiest way is to create a Supplemental Feed, though if you do feed management, you can also use rules to update the custom labels before the feed is sent to Google. One note is that you currently cannot do Supplemental feeds in Google Merchant Center Next, which is Google’s new version of GMC (which is missing many essential features). 

The best practice for the zombie campaign is to be a Performance Max campaign with no assets except the listing group – so essentially, a Smart Shopping campaign. Make sure you supply a minimum of $30/day budget to allow the campaign to gather enough data. I’ve not tested this as a Standard Shopping campaign yet, but I suppose you could test these as well and measure performance. 

Don’t neglect the untapped potential hidden within your account. Creating a separate campaign for zombie SKUs is a relatively easy, straightforward strategy that can boost your overall business and promote products that haven’t been given a chance. Take a closer look at your product data, and start your zombie SKU experiment today.

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