The Elite SEM Product Listing Ad Best Practice Guide

By Tinuiti Team

Product listing ads (PLAs) are continuing to evolve and create a more engaging user experience. These search ads have proven to deliver strong click through and conversion rates by capturing users’ attention with the product’s image and educating them with the pricing information. They allow advertisers to promote individual items within their feed quickly and efficiently, and require less hands-on management than search and display campaigns. You can see performance metrics for each individual product target and they appear on long-tailed search queries that you may not have previously bid on.

When paired with search ads and optimized organic results, PLAs give advertisers the ability to take up more real estate on the page, and therefore, increase their share of search results and opportunity for the user to click on their site/ad.

With Bing Product Ads scheduled to launch sometime this summer, we thought what better time than now to provide our readers with a guide on how to take full advantage of this new product? Keep the following tips in mind, and your campaigns will be in tip-top shape in no time!


1.     Optimize Data Feed

To optimize your data feed, be sure to include descriptive titles and vivid descriptions.

Instead of using keywords, like search and display campaigns do, PLAs use the name and description of the items to decide which ads to serve.

If you’re a smaller retailer, or if your product feed only has a few hundred items, go in and re-write the title and descriptions yourself. If you know anyone with some SEO expertise, even better! Ask them to help you build up the feed.

Next, run the whole feed to help you reveal new products that perform well; these could also be used for keyword targeted campaigns.

Don’t forget to pay close attention to errors and warnings shown on the Data Quality Tab in the Merchant Center. Address these issues as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimize any lost traffic/revenue. Also, check to see how your PLA is showing up against competitors.


2.     Get Granular

The first step in making sure your product listing ads perform at their best is to make sure that your feed is classified into very precise groups.

An easy way to do this is to create labels within your feed. Labels can help you group your products into seasonal products, or help you catalog items into different price brackets.

Next, make sure your ad groups are as granular as possible. Search queries are mapped to individual PLA ad groups and targets in AdWords. For this reason, you want to make sure that you have product-specific ad groups for each item in your Merchant Center feed.

Take the example below:

Ad group: Fans

–        Target>product_type=ceiling fan

–        Target>product_type=floor fan AND adwords_labels=$25-$55

–        Target>product_type=pedestal fan AND brand=honeywell AND adwords_labels=$25-$55


Deep segmentation will allow you to choose specific fields (such as product type, condition, SKU, etc) when setting up your PLAs, which will in turn give you more control over your budget, bidding, ad copy, and targeting.


Bidding efficiently at your most granular target level(s) is the best way to maximize your product feed’s potential.


3.     Always Have A “Catch-All” Target

Since you can’t bid on specific keywords for PLAs, and search queries are matched by the unique product title and descriptions, it’s important to make sure you have a “catch-all” or “all products” target in your campaign.

By neglecting to do so, you run the risk of missing traffic to relevant products in your feed.

Always set this target to the lowest bid in your group. Bidding is one of the most important components in PLA campaigns, and having your “All Products” target set at a higher bid than others in your groups would potentially cause a much higher cost per click than you might have otherwise paid.

Validate, Validate, Validate!

An easy mistake to make when setting up PLAs is choosing the incorrect product criteria for an ad group to target.

If you’re targeting an ad group by a product type, make sure you select “product type” and not “AdWords label” or “brand” in the drop down.


Make sure you copy and paste the specified criteria directly from your feed. Any punctuation, plurals, capitalization, or extra spaces before or after a label can prevent your ad group from validating.

By clicking “validate” before saving, you’re ensuring that you’ve entered the correct criteria with the appropriate label, and making sure that the target will be taking your intended item from your feed.


5.     Differentiate Your Ads

There’s an option to include text to accompany your image and pricing information as part of your product listing ad (not much, but some) – use it! Do you have a sale or promotion going on? Do you offer free shipping? Differentiate yourself from the competition, and let your potential customers know!


Change your ad copy in intervals and compare their click through rates and conversion rates to best optimize performance.


6.     Actively Manage Your Bids

Product listing ads are known to be more expensive than search and display ads, but more often have higher click through and conversion rates. Most often, only the PLAs ranking in the top 3 positions are eligible to show. For this reason, you want to make sure that you set aggressive CPC bids. We suggest you use segmentation to bid on targets accordingly and to achieve lower CPCs and CPAs.

It can take a full day after set-up until your ads begin to show. If after that time, they still aren’t getting any impressions, increase your bids.

Once you have enough data, pull weekly search query reports, and optimize at least bi-weekly. Test and modify your bids, and experiment with ad copy variations. PLA campaigns can work like Display campaigns in that search queries are theme-based. Also like Display campaigns, bids are at the target level, not the keyword level.

Finally, make sure you’re monitoring your budget! Have a good idea of what you want to spend, because Google will typically figure out a way to spend that money. Start with a goal in mind, and then tweak your bids accordingly to make sure spend doesn’t get out of control.

If you have a small business, and can’t afford to bid aggressively, product listing ads may not be for you. Optimize your campaign first, and if still not performing effectively, think about pausing. Neglecting bid and budget management could cause your business to pay WAY too much for your traffic or lose highly-qualified leads as a result of bidding too low. Active bid management is vital for success.


7.     Monitor Search Queries

Run weekly search query reports to add irrelevant keywords to your negative KW list.

Utilizing negative keywords to properly funnel queries to appropriate targets is essential to effecting PLA management.

As more advertisers start to invest in PLAs, competition for search queries will increase. Use these reports to identify which queries are triggering specified targets, and add negatives to funnel them into desired targets.


8.     Use Auto-Targets

Once your feed has been running, and you accumulate enough data to evaluate performance, you should consider using auto-targets.

Auto-targets allow you to experiment with your product’s exposure and will simplify your optimization time significantly. They’ll assist you in identifying which items have the highest ROI, and enable you to adjust your bids and budgets accordingly.

Since you can group targets by brand, promotion, label, product type, ID, etc, using this tab gives you even more flexibility when optimizing.

Using this feature can help you increase conversions and decrease your CPC. Get started by visiting the “Auto Targets” tab in the AdWords interface right away!


9.     Match Up Metrics

Make sure that the metrics in Google AdWords and Google Analytics match up.

If they don’t (or at least aren’t similar), you probably have a tracking issue. Make sure you resolve any problems to ensure accurate reporting.


Want to learn more? Check out Google Product Listing Ads  and Bing Product Ads and get ready to launch and/or expand your product listing ad campaigns today! Also, don’t miss the Elite Thinks: Product Listing Ads and sign up for the Elite SEM Newsletter  to keep up-to-date with the industry’s latest news and happenings.


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