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Five Tips For Better Google Shopping PLA Performance

Guest Blog by Mark Simon

Paid Google product listings (PLAs) accounted for 17 percent of ad spend at the search engine this past Q4 2012. Across the entire search engine market, PLAs accounted for 10.7 percent of overall spend — almost as big a slice as that accounted for by Bing and Yahoo. PLAs – which power Google’s now-paid shopping service (formerly known as Google Base and Froogle) had only been introduced in October, so the spend ramp up was especially impressive.

Okay – we know that PLAs are working out for Google. But how are they performing for marketers?  Is there performance comparable to tried and true text ads? A report by Adobe comparing PLA to text ad performance in Q4 notes that PLA CTR is an astounding 34 percent higher than for text ads on Google’s SERP. But the same report found that AOV for PLAs is 12 percent lower than text ads — a function of the fact that many PLAs are directed at price-sensitive shoppers. ROI and CPC for both PLAs and text ads were roughly equivalent.

PLAs – love them or hate them – are here to stay, so here are five tips that we’ve found have been helpful for our clients as they design and deploy campaigns based on the PLA format.

1. Coordinate PLA with CSE Efforts

Although PLA creative and text is managed through Adwords, bidding is executed at the product level, thus being managed like a CSE listing. Your teams will need to manage each program separately while integrating the results from each. For example, if you learn that a particular set of PLAs are well, you can use this intelligence to build out keywords related to this product group.

2. Maintain Separate PLA and PPC Budgets.

PLA campaigns — like PPC campaigns — can blow through a lot of money in a short period of time, so mistakes can be expensive. Until you are completely comfortable, you may find it useful to set aside a specific PLA budget apart from PPC with a budget cap to avoid unpleasant surprises.

3. Phase PLA In

Like PPC campaigns, PLA campaigns need to “learn” where their optimal profitability settings are. One approach we’ve found valuable in the campaign learning process is to launch a PLA campaign with a client’s full catalog using an initial starting bid for all products. Categories or products that fail to meet expectations can then be systematically purged until the campaign reaches a base level of efficiency, after which further, more incremental tweaks can be made.

4. Get Creative

PLAs are visually eye-catching, although many marketers currently use stock images and boilerplate copy to populate them. You can strongly differentiate your offers by using better, wittier ad copy, custom images, in your PLA creative – this can make a big difference when price is not a strong differentiator.

5. Monitor, Test, and Refine

You will need to continually monitor PLA results, make appropriate adjustments in response to test results and seasonal changes, and take other hands-on action.

Make sure your team is prepared for this level of engagement. The good news is that the insights that your team learns about PLA performance can be ploughed back into your PPC and other online marketing efforts, making them all more efficient.

About the Author – Mark Simon

Mark Simon is senior vice president of sales and marketing at Didit, a digital advertising agency specializing in paid search, online display advertising, CSE feed management, SEO and Social Media. Mark has also served within industry organizations, holding the position of co-chair of the IAB Search Evangelism Committee, as well as being on the Shop.org member services committee and the DMA Research Forum Panel.

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