What Are These Product Listing Ads All About?
Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are image ads that show up on the Google search results page for searches related to a specific product. PLAs display in their own prominently featured box. While the location varies, PLAs are always towards the top of the page and often display between the traditional PPC text ads and the organic results. As an example of the visual prominence, here are some PLAs triggered by the search “horse mask” with a text ad above them and an organic result below:
As you can see from the above example, the value of PLAs stems from their eye-catching visuals, prominent placement, large amount of real estate on the page, and immediate relevance to the search. I search for horse mask, I see a horse mask, and I’m one click away from that specific product page. There is no guess work. I can see the item, and even the price.
Product Listing Ads are not the simplest ads to setup and getting started can be a little daunting. Most importantly you will need a Google Merchant Center account with an active data feed of all the products that you would like to display in PLAs. This data feed can be generated and uploaded manually, or via API. It should contain basic product information (like title, description, and price) for each product. Once you have a Merchant Center Account and data feed you will link this with your AdWords account and create a PLA campaign (here are links to detailed instructions on setting up a Merchant Center account, and creating a PLA campaign).
Seems Hard. Why Should I Bother?
Google introduced PLAs in 2010 and their use really began to grow as Google phased out the free Google Shopping results feature. Early on not many advertisers were using PLAs, but their popularity has surged in the last two years and today PLAs are the fastest growing type of PPC ad in terms of ad spend.
A recent report from digital marketing technology provider IgnitionOne compared the growth of PLAs in Q4 2013 to standard text ads. They found that PLA impressions grew 355% more than text, PLA clicks grew 180% more than text, and PLA spend grew a whopping 432% more than traditional text ads. Clearly, the trend for retailers is towards PLAs making them an increasingly important market that should not be ignored.
Beyond just having a presence in a growing market, PLAs have also shown great performance. In the same study IgntionOne looked at click through rates for all of 2013. They found that PLAs averaged a 45% higher CTR than traditional text ads and had higher CTRs in every month of 2013 except January.
In addition to click through rates, PLAs deliver terrific revenue and ROI performance. Marketing technology firm Kenshoo recently released a report analyzing PLA performance. They found that in Q4 2013 global retail PLA revenue increased 269% over Q4 2012. Equally important, the revenue increase was accompanied by terrific efficiency. In Q4 2013 PLAs averaged nearly a 9:1 return on ad spend returning $8.84 for every ad dollar spent.
I’m Sold. What’s Next for PLAs?
Google always likes to keep things interesting for those of us who manage PPC campaigns. In early 2014 Google plans to roll out a new option for creating and managing PLAs called Shopping Campaigns. Shopping Campaigns, which are currently available only to a select few advertisers, allow for more robust grouping of products. Currently, in order to target a group of products to show for a particular PLA campaign, the products have to be labeled directly in the product feed. This is a tedious process and requires access to the Merchant Center account and data feed. With Shopping Campaigns you can group products directly from AdWords without having to deal with the product data feed. Shopping Campaigns will also offer more robust historical performance data that you can filter by product group and even individual product. Existing PLAs will still work even after Google rolls out Shopping Campaigns, and they are putting a process in place to switch existing PLAs over to Shopping Campaigns.
If you are an internet retailer and you aren’t using PLAs you’re missing out on a tremendous revenue stream and ceding valuable search results page real estate to your competitors.