Google's Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have become one of the premier ways for online retailers to promote products and increase visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs). This holiday shopping season, global retailers doubled down on their PLA spending with a 196 percent year-over-year (YoY) increase. This investment paid off as retailers achieved a nearly nine-to-one return for every dollar spent on PLAs.
This was only the second holiday season with paid Google Shopping ads as the default, but these results show PLAs gaining momentum quickly. PLAs provide efficiency for online retailers and should be expected to continue to grow well past the peak shopping season.
As this format matures, the ecosystem will continue to innovate with techniques to seamlessly manage and integrate PLAs into marketers' overall digital plans. For consumers, this maturity means a more robust and tailored online shopping experience; online shoppers may already be noticing some of these improvements.
As for marketers, the time to capitalize on Google Product Listing Ads is now. As 2014 gets underway, marketers should consider the following ways to take PLA programs to the next level.
1. Refine Bidding and Optimization Strategies
With the introduction of Google Shopping campaigns, product inventory and attributes are integrated into the AdWords interface to create more visibility and control for retailers. So merchants can now access product inventory details directly within AdWords, not just through the feed.
By accessing product-level performance information, marketers can identify the outliers for each product target (soon to be known as product groups) and find ways to optimize their programs. When marketers pinpoint products that perform really well within a broad product target, they should remove them and create more specific product targets so they can manage these bids separately.
As retailers update product targets, they should adjust their negatives when appropriate. Negatives offer important safeguards to ensure product targets aren't too broad and that they don't match too many queries and render campaigns inefficient.
2. Take Advantage of New Local-Focused Innovations
Local marketers can now get in on the PLA action. Google announced two new local features for PLAs in October – local availability and local storefronts. With these additions, PLAs tie in to physical store locations and available offline stock.
The local information shown in these ads gets pulled from the product feed; so marketers must ensure feed accuracy. Since details like address, hours, and directions are shared, retailers should treat local storefronts like their other online business listings and maintain consistency and up-to-date information.
3. Apply Cross-Channel Knowledge
Marketers will get more out of PLA programs if they track, attribute, and report across their entire paid search efforts – both text ads and the PLAs. With an integrated search program in place, marketers should consider expanding to an even more holistic view that includes social activity.
It's important for retailers to understand how these channels work together to drive consumers to research, browse, and ultimately purchase their products. As mentioned in my last column, behavioral data collected through PLA activity can be used to influence cross-channel decisions.
Marketers should monitor PLA performance to analyze top performing products and leverage the resulting demand signals to create relevant ads on channels such as Facebook. These search triggers can be used to help align search and social strategies and can be combined with sophisticated audience targeting to reach new, valuable audiences on Facebook with ads for products that are most likely to perform.
4. Don't Forget About the Basics
When setting up PLA campaigns, marketers should remember that it all starts with the feed. A clean and intuitive feed creates the foundation for success with PLAs. They should then put themselves in the mindset of consumers and optimize each product in the feed with the information that's relevant to they search and shop.
Maintain accurate product and pricing information with relevant landing pages. This not only creates a positive experience for shoppers and reduces non-converting click; it also makes them more likely to come back.
Finally, due to the visual nature of PLAs, retailers should be sure to use impactful images and avoid using generic stock images that won't stand out from the competition. Marketers should test image varieties to determine what works best and ensure the image being used is relevant to the product being promoted.
PLAs have become a key component of driving online sales, and as the format becomes more sophisticated, retailers will continue to have more opportunities to take advantage of PLAs in 2014 and beyond.