The online search advertising landscape is changing dramatically. Google is quickly replacing its current free product search platform with Google Shopping, built entirely on CPC-based product listing ads (PLAs). Controversy abounds as retailers struggle to comprehend the implications and the potential loss of a once plentiful source of free traffic.
But despite fears of profit losses and lost business, the imminent move to a paid model can offer a wide range of advantages for merchants. Indeed, the current Google model is free, but its potential is limited.
Contrary to widespread concern, the move to paid listing ads could, in fact, bring retailers a rich new advertising channel offering a whole new level of access to online shoppers. Ultimately, the paid model will drive Google to prioritize PLAs on main search results pages, driving more traffic and revenue for retailers. The resulting increase in ad relevance and accuracy will breed new confidence among consumers, who will come to view PLAs as a convenient onramp to merchant websites.
But the switch will require a retooling of sorts on the part of retailers, who must grasp a new paradigm and adjust accordingly. Luckily, we have a roadmap in the highly successful methods employed by paid search advertisers who've grasped the art and science of interpreting customer intent, presenting a relevant response, and then quickly analyzing and optimizing performance. Managing PLA and keyword campaigns together will deliver new efficiencies and mutual benefits, bolstering overall search profits and improving ROI dramatically.
Matching to customer intent is the key
There's a great tendency, however faulty, to view the coming PLA-based platform in the vein of the comparison-shopping engines of yesteryear. But, make no mistake: There are some crucial differences that, once fully understood, can help you reach a new level of success with PLAs.
Primarily, PLAs are matched to consumer search intent. To maximize the opportunity, then, you must first understand this intent and then optimize listings accordingly. Just like paid search, it's important to understand the logic of search queries and how Google matches your ads to searches.
Instead of keywords, Google relies on titles, descriptions, and other fields provided in the Google Merchant Center feed. While you don't bid on individual keywords, as you would with paid search, you must ensure the right keywords are present in your feeds to help ensure you match the queries your potential customers are using.
It's no longer sustainable to rely solely on Google's ability to interpret your title and description to match the right queries. Now that PLAs are based on a CPC model, it is increasingly critical to ensure your ads are matched to relevant search queries.
In this article, we'll discuss how you can get the most value from your PLA investment and achieve higher ROI. We'll explain how you can boost ad relevance and regain control of query matching by better anticipating your customers' needs and wants.
Title and description are now your keywords
Because Google matches search queries to products based on title, description, and other feed elements, make sure these contain your most important terms for each product. Furthermore, make sure the titles and descriptions are precise enough to target the right quality of traffic. Conversely, you may want to use generic, head terms (i.e., laptop computers, party supplies) for your best-selling product titles and descriptions to lure early-stage buyers.
Optimize PLA-matching by leveraging keyword insights
Be sure to use your best search terms from paid, organic, and on-site search in the titles and descriptions of relevant PLAs. Test which keywords are most effective using paid search and then use the winners in your PLAs; target keywords with the highest conversion rates and average order values. It's important to update your feed values daily based on the demand data you're collecting across all channels.
Take full advantage of synergies between PLA and keyword campaigns
Combining learnings from text ads and product listing ads can yield key insights faster than managing each campaign independently. Understanding which products succeed in paid search helps predict which are likely to flourish in PLAs. The reverse is also true, and this mutually beneficial relationship offers a significant advantage to retailers that take advantage of it. While it may not be practical without technology to build text ads for every product in your catalog, PLA performance can help you determine where to focus your efforts.
Target products at the SKU level
Manage at the SKU level rather than according to an aggregate category or at the brand level. This offers the flexibility to optimize as granularly as necessary to get the most from your investment.
Aim for mutual exclusivity to avoid muddy data, but also be comprehensive across your feed. This way, no product is in more than one target, and every product is in a target.
Managing PLAs at the product level sets you up for success with search query optimization and bid management. It also allows you to tailor promotional messaging for each product.
Perform diligent query mining
Frequent, proactive bid adjustments are important to PPC and PLA management. But equally important is a diligent query-mining strategy: Retailers should consistently analyze Google query reports to discern which search terms drive the most traffic and which are wasting ad spend.
If your PLAs are set up at the product level, you can effectively negate irrelevant queries. Furthermore, you can extract and assess query reports for each product to understand what critical keywords you should include in titles and descriptions.
Get the most out of high-funnel customers
PLAs are product-specific, but intent may not be. Expand landing pages to include related products that reflect a wide range of customer intentions.
Additionally, make sure your site has breadcrumbs that help visitors pursue these intentions. While the keyword and PLA for "red dress," for instance, may lure visitors to the site, your breadcrumb helps guide the curious consumer to other compelling content that may more closely meets their needs.
Make optimizing for "quality score" a priority
Ranking with PLAs requires more than bid strategy -- it also means targeting to achieve relevance and high click-through rates (CTR). While Google doesn't refer to "quality score," per se, it does take into account "relevance" and "historical ad performance" in matching products with queries. These are, in fact, determined by CTR, which is why optimizing to this metric is a top priority.
Test different images, titles, and descriptions to optimize CTR. Make sure your images are visually relevant to the important search queries. Adjust your title and description to be relevant to top search queries. Every improvement you make will increase your revenue and ROI by boosting ad position and reducing your CPCs.
The future of PLAs
PLAs are going to be big. While free listings in Google Product Search are going away, Google Shopping and its new revenue model will be consuming more of the search engine results pages. Retailers can expect substantially more traffic as Google shifts PLAs to more prominent positions on the page. Indeed, the free revenue is gone, but the overall revenue potential is much higher. The key will be to manage PLAs effectively using the lessons the paid search industry has taught us about optimizing to customer intent.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Group of multi ethnic business people laughing and smiling" image via Shutterstock.