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It’s hard to believe, but the holiday shopping season is quickly approaching. As search marketers, the time for effective planning to stay ahead of the fray is now.  One growing and sometimes overlooked idea to consider: using product-listing ads, or PLAs.  These are cost-per-click (CPC) ads that online merchants or retailers buy, with Google being first to adopt (surprise, surprise) this approach.  We know that Bing is also taking a hard look at PLAs, engaged in what amounts to a closed beta, with select retailers using PLAs on Bing.

PLAs are easy to recognize in three ways: First, they feature a designated product image (for example, a specific handbag); second, the placements appear to the right and top of Google search results; and finally, they’re geared toward products or product categories, as opposed to keywords.  The four elements PLAs always include are a product image, price, product name as it appears in the product feed, and the retailer’s name.  The PLA image and name of product link directly to the product page, while the price and retailer name are not linkable.

Yoogis-Closet-PLAs

Here are some tips on using PLAs:

1) Understand the differences between PLAs and “traditional” AdWords on Google. PLAs and AdWords ads are both cost-per-click for each ad link. PLAs always have an image, and also differ in this way: With PLAs, you bid to participate in the auction based on products or product categories (“X Brand Shoes,” “Running shoes over $70”), while with AdWords you bid on specific keywords (“shoes,” “men’s shoes”).

2)  Use categorization to focus and help control costs. Take advantage of the fact that you’re able to bid on categories and narrow this to be as closely tied to your products as possible.  Otherwise, your products are going to be in much bigger, more general buckets and you could end up spending more budget than needed with less than optimal results.  Google enables you to easily control extra attributes (such as labels or URL redirects which allow you to measure performance between two products) associated with your PLA, so be sure to use this feature.

3)  Recognize that PLAs aren’t for everyone.  PLAs are geared toward merchants with very specific products.  If you or your clients are really focused more on general services or broader merchandise sales, PLAs might not be for you.

4)  Use negatives. Even though PLAs are not keyword-based, you should specify negative keywords, just as you’d do with more traditional search marketing.  For example, if you don’t carry a certain color or type of shoes, be sure to have associated words like “red” as a negative, to help ensure that your PLAs don’t show up in search results for red shoes.

5)  Classify your ad groups and plan accordingly. For example, establish “tier-one” status for your best-selling products and best-selling brands, “Tier two” could be best-selling category brands, and “tier three” could be all else.

5)  Keep an eye on Bing’s PLAs.  It will be interesting to see if Bing deploys anything that looks or acts substantially different from what Google offers.

With the power of adding visual elements to search engine results, PLAs can be an economical and effective addition to search marketing programs.

-Brian Rauschenbach

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