This is a guest post from Dionte Pounds, Account Manager at
Product listing ads, or PLAs, are an incredibly successful strategy for e-commerce companies to promote available product inventory on Google and Bing. Unlike standard search ads, PLAs incorporate a visual image over a text description to show the user the product they’re searching for.
There are plenty of reasons why you should be adding a PLA strategy into your advertising mix. Cost-per-click (CPC) will generally be below what you’ll see across search ads. As a result of showing the user an image of the product they’re searching for, click-through-rate will usually be pretty strong. Once the user clicks the ad, they’re taken directly to the product page, making the user journey simple and leading to a higher conversion rate.
Additionally, it’s quite easy to set up and manage campaigns. Both Google and Bing provide product level reporting, so you can also see how each product is doing individually.
With the holiday season in full swing, let’s take a look at some tips to drive great results from your PLA campaigns.
The first and most important step in improving PLA performance is to have the proper product group segmentation. Product group segmentation is vital to drive traffic efficiently. If all of your products are lumped together in a single product group sharing the same bid, you’re not maximizing your PLA campaign potential. In this case, you’re bidding the same amount for your best performing product group as your worst. This will lead to wasted spend and a poor return on ad spend over time.
A well-managed PLA campaign should have a structure that allows for isolation of product groups. Look to each product’s category, type, or brand to figure out what level of segmentation works best. In some cases, it may be best to separate each product entirely.
After viewing your product category report, you’ll have a good idea of what type of product group segmentation will work best for your campaign. In order to optimize the new structure, look at the average CPC for each product group and the ROAS. If the ROAS is below account target, you should start bidding with a CPC below the average. Likewise, if you have a ROAS that’s well above target, you can start that product group with a bid above the CPC to maximize returns.
Try to make use of your conversion rate, ROAS target, acceptable CPA, and average order value to back your way into a starting bid. Let’s imagine the AOV for an account is $50, conversion rate is 1%, and ROAS target is 200%. For this imaginary product group, a $0.25 bid is suitable.
PLA campaigns are very likely to drive more traffic from mobile devices than desktop or tablet devices. Generally speaking, this increase in traffic comes at a price, meaning lower conversion rates and ROAS. Look at how your campaigns are performing across devices, and be sure to use negative mobile modifiers for mobile devices and tablets if it makes sense.
If you’re already bidding down on mobile devices, be sure to take a look at your desktop CPCs when placing starting bids on your new product group structure. It may be possible that the cheap mobile clicks are driving down your average CPCs. If that’s the case, then base your new bids on the desktop CPC to avoid a loss in traffic.
An often-overlooked aspect of PLA campaign management is mining for negatives. Just like a search campaign, PLA campaigns need to be scrubbed regularly for negative terms to prevent wasted spend.
There’s still time this holiday season to maximize your PLA performance across Google and Bing! See if you can utilize some of these tips to drive great results.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are quickly looming and retail stores are already beginning to advertise and promote their deals for these annual events. This is also the first year that Shopping campaigns are available for advertisers, although we have an idea of what to expect based off Product Listing Ads (PLAs) last year. We decided to take a look back to how PLAs performed during this time in 2013 to help predict how Shopping campaigns may behave this year.
During the entirety of last year, PLAs saw rapid adoption and proved to be a crucial part of many retailers’ ad strategy. During Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, PLA CTRs were 36%, 49%, and 61% higher than text ads, respectively. In addition, PLA CPCs were also lower by 7%, 9%, and 6%. Although PLA CPCs rose to almost meet text ad CPCs, the difference between PLA and text ad CTRs rose dramatically.
In addition, we saw significant PLA activity on mobile devices, greatly outperforming PLA activity on desktop and tablet devices. Mobile PLAs performed, on average, roughly 21% greater than their desktop and tablet equivalents during the November holiday season. Not only that, mobile PLAs are 50% lower than desktop and tablets during Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.
With all this in mind, it is without question that Shopping campaigns will be an important part of this holiday season. With Shopping behavior largely mirroring PLA behavior, it makes sense that we’ll see similar trends in a couple weeks once the 2014 Thanksgiving season is over.
In the US, more than 166 million people – 53% of the population – own a smartphone. We carry them with us wherever we go. So, it’s no surprise smartphones are a key target of advertisers and e-commerce providers. The vision of smartphones replacing wallets is just too good to pass up. Case in point, Apple just announced Apple Pay payment solution in conjunction with the iPhone 6 launch.
But just how likely are consumers to use their phones to make purchases outside of a new app or scheduling an Uber pickup? To gauge consumer interest in using smartphones to complete transactions, we thought we’d take a look at the performance of Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs) on smartphones and desktops.
PLAs are unique in that they are predominantly used by retailers to showcase a product; so, we aren’t seeing consumers react to ads for services or information. Also, unless you’re in the market for a new Razor Scooter, odds are you aren’t going to search and click on an ad for one. Consequently, PLAs are a good barometer for getting a pulse on consumer online shopping behavior.
First off, the click-through rate (CTR) of PLAs on smartphones is higher. The gap varies, but more recently in June, 2014 the CTR of smartphones was 33% higher than desktops. This would indicate consumers seem to favor their smartphones for browsing and researching products. Makes sense. For the last few years, the story has been that smartphones are used to research but when it comes time to pulling the trigger, the transaction either takes place on a desktop or in a store. A smartphone is rarely used to complete the transaction.
To answer that question, we looked at the conversion rate of PLAs for smartphones versus desktops. Since these are ads for specific products, the likelihood of a conversion rate for a PLA being a transaction is very high. Desktops still rein king when it comes to completing transactions with a conversion rate 135% higher than smartphones in June; however, what’s interesting is the growth in conversion rate on smartphones.
Year over year, the conversion rate for PLAs on smartphones has increased 120%. But what does this mean? It means consumers are completing more transactions on their smartphones. This is likely due to not only familiarity and comfort with doing so but also retailers and technology providers like Google making the transaction process easier and much more mobile friendly.
Get ready to ditch your wallets.
Now that you are well-versed in the changes coming with Google Shopping campaigns, you are probably busy preparing to make the upcoming transition. However, given the changes Google has made to the way campaigns are structured, it can be confusing to figure out how to best set things up to suit your business needs.
In an effort to make Shopping campaigns easy to use, Google decided to structure them in a hierarchical format. This means that users can essentially break down their entire inventory into different product groups all under a single over-arching ad group. While this is indeed easier to implement, large advertisers may find this new structure to be more restrictive and struggle with how to best optimize their campaigns to achieve maximum ROI for each campaign segment or product line.
Maintaining all your campaigns in a single ad group will confine them – regardless of their different objectives and outcomes – to a single economical goal, which ultimately prevents bidding flexibility. This is where Marin can make a big difference. Using Marin’s flexible folders, you can easily create and control bidding strategies for ad groups based on their performance and efficiency goals. This is beneficial for many retailers that wish to bid different shopping campaign segments or product lines to different efficiency targets.
Additionally, savvy advertisers should use the mobile bid adjustment setting at the ad group level to optimize their campaigns across devices. Marin’s mobile bid adjustment recommendation (MBAR) tool can facilitate this task at scale on shopping campaigns with multiple ad groups.
The big takeaway? By simply breaking out your Shopping campaigns into multiple ad groups, you will be able to leverage the power of Marin’s bid optimization tools and have better control of your advertising budget, while enjoying all the perks that Google Shopping campaigns has to offer!
Google Shopping campaigns are a great opportunity for retail advertisers to review their current PLA campaigns and optimize them for even better results. However, as many retailers are managing sometimes millions of products across thousands of brands and hundreds of feeds, adapting to and mastering the new Shopping campaigns system can seem like a huge undertaking.
Below we’ve provided seven tips to help you succeed during (and well after) the campaign migration process:
Going beyond basic campaign management strategy, advertisers can obtain additional control and visibility over Shopping campaigns by following more advanced tips:
For more best practices to ensure a seamless transition to Google Shopping campaigns, check out our full-length guide here.
In February, Google Shopping campaigns became available to all advertisers globally. Shopping campaigns redefined the way retail advertisers manage and report on Product Listing Ads, offering additional flexibility, visibility, and control marketers truly appreciate. Though advertisers can continue managing standard PLA campaigns successfully, Google announced today that all advertisers must fully transition to Shopping campaigns by late August 2014. After this date, advertisers will no longer be able to manage PLAs through standard Search campaigns, and all remaining PLA campaigns will be automatically upgraded to Shopping campaigns. This transition, similar to enhanced campaigns, represents a challenge and opportunity for retail advertisers.
What Do I Need To Do?
From now until the transition date, advertisers can continue managing and optimizing PLAs through standard Search campaigns. Since the auction landscape for PLAs was not affected by the introduction of Shopping campaigns or the mandatory transition, advertisers can continue running standard campaigns without adversely impacting PLA performance. Keep in mind Shopping campaigns and standard campaigns can run in tandem, ensuring the transition process can be executed successfully over time and according to retailers’ business needs.
How Do I Migrate?
There are five critical steps for transitioning to Google Shopping campaigns:
1. Prepare your feed for transition.
Review your product_type, adwords_labels, and adwords_grouping values. Products you plan to target as a group and bid on using product_type should have exactly the same value in the product_type attribute. Keep in mind that product types can only be subdivided five times.
For shopping campaigns, adwords_labels and adwords_grouping attributes aren’t supported. The new custom_label attribute can be used instead; however it’s limited to five labels per product.
2. Plan your transition process.
Take time to plan out your transition and consider restructuring your PLA strategy according to best practices and business needs. For advertisers managing a large number of product targets, a phased transition schedule is recommended.
3. Create a Google Shopping campaign.
For a single transition, create a Shopping campaign and subdivide product groups based on performance and business needs, then pause the old PLA campaign.
For a phased transition, create a Shopping campaign and systematically subdivide high volume and top performing products; pausing old PLA targets as new objects are created in your new Shopping campaign. If new groups don’t map directly to existing targets, you’ll need to have both PLA campaigns active, setting the new Shopping campaign priority setting to “high.”
4. Subdivide products within your new Shopping campaign.
Keep in mind that advertisers get performance data at all levels for all products, regardless of how product groups are organized. However, since product groups can only be subdivided five times, how these groups are organized becomes very important. It’s recommended that advertisers subdivide product groups first by product attributes that support more granular, subsequent subdivisions. For example, product_type > brand > id.
5. Analyze and optimize.
As with any transition and migration, be sure to monitor performance and ensure all of your products are receiving consistent coverage and driving similar outcomes. Review and familiarize yourself with the new CPC and CTR benchmark metrics as well as impression share. These will provide insight into the auction landscape and enable you to make smarter decisions when optimizing bids and product groups.
For additional guidance, please review Google’s recommended steps for transitioning to Shopping campaigns and work with your solution provider to establish an appropriate timeline.
What’s Marin’s Timeline for Support?
A beta program for Google Shopping campaigns will become available well in advance of the transition date. General availability for campaign management, streamlined reporting, URL Builder functionality, and integrated bid optimization is scheduled shortly after the conclusion of the beta. For more information on Marin’s Shopping campaigns beta, release schedule, and transition plan, please contact your customer engagement and customer success teams.
Last week, the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference wheeled its way into London. Marin was heavily involved across the three-day conference with Clive Morris, Matt Ackley and Jon Myers speaking in multiple sessions. I just wanted to wrap up three key trends from across the show:
1) The Rise of PLAs
As our white paper The State of Google Shopping found, there is no stopping the growth of Product Listing Ads (PLAs) in the e-commerce industry. Chris Howard, Head of Digital at Shop Direct Group, said that PLAs are one reason why paid search is interesting again. He also mentioned that they generate better ROI for retailers than traditional PPC.
Brendan Almack and Alan Coleman at Wolfgang Digital ran a great session, diving into detail on PLAs. They shared these useful insights:
2) Audience Data in Search
With SERPs becoming more personalized and advertisers increasingly targeting people – not keywords or positions – we talked a lot about how audiences and audience data can be integrated into both paid and organic search.
Ian Carrington, Director of Performance, Northern and Central Europe at Google introduced Retargeting Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) into the conversation during the very first session on day one of SES London. Ian recommended using RLSA remarketing if you want cheaper CPAs and increased conversions, which is a no-brainer for most advertisers.
Marin Software’s Matt Ackley and Jon Myers both suggested that audience data is the next frontier in search. In reference to our recent integration with BlueKai, both said it’s essential to understand and utilize audience data, because it will make your PPC more strategic. Matt also speculated that Google could eventually use its own user data to bring audience targeting and analytics even further into paid search. For example, you might have the ability to adjust bids for searchers with different incomes and family sizes.
3) Context Increasingly Plays a Role in Search
With recent algorithm updates across paid and natural search, the impact of context on search was a also hot topic. Matt Ackley talked about how context is going to become more integrated with search, for example by integrating weather forecasts to adjust your bidding strategy.
Allistair Dent, Director of Paid Media at Periscopix, agreed saying that Google AdWords new features will use the enhanced campaigns structure, where context is just as important as keywords and other targeting. He suggested blending contextual items together to make decisions about your audience. For example, if a user is searching for your brand near your store, then you can send them to a special local-focused landing page.
Were you at SES London? If so, let us know what you thought in the comments!
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.
Leading up to the 2013 holiday season, Google introduced a number of changes to spruce up their Product Listing Ads (PLAs). Expanding the number of PLAs delivered on smartphones and adding new consumer features, like viewing similar items or creating “shortlists,” are clear indicators that Google expects their rich and highly engaging feed-based ads to be the format of choice for retail advertisers and shoppers. Over the three biggest online shopping days of the holiday season – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday – we sampled the Marin Global Online Advertising Index, analyzing enterprise retailers spending over $100,000 per month on Google’s standard text ads and PLAs.
PLA Spend Continues to Surge
In August of this year, the rapid adoption of PLAs was clear, marked by five consecutive months of increasing click-through rate (CTR) spanning February through July. Consequently, to capitalize on this emerging revenue opportunity, retailers invested heavily in PLAs during the three biggest shopping days with PLA spend increasing a staggering 143% on Thanksgiving year over year. The increase in spend was a result of more consumers shopping and an increase in competition, as retailers became more aggressive across the auction landscape. Unfortunately, shoppers did not increase their engagement with PLAs year over year. A lack of promotional text and the inability for retailers to effectively differentiate through product feeds likely caused this unexpected lull in CTR.
PLAs > Standard Text Ads
For some time now, we’ve been reporting on the superior performance of PLAs to standard text ads. Many retailers agree that PLAs not only perform better from a CTR perspective, but also cost less per click. During Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, PLA CTRs were 36%, 39%, and 61% higher than standard text ads, respectively. Moreover, PLA cost-per-click (CPC) was 7%, 9%, and 6% lower than standard text ads, respectively. Though the CPC gap between the two ad formats appeared to close slightly due to seasonality, the CTR gap widened significantly as shoppers continue to find PLAs more relevant and engaging during the holiday season.
The PLA Mobile Movement
By device, PLAs on smartphones outperform those on desktops and tablets. Though the CTR for PLAs on desktops and tablets were nearly identical, tablet CPCs were only slightly higher compared to desktops across all three days. However, the CTR for PLAs on smartphones were 17%, 22%, and 23% higher than their desktop counterparts on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, respectively. Even more significant is the fact that CPCs for PLAs on smartphones were more than 50% lower than desktop CPCs over the three days. (The graphs below are normalized to desktop performance.)
Undoubtedly, PLAs continue to drive better results for retail advertisers. This richer ad format not only outperforms and is less expensive than standard text ads, but it also drives better engagement on smartphone devices where CPCs remain much lower. With Bing preparing to make Product Ads generally available at the start 2014, this level of PLA performance should make any retail advertiser salivate. Those looking to capitalize on these shopping ad opportunities must prepare for the upcoming changes to Google Shopping and invest in technology that scales the deployment, management, and optimization of this highly successful ad format.
The Marin Global Online Advertising Index is comprised of data from hundreds of large-scale advertisers and agencies that collectively invest more than $5 Billion in annualized spend through the Marin platform. The data analyzed by Marin for this snapshot reflects a subset of Marin’s direct and agency clients managing active advertising programs in the retail sector from 11/26/13 through 12/02/13. All data is accurate as of 12/2/2013, but subject to change; and represents a year over year analysis of the same holiday time period.