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When you search for products in Google there are several ways that retailers can choose to target you. 

Aside from the paid search ads at the top of the page, there are also Google Shopping results which are determined by the relevance of the products stored in the Merchant Centre.

A high optimisation effort is necessary to successfully work with Google Shopping, so up until this week Google had compensated retailers by offering this service for free.

But as of this week Google Shopping results in the US will only come from merchants who are Product Listing Ads (PLA) customers. The same model will be rolled out in Europe early next year. 

PLA has proven to be a useful tool for merchants and on average features twice the CTR of comparable text ads in AdWords. 

E-business consultant Dan Barker says that the new system should make Google Shopping more transparent and allow users to target the kind of traffic and shoppers that they want.

If Google Shopping traffic works well for you at present, it's difficult to do much to get more of it. As a paid service, you'll be able to pay money and spend time on optimisation to increase that traffic.

On the downside, Barker said companies now have to pay for what was previously ‘free’ traffic, which often this hits the little retailer more than anyone else.

Small shops may have got a regular trickle of orders through Google Shopping, and many won't even realise this is where their sales were coming from.

Now that traffic will disappear unless they pay for ads and spend time understanding it or pay even more for someone else to manage it.

In anticipation of the changes, online marketing firm Products-Up has published a white paper, 'PLA - The Future of Google Shopping', that gives retailers tips on how to optimise their product for Google Shopping and PLA. Here are some of its tips and recommendations...

What to consider when designing PLA

The logic of PLA is based on the AdWords bid mechanism and CPC bids are managed through an AdWords account.

However, in contrast to AdWords campaigns, Google selects the results based on whether a product is relevant to the respective search query, rather than on keywords.

It does this using information from the Merchant Centre, so this data is vital for a successful PLA.

What impacts PLA rankings?

In order to improve the chances of appearing in Google Shopping merchants need to increase their relevance using four criteria:

1. Quality of data

Google places great emphasis on the quality of data it supplies to consumers, so merchants need to ensure their product information is thorough and up-to-date.

This means making sure that the product description is as detailed and relevant as possible and that product prices are correct and up-to-date.

Products-Up says that without these prerequisites, merchants will be regarded as unreliable and their products will not show up, or only on a bad position.

2. Bid Management

Merchants should use information on margin, CPC and conversion rates order to make targeted bids for their product groups.

Don’t waste any money on poorly performing products and exclude these instead.

3. Quality Score

The Quality Score is a measure that Google attaches to all websites based on a number of factors including landing page relevance and CTRs.

For landing page relevance there must be a direct correlation to the target URL in the shopping feed while the CTR is rather determined by the trustworthiness of the brand.

4. Trusted stores

Another way of improving your relevance with Google is to apply for its Trusted Stores Program, although this service is currently only available in the US.

It is free to apply and to be accepted merchants must meet criteria defined by Google.

What must I observe in bidding for PLA?

The white paper points out that bidding control can be achieved on different hierarchical levels. These are:

  • product types
  • Brands
  • Condition
  • AdWords Labels
  • AdWords Groups (AdGroups)

Merchants should avoid bundling too many products in one AdGroup as it is important to take into account the different profit margins of each item.

Instead, products should be segmented based on the above criteria, as this can help to achieve CTRs and conversion rates and lower CPCs and CPAs than in classical AdWords advertisements.

David Moth

Published 15 October, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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