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5 Ways To Get Smarter About PLA Campaigns

Search results-anchored product listing ads (PLAs) have incredible potential to drive revenue, since they capture the consumers’ attention at the precise moment they are researching and buying specific products. But getting a positive ROI from PLAs has become more difficult due to increased competition for ads, evolving provider requirements, and other factors. In response, marketers need to become much smarter about optimizing their PLA campaigns. Here are some tips to get started.

Get Granular When Setting Up Your Feed and Campaign

When you set your bid for your product groupings, you can go broad (for example, set the same bid amount for all men and women’s sneakers) or you can go granular (bid 10% more for women’s Nike Air Max 2015 sneakers). You don’t want to bid too much — or even at all — for brands, styles or models that don’t convert well in a PLA campaign, but you may want to bid more aggressively for specific products that do, especially if you find that you can upsell certain orders with related products or accessories. A common setup approach is assigning your starting bids by product margin. For items with a higher margin, place a higher bid, whereas lower margins may require more careful bidding in order to see a return on your investment.

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Listen to the Engines and Monitor Your Data Quality

Over the past year, Google and Bing have become much more aggressive about policing their requirements for PLAs. Specifically, to create a better user experience, the search engines are screening ads to see if they click to out-of-stock pages, and are scanning ads to ensure that product attributes such as pricing information, sizing, colors, material and shipping costs all match your data feed. If there is a mismatch, they will provide specific feedback via the Google Merchant Center, under the Diagnostics Tab. To ensure that your campaigns are not flagged or removed, sign into your Google Merchant Center daily to check for feedback, and address any discrepancies as quickly as possible to avoid any interruptions in serving your ads.

Listen to your Customers and Look for Trends

Your initial product feed is essentially your best guess on how your products and offers will convert. It’s a starting point -- nothing more. You will start to receive consumer feedback the very day your PLA campaigns launch, so look for patterns. Did consumers click on your ad? Did they ultimately convert? Did they abandon the shopping cart once the shipping and handling costs were added? Keep an eye on spending patterns over time, and remember seasonality; certain products may sell well initially, but fail to convert consumers two weeks later. All of these trends are your customers providing direct feedback to your offers -- be sure to respond to patterns by adjusting bids up or down to better meet your ROI goals.

Test Often, But Strategically

PLA performance isn’t static, so you’ll need to work at earning ongoing sales and profitability. The best way to ensure continued success is by testing all aspects of campaigns, including modifying product titles, images, product descriptions, promotional text, merchant promotions, and of course your bids. The optimal combination for your products may be a moving target, but you can find it by constantly testing. If you have limited resources, then focus on product titles. They are relatively easy to optimize, and can yield big results.

Don't Ignore Bing

Although Google is the dominant PLA player, if you really want full distribution you can’t ignore Bing’s Product Ads (which now also feed into Yahoo!). Of course, that means you will need to create and actively manage two distinct product feeds and campaigns -- which isn’t easy, especially considering how Google has stepped up its policing policies. However, if you have the resources, the additional overhead may well be worth it. Since fewer marketers are running ads on Bing and Yahoo, you can rank higher for certain terms and acquire customers for a lower cost. It can vary from one advertiser to the next, but in many cases participation in Bing’s program will drive as much as 15-20% in incremental sales.

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