21 March 2019
By Drew Smith
Drew is the Director of Product Strategy at Volo and focuses on how technology can help brands and retailers deliver what their customers want.
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Strong online retail growth has attracted widespread competition, creating a cut-throat market where it’s hard for brands to stand out against competitors and capture the customer’s attention and ultimately their purchase. eCommerce managers need to recognise that it is increasingly difficult to ensure that their brand cuts through the noise.
Modern ecommerce dictates that it is no longer acceptable for a brand to simply have a website that facilitates online sales. Successful fashion retailers need to be proactive, using the many online marketplaces and actively pursuing potential customers through the use of product listing ads on (PLAs) on channels like Google Shopping.
So, what do you need to know in order to succeed? This is your crash course in product listing ads — delivering the insights required to get out ahead of the competition and thrive.
Product listing ads (PLAs) are Google Shopping ads that function on a cost per click (CPC) basis. CPC means that the business is only charged for the ad when a user clicks on the advert in order to visit the site. For businesses, the CPC nature of PLAs is incredibly useful, allowing better control of advertising spend.
The terms “PLAs” and “Google Shopping ads” are often used interchangeably. However, PLAs can also be used directly on other ecommerce platforms such as Amazon or eBay. For the purposes of drilling into some specifics of how to maximise the return on your use of PLAs, we will focus on PLAs as Google Shopping ads. Although some of the specifics will be different on other platforms, most of the high-level theory remains constant wherever you might buy a PLA.
In order to create PLAs, Google Shopping requires a data feed of products from either the Google Merchant Centre or the brand’s individual website. The data provider is then used to create ad cards, which draw the attention of users searching for specific products and then directly links to product pages on the retailer or brand’s website.
Google Shopping ads have proven to be extremely popular with retailers due in no small part to their ability to produce conversions. Research has shown that PLAs are now the focus of 76.4% of retail search spend, resulting in 85.3% of all Google Ads clicks. As a result, the need to harness PLAs and the potential they offer is increasingly crucial for online retailers and brands.
While Google Shopping ads are inherently advantageous to a brand, they can also be problematic. Providing and updating the data required can be time-consuming and expensive, often demanding significant manual input from company staff. Information then has to be continually updated and refined to ensure it is relevant at all times. Nevertheless, Google Shopping is simply too important to the modern ecommerce picture to be overlooked.
It is therefore essential for brands to investigate ways and means of improving their PLAs, streamlining the entire process in order to ensure maximum efficiency. This is exactly what we intend to provide you here.
Google offers the ability to include a range of different variants — including size, colour, material, pattern, and more. This will help you increase relevance and allow for more appearances in search results for the right customers. These variants can be included in a single listing that features a variety of different options, which significantly benefits the user experience and thus helps to increase conversions.
As well as assisting with appearances in search results, opting to utilise as many variants as possible helps to provide more opportunities for conversions. If, for example, a user were to search for a “maxi dress,” they may see a Shopping ad that includes a photograph of a black maxi dress. If the user is searching for a black maxi dress, then they have the opportunity to click through and convert. But, if you sell maxi dresses in more than one colour, you want your product listing to appear for those ‘colour specific’ searches as well. Make sure to include all of those options, including relevant photographs, to have the widest and most impactful reach.
It is important to create titles that are as informative as possible in order to ensure you can catch all relevant search traffic. Including brand names, product names, and variants such as colour can all help to capture the eye of a browsing user and encourage a conversion.
However, titles are also incredibly difficult to master due to title length restrictions. As a result, it is important to experiment, test, and make future decisions based on past results. A good way to do this may be to experiment with one product that has a number of variants. In one listing, you could include the colour and brand name, while another focuses on the product name, and so on. You can then judge which works best and incorporate this lesson when creating PLAs in future.
All Merchant Centre data feeds undergo a continual assessment by Google in order to be approved for use on Google Shopping. If your ads do not receive approval, then the impact can be catastrophic, resulting in lost clicks and therefore lost sales.
To keep approval rates high, Google encourages brands to ensure all items listed have a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). As well as assisting with approvals, statements from Google indicate that products with correct, relevant GTINs benefit from a 20% conversion rate increase compared to those listed without GTINs.
When browsing for products online, the initial visual experience of a product is the most crucial, functioning as a vital first impression for users who are denied the opportunity to touch a product as they would in a brick and mortar store. As a result, it is essential to ensure that your Google Shopping ads are all equipped with high-quality product images that showcase the product in the best possible light.
Make sure that any product pictures are high-resolution. Ideally, provide multiple pictures from different angles that emphasise different product features. Show the product on a simple white background. You want the customer to feel that they really understand what the product will be like when it is delivered.
When searching for a product, most users will seek to filter the thousands (if not millions) of results in order to find a product that is more suitable to their specific needs. While you can create Shopping ads without accounting for this filtering, doing so can greatly improve the customer experience and therefore increase the possibility of conversions. It is highly advisable to opt to use as many non-required fields as possible.
When it comes to colours, it is particularly important to ensure that you are using colours that Google recognises, opting for standard colour names — for example, choosing the simple “blue” rather than “navy”.
The more PLAs you have, the higher the need to segment products by type — for example, “Men’s Shoes” or “Summer Dresses.” By segmenting your products in this way, you can enjoy more granular campaigns, more efficient bidding, and simpler overall management of all of your brand’s PLAs.
Lastly, don’t treat your PLAs as static investments. You need to gather data on how your Google Shopping ads perform, take time to interpret that data and then iterate based on success and failure. You don’t want to leave ads live if they’re never getting exposure or clicks. Worse, you want to avoid PLAs that entice clicks but don’t result in conversions, wasting you money.
A few negative conversions is no reason to panic. You do need to remember that people do accidentally click on ads. However, if you have an ad with an abnormally low conversion rate, you should check that the snippet is not misrepresenting the product. If you have a PLA that never gets clicks, make sure that it’s in the right campaign and being targeted towards the right searches. Look at the ads your competitors are placing. Always reassess what you are doing — all online advertising is an iterative process. The same goes for everything about your ecommerce strategy.
The ability to create and subsequently maintain Google Shopping ads with high-quality data is a crucial factor when seeking to create product listing advertisements which convert. Similarly to the process required to refine bidding strategies and other elements, PLAs require an element of experimentation to determine optimal keywords, titles and bidding tactics, et cetera.
Unfortunately, many companies find that the quest for high-quality, reliable, and easily manipulated data in relation to PLAs places excessive demands on other resources. This has been the primary driver behind the development of ecommerce technology solutions that collect analytics and automate listing processes — enabling teams to spend more time on value-added tasks like planning, strategising and assessing results.
The right investment will allow you to collect and identify the data you need, then format it in a way that works best for the platform you are using. You can create a seamless process that provides complete control over your Google Shopping data feed without the need for time-consuming manual processes. Staff can divert their time and expertise to other tasks, maximise overall team efficiency while still ensuring that your brand is able to enjoy all the benefits of effective PLAs that reliably convert.
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