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Product Listing Ads and Keywords

Traditional search ads are all about keywords and Google’s Product Listing Ads (or PLAs) are all about product targets, right? Not quite. According to Google, “instead of keywords, PLAs use product targets to determine when items in your Merchant Center account appear on a search result’s page.” Now for some good news for the ye ol’ search junkies out there, PLAs are a part of search, and search is still about keywords.

The following are some tips and tactics for identifying and acting upon performing and underperforming keywords in your PLA campaigns.

Step 1…Show Me the Keywords!

Google doesn’t make it easy to find keyword data for PLAs, but it’s there if you know where to look. Here are some ways to find search queries matched to PLAs, whether you keep your performance data using AdWords tags or in Google Analytics.

1. Google Analytics Advanced Segments

Use campaign naming conventions to set up a simple filter to view PLA traffic performance in Google Analytics.

Step 1: Setup Advanced Segments: Setting this up in Google Analytics is a quick and easy way to evaluate PLA performance and give product and keyword performance from the PLA campaigns.

Step 2: View Search Query Reports within Google Analytics filtered for the advanced segment setup in Step 1.

2. Adwords Auto Targets

Viewing search terms matched to PLAs is relatively easy, although somewhat hidden. Using the “auto-targets” tab within your PLA adwords campaign, you can click on “see search” terms and view the list where a PLA was served.

Step 2…. Use Them!

1. Get Negative!

Although you can’t technically trigger your PLAs based on keyword targeting, you CAN use negative keywords to ensure you’re not getting un-targeted clicks. According to Google Adwords official help, “you can use negative keywords to limit the searches for which your ads will show. Negative keywords can be applied at the ad group or campaign level.” Use the search query reporting to identify negative keywords and ensure your PLAs are only showing for the best performing search queries.

2. Go for the head!

PLAs are all about the long tail right? Wrong. Based on the success thus far of PLAs, Google is now serving PLAs against most head keywords that have retail intent. To ensure the best performing and best-priced products are showing on the highest volume keywords, make sure you’re optimizing the product titles and attributes for your top performing products by category.

Example: Search for “Golf Clubs”

Golf Club Golf Clubs

3. Measure your overlap

Using keyword level insights from your PLA campaigns, you can compare performance of PLAs vs. traditional search. A simple vlookup can compare values in PLAs vs. traditional search or define a column to show paid vs. PLA keywords and run a pivot table to compare the two.

Important Note: Many advertisers showing in both traditional paid search and in PLAs might see an impression number higher than the actual number of searches due to having coverage in both PLAs and traditional paid search results.

4. Grow your paid search keyword lists

Let Google do some work for you. PLAs are designed to show on transactional keywords. Try a search for “Golf Club” and you won’t see PLAs, likely because those searchers were looking to find a “Golf Club” and not to buy “Golf Clubs” where you see the full “8-pack” of PLAs. Make sure you’re adding these keywords to your campaigns.

Predictions for what’s next:

According to Google, “defining keyword lists for proactive targeting won’t have any effect on your Product Listing Ads or product targets at this time.” That’s tantamount to “we haven’t rolled it out yet” or “we’re currently beta testing this with a handful of clients.” Our prediction is that Google will find a way to allow for keyword targets associated to products within our feed or select keyword targets for groupings of products. We hope they get there as that will help sophisticated ecommerce marketers squeeze the most efficiency out of their programs.


Guest Blogger Dan Golden
Dan Golden has been in the search business since 2001 and brings a wealth of digital marketing experience to Be Found Online. A graduate of Northwestern University with a B.A. in Economics, he has a diverse digital marketing background having spent time on the client side, freelance consulting, at large agencies and in startup environments. Dan Golden is the President and Chief Search Artist at Be Found Online.You can find Dan’s company,

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