Product Listing Ads: Should Ecommerce Retailers Use Them or Not?

Posted by Victoria Elizabeth 21 Feb 14

Product listing Ads in Google have quickly become a popular advertising medium among online retailers, and the reasons are obvious. They provide a visually rich ad display on SERPs, and offer a more guided approach to targeting the right customers at the right time.


Last September, retailers were told by Google to ramp up their Product Listing Ad information with rich descriptive data to ensure that their products were visible and recognised by the giant search engine. Here’s a short overview of these updates:


 Let’s first see how PLAs work and what retailers can do to implement them into their advertising.


What are Product Listing Ads?

Product Listing Ads, or PLAs are Cost per Click (CPC) advertisements that allow you to use Google’s vast search network and online shopping user base to target specific products or groups, like this results page for a Henckels Knife Set:


The page shows a combination of advertisements above the organic results, including a beige-shaded advert at the very top, with similar keyword based results to the left. These, Google explains, are ad results based on your current search terms, i.e. keywords. Directly below the first advert are five sponsored results, or PLAs. These are product or group specific, and allow retailers to display products directly for viewers. They are marked by large images and product-specific information. Google explains that: 



How PLAs Differ from Google Shopping and Adwords

Google PLAs now work within the network of Google’s Shopping and Adwords platforms in the Merchant Center. However, they differ in how they are displayed in SERPs, and your targeting abilities. Google’s Shopping campaigns, which have been in beta since October, are now available to all retailers and serve to improve PLA group selection by layering types of products and categories. This post fromSearch Engine Watch is the latest on how they work and how to set them up. 

While Google Adwords functions as keyword-based targeting, PLAs works off of matching product titles and descriptions to a product search query. This sounds like much the same thing, but PLAs offer the ability to target those people who are doing a specific product search, and not just those looking for a retailer or other retail information.

Google Shopping campaigns offer yet another way to target customers, and that is through product comparisons.


Google Shopping caters specifically to those shoppers who query Google for price comparisons on products. It also takes into account local search and product comparison sites to populate its listings, which you can see in the segmenting criteria to the left in the image above. 


Should Retailers Use PLAs?

While PLAs offer a more targeted approach to advertising on Google, they may not be the right choice for everyone. Small retailers may not have the budget to bid high enough to get real exposure, nor a large enough range of products to display. However, if you are a retailer that has many thousands of products that change quickly, it may seem like a nightmare to input several fields of information for each product. So for either end this presents an obvious problem. Another issue is how relevant the clicks are, and what search queries bring up specific products, which some unhappy customers claim Google has made difficult to investigate. 

Google is still rolling out updates, like Google Shopping campaigns integrating with the Merchant Center and Adwords, so there is still the possibility to fix issues with how PLAs work. But as Google sets out to conquer search advertising and increase their stake in how marketers advertise, their primary goal will be profit, and not necessarily to the benefit of retailers. 


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