PLAs Take Over Where Keyword Ads Left Off

Lorna Rose Gill Posted by Lorna Rose Gill

Product listing ads are taking over the world of online search. Find out what they are, how you should be using them, and what Adthena’s specialised PLA solution can do to help boost your brand’s ROI

Since it was first introduced back in 2010, the product listing ad has been steadily evolving, creeping in from the wings of online search to take centre stage.

This exciting format presents a whole host of fresh opportunities for e-commerce advertisers looking to increase their online visibility. In many cases, PLAs are yielding more positive results than traditional text only ads, achieving a greater presence on search results pages and bringing in more clicks.

On Wordstream, former Google AdWords exec and Top Tier founder Frederick Vallaeys predicts, “2015 will be a big year for e-commerce advertisers. Product listing ads, which used to be difficult to manage and didn’t get great exposure on the search results pages, now often trump [traditional] keyword-targeted ads and are getting wider exposure through syndication on the search partner and display networks.”

What Are PLAs?

Google search results

Google search results

Type “mint green converse” into Google. The PLAs are the row of sponsored images displayed across the very top of the results page. Click the “shop for mint green converse on Google” tab and you’ll be redirected to an extended list of online retailers, complete with a range of accompanying images.

The images ensure two things: that the shopper doesn’t waste time on a site that doesn’t offer the product they’re looking for, and that the advertiser doesn’t waste cash on clicks unlikely to yield conversions.

As Periscopix’s Emma Welland observes on PPC Hero, PLAs essentially bring the traditional store shelf format to the search results page, “displaying a specific product accompanied by price and picture.”

Why Are They Starting to Displace Keyword Ads?

E-commerce advertisers who aren’t currently making good use of product listings should start doing so immediately. For those looking to drive sales growth, now is the time to shift their primary focus from keyword ads to PLAs.

The serious competition from product search giant Amazon has pushed Google to focus on capturing this area of the market. Ultimately, Google wants those interested in searching for products to do so using Google.

What Are You Selling?

Consider your industry. It might sound obvious, but PLAs are only relevant for retailers with physical products to sell and there are a range of restrictions set by Google too that prevent the promotion of certain items you can list using Google Shopping. However, a number of studies have tested the water for other campaigns outside of strictly retail, with the finance sector leading the way to see how credit card promotion can be used via PLAs.

PLAs have a proven track record in electronics, health and beauty, and to a lesser extent, apparel and automotive according to a report by RKG covered by Search Engine Land. The average cost-per-click rises with increased competition.

With PLAs, the brand/non-brand distinction is important. The vast majority of PLA impressions and clicks come from non-brand queries, meaning that searchers are likely to click through to a non-brand specific site if they have Googled “mint green sneakers,” but not if they have Googled “mint green converse.”

Google is as committed to attracting retailers as it is to shoppers. The switch to Google Shopping from PLAs last summer added new and easier to use features, allowing advertisers to bid, report, and optimise product in a more flexible way, by working directly in the AdWords interface.

Continuous updates are made to benefit the more sophisticated advertiser, including steps towards addressing inconsistencies in target serving and expanding the use of 360-degree product views.


Make sure you take advantage of the full range of features. Optimising your merchant centre feed with the right keywords will ensure your products will be matched with search queries as effectively as possible. Likewise, playing around with the “auto targets” functionality allows you to see areas where stock and bids can be adjusted, increasing the efficiency of your ads in both the short and long term.

Stay on the lookout for ways to optimise your brand presence. Google allows the same company to have a paid search ad, organic listing, and a PLA ad live at the same time. This can a help an advertiser increase their real estate in the search results page by using all three to increase their conversion rate and visibility.

Google search results

Google search results

What’s more, if the area you’re promoting is not that competitive, Google gives you the opportunity to have all the PLA spots for yourself.

Let Adthena Give You a Boost

Adthena’s PLA analysis allows you to view the most relevant PLAs, campaign-by-campaign, and analyse them according to factors like market coverage, frequency, and display length.

Competition is all around, and competitive intelligence is critical in ensuring the success of any digital marketing campaign. Acquiring the most up-to-date information on relevant activity in your industry allows your brand to operate with efficiency and solvency in the all-too-crowded marketplace.

We’re here to make sure your customers don’t get lost. Request a demo of Adthena’s services and find out how you can gain new customers and a greater ROI.

(Main image credit: Jorge Franganillo/flickr)

About the author

Lorna Rose Gill
Lorna Rose Gill
Lorna is responsible for acquisition marketing at Adthena, communicating their award-winning product and generating demand. She has developed her career in fast-paced, start-up environments, including two tech track 100 companies. She is curious and passionate and likes to find stories in data and technology.