7 Essential Skills for Managing PLA Campaigns

weighing-scalesWhen thinking about how to manage an emerging (and growing!) product listing ad (PLA) channel, retailers often have a tricky personnel decision to make. Should you hire someone with deep SEO know-how or someone who is an expert at managing the SEM campaigns to manage this program? Or does it require a little of both skill sets?

This article will break down the critical skills required to stay on top of this complex and rapidly changing channel.

In a previous post I spoke about six ways marketers can improve the quality and performance of their PLA campaigns. Translating those objectives to core marketer skill sets, here are the skills necessary to win in PLA.

1. Scaled Data Feed Management

While both roles require an ability to be nimble with large data sets, for many retailers, product feeds are massive and change quite regularly.

PLA managers need to possess the tools and skills to process these data sets regularly (often multiple times per day) while also adding value to them as a response to changes in inventory, performance, competition, etc.

Edge: SEO

2. AdWords Campaign Optimization

Great search marketing managers spend a bulk of their waking lives in AdWords (or other SEM campaign management tools). They are well versed in the nuances of the organization of ad groups into campaigns, managing keyword negatives, finding opportunities in search query reports, etc.

While PLA may seem strictly like a feeds program to some, managing PLA effectively requires a tight focus on the quality and relevance of the paid clicks coming into the site.

Edge: SEM

3. Bid Management

Bid management clearly has some impact on the PLA marketplace, although we don’t yet know just how important bidding is in determining presence or rank in these marketplaces. To that end, SEM managers tend to have more experience working in bidded marketplaces than SEO managers, since they typically get their traffic “for free.”

We have seen some recent developments from many of the third-party bid tools that would say it will ultimately require complex algorithms and custom logic to compete adequately in PLA, so having experience with these types of tools should be an asset for PLA practitioners as well.

Edge: SEM

4. Content to Intent Alignment

PLA involves targeting user intent with the appropriate product from a retailer’s portfolio. This requires a strong understanding of what is in that portfolio from a content perspective, and also an in-depth knowledge of how consumers actually search for those products in the real world. Often times, there’s a lot of manipulation necessary to make those two things (product content and user intent) speak with one another.

This job typically falls to the SEO manager who is tasked with aligning site content to how people search. PLA management isn’t a big leap from that perspective.

Edge: SEO

5. Third-Party (Google) Arbitration

Both SEM and SEO managers are highly dependent on Google and its policies in helping them deliver against their business goals. Often times Google’s actions, whether intentional or unintentional, can have a strong positive or negative impact on campaign performance. PLA is no different.

Google’s algorithms ultimately determine match rates, quality scores, and ranking in their marketplaces. A great PLA manager will possess the skills to navigate through Google’s policies, people, and processes to gain performance advantage for his/her brand in PLA.

Edge: Even

6. Empirical Testing

While not utilized nearly enough yet, there are huge testing opportunities available to PLA managers. Whether its the content of feed fields (e.g., title and description), the image that gets displayed for a given product, the structure of product targets, or the promotional text assigned to the products, PLA is an experimenter’s paradise.

No one gets successful in either the SEO or SEM worlds without a strong penchant for experimentation and an understanding of statistical significance.

Edge: Even

7. Landing Page Optimization

It’s sometimes easy to forget, with all of the feed management talk, that the content of your landing page matters to your PLA campaign as well. This is Google after all!

While both SEO and SEM gurus have heavy landing page responsibilities within marketing, SEO managers have to focus on both content, meta data, and conversion funnels in order to drive their results.

Slight Edge: SEO

As you might expect, the final score is pretty even, with the slightest edge going to SEO.

Bottom Line

Retailers need both skill sets in spades to manage PLA programs effectively. Regardless of who ultimately manages the PLA spend for your business, you had better make sure he/she has a direct line to the other side of the house. This represents a strong opportunity for the two sides to further collaborate to optimize the entire page experience for your brand.

Related reading

Five ways to target ads on Google that don’t involve keywords
small budget guide to testing ad copy, landing pages, and more
keyword research tools you can use for free
Five ways PPC customer support can help SMBs