Making The Most Of Product Listing Ads (PLAs)

By Emma Welland | @emmawelland | Group Head of Performance, Periscopix. A Merkle company

Since their launch in 2010, product listing ads (PLAs) have opened a new window of opportunity for eCommerce advertisers everywhere. PLAs have given advertisers the opportunity to bring the traditional shop shelf to the search results page, displaying a specific product accompanied by price and picture. Over the past 12 months since the withdrawal of the free Google shopping channel we have seen PLAs increase in volume. For retailers everywhere, this is a huge opportunity to increase exposure on the search results page.

Google allow the same company to have a paid search advert, organic listing and a PLA advert live. If the area you are promoting is not that competitive, Google give you the opportunity to have all of the PLA spots for yourself. Either way, having PLAs as well as paid search ads can give you double the exposure in the paid listings. If you are an eCommerce advertiser who hasn’t taken advantage of PLAs you should set these up immediately.


Having a good feed

PLAs show when a user searches for a term that is relevant to your product, this is determined by your merchant centre feed. If your feed is bad, the matching is going to be poor. To improve your exposure on PLAs and the quality of terms you appear for, you need to have a keyword rich feed. For example, ensuring product names reflect the product and aren’t industry gobbledegook.

It is also important to ensure you are keeping your feed up to date. All new products should be added and products that don’t exist anymore should be removed. You want to make sure your feed is as tidy and as relevant as possible. There are companies out there who can manage this whole side of things for you if you don’t have the capabilities or time in house.


Utilise targeting

The default way of setting up a PLA campaign is to target “all products”. This means you have 1 ad group targeting every product in your feed. This means all products in your feed are targeted with 1 maximum cost per click. Whilst this is a quick way to give you a presence with PLAs I would recommend taking advantage of Google’s more specific targeting methods.

The autotargets functionality allows you to break your feed down using different feed attributes. The benefit of this is you can control (to an extent) what products are showing and can adjust your bid accordingly. There are 6 different feed attributes you can take advantage of: id, product type, brand, condition, adwords labels, adwords grouping. The attribute you choose to use will be based upon your feed and objectives.

PLA Targeting Options in AdWords

You may wish to split your feed into sections. The best way to do this would be through targeting via brand, type, labels or grouping. For example, if you were a shoe retailer who offered multiple brands, you might want to have an ad group per brand of shoe. This will allow you to see how different brands are performing and adjust your bid accordingly. This is easy and effective to set up, however the downside is you can’t easily see which product is showing for which search.

Looking in the search query reports, you may see you are showing for some terms which seem key to your offering for example “ralph lauren trainers”, however conversion rate might be low. This could be because the least attractive or competitive product you have is showing for this term. You might not be able to see this in your report very easily.

To combat the problem of data ambiguity I recommend splitting your feed out by product ID. Having an ad group by product ID, would mean that when you looked at the search query reports you would be able to analyse the queries you are showing for. This would enable you to improve your optimisation technique, analysing search query reports and bids at the most granular level possible. It is important to note, that you would want to update this as regularly as new products are added to the site.


Optimise Optimise Optimise!

To make the most out of PLAs it is key you are optimising your PLAs. There are 3 key tactics to this: bidding, search query reports and GA metrics. As discussed above, the level of targeting you choose will impact the level to which you can adjust bids. I would recommend (where possible) creating ad groups per individual product ID. This would allow you to see the exact performance when that product shows and you can increase or decrease your bids at a granular level. The metrics that will impact this will depend upon your account’s objective. Normally you would want to change your bidding strategy based upon sales, therefore you should look at the ad group ROI. (In AdWords you can easily see this by adding in the “conv. Value/cost” column).

It is important to remember that ad position isn’t a valid metric in PLAs, therefore if you aren’t tracking conversions you will need to look at  other metrics such as clicks, impressions and click-through rate. Importantly, PLAs are still enhanced campaigns. As well as adjusting CPC’s we are also able to edit our bid multipliers to ensure we are maximising exposure where conversion rate is higher. I recommend looking at all the available data for location, time of day and device and making adjustments where possible.

With PLAs it is important to link your Google Analytics account with your Adwords account. By doing this you will be able to add Google Analytics columns into your Adwords reports such as bounce rate, avg. visit duration, pages/visit and % new visits. These metrics will enable you to get a fuller picture of how your PLAs are performing.For example, if you have an ad group that is spending but not converting you could analyse the GA metrics to get a better understanding of what users are doing when they get to your site. If the ad group has a really high bounce rate, then you know that users aren’t finding what they are looking for when they are coming to your site.

With this information you may want to change the landing page the feed directs users to from a particular product. Alternatively you may want to check that the product people are seeing through PLAs is a true reflection of what you are offering. For example, if your PLA is actually for part of the product rather than the full product, users may click through thinking that they are getting an amazing deal when actually you are only offering an accessory. To combat this you would want to update the image in your feed. These GA metrics allow you to understand your traffic.


Search Query Reports & PLAs

One area that should be fully utilised is the search query report. As you don’t have control over keywords, Google is choosing relevant searches based upon your feed. It is really important to look through the search query reports and exclude irrelevant keywords or poor performing search terms. You might sell “ralph lauren blue trainers” but these may appear for simply “blue trainers” – which is more likely to have a low conversion rate. It is important to go through and exclude terms that are performing badly so you can maximise appearing on good quality traffic.

It is also good to check that the “right” product is being shown for search queries. If your feed is separated by product ID, you can easily see this. Look in your search query report at an ad group level – you can then see which products are generating your more generic terms. If you sell multiple styles of red Converse, you want to make sure that the generic traffic is coming through the right ad group. If everyone else is showing  adults all star red converse and you are showing children’s all stars for the search term “red converse”, you would want to add the term “red converse” as a negative in the children’s red converse product ad group in order to encourage the traffic to filter through to the adults red converse. You may also want to double check your product titles and descriptions in your feed to ensure they are optimised for “red converse”. If you don’t do this, you may get a lot of wasted clicks, as your red converse may seem a lot cheaper than competitors, however when people click through they realise you are showing them a child’s product. I recommend going through the SQRs every few days and then over time changing this to weekly.


Thanks for reading. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below!