The Best Practice Guide to Google Product Listing Ads

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In the 2000s, advances in broadband penetration helped to fuel the adoption rate of the Internet in most first-world countries. E-commerce became big business and shopping engines began to innovate very quickly. Today’s advanced shopping engines are able to connect directly to the product feeds that drive an online retailer’s own site. This deep integration helps to reduce errors and provide highly current results which, in turn, creates a much stronger user experience for consumers to browse, research, and shop online than ever before.

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The Rise of Shopping Engines

Shopping engines (sometimes called comparison or price engines) have helped consumers connect with online retailers since the mid-1990s. Before advanced search engines emerged allowing internet users to efficiently surf the web, shopping engines represented a simplified service whereby advertisers paid a fixed rate to be listed in a particular category or sub-category. For early internet adopters, this service provided few features yet enough value to become popular for those willing to sift through countless pages of products to find a deal.

As the retail power of the internet grew and more consumers migrated online, these technologies evolved into free services that scoured the web for products to add to their crawlable databases. In tandem, functionality expanded to allow consumers to save searches, get email alerts about price changes, and share deals with their friends and family. Some of the early players in this category included BargainFinder and NetBot.

In the 2000s, advances in broadband penetration helped to fuel the adoption rate of the Internet in most first-world countries. E-commerce became big business and shopping engines began to innovate very quickly.

Today’s advanced shopping engines are able to connect directly to the product feeds that drive an online retailer’s own site. This deep integration helps to reduce errors and provide highly current results which in turn creates a much stronger user experience for consumers to browse, research, and shop online than ever before.

Google’s Entry into the Category

Google’s first shopping engine launched in December of 2002. It was called Froogle and was invented by Engineering Director, Craig Nevill-Manning. Froogle was unique in the fact that it took advantage of the powerful algorithms from Google Search in order to scour the internet looking for the best shopping information. Not only did Froogle crawl the web looking for product entries, but it also permitted merchants to import their feeds to improve the accuracy of their listings.

The Evolution Of Google Shopping

In April 2007, Google rebranded Froogle as Google Product Search. Along with some more bells and whistles, Google simplified the interface to better match Google Search’s look and feel.

On May 31st, 2012, Google announced that Google Product Search would be changed to Google Shopping. It also announced the free listings would be converted in to pay listings. This would be first time in Google’s history that they would convert a free search service to a paid one.

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Product Listing Ads (PLAs)

Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are the default ad format for Google Shopping. These listings appear on the Google Shopping site, but the real power lies in the fact that this visual ad format can also appear on Google Search results pages alongside the organic and paid text ad listings when consumers are actively browsing.

Here Are Some Examples:

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PLAs are easy to spot as they have a price, a product image, business name, and a headline. When clicked, they take potential customers right to the merchant’s website.

As you can see, PLAs can appear either in the middle or right section of the viewable page and stand out amidst all the text. Given this visual prominence, the image and listed price take on an important role in helping your brand rise above the competition.

How do PLAs work?

Google offers a very detailed walkthrough of how to initially set up Product Listing Ads. From a high-level perspective, advertisers need two things: a Google Merchant account and a Google AdWords account. Most e-commerce platforms are already configured to connect your product feeds to third parties like Google. There are also software vendors that offer feed management services that can help with this step.

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Once your product data feed is connected to your Google Merchant account, you can group your products into product targets, which specify which products you actually want to advertise using PLAs. Product targets in PLAs are very similar to keywords in paid search – however, instead of bidding on keywords, PLA advertisers bid on groups of products in product targets. At the target group level, you can specify bids and add a promotion line.

After connecting your data feed, grouping your products into targets, and creating promotion lines, all you have to do is fund your account and choose your bid which is the maximum price that you’re willing to pay for every consumer that clicks one of your Product Listing Ads. Once a consumer searches on a keyword that Google’s algorithms deem relevant to you, your PLA will display, but you are only charged once a consumer clicks one of your ads.

Google offers reporting to track your ad impressions, clicks, costs, and other key metrics. You can even setup conversion tracking so that you can monitor how many sales and how much revenue your product listing ads are generating. This way, PLA advertisers can promote the best performing ads and work on improving the least performing ones.

Google Shopping Guidelines and Rules

As with most of Google’s advertising products, there are rules to follow in order to keep the highest quality and security.

Transparency & Privacy

Product listings shouldn’t violate users’ trust or privacy.

Google Shopping doesn’t allow:

  • Product listings that misrepresent a product or material fact. A merchant is not allowed to provide an inaccurate product description or knowingly omit any material details of a product. This applies to all product features including but not limited to quality, value, price or history of the good.
  • Product listings and sites that contain language that’s likely to cause confusion about the association between your services and another company’s services. Implying affiliation with another company may include using their trademark or logo in your product listings or on your landing page.


Product listings should comply with laws and regulations.

Google Shopping doesn’t allow:

  • The copying or distribution of copyrighted material unless you have consent from the copyright holder, or are otherwise permitted by law
  • The promotion of services. The term service refers to an intangible economic activity that does not result in ownership of specific goods. Google Shopping only allows the promotion of physical or digital goods.

Google’s Brand

Product listings should be compatible with Google’s brand decisions.

Google Shopping doesn’t allow:

  • The promotion of “anti” or violent concepts such as advocating against a protected group. A protected group is distinguished by one of the following: race or ethnic origin, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
  • The promotion of product listings attempting to capitalize on sensitive issues. Sensitive issues are usually identified in response to exceptional global events that can’t be predicted, like natural disasters or political uprisings, and therefore aren’t outlined on this page.

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8 Best Practices for Retailers to Power Up PLAs and Rules

Google makes it relatively easy to begin advertising your products using Product Listing Ads, but to really have success, you have to know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you may be overpaying needlessly or not paying enough when you’re trying to beat your competitors to the click.

Earlier this year, in Kenshoo’s blog, In the Loop, Sr. Product Manager Irina Bukatik outlined eight best practices for retailers to power up their PLAs. Using these tips, you should be able to take your PLA practice up a notch.

1. Be Accurate

Make sure your prices are accurate and current. It will increase the likelihood that your customer avoids the sticker shock disappointment of discovering a different price once they get to your site. Retailers who keep pricing information current should benefit from more satisfied shoppers and fewer non-converting clicks. In fact, you should update prices as well as all other data (e.g. available sizes, colors, etc.) every time it changes.

Make the most of the text that you can add under the price which is referred to as the promotional line. While productspecific information helps reduce irrelevant clicks, the promotion line can help drive more pertinent clicks, such as Free Shipping or 10% off today only. Just make sure it is aligned with your actual price/promotion.

2. Use Impactful Images

Humans are very visual creatures so make sure your images stand out! Test images and keep them up-to-date. Remember, your ads will be competing for clicks on the page with your competitors’ products. Think about how your images will be viewed by your prospects and what you can do to make sure your product pictures can help influence shoppers to click. Search engines are an alwayson marketing channel that can sell for you twenty-four hours a day. Make sure to put your best foot forward and that begins with the images you use.

3. Stay Relevant

Make sure you use language in the feed that is on par with how your customers think and search for you. The general population doesn’t care about your product’s warehouse name – they’re searching for the product’s real name. Optimize each product in the feed with the information that’s relevant to your customers. Make sure the title and the description include phrasing customers would use as a query or that Google will use to assess relevance.

Use adwords_labels to add more information and categorization of the products. If a product’s color is violet, wine, orchid, plum, lavender, lilac or magenta, you probably should update the feed to be purple. When was the last time user looked for a wine curtain? Milky should probably be changed to white and azul to blue. On the same note, product description of electronics should include more words than what you store in your internal data warehouse.

4. Be Granular

By setting up your Product Listing Ads with an initial focus on granularity, you will have more control throughout the life of the account. A little extra time up front can pay big dividends moving forward.

In The Feed: If you have many variations of the same product, s separate out each variation; so, if you have different colors or sizes, have a different SKU for each combination. This will allow you to set the appropriate targeting for these products. For example, if a shopper is looking for your product in red, you can use the adwords_ labels to tag that product with red and increase the chance of it showing up (i.e. sweater and toy car become red sweater and red toy car). If a product comes in different sizes, having a line in the feed for each will ensure that when someone is looking for an XL football jersey, they won’t needlessly click when the XLs are out of stock.

In The Ad Platform: Whenever possible, define product targets with just one product in order to have the maximum granularity and control, since bids are set on the Product Target level. Having only one product in the Product Target essentially allows you to control the bid for that product only. When you have multiple products in a Product Target, one bid might be too high for some of the products and too low for others. Underbidding could result in lost opportunities to show off your products to interested buyers while overbidding could end up wasting your budget needlessly.

But what if you have millions of products and some of them have very little performance? Isn’t it a nightmare to manage them individually? Ideally, you will have an automated bidding platform that can deal with the enormous amount of products and solve the data scarcity and the logistical challenge.

5. Optimize, Optimize, Optimize

If you have multiple products in your product target, inevitably some will perform better than others. You should gain access to your product-level performance information and identify the outliers for each product target. Like a healthy garden, you’ve got to keep pruning your campaigns to make sure to weed out the underperformers of the broader product target to give the good performers room to flourish.

Conversely, if you identify products that perform really well within a broad product target, take them out and create specific product targets for them so you can manage their bids separately.

Imagine you sell furniture and have your products grouped in product targets by product_type and brand. While analyzing your campaign performance, you notice that a particular brand and design combination of patio furniture is selling better than most of the patio furniture of that brand. You can add a label for all the products of that design (let’s say adwords_labels=labelX), and create a new product target, that has product_type, brand, and adwords_labels as the criteria of the product target, and set a higher bid for these.

At the same time, you might notice that pink patio furniture is not performing well at all across brands. You can create a product target that will include only pink furniture, (using the adwords_labels) and set a lower bid for these.

6. Be Positive About Negatives

You might want to make sure you exclude some products from showing up under a particular product target or an ad group. For example, you may want to add brand names as negatives for generic product targets when you have brand product targets in other ad groups. Negatives are set on the ad group level, so if you have multiple product targets in an ad group, make sure the negatives are relevant to all targets.

Remember it is not a set-it-and-forget-it process. You will want to update your negatives continuously, especially as you update your product targets. Another tip is to look at the search queries that are triggering your product targets to show. You might find some gems there to add to your negatives and you can use your bid management platform to streamline this process and analysis.

7. Deploy Strong Bidding Strategies

Use a bid policy that’s tailored to PLAs. Product Targets are not keywords. Google does not share Product Target position or Quality Score with you. This is a major difference from standard paid search advertising. Ensure your bidding strategy encompasses product targets, even the ones that don’t have too much activity. Look for a solution that can help you take the guesswork out of PLA bidding, accounts for performance at the product level, and learns from historical performance.

8. Be Holistic

Track, attribute, and report across your entire paid search efforts – both the text ads and the product listing ads. There will be instances in which a customer clicked on both your product listing ad and your text ad on his or her path to conversion and you’ll want to weight those actions appropriately. It’s important to understand how these two formats are working together to drive users to research, browse, and ultimately purchase your products. Standard paid search ads and product listings ads can be a powerful combination if you understand your customers’ journey to conversion.

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Product Listing Ads

PLAs are still fairly new and not every marketer has built-up a deep understanding of the best practices needed to truly win with this format. However, while you are ramping up your PLA program, be sure not to fall into some common traps that you’ll wish you had avoided from the start.

Overusing The All Products Group

Google AdWords provides the PLA option to group all of your products into a single ad group via simple checkbox during the creation process. However, even though this is a good strategy to make sure you cast the widest net possible, it’s also a common mistake to overuse this feature.

Use your All Product ad group carefully as it’s better to create individual ad groups for your best selling products – that way you can build the most relevant and compelling ad copy for that ad. However, for stores with millions of SKUs, an All Product ad group may be able to be a great option for slowing selling items that don’t justify spending too much time building individual ads and managing bids.

Make sure you watch your ad groups closely as you may find your All Products group in a bidding war against your other, more specific ad groups. You almost always want your specific ad groups to win as they should have more relevant creative.

Optimizing Images For Your Store And Not For Your Pla Feed

It’s a new world. When picking images for your store, you need to start asking yourself “Is this also going to be the right picture for a small PLA ad?” This is a tough one. Many feeds now allow you to add an extra image to each product that will be its PLA image. However, this will mean a lot of extra work. By making sure your production picture strategy strikes a happy balance between looking great on your site and for PLAs later, you will be able to make the process more efficient and more effective.

Forgetting To See What The Consumer Sees

One of the best ways to optimize your PLAs is to simply search on your most important product terms in Google and see what a consumer would see. Are your ads coming up at all when you think they should be? Are the right products coming up for your searches? How are your competitors using PLAs? Are their images and offers more compelling than yours?

To do this market research yourself, make sure you’re logged out of your Google account and have cleared your cookies. You may even want to use a different computer or device so that you’re not influencing the algorithms to skew to your own products.

Not Knowing The Pla Rules Well Enough

Did you know you had 70 characters maximum for the product title? If your feed has product titles too long, they will get truncated. Many search marketers can list off the character limits, campaign settings, and editorial rules verbatim for text ads, but it may take some time for your team to intimately know the details for the PLA format. PLAs generally follow the same guidelines as general AdWords ads with regards to punctuation, capitalization, spelling, verb tenses, etc.

As with the advice on images, you should be thinking ahead when you’re listing new products on your site with regards to how Google will interpret your feed. You don’t want to spend all of your time just in getting your ads validated.

Figuring You Can Do It Without Automation

As with anything, using the tools around you wisely can mean the difference between success and failure. Is managing your PLAs taking too much time? What if automation could cut that time in half? Make sure to review the technology platforms in the space and see if one of them can help you get to the next level. You might not be spending a lot right now, but if you could increase your return while cutting down the management time, maybe you could devote additional budget to this channel.

Not Using What You Learned From Paid Search

The bottom line is that PLAs, although quite different than standard search ads, are still paid listings. Take the experience of what has worked over the last decade in search engine marketing and apply it to your PLA program. Follow the money – make sure your bids and budget support your best performing ads while de-emphasizing your poorest performing ones. Use A/B testing to figure out what new ad creative or bids are working and use those insights to optimize.


Shopping engines play a big part in today’s e-commerce. Google’s Product Listing Ads are one of the premier spots for online retailers to advertise their products at the moment consumers are searching for them and should be an important channel for online retailers to increase visibility and garner sales.

As with any auction-based media inventory, the winning bid prices will remain rather low until the channel is saturated with competitors. With Google’s program being relatively young, now is the time to strike if you are an online retailer who has yet to test the waters with this exciting new opportunity.

Product Listing Ads have evolved and continue to innovate. As PLAs mature (and other players enter the space), the formats will expand, the vendor tools will advance, and consumer usage will increase. By using the information found in this guide, you should be able to stay ahead of the competition and build a successful PLA program.

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