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How to craft a successful mobile-driven PLA search campaign

As use of Google product listing ads skyrocketed this past holiday season, learning how to maximize this emerging search opportunity is becoming top of mind for retailers.

Total PLA spend increased 71 percent in the fourth quarter and 164.8 percent year over year. Mobile continues to drive click share, with clicks on PLAs by smartphones increasing by 1,589 percent in 2013 as tablet clicks climbed 335.7 percent, according to a report from The Search Agency.

?PLAs are growing a lot because they work really well,? said Matt Grebow, director of paid search for The Search Agency, Los Angeles. ?Since launching, they have been an unmitigated success for Google and for advertisers.

?It is an efficient way for shoppers to find products they are looking for,? he said. ?They are seeing pricing, an image, a headline and sometimes even shipping.?

Creating a successful campaign
Macy?s, Walmart and eBay were among the top 10 retailers using PLAs last year.

PLAs are finding favor with smartphone users for the results are more compact than traditional lengthier, text-oriented search results, and thus well suited to small screens. Showing the image, price and retailer information upfront reduces the number of clicks to purchase, ideal for on-the-go mobile shoppers with shorter attention spans.

In a recent research note on Google, Jeffries U.S. Internet analyst team said it anticipates purchasing through PLAs will become even easier in the future. ?We believe Google?s ambition is to evolve these ads to the point where users can purchase the item without ever leaving the search results page,? the report said.

Target's PLA ad for "coffee makers" clicks through to a product page

PLA campaigns differ from a regular search marketing campaign for they rely heavily on a well-organized product feed, noted Mr. Grebow. So putting together clear product descriptions is crucial.

?Google is trying to match search queries with what they think are the most relevant products in the product feed,? Mr. Grebow said. Always keep product feeds up-to-date, he advised.

?If something is out-of-stock, you don?t want those products showing up in the feed,? Mr. Grebow said.

?It is a terrible introduction to your brand,? he said. ?It is a bad experience for searchers, and it costs you money in the end.?

From the outset, retailers need to outline their strategy. Is the goal to move summer inventory, draw attention to an exclusive brand or push a high margin item?

Keyword selection and the product feed need to be specific and tailored to reflect that. ?We have learned there is value in granularity,? said Josh Dreller, director of marketing and content for Kenshoo, San Francisco.

?If you are searching a category like speakers, [if not specific] you can call up everything from surround sound systems to headphones,? he said.

Also, if selling a sweater in several colors, maybe tag the item as 'red sweater' to pop up in queries for sweaters as well as those looking for apparel in red.

Proper categorization
?That is actually the biggest mistake we see,? said Alex Funk, director of global paid media strategy for Covario, San Diego. ?A retailer might not show up in a particular auction because they do not have proper categorization.?

Once a campaign is set, PLA search results should be monitored regularly. If duplication appears across competitors, listings should be modified.

?Use a specific phrase or type of image, price point and a description that differentiates your item from others,? said Mr. Funk. To stand out, for example, decrease price by a few cents or switch to a more interesting photo.

Like any campaign, the use of PLAs is about return on investment. Sometimes the higher bid does not result in the most profitability. Retailers must take into account cost per click, conversion rate and product revenue when setting bids.

?Sellers need to analyze what to bid against,? Mr. Funk said.

Deep linking
?Using a deep linking strategy like this can serve a couple of purposes,? said The Search Agency?s Mr. Grebow. ?While you want people to buy that product, it could also introduce them to the brand itself and perhaps turn them into a repeat customer.

?Rather than pay for a visitor to come to the site once and make that one purchase, putting care into the campaign may help them have a great experience and develop a relationship with the brand,? he said.

Another tip is to stay on top of changing events. A retailer might have scheduled a swimsuits campaign for May but, if a heat wave hits in April, this could be a lost opportunity if competitors jump on it while the retailer in question does not.

?You could lose out on two weeks of sales,? Kenshoo?s Mr. Dreller said. ?All the wealth in the world is in the details.?

Final Take
Google explains product listings ads