What They Are and How to Use Them

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Google Shopping is a leading price comparison portal.

When people want to compare products to find the best prices, a huge number of them go to Google Shopping.

Retailers can grab the attention of these potential buyers by prominently featuring their products on Google Shopping.

This is where product listing ads (PLAs) come in.

What Are Product Listing Ads?

Product listing ads are paid advertisements that help you showcase your products in search results on platforms like Google and Bing.

When someone searches for a product you sell, your PLA appears. The ad includes a photo of the product, its title, its price, your store’s name, and other details.

These ads typically appear at the top or on the right-hand side of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Product listing ads for "buy shoes online" query on Google's SERP

They also appear in the “Shopping” tab.

Google's “Shopping” tab for "buy shoes online" query

PLAs even appear alongside image search results for that query.

PLAs alongside image search results for "buy shoes online"

During ad setup, you also have the option to show your products on Google partner websites. When selected, your ads will appear on YouTube and third-party websites that have partnered with Google to host ads.

Product listing ads appearing on YouTube

PLAs are a straightforward way to get noticed by customers right at the moment they are searching for a product you offer.

But creating and managing an effective PLA campaign can be challenging. 

The PLA Research tool from Semrush helps you with that, offering insights into your competitor’s Google Shopping ads. You can use these insights to create and improve your own strategy. More on this later.

Product Listing Ads vs. Google Shopping

PLAs are a category of paid online ads available on Google and Bing. You pay a fee each time your ad gets clicked.

You can create these ads on platforms like Google Ads and Microsoft Ads. 

Here’s an example of product listing ads on Bing:

Product listing ads on Bing for "buy shoes online" query

And here they are on Google Shopping: 

Product listing ads for "buy shoes online" query on Google Shopping

Google Shopping is a Google-specific comparison shopping engine (CSE). It includes both PLAs and organic (non-paid) product listings. 

People use Google Shopping to discover, compare, and buy physical products from different sellers. It’s an important place to showcase your products. 

So, when creating your Google Shopping strategy to promote your products, the focus should be on both organic listings and paid ads.

Similarly, when you’re creating your PLA campaign, don’t overlook ads on Bing. It’s the second-largest search engine in the world.

How Do Product Listing Ads Work?

When a user searches for a product online, search engines use the product information you—the brand—have provided to find a match. If your product fits within the parameters the user searched, it appears in the shopping results.

So, how do you provide Google and Bing your product information?

By creating a product feed and uploading it to Google Merchant Center and Microsoft Merchant Center. 

Your product feed includes attributes like product titles, descriptions, stock availability, price, category, link, and more. TXT, XML, and TSV are common feed file extensions. 

A typical CSV product feed looks like this:

A CSV product feed example

You need to save this CSV file in the compatible filename extension (e.g., .tsv and .txt) before uploading.

Once your feed is uploaded to the applicable merchant center(s), the next step is to link your associated advertising account(s):

  • A Google Merchant Center account should be linked with your Google Ads account
  • A Microsoft Merchant Center account should be linked with your Microsoft Ads account 

Now you can create ad campaigns that use these feeds to display your product ads in search results. 

Unlike traditional text-based search ads, shopping ads don’t have the keyword targeting option. Product listing ads on Google and Bing pull data from the uploaded feeds to determine if your product is relevant to what the user is searching for. 

The effectiveness of your PLAs depends on factors like:

  • Product data feed: It should be complete, accurate, and regularly updated to avoid ad disapprovals
  • User relevance: The closer your product aligns with user search intent, the higher its potential ranking
  • Product attributes: Titles and descriptions should be optimized so they match user queries
  • Bid amount: A higher bid can lead to better positions, but it’s important to consider your campaign goals and budget
  • Click-through and conversion rates: Ads with higher click-through rates (CTRs) and more conversions tend to secure better placements over time
  • Merchant center performance: A positive history with consistent activity can influence your ad’s ranking favorably

5 Benefits of Product Listing Ads

1. Increased Visibility in Search Results

PLAs appear prominently in search results, often above standard text ads and organic listings. 

Your products get more immediate attention. They’re in the searcher’s direct line of sight. 

This strategic positioning can increase your brand visibility and the chance of user engagement with your listings.

PLAs vs text ads shown on SERP

2. Higher Click-Through Rate

The visual nature and detailed information included in PLAs (prices, shipping time frame, user reviews, and more) make them more engaging than text-only ads. 

Users can make a decision about the relevance and attractiveness of a product just by glancing at the ad. 

It naturally draws user attention, which can lead to a higher click-through rate. 

3. Better Qualified Traffic

PLAs are included in search results when the search query suggests the user has a commercial intent. Basically, it’s displayed to users who appear ready to buy.

This focus on ready-to-buy users results in traffic that is more likely to purchase.

Plus, because of the PLA’s informational nature, when a user clicks on your ad, they do so with an already clear understanding of the product’s appearance, price, shipping date, and more. 

It means those that arrive on the product page are less likely to just be browsing.

The higher quality traffic can increase your conversion rate. And it may even lower the cost of acquiring new customers.

4. Detailed Performance Tracking

With PLAs like Google Product Listing Ads, you can track detailed performance metrics. Like the number of clicks and conversions for specific product ads. 

This data can help you understand which products are performing well and which ones require changes in strategy. 

For example, if a particular model of a product is receiving more clicks, you might decide to allocate more budget to its ads. Or use its ad format as an example to follow with your other products.

5. Better Customer Experience

PLAs provide users with immediate product information, which allows for quick and informed decision-making.

This direct and comprehensive presentation of product details caters to the modern shopper’s desire for convenience and efficiency.

The improved CX can lead to higher satisfaction rates and repeat business, fostering long-term customer relationships.

How to Set Up Product Listing Ads

You can create your product listing ads on platforms like Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.

Let’s take the example of Google Shopping ads, which are PLAs on Google.

You have to meet some prerequisites before you create a campaign on Google Ads.

First, you need to create a product feed. 

How? 

It depends on which shopping platform you’re using. Many of the shopping platforms (including Google Shopping) let you easily create product feeds using tools or plug-ins.

Some of the most popular tools for creating product feeds include:

You can also create a product feed manually. Follow Google’s product data specification.

Once your feed is ready, download it in a compatible format (.txt, .tsv, etc.). 

Next, create your Google Merchant Center account. And add your products.

"Add product" button highlighted in Google Merchant Center

Upload your data feed file. 

"Add products from a file" option selected in Google Merchant Center

Next, connect your Google Merchant Center account with your Google Ads account in the “Apps” settings.

Google “Apps” settings

If you don’t have a Google Ads account, you’ll have to create one first. Check out our detailed guide on this here: How to Create a Google Ads Account.

Once your Google Ads and Google Merchant Center accounts are connected (and after your products are approved), you’re ready to create your PLAs for Google Shopping. 

Log in to your Google Ads account. Click the “Create” button on the left-hand menu.

"Create" button in Google Ads account

Select “Campaign.”

"Campaign" selected from the Google Ads "create" drop-down

Choose “Sales” as your campaign’s objective.

"Sales" option selected under Google Ads' campaign objective

Select “Shopping” as your campaign type.

"Shopping" option selected under Google Ads' campaign type

Make sure your Merchant Center account is selected.

To advertise product on your website, select a Merchant Center account

You’ll get to choose between two subtypes of shopping or product listing ads:

  • Standard Shopping: Lets you advertise your products across Search, the Shopping tab, Images, Maps, and Google Search Partner websites. It provides more control over targeting, bidding, and ad creation.
  • Performance Max: Lets you create automated ads that use smart bidding to help you drive better conversions across Search, YouTube, Gmail, and more.
"Standard Shopping campaign" option selected

Let’s go with the “Standard Shopping campaign.”

Name your campaign.

"Google Shopping Campaign Example" added in the "Campaign name" field

Next, you’ll get the option to configure your campaign. Which includes:

  • Setting your bid strategy
"Bidding" drop-down menu of Google Ads campaign settings
"Budget" field of Google Ads campaign settings
  • Choosing a campaign priority. (If you’re running just one campaign, keep it to the default “Low.”)
"Campaign priority" section of Google Ads campaign settings

This is where you’ll also decide:

  • Where your ads appear (just on Google properties or also on partner sites)
  • Which devices your ads appear on
  • The geographic location you want to target
  • The duration of the campaign
"Targeting" section of Google Ads campaign settings

Finally, name your ad group. And if you’re going with the “Manual CPC” bidding strategy, set your cost-per-click (CPC) bid. Review the ad, check all the configurations, and hit “Create Campaign.” 

Create campaign button

How to Track PLA Performance

You can track Google Product Listing Ad performance on Google Merchant Center, Google Ads, and third-party tools like Google Analytics.

Google Merchant Center has a performance dashboard showing metrics related to your PLAs. It includes impressions, clicks, click-through rates, and other conversion metrics.

Google Merchant Center performance dashboard

Image Source: Click Pilot

Similarly, Google Ads has a built-in insights dashboard that shows various metrics like CTR, CPC, conversion rate, and return on ad spend (ROAS). You can use these metrics to track your campaign performance.

Google Ads insights dashboard

Image Source: LinkedIn

Many advertisers use third-party tools like Google Analytics to track their PLAs. It provides deeper insights into user behavior and the customer journey. 

You gain a complete view of how users interact with your site post-click, such as which pages they visit, how long they stay, and their path to making a purchase. This detailed analysis can help you optimize your campaigns and improve the overall user experience.

You can track PLAs by connecting your Google Ads account to Google Analytics.

Go to your Google Analytics account and choose the property you want to connect by clicking the “All accounts” path at the top.

"All accounts" path at the top of Google Analytics

Select the property from the drop-down.

"GA4 - Property Example" selected under Google Analytics' properties & apps

Click “Admin” from the sidebar to open the admin settings. 

Google Analytics "Admin" button

Scroll down to the “Product links” section and select “Google Ads links.”

“Google Ads links" selected under "Product links" drop-down menu

Next, click “Link.”

"Google Ads links" section

Select the Google Ads account you want to link. Configure the settings as needed. And click “Submit.”

Configure the settings to link to Google Ads accounts

You can enhance your tracking capabilities with Google Analytics by using UTM parameters in your URLs.

UTM parameters are simple code snippets added to the end of your website URLs. They help identify the specific source, medium, campaign, term, and content that directed users to your site. This is particularly helpful when you’re running multiple ads.

For instance, you can tag your PLA URLs with unique UTM codes to see exactly which ads bring traffic and conversions.

This works by adding parameters like “utm_source” for the traffic source (like a specific PLA), “utm_medium” for the type of traffic (like “cpc” for cost-per-click), and “utm_campaign” to identify the specific ad campaign.

An example of PLA URL tagged with unique UTM codes

Analyzing this data in Google Analytics helps you better understand which aspects of your advertising are most effective, allowing for more precise optimization and strategy planning.

Further reading: UTM Codes in Google Analytics 4 (GA4): A Step-by-Step Tutorial

7 Product Listing Ads Best Practices

Running a successful PLA campaign requires thorough planning, efficient execution, and ongoing optimization.

Here are some best practices to make your PLAs more effective:

1. Optimize Your Product Feed

Optimizing your feed involves refining the quality of your product data to improve its performance in search results.

Use precise, searchable product titles and detailed descriptions. And select the right product categories.

Product feeds often contain errors or issues. Regularly checking your feed’s health involves looking for and fixing common issues like missing information, incorrect categorization, or poor image quality.

Addressing these issues improves the likelihood of your ads being approved.

You can use the Product Feed Health Checker from Semrush to optimize your product feed. It analyzes your product titles, descriptions, and other details. And provides optimization ideas for your listings.

Open the tool and click “Check your Google shopping feed.” You can either upload your product feed file in zipped .tsv file format or connect your Google Merchant Account.

"Check your Google shopping feed" button in Product Feed Health Checker

After analyzing your feed, the tool will provide a report showing how well your product listings are optimized for Google Shopping.

Product Feed Health Checker report showing product listings optimization

You can click on any product for more details about issues that need fixing.

A product with no description issue found in Product Feed Health Checker

The goal is to increase your “Healthy score %” for each product. This will collectively improve your product feed.

Well-optimized feeds are more likely to match user search queries accurately, which increases the chances of your ads being displayed and clicked.

2. Implement Competitive Pricing Strategies

Competitive pricing is key to getting people to click your ad. If your product’s price is higher than those in other ads, your CTR could be low. (Especially in markets where price is a big consideration for buyers.)

Actively monitor your competitors’ prices and adjust yours to remain appealing to customers.

This doesn’t always mean lowering your prices. As an alternative, you could highlight the unique value of your product so that a higher price point is more easily justified.

You can see the pricing of your competitors’ products using the PLA Research tool.

Open the tool, enter your competitor’s domain, select the country in the drop-down, and click “Search.”

PLA Research tool search bar

In the default “Positions” tab, scroll to the “PLA Positions” card. 

"PLA Positions" section of PLA Research's Positions report

You’ll see the list of products your competitor is selling through Google PLAs, the price of those products, the search queries that trigger those product ads, and more.

Look at the “Price (USD)” column. 

"Price (USD)" column highlighted in PLA Positions table

Use this information to adjust the pricing of your own products and ad content accordingly.

3. Use Negative Keywords Wisely

Using negative keywords in your PLAs helps ensure your ads don’t appear for the wrong audience. These keywords filter out searches that are unlikely to lead to a sale.

This targeting refines your audience to those who are more likely to be interested in and can afford your products.

Regularly check the search terms report in your Google Ads account to get ideas for negative keywords. This report shows what people are typing into Google when they see your ads.

Search terms report in Google Ads

Image Source: Surfside PPC

For instance, if you notice your luxury watch ads are being triggered by searches for “’inexpensive watches,” you would add “inexpensive” as a negative keyword.

This way, your ads are more likely to reach shoppers looking for high-end products. It improves your chances of attracting customers who are a good fit for what you’re selling.

4. Regularly Update Your Product Feed

Accurate, up-to-date information ensures your products are relevant to customers’ needs.

Regular updates should include changes in pricing, availability of stock, new product additions, discounts, and other components.

For example, suppose you have an online store selling smartphones. In your case, it’s important to promptly reflect any price shifts, introduce the latest models, and adjust the availability status of older models.

This ensures when customers search for specific gadgets, your PLAs show the most accurate and updated options. It increases the likelihood of clicks and subsequent purchases.

5. Use High-Quality Images

Images are the first thing a customer notices. A clear, attractive image can increase the chance of a click.

Ensure your product images are well-lit, high-resolution, and showcasing your product from multiple angles. 

Help the user envision your product’s use. For example, if you’re selling furniture, include images that display the item in a styled room setting, as well as close-ups to show texture and color.

PLA ads for sofas contain images in a styled room settings etc.

This can give potential buyers a comprehensive view, making them more likely to engage with your ad.

6. Optimize Titles and Descriptions

The titles and descriptions in your product feeds should be clear, concise, and packed with relevant information. 

The ad should include details like brand, size, color, and any unique features. 

A PLA with title that reads "30" European Design Lounge Chair - Iconic Accent Chair - Premium Beig"

Use language that speaks to your target audience and incorporates keywords they might use in their searches. 

For instance, if you’re selling sports equipment, use terms like “lightweight,” “durable,” or specific sports names. 

This makes your PLAs more relevant to user searches.

7. Create Segmented Campaigns

Segmenting your PLA campaigns allows for more targeted and effective advertising.

Most search engines, including Google and Bing, offer options to group your products within their advertising platforms.

Start by categorizing your products based on characteristics such as category, price range, or customer demographics.

For example, create separate campaigns in Google Ads for “luxury items” and “budget-friendly finds” using the “Product groups” feature.

“Product groups” section in Google Ads

Image Source: Google Ads Help

Categorization lets you customize your messaging and adjust bidding strategies by segment. 

You can also review the performance data for each segment and refine your approach based on learnings specific to that group. This helps ensure each group is optimized for the best possible results.

Ready to Create Your First PLA Campaign?

Product listing ads give you direct access to people looking for products like yours.

It is one of the best ways for retailers to drive sales.

However, creating an effective PLA campaign requires thorough planning that undertakes existing market realities. 

Start by analyzing your competitors. Look at their ads and learn from them. Based on that, create your own campaign.

Try PLA Research for free.

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