As you should know by now, Google recently announced that it was combining its free Google Product Search listings and Product Listing Ads (PLA) to Google Shopping, where all listings would be shown in an auction based process akin to PPC.
This is a significant change for retailers as it means that a significant percent of traffic that has until recently been free until recently, is now paid. Thus it is imperative for the retailer to focus on effectively managing and optimizing Google Shopping campaigns.
How Google Shopping Works: A Very Short Summary
Google Shopping works differently from regular search ads. In the case of search ads, campaign, ad group, keywords are managed in Google Adwords where the advertiser can change bids.
To run a Google Shopping campaign, the advertiser has to also set up a product feed with Google Merchant Center. The feed contains a variety of product parameters including product id, image URL, price, availability etc.
On the Adwords side, the advertiser has to set up PLA campaigns and ad groups that contain product targets (as opposed to keywords) and offer text. These targets are linked to the GMC account which reference specific parameters on the product feed. However, like regular search campaigns, the advertiser has to place a bid to participate in the PLA auction.
When a user types a query, Google will map the query to a specific product/target combination in the PLA campaign in Adwords and will return a product listing ad based on the parameters of the selected products in the GMC feed.
Note that there are 3 distinct bits to managing your Google Shopping program:
- Feed management
- Bid management
- PLA campaign management
I have observed several blogs discussing the importance of feed management but the other two points above have seldom been talked about. Are bidding and PLA campaign management important? Absolutely. We have observed some advertisers gain upto 80% lift through a mix a smart bid and feed management .
Five Best Practices In Bid & PLA Campaign Management
1. The more granular the better
Since queries are mapped to individual PLA adgroup/target combinations in Adwords, it’s better to get as granular as possible. For instance, consider two different types of PLA structures below:
Ad group: Lawnmowers
Ad group: Pants
Target>product_type=levis AND type=boot cut jeans AND label=mens
Target>product_type=joe’s jeans AND type=printed denim AND label=womens
The second example has a higher degree of granularity which gives you control on the query-product listing mapping so that the right product is shown to the right query.
A step further would be to bid at the SKU level which is about as granular as one can get within their product feed. Bidding efficiently at the most granular target level will be the best way to maximize the potential of your feed.
I have noted that several blogs are against SKU level targeting, due to the complexity of campaigns and the difficulty in bid management. However, this is no different from long tail bidding in search.
One can use a variety of techniques such as hierarchical bid modeling to effectively bid on the PLA long tail. Indeed, in our experience, effective granular bidding can deliver significant performance lift, sometimes as much as 80%.
2. Actively manage your bids
In many ways, PLA campaigns work like Content campaigns as the mapping of queries to specific listings is broad and theme based. Further, akin to content campaigns, bids are at the target level.
Neglecting bid management could prove disastrous as it could mean that you would be paying too much for your traffic or lose on highly qualified traffic as you are bidding too low.This again, is no different from regular search or content campaigns – active bid management is crucial for success.
3. Always have a catchall target
Feeds are typically quite large and may change based on modifications to product classifications or new products added to an advertisers’ catalog.
Including a Catchall (or All Products) target within your PLA campaign will ensure that Google will be able to match search queries to relevant products in your feed.
The potential danger in omitting a Catchall target from your campaign is that search queries that would have otherwise not been able to be mapped to an existing target would be neglected and an advertiser’s product would not be shown.
One of the most important parts of a Catchall is to ensure its bid is less than that of the rest of the targets. Bid is one of the most (if not the most) important part of the auction process and having a higher bid on the Catchall can interfere with how queries are matched to their appropriate targets.
4. Use negatives
It is imperative that advertisers utilize negatives to properly funnel the right queries to the right targets.
For example, consider an advertiser that sells small kitchen appliances and has a product target for coffee makers. A user then enters a search query for an 8 cup French press. Since Google performs a sort of broad match to the query it may serve the Catchall target rather than the coffee makers target.
As Google’s matching becomes more refined we believe that this sort of behavior will not be as prevalent, but it will help to add negatives to your Catchall that represent existing targets in your PLA campaign.
5. Constantly monitor queries that are being matched to targets
As more advertisers start to invest in PLAs we believe that the competition for search queries will rise. Since the auction for PLAs will be completely separate from search, we believe that this is a great opportunity for new (and even existing) PLA advertisers to start off on the right foot.
Google allows advertisers to easily view which search queries are being matched to specific targets. Using this information can assist with placing negatives (as mentioned above), adding labels to specific products.
For example, if an advertiser only uses product level targets and sees that queries contain specific manufacturers then it may make sense for them to use labels in the feed to add another layer of specificity to their bidding strategy, and of course, input negatives based on irrelevant queries. These steps will be increasingly important as advertisers look to maximize their investment in PLAs.
While the current transition of Google Shopping represents a challenge due to the complexity of feed and bid management and the opacity of the query to product mapping, it is also an opportunity. I hope these tips help you get the most out of your PLA campaigns.
I wish to thank James Varughese, one of our crack analysts in helping me compile these best practices.