Become an Expert on Google Shopping, Chapter 1: Google Shopping, Then and Now

November 1, 2016 Joe Hall

Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for Google Shopping are one of the most important ad types available, and one of the year's biggest winners. Get a crash course on how they've changed, what you need to know, and actionable tips you can use right now for these powerful ad units in our first chapter - and stay tuned for the rest of our seven-part blog series on Google Shopping.

Product Listing Ads (PLAs) Chapter 1 - Then and Now

Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are a hugely important part of the search engine advertising ecosystem - for Google Shopping in specific. But you knew that, didn’t you? Now that right-rail ads are a thing of the past, PLAs are arguably the biggest winner in paid search, with top placement on search engine results pages (SERP) and massive clickthrough rate (CTR).

Again, you knew all this. But did you know what has changed about PLAs and Google Shopping - and how you can get the most out of them today?

A run-through of PLAs for Google Shopping...quickly, now!
Let’s do a quick run-through of PLAs for Google Shopping and how they work to make sure we’re all on the same page, and then we’ll go straight to the most important changes you need to know. Of course, PLAs are the image-plus-text ads that appear in both Google Search and Google Shopping.

With the removal of right-rail text ads, PLAs have essentially become the new right rail, appearing either at the top of search results or to the right of them. PLAs are powered by feed-based marketing campaigns and require both an AdWords and a Merchant Center account. They were first launched in 2011, but like the fortunes of the Golden State Warriors, let’s just say they’ve changed over the years since then. (Yes. “Changed” is how we’ll phrase that. Moving on!)

How things have changed
While Google Shopping debuted as a free service to which anyone could submit listings, Google quickly added paid inclusion in 2012 to reduce clutter and ensure higher quality. PLAs for Google Shopping have only grown in popularity - digital agency Merkle estimates that by 2014, PLAs accounted for 20% of all Google clicks.

By 2015, Microsoft Bing launched “Bing Product Ads,” which serve much the same purpose, while Google launched new SERP for mobile, desktop and tablet, making PLAs especially prominent on mobile and leading to even higher click-through rates (CTR) than before. This led to triple-digit growth for mobile Google Shopping impressions during that year’s holiday shopping season. 

With Google Shopping showing such huge growth, and with Bing Product Ads more or less mirroring that functionality, these important ad units will likely continue to be big, big players in the digital ad space. It’s also noteworthy that Google Shopping impression inventory is expanding dramatically with Google Search Partners as PLA ads appear on other search portals, which offer real opportunities for some merchants - but competition is also growing as attention shifts from text ads to PLAs for Google Shopping.

What’s changed
The early days of Google Shopping adoption were different - you’d create a single Google Shopping campaign for all your products. Maintenance was usually a matter of taking whatever you got from your engineers for your product feed and making manual adjustments Updates from publishers were infrequent at best. Those were simpler times.

PLAs - Add Warriors jerseys to your cart. Heartbreak not included.

Google Shopping: What we all need to know now
(Welcome to the part you skipped to. Be honest - you did skip to this part, didn’t you?)

The past is the past - so what about Google Shopping today? While they are definitely more eye-catching than text ads, they don’t let advertisers target specific keywords - only excluding the ones you don’t want.

Because Google reads your feed and determines what keywords are relevant to your products, then matches PLAs to queries, as an advertiser, you don’t necessarily have full control of how/when your ads surface. (There are subtle tactics you can use to nudge your ads to more closely line up with search results, such as keyword inclusion, which we’ll cover shortly.) 

Your bids obviously affect what terms your ads will match. We know there isn't a formal Quality Score for SKUs,  but there is an undocumented Quality Score-like feature that makes ads more likely to surface based on tailoring your product feed content. Still, your day-to-day approach to Google Shopping matters, which means keyword stuffing and pop-up windows are both to be avoided! Still, the more tailored your site, and your product feed, are to your target queries, the less you'll have to pay for a chance to show up. 

Speaking of showing up, here are some quick-hit tactics you can bring back to your accounts today to improve your Google Shopping performance. Use these tips today and stay tuned for more updated tactics in the next chapters of our 7-part blog series:

  1. Keyword insertion -  Include your specific keyword in your Google Shopping title and body description
    This seemingly obvious (but nonetheless, important) tactic helps nudge search results in the right direction. But avoid keyword stuffing! We’re not doing 2001-era black-hat SEO here - keyword stuffing your ads so they become semantic nonsense will incur penalties.
     
  2. No landing page popups
    Same issue here - if your landing page contains pop-ups, your account may get suspended by Google. Woe betide the advertiser whose account gets suspended during the holiday rush!
     
  3. Running Google Shopping ads only? Bite the bullet and turn on Search Partners
    It’s only natural to be wary of including your inventory on Search Partners - you have no transparency and no control over how or where your ads will be served. However, Search Partner inventory tends to account for, at most, 10-20% of your total, and they do quite well for product listings. (Note: They do not do nearly as well for text ads. If your listings are all text-based, you can give these a pass.)
     
  4. Follow the rules 
    As usual, Google has also released its own set of rules. While we recommend the above tactics to begin with, it also never hurts to make sure your campaigns are Google-compliant:
  • Enable conversion tracking
  • Use an enhanced cost-per-click (eCPC) bidding strategy. eCPC increases your bid for clicks that are likely to lead to a conversion/sale on your website (This is a no-brainer!)
         - Remember - you can ask for eCPC reports from your Google reps
  • Separate and manage top sellers separately, and add low-volume items to an “everything else” product group
         - We advise doing this by campaign, and adjusting campaign priority:
         - Set the campaign with your best SKUs to “high priority,” while setting everything else (low volume or new SKUs) to “medium priority”
  • Make sure your Google Product Categories are up to date, since changes come monthly
  • Keep your Product Categories as granular as possible (don’t be lazy!)

That covers our first chapter on Google Shopping. Be sure to join us for future chapters, in which we’ll cover feed maintenance, account structure, bidding strategies and advanced tactics to keep you ahead of the curve.

About the Author

Joe Hall

Joe Hall is a product marketing manager at QuanticMind. He uses his subject matter expertise to help companies take their advertising to the next level. Joe previously worked at the prestigious agency 3Q Digital as an Account Lead and earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Commerce, Marketing from Santa Clara University.

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