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.
In June 2013, Google successfully completed their global transition of shopping results to the “pay-to-play” commercial model built on Product Listing Ads (PLA). In the US, this model is still less than a year old, yet online retailers are faced with the real challenges of effectively optimizing their campaigns ahead of the 2013 holiday season. For many search marketers, managing a Merchant Center product feed, testing ad group promotions, and building granular product targets are relatively new concepts. In order to be successful during the holidays and improve their revenue outcomes, marketers must refine their approach to managing and optimizing their PLA campaigns. The following four strategies will enable retail advertisers to deliver a richer and more engaging shopping experience, while maximizing revenue across product targets.
1. Granular Product Targets
Product targets, created using the product attributes defined within Google’s Merchant Center, enable retailers to deliver PLAs by product ID or SKU. In general, the more granular the product target, the more likely a relevant ad will be delivered for a corresponding product search. Rather than grouping multiple products together into a single product target, search marketers who map product IDs or SKUs to individual product targets are able to tie the performance of each target directly back to the individual product. Optimizing with this level of visibility and control allows retailers to not only align product targets with product-specific business goals, but also calculate optimal bids that maximize revenue across the entire product inventory.
2. Grouping for Promotional Text
Promotional text, which is optionally set at the ad group level, also benefits from granularity and is best leveraged with a tightly themed set of product targets. By organizing product targets that are consistently promoted together into separate ad groups, or the same ad group—such as by brand or product category—retailers can significantly differentiate their PLAs from their competitors. Keep in mind promotional text applies to all the products targeted in a specific ad group. Thus, the messaging should be applicable to all products under each product target and should be updated regularly to reflect changes to promotional offers.
3. Top Performing Products
Similar to paid search keywords, prioritizing top performing product targets provides retailers with more control over their revenue outcomes. By increasing exposure for these products, whether through an aggressive bidding strategy, separate ad groups and product targets, or through product feed optimization, search marketers can acquire more revenue while investing less time in management and optimization. For example, increasing product target bids or testing new images for popular products are two common strategies for increasing visibility among shoppers. Additionally, leveraging Dimensions or Labels, along with recurring reports, allow search marketers to quickly take action on top performing product targets when they are impacted by sudden shifts in the auction environment.
4. Poorly Performing Products
In contrast, products with low margins or products that perform poorly using standard text ads might also perform poorly with PLAs. By excluding these products from product targets or setting product filters to define which products can appear for PLAs, retailers can avoid bidding on these unprofitable products and exhausting their campaign budgets. Similarly, to limit the product searches for which PLAs will show and further improve relevance and performance, always research and implement appropriate negative keywords.
PLAs have become an integrated part of the online shopping experience. With this highly engaging ad format expanding to smartphone devices, retailers will undoubtedly allocate additional budget towards these campaigns moving forward. As more advertisers enter the landscape and competition increases, search marketers will need to continue investing in new technology and establish best practices to effectively execute on their PLA strategies. Retailers who have bought into PLAs and have begun optimizing their feed and product targets will not only be able to engage their customers, but will also be positioned to acquire more revenue this holiday season.
For more information on how Marin Software can help you successfully manage and optimize your PLA campaigns, contact your Client Services representative or email us at email@example.com.
Product Listing Ads (PLA) provide a richer and more engaging search experience for shoppers. With the share of spend on PLA campaigns increasing 600% in Q4 of 2012, online retailers will undoubtedly continue investing more time and budget towards this ad format in 2013. In fact, in Q4 of 2012, online retailers allocated as much as 30% of their AdWords budget to PLA campaigns. As a result of this recent surge in adoption and spend, Marin Software has published a white paper that examines PLA performance throughout 2012 and presents five best practices for deploying, managing, and optimizing PLA campaigns.
Download the comprehensive 8 page PLA white paper here.
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.
Thanks for sharing, @echeng! What a great photo, and it's definitely been an exciting journey since 2006.