Product listing ads are a critical component of any successful e-commerce strategy. PLAs help catapult your products to the top of the SERP – even above text ads – and give advertisers an opportunity to put their best foot forward when users search for your products, as well as a chance to immediately out-shine your competition with great prices and special offers. PLAs can take the lead as your main non-brand campaign, providing the most relevant results for each user query while providing a title, price and image — something expanded text ads simply can’t do. Furthermore, more users than ever before are engaging with Google Shopping – a trend that has been increasing steadily since its launch.
Launching product listing ads is fairly simple; doing them well takes some finesse. I’m going to walk through how to launch PLAs, as well as some industry best practices to help ensure you can generate the best results possible with them.
Launching Product Listing Ads
There are four steps required to launch product listing ads:
1. Create a Merchant Center account and verify site ownership.
2. Link your Google AdWords account to your Google Merchant Center account.
3. Import your data feed to Merchant Center.
4. Create your Shopping campaigns.
Let’s look at all of these steps in greater detail.
Creating and Verifying Your Merchant Center
The very first thing you’ll need to do is create a Merchant Center account and verify you own the site that you’re advertising for. You will need to navigate to merchants.google.com and log in or sign up with a Gmail account. After doing so, you’ll be prompted to submit your business information, like the country in which your business is located, the name of your store and your web domain.
After doing so, read and agree to the terms and conditions… or just agree to them. Lastly, you’ll have to verify you own the store for which you’re creating a merchant account. This is very simple and can be done a few different ways. One is by placing a small HTML file Google provides, uploading it to your site and clicking “verify” under the Merchant Account settings. If you use this method, it’s important to not remove the file from your site: Should it go missing, Google will de-certify your Merchant Center and you’ll have to go through this step again. There are a few other ways, like placing an HTML tag on your site’s homepage, configuring permissions through your Google Analytics account or using Google Tag Manager. All of these steps are simple and should only take a few minutes.
Linking AdWords to Your Merchant Center
After you’ve created your Merchant Center account, you’ll have to link it to your AdWords account. This is done from within the Merchant Center. Click the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the Merchant Center UI and select “Account Linking.”
Once there, select “Link AdWords Account” and input the ten-digit customer ID for the respective AdWords account, which can be found in the top left corner of your AdWords account. The request will go through to the AdWords account, where you can accept it from the “Settings > Linked Accounts” section in AdWords. Click “View Details” under “Google Merchant Center” and accept the link request. Viola! You’ve now linked your Merchant Center account to your AdWords account and are ready to upload your products and build your shopping campaigns.
Import Your Data Feed into Google Merchant Center
The Merchant Center is the “brain” of your Product Listing Ads campaigns. Not only does it support PLAs, but your feed can also be used to support dynamic remarketing, another powerful tool provided by the likes of Google and Bing. Uploading your feed to the Merchant Center itself is very easy, but a quick word of caution: Ensuring that your data quality matches with Google’s is paramount. If your feed columns are labeled incorrectly, or if you violate character limits, or don’t include key information such as “Google Product Category,” your feed will be disapproved. There are a host of services that can support this process, from manually editing the feed file in Google Sheets (not recommended for sellers with thousands of products) to using a third-party data feed service. For detailed information, we recommend you review Google’s Product Feed Specifications page.
Pushing your feed to the Merchant Center is simple: On the left-hand navigation, select “Products,” then “Feeds.” From there, click the big “plus” sign to create a new feed. Select your target country and language, and make sure you have “Shopping” checked under “Destinations.” Next, name your feed and select how your feed will be connected to the Merchant Center.
This is what I was talking about in the opening paragraph of this section: If you store your data on a Google Sheet, select that option and continue. We suggest using either a scheduled fetch, which allows Google to grab the file from a URL, or “Upload,” which allows you to push your file to the Merchant Center. Follow the few instructions left and you’ll be ready to upload your feed. We also recommend doing a forced upload after you set everything up so that your data is present in the Merchant Center right away, otherwise the data will be pulled in based on the schedule you set. Allow a few business days for Google to review the feed, at which time your products will be viewable in AdWords.
Create Your Shopping Campaigns
Now that the technical steps have been taken, all that’s left to do is to create your shopping campaign, segment your products and set your bids. Anyone familiar with creating campaigns in AdWords will easily be able to set up a Google Shopping campaign. In AdWords, click the big “plus” sign and select “Shopping.” Select “Sales” for some pre-canned settings that are generally optimized for ROI, like automated bidding. These features can be changed at will within your campaign settings while you continue to configure your campaign, so don’t worry about being locked in by any of these default options.
If you’ve successfully linked your AdWords and Merchant Center accounts together, you should see your Merchant Center account appear below. Select your country-of-sale and configure the settings that appear on the next page to your preferences. Your campaign is now ready to go!
Tips and Best Practices
If you followed along to here, your shopping campaign is ready to deliver ads to users. However, we don’t want to just stop here; there are some tips and best practices that we want to share with you to help you get the best experience possible.
1. Segment your product groups
The default setting is going to be “All products,” but you don’t want to stick with this setting. Just like you wouldn’t want to use the same bid on all your keywords, you’re not going to want to use the same bid on all your products. We suggest segmenting along the organization of the website, and segmenting down to specific product categories. You may be tempted to segment down to the product ID, however, we’ve found that segmenting beyond product categories tends to limit impressions. You can use your discretion here based on your goals.
2. Break out brand and non-brand campaigns
Just like with standard search campaigns, you want to make sure you’re maximizing your traffic when users do branded searches for your products. Creating a separate campaign for brand will ensure you’re budgeting for all your brand traffic and not losing valuable impressions. This can be done easily enough by creating two shopping campaigns and adding your brand terms as negative keywords to the non-brand campaign. Then, set the campaign priority (a unique shopping campaign setting) to “low” for your brand campaign; this should help force non-branded queries to the appropriate non-brand campaign. This helps you budget and bid appropriately for brand and non-brand searches, which likely deserve their own bids.
3. Optimize your data feed
This is worthy of its own post, but we can give you some immediate quick tips. Include the brand in your product title so that your PLAs take advantage of your brand power. Use the most specific Google Product Category possible – Google looks closely at this setting to determine what type of product your goods are. Avoid the temptation to use the more general categories. This should help with your match rates and CTRs. Use Custom Labels — these are custom fields that you can further categorize your products based on marketing goals, like ROI or price range.
4. Review the Merchant Center regularly!
The MC will report on any warnings, errors or violations that your feed may be triggering. The majority of these are easy to fix – they simply require awareness to catch them. The diagnostics tab will lay out any and all issues you might have so that you can get to work correcting them. Doing this will ensure all of your products remain active and your data quality score with Google will remain high, both of which will help generate better results.
I hope this tutorial helps you get started on Google Shopping. PLAs are important high-converting and profitable tools available to advertisers. More users than ever continue to use these features on Google to find the best deals on goods. What’s more – once you’re set up on Google, you can easily add a Bing Ads product feed as well, and continue to expand your reach to new users who’re searching for your products.