Google’s Product Listing Ads represent a highly effective channel for online retailers of all sizes, exposing new buyers to your products and driving purchases. Listing products on Google Shopping with rich product information such as price, image, color/size, SKU number and your brand name creates an engaging user experience that is difficult to get on other marketing channels available today.
I’ve managed PLAs in the past for online retailers and marketplaces and gained a lot of insight from my experience in building campaigns from scratch and analyzing performance data to make decisions. Here are five quick ways to optimize your PLA campaigns to ensure your spend yields positive returns and to get ahead of your competition.
1. Use search query and negative keywords to stop wasting spend. Since Google doesn’t allow you to specify keywords to target for PLAs, and because search results appear based on the information you have within your data feed, I recommend using negative keywords to add in some control. Negative keywords essentially tell Google what keywords you do not want products to show up for. This is useful because you don’t want to pay for clicks not relevant to your products.
For example, let’s say you’re online book retailer. Even if you’re trying to sell “The Hunger Games” book, Google will show your product ad to people searching for “Hunger games DVD.” Because you don’t sell the DVD and because the search isn’t relevant to the ad displaying, you will want to add “DVD” as a negative keyword.
To figure out what keywords you may want to exclude, you need to generate a search query report. In AdWords, do this by going to your Keywords tab within your PLA campaign. Then navigate DETAILS> SEARCH TERMS > ALL. This will populate the report you need in order to make your decision.
To kick it up a notch, use performance data with the search query report to evaluate which keywords are truly working or failing. Install the Google Conversion Tracking pixel on your conversion pages to see conversion data tied with the search queries generated from the report. This way, you can see what keywords are performing poorly and optimize for a better experience or pull the ad.
2. Regularly send a high quality data feed. It’s very important that you send Google the most updated feed with all fields populated. If you know the frequency of how fast your inventory will move or when price changes occur, it is best to submit in those feed changes immediately. This can vary, depending on whether you’re a small retailer with fixed pricing and few price specials, or a marketplace where pricing is controlled by individual sellers. It’s best to schedule the feed when your website and/or products get updated. Keep it fresh!
3. Ensure the product landing page matches up to the description in your data feed. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve encountered a bad data feed due to data processing errors, such as incorrect product information scrapped from the database or incorrect prices. It’s crucial to ensure that the product to landing page experience is flawless and what the customer expects to see. Even a slight price difference from the ad to the landing page – or worse, an out of stock item – may be a bad enough user experience to make users bounce away.
4. Test new product images. If you’re one of the online retailers that uses stock images for your products, then keep in mind that you’re not helping yourself stand out from the competition. If you’re looking for a boost in CTR and want to drive clicks away from your competitors, consider using your own product images.
For example, let’s say you’re an online retailer specializing in outdoor apparel with a product line of North Face jackets. Differentiate yourself by using your own models; humanize the products instead of showing the standard stock image that everyone else uses. If you’re a retailer that has hundreds to thousands of products, this may not be feasible so focus on your highest revenue potential products.
5. Identify products with the most clicks. Due to reporting limitations of PLAs, it’s difficult to pull a report that lists out products that have generated the most clicks. Given this, it’s important to make sure your own web analytics tools are set up to properly track and evaluate performance. Using your web analytics or third party tool, generate a report to get an understanding of which products are generating the most clicks. You will then be able to evaluate the performance, good and bad, and make a decision on how to optimize.
The rule of thumb for this exercise is to identify winners to bid higher. Or identify losers wasting spend to kill or improve. If the product ad performance is not as you expect, be sure to test out that experience to see why people are not converting as expected.
These five actionable items will ensure a great start to a healthy PLA campaign that will allow you to rise above your competitors. To learn more about Product Listing As, check out our latest whitepaper:
The State of Google Shopping: Mobile Shoppers & Record PLA Spend Drive Success for Retailers.
2013 marked the first full year of Google Shopping since the transition to a commercial model built on PLAs. With Google Shopping campaigns slated for release later this quarter, retailers must not only prepare for the upcoming changes to AdWords, but also familiarize themselves with shifting PLA trends in the new shopping landscape. To help advertisers remain competitive and win the battle for revenue online, Marin has released the 2014 annual research brief, examining the current state of Google Shopping. Analyzing year-over-year performance, with a focus on the holiday season and consumer engagement across devices, this reports provides a comprehensive breakdown of PLA performance in 2013 and insight into what retailers should expect in 2014.
Our research started by analyzing the meteoric increase in spend on PLAs throughout 2013, especially during the holiday season. Significant year-over-year increases directly linked to the rise in competition as more advertisers increased invest in PLAs, drove CPCs to historic levels. With advertisers continuing to allocate more budget towards PLAs and away from text ads, the search industry is undergoing a dramatic shift. The seemingly overnight success of PLAs and the emergence of hotel price ads (HPAs) foreshadow a search landscape where advertisers, whether in retail, automotive, or financial services, will have at their disposal richer and more engaging, industry-specific ad formats. These will undoubtedly emerge over the next two years.
The findings in this report not only impact advertisers across industries, but also how advertisers engage their customers across devices. During the holiday season, retailers witnessed shoppers favoring smartphone PLAs over its desktop and tablet counterparts. Not only were they cheaper, but smartphone PLAs also outperformed PLAs delivered on desktop and tablet devices from a CTR perspective. If 2013 was the year of mobile, or more accurately, enhanced campaigns, then 2014 is certainly the second year of mobile. Marin predicts that by December 2014, 40% of all PLA clicks will occur on smartphones. That’s a lot of clicks that retailers will need to provide a mobile optimized shopping experience for.
For more 2013 PLA trends, findings, and predictions, download our 2014 annual report, The State of Google Shopping: Mobile Shoppers & Record PLA Spend Drive Success for Retailers.
In October of 2012, Google successfully transitioned Google Product Search in the US to a commercial model built on Product Listing Ads (PLA). Though this enhanced shopping experience was faced with both criticism and praise when it was announced in May 2012, advertisers have seen PLA campaigns perform with a great deal of success. In fact, by the end of September 2012, over 100,000 retailers had inventory in Google’s new shopping model just in time for the holiday season.
One month ahead of the transition, the impression share of PLAs to standard text ads was 3.9% to 96% respectively. By the end of December, PLAs were receiving 60% more (6.1%) of the total impressions. This rapid growth in impressions share was not only due to more online retailers deploying PLA campaigns, but also the increase in product related searches during the holiday season.
However, the steady increase in click share from 2.1% in January 2012 to 6.6% (210% growth) in December indicates that shoppers are finding these PLAs, rather than standard text ads, to be more relevant to their search queries regardless of seasonality. The enhanced shopping experience and increase in relevancy is further supported by the gradual increase in click-through rate (CTR) from January 2012 through December. As seasonality became more of a factor in Q4, CTR for PLAs surpassed that of standard text ads in November and December.
This trend has far reaching implications as standard text ads cost more per click than PLAs during Q4 2012. For retailers, this means that PLAs are not only cheaper, but they perform far better than standard text ads during the busiest shopping season of the year. Of course, with the increase in PLA adoption by online marketers and increase in clicks by shoppers during the holiday season, the share of spend by PLA campaigns jumped from 0.36% in October to 2.5% (600% growth) in December. In fact, in Q4 alone many retailers allocated as much as 30% of their total spend on Google towards PLAs. This speaks volume to the incremental growth in spend on Google as a result of the Product Search transition. In 2013, online retailers will undoubtedly allocate additional budget towards PLAs, continuing to build on the momentum gained in 2012.