How to capitalise on the rise of Product Listing Ads: Interview with Marin Software

By Chris Lee

In spring 2013, Google rolled out its all-new Shopping format, based on the Product Listing Ads (PLAs) format. Marin Software recently released a report showcasing the rise of PLAs based on the more than $4 billion in annualised paid search spent through Marin Software’s platform. The report found PLA click-through-rates (CTR) have increased each month since February 2013 and reached record levels in July 2013 – 21 per cent higher than the CTR of text ads.

The high CTR of PLAs coupled with a 93 per cent year-over-year increase in click share indicates a dramatic acceptance of PLAs by online shoppers, according to Marin Software. Retailers, in turn, are responding by increasing their investment in the ad type as they prepare for this year’s holiday shopping season.

PLA best practice

So how can marketers ensure that the money they spend on PLAs generate maximum return on investment, especially looking towards Christmas? NMK asked Marin Software’s Jon Myers for his top tips.

“Google only recently expanded PLAs onto mobile devices with enhanced campaigns so it remains to be seen how they will perform on the smaller screen,” Myers told NMK. “We know that mobile users like to shop and research products on-the-go and given the success of these ads on desktop, we expect click-through-rates to continue increasing as mobile shoppers begin embracing this highly engaging ad format.”

Myers explained that this data comes a critical time for retailers, when they will be stepping up their online marketing strategy for the Christmas period.

“With prices staying low but engagement at an all-time high, PLAs seem to be a natural choice for retailers wanting to get their products in front of eyeballs. As more retailers enter the PLA landscape and as product-related searches increase heading towards Christmas, we predict the share of PLA impressions to standard text ads will increase dramatically,” he added.

Myers outlined his key six essential steps for PLA advertising success:

1. Maintain a fresh ad feed: “PLAs don’t simply amount to ‘set it and forget it’ ad campaigns,” Myers said. “In order to maximise the effectiveness of the PLA, advertisers must consistently maintain their feeds and optimise on their product targets. They should also deploy granular targets and, ideally, integrate an automated bidding solution into their system.”

2. Use a high-quality image: “As PLAs are image-centric, the use of accurate, illustrative, high-quality images is fundamental to their commercial effectiveness,” Myers added. “When a consumer is searching online for a particular brand or product, the images they encounter must accurately represent the goods sought in order to maximise on the advertisement’s return.”

3. Publish accurate price listings: “The accurate publication of price listings is even more important as an aspect of PLAs than they are for standard text ads. This is because of the competitive nature of PLAs as an advertising model. Therefore, advertisers must ensure that the visible price that accompanies their product is favorable or competitive in comparison to ads from other vendors,” Myers explained.

4. Take a two-pronged approach: “PLAs provide advertisers with the opportunity to gain more real estate on the search engine results pages, by running both PLA and text ads – particularly during the uncertain bedding-in period when PLAs begin to affect customers’ behaviour,” Myers added. “This two pronged approach gives customers multiple opportunities to engage with an advertiser’s brand or product; and for the advertiser to increase their share of space on search engine results pages. However, in order to preserve or cultivate customer confidence and loyalty, advertisers must keep promotions and product messaging consistent across all ad formats.”  

5. Employ long-tail search: According to Myers, advertisers engaging with PLAs should foster long-tail search optimisation for their goods, as PLAs appear most frequently on long-tail search queries. “They should prioritise the setting-up of PLA ads on more specific, long-tail product searches and achieve greater traffic based on specific consumer searches – as opposed to generic search queries,” he advises. “Advertisers are more likely to match the right image and creative content with a customer’s query by focusing on this level of granularity. In addition, advertisers should use as standard keyword expansion tools to identify new long-tail keywords and so expand their PLA impressions.”

6. Remember – it’s early days: “It is important for advertisers to realise that the PLA, as an advertising model, is still in its infancy and that this fact presents both opportunities and challenges. It is crucial for advertisers to begin by researching and testing PLAs in relation to creative composition, imagery, and pricing in order to gain a better understanding of how the format performs in terms of their brand and market,” Myers concluded. “Particularly in comparison to the traditional text search; allowing them to identify the advertising strategy that is most appropriate and will perform most effectively for their business. Advertisers should take a test, refine and test again approach to implementing PLA ads.”

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