Important Changes to Google PLAs and How to Optimize your listings

Yoav Maor / July 11, 2016

This article is part of a 2 post series about Google’s Product Listing Ads (PLAs). We will walk you through recent changes in PLAs, and how to create an effective PLA that will drive additional customers to your site.

Product Listing Ads (PLA) are cost-per-click ads that online merchants can purchase through Ad-Words. These ads appear in Google search page results on the top section of the page. Product Listing ads differ from “regular” Ad-Words ads in two very significant ways:

  1. They feature a product image
  2. They are not keyword based – they are focused on products and product categories

As an example, in the search results below, the top two listings are Ad-Words ads, while the images to the right are Product Listing Ads.

pla1

Product information that is displayed in Product Listing Ads is drawn from the product data feed. Google maintains a list of required attributes (which varies slightly by country) and failure to provide the correct information for any specific required attribute can results in that product being suspended. Google has recently made a seemingly small change to the required attributes, and now requires that the attributes in the data feed be an exact match to the information on the product landing page. The most likely occurrence of such a violation would be when describing colors.

Previously, merchants were required to use standard colors in the product feed, but were able to use more specific colors on the product landing page. A teal sweater (on the product page) might have been described as “green” in the data feed. With the recent change, merchants are no longer required to just use a “standard” color in the product data feed, they can use any specific color, but whatever color is listed in the feed is expected to to be the same exact color listing on the product page. If the data does not match, the listing can be suspended.

This requirements is not limited to “only” colors, it applies to all required attributes – if any required attribute is listed differently on the feed compared to the product page, the listing can be suspended. There is another category of attributes which are recommended – if data from the product page is not an exact match to data in the product feed for a recommended attribute (of there is no information provided), Google will not penalize the listing.

In addition to the change with required attributes, Google has quietly introduced another change to Product Listing Ads. Anytime the word “best” or “top” will be used in search queries related to products, the PLAs’ will display a numeric ranking – allowing potential shoppers to “see” numeric rankings for sellers.

On mobile devices, top ranked sellers feature a blue flag. The rankings are based on a combination of user reviews and several other factors used to rank PLAs (more information about rankings and how to improve yours will be coming in our next article). Google has been experimenting with this since as far back as 2014, but only recently has this become the new standard. This is an example of what the numeric rankings look like on a desktop:

pla2

 

Exactly how effective or worthwhile are Product Listing Ads? A recent study has found that the first quarter of 2016 saw an increase in revenue from PLAs of over 50% year over year. ChannelAdvisor reported that over the the 2015 Holiday shopping season, PLAs’ produced over 30% more sales than they did in 2014. Google is certainly pushing PLAs in a very meaningful way as well.

Back in January 2016, Google was testing a new search page results format which heavily favored PLAs, showing 16 product listing ads in a “standard” search result. While this model does not appear to have become the official standard, a typical search result will return PLAs in very highly visible locations – top of the page, middle of the page and there have also been reports of PLA results showing on the bottom of the page as well.

In part two of this series, we will walk you through how to build an effective Product Listing Ad that will effectively drive customers to your site and maximizing your sales.