Contact us

PLAs: A Deep Look into Product Listing Ads with Google7 min read

7 min read

PLAs were the biggest growth product for Google in 2013 and continue to grow at a huge rate. The smart money is on mastering this product as soon as you can both from a client and agencies perspective.

Product Listing Ads appear when someone searches for your products on and Google will show the customer a picture of your item, its price and your shop name. Customers who click on your ad will be directed to your website where they can buy your item.

PLA success is determined like everything else in search by 4 key principles


Process and Knowledge – key knowledge gained from our accounts team

PLAs – What we have learnt – Below are the findings from bid price data, ad display data and click through rate data and external 3rd party impression data.

  • Bid higher to have more impression share
  • CTR remains relatively unchanged by position – it’s all about improving relevancy/promotional activity
  • Higher bids often mean lower CTR – this is the mapping effect of broad match to less relevant terms!

PLAs – Getting the best results for your clients – the top 12 variables to improve!

1 – Segmentation. Breaking out key product areas / brands for more granularity is important.

  • Not all products are made equal and bidding separately depending on the margin is important. For example if a retailer makes a larger margin on shoes than they do on t-shirts then we want to bid differently. We prefer technology to make the bidding decisions; but without breaking it down technology doesn’t work effectively.

2 – Deeper segmentation.

  • Shopping campaigns give advertisers five customisable columns; PLA’s had just two. Recently we have been building custom columns for margins – and optimising for in the above example shoes + margin 75% margin differently to shoes + 25% margin and have improved CPA by 35% and revenues by an increase of 155% for an apparel client.

3 – Deeper segmentation into customised performance groupings.

  • With custom columns we now have the ability to go further and target Top Performers / Best Sellers the same naming convention being used by Google.
  • Top Performers are what the PPC team and clients see in terms of performance – most often not just data led metrics like highest sales volume but more commonly the areas of focus for a client. We use the account understanding to bid more aggressively to maximise each and every businesses requirements through this channel.
  • We can also target best sellers – essentially what the client sees as their top products across all channels. This strategy is ultimately more efficient when run in conjunction with technology after the operations teams and devised the segmentation to maximise performance

4 – Negatives.

  • Everyone understands how classic PPC negatives work – but how Google is matching PLA ads to feeds is a bit more of a mystery and requires continual testing to perfect efficiency in this channel.
  • This mapping unlike with PPC often requires us to add extremely weird negatives to ensure targeting efficiencies but this process delivers huge success with daily refinements from our editorial teams
  • While technology is very limited in its ability to assist in this area we hope as the Google product continues to evolve more relevance follows.

5 – Copy testing.

  • Exactly like Paid Search we need to continually refine and improve messaging on the PLA ads to promote offers / sales other USPs.
  • Having 10% off or other promotional offers as determined by marketing strategy or sales periods, has been hugely successful for our clients.

6 – Feed relevancy

  • This is a huge element for great performance.
  • Feed relevancy can be as simple or complicated as the feed we are working with. A simple starting strategy is to select key products you want to promote, group a set of keywords related to that product and integrate them in to the feed description.
  • So if a client has a killer product “red widgets” but we’re seeing a lot of conversions for “men’s red widgets” in the search query reports we would introduce a Titles and Descriptions rewrite to increase relevancy.

7 – Include your whole feed

  • For example, a consumer is looking for Fireman Sam Pyjamas, but we haven’t got that specific product in your feed, it means we might end up showing an ad for Fireman Sam DVDs.
  • You’ll potentially get some get the traffic, but the relevance is weaker and you’ll just be wasting ££

8 – Make sure all feed attributes are utilised

  • If your selling Fireman Sam pyjamas – make sure you include the sizes you sell/have in stock – otherwise you will again just be wasting ££

9 – SEO’ing your Feed – make the most of Product Titles

  • Put the core product attributes and key intents at the beginning of the title, ideally within the first 2 – 3 words. In the first 25 characters write your message in the same was as you would for Paid Search optimising for space while maximising impact.

Typical Feed Title

“French Connection UK Dress; Maxi Dress; Black”

Change this to

“FCUK Stunning Black Maxi Dress”

  • When you optimise a clients feed focus on priorities – sales targets and volumes – highest margins, etc
  • The next 45 characters are for Features and Benefits – think reaffirming why they should choose you or your product – this part needs access to editorial teams as here’s where you can make one of the biggest efficiencies and performance wins for your PLA accounts.
  • By product type test – does size and brand work best – does size and colour work best – does brand and colour work best – test, test and test again if you want to succeed!

10 – SEO’ing your Feed – Thinking like a consumer

  • Optimize the content of your feed based on how users search for your products – think “taupe t-shirts” and re-write “brown t-shirts”

11 – Focus on Quality Score Principles for the Feed

  • Test – If we leave the bid the same but optimise the feed and impression share increases we would suggest relevancy has increased. It’s like trying to tweak Quality Score to improve Lost Impression Share to Rank stats. Don’t just push bids; optimise the feed to boost QS principles of relevancy first.

12 – Shopping Campaigns – Human understanding of the Data reaps rewards

  • Data is clear, concise and insightful.
  • With shopping campaigns we are able to provide more insight on what products are working, how we’re benchmarking against competitors and our market share. We can help clients more strategically understand what is going on with their feed

Why Tech?

  • 3rd party tech is need to perfectly optimise the data interaction points within a PLA account, we know tech like DS3, Marin, Acquisio, Kenshoo etc helps immensely when it comes to bid management performance. In general I’d say algorithmic changes to bids make a lot more sense than manual bidding. It’s able to collect, interrogate and act on data at a scale that people simply can’t. That said in our experience there is little benefit from third party without a master of the reigns
  • Shopping is a great development – but requires in depth knowledge of the client in order to action accordingly from a segmentation perspective
  • We have demonstrated great results through sole management (without tech) but once migrating accounts to a tech solution in every case results have improved!

In Summary

  • PLAs are a very exciting part of the PPC mix and the biggest growth area for Google in 2013
  • PLA success ultimately requires Human brains, Client Information and Artificial intelligence to get the best results for clients
  • Any of the above without the other and you don’t have the efficiencies

PLAs require the Walter White (agency), the “product” ingredients (Client Feed) and the Lab (Technology) – without any of the above ingredients – there really is no “Heisenberg” effect on performance

A Word From Google

“We’ve seen Product Listing Ads (PLAs) become an incredibly popular format with both advertisers and consumers over the past 12 months.  In general PLAs obtain two times the CTR of regular text ads in the same position for the same queries, and enable a far more visual shopping experience for the user.  By showing shoppers exactly what you have for sale before they even reach your site, they are more likely to click on your ad, make a purchase, and increase your ROI.

On top of this, PLAs often show on queries for which merchants are not currently showing text ads. This means that the product targeting technology is enabling them to access vast amount of long tail queries that previously they were not capturing.

Google has been listening to clients, agencies and consumers already using the products and is investing significantly in developing out our Google Shopping proposition in 2014 to connect merchants with potential customers even more efficiently. Croud are an agency who have been at the forefront of these new developments and have significant experience working with merchants to optimise their approach to the world of Google Shopping.” 

Caroline Davies, Industry Head, Google.