When PLA’s were introduced as a major part of Google strategy a few months ago, most SEM’s felt like Google handed them a black box. Since that time, Google has done just as they said they would: make PLA’s a serious driving force for any competent e-commerce accounts.
In one quarter, PLA’s went from showing up on a select few auctions to appearing in the vast majority of e-commerce auctions. The bottom line is that if you are in the e-commerce space and have quality images and competitive prices, there is no (good) reason not to advertise on PLA’s.
In my e-commerce accounts, I’ve found that PLA CPA’s tend to be about 15% lower than regular non-brand, while CPC’s tend to be roughly 50% lower. The other main benefit to running PLA campaigns is that you can fill in the gaps between keywords as the search queries are being matched to your merchant center feed, thus allowing you to use these campaigns for keyword discovery.
The big knock on PLA campaigns has been learning how to control the query flow for SEM’s. PLA’s were a relatively unused product that only appeared on a select few auctions before the big Q3 push made by Google last year to increase PLA ad space, and was therefore largely ignored. Now it is a force in the industry, and adjusting to it has become mandatory for anyone working in the e-commerce space. Learning how to bid effectively and controlling query paths have become paramount.
Query path is the part that I personally find particularly difficult, because it requires learning how to manage feeds. When I worked in house for e-commerce, we had a specialized feed marketing team who handled feeds for PLAs and comparison shopping engines. Since coming to an agency, I’ve learned that was the exception, not the rule; working on PLA’s for most clients requires you to learn how to optimize the feed as much as learning how to control it within Google.
Most companies’ feeds are haphazardly put together in order to get something (anything) up so that products can begin showing in PLA’s and Google Shopping. The first step is looking into how to fix the feed (note: if you have copy writers at your disposal, this is where you would want to use them).
Primary elements when managing the data feed are:
- Info/readability balance: Titles and descriptions that are keyword-rich but not keyword-stuffed – write them so that they include all pertinent information while still being readable by humans
- Must be 70 characters max; anything longer will be truncated
- Should be front-loaded with important information
- Titles will only show the first couple of words in PLA ads, so present your most important information first
- Remember that this is the most important portion of the feed in terms of what queries you will show up for
- Make them between 500-1000 (words? Characters?)
- Don’t worry about where your keyword placement is in the description; this won’t show up anywhere in your PLA ads
- Accurate Pricing
- Remember that Google will ding you for inaccuracy
- If you have package pricing, you have to use the lowest possible price someone can add items into the cart for
- Example: if the user has to buy at least 25 of a product at $1, the price needs to be $25, not $1
- High-integrity images and data
- Clean up broken images and make sure that all product data is on your feed
- Remember that if Google feels your data quality is poor, you may experience low Quality Scores on your PLA campaigns
- Make sure your Google Product Category is as targeted as possible
- As with search, run your URLs through a URL checker, and remove 404′s and fix redirects
The bidding process is where you have considerably more control than in days past; it’s compatible with AdWords Editor, thus allowing you to make wholesale changes. Typically I like to choose two levels of granularity, but you can get a little more in-depth than that if you choose. I tend to focus on either AdWords Labels or Product Types, with my secondary level being the product id.
- Set campaigns by shared goals for reporting purposes, then
- Within the campaigns use product type, or AdWords labels to break down products with similar styles which will share similar search queries.
- Break out ad groups to match for your primary targeting option (AdWords labels or product types)
- Within the ad group create custom targets that focus on your first targeting option and your individual product ids, this will allow you to see which products are showing up for which queries and give visibility into which products are converting.
- Use search query reports at the targeting level to test effectiveness of various feed copy testings
- Bid up on products which have highest conversion rates
- Create an ad group to use as a catch all which has your primary targeting option (AdWords labels or product types) without any product ids in those ad groups
- Make sure you bid this down below your bids on the ID level
- These ad groups are just for things that would otherwise slip through the cracks
Setting up PLA’s in this way will take a lot of the guessing work out of it, you can control bids at a sku level so that you’re bidding highest on your most profitable products, and you can use the search query at the sky level to help with testing. For testing new feed copy, take a handful of high volume skus and test different title, and description copy and compare the search queries for those skus before the new copy and after. Use this as a guess and check process to figure out what works. It requires a lot of testing and a fair amount of man hours, but PLA’s are here to stay so you better get good at them.