It’s Ok, I’ve had an AdWords review and there’s nothing that can be done, we’re running Product Listing Ads”.


This standard response has been occurring at an increasing rate over the last few months, when we introduce our AdWords services to companies. It turns out that most AdWords Expert Agencies won’t touch you with a barge pole if you use PLA’s why because they don’t know what to do with them and don’t understand the principles behind them.  Their usual over excitement at getting an AdWords review and boundless ‘Yes, we can do that’ suddenly evaporates and becomes a meek ‘we don’t do product listing ads – sorry’.  It’s every agency as well, all the usual suspects; you probably know them; they prefix every campaign name with their company initials or some other characters. Perhaps the new prefix should be NI for No Idea.

So what’s going on? Is it that the very internet marketing experts, whom you thought would lead you into the bright new world of data marketing, are suddenly afraid of change? After all people tend to fear the things, they don’t understand. The cocky sales manager running an agency with a back room of cheap so called AdWords experts are out of their depth. The SEO Company that could muddle through with text ads doesn’t know where to start.

Google is killing them, just like it’s killing all but the best SEO/AdWords agencies. Agencies have been burnt and they are staying clear of Product Listing Ads (PLAs).

I’ll give a case in point. A client of mine was forced just like you into the world of paid product ads as the free shopping listings came to an end in February 2013. Their agency promised they had the skills, but they didn’t. The new listing didn’t work and their competitors kept winning! They even tried listing prices without vat, loading different prices at various times of the day, in fact every trick that they and their agency had read about on the net. Hours spent on the phone to Google went nowhere and by April 2013, sales turnover had fallen to £10K per month. Considering a gross profit of sub 30% their financials became dire having only £3k of profit to pay staffing costs and all his other overheads. Warning for attempts at cheating the system were coming thick and fast from Google. Now some of you may remember my Advanced Product Listing strategy offer I put out last year. This client took up the offer and they told me this week that sales turnover since April 2013 had just past £750,000, that’s around £84k a month a 740% increase. Now that’s a turnaround by anybody’s standards. In truth, I am still amazed that other agencies don’t get PLAs, but as my team remind me, I am a data techie.

So what is happening in AdWords land now? You must remember that AdWords and Google generally are not like Amazon. With Amazon you can list products by simply copying a competitors listing. The Amazon interface is friendly. Google by contrast is a company run by social engineering techies for techies and therefore it’s no surprise to find that their systems favour techies. AdWords and Product Listing Ads are becoming increasingly data driven. AdWords is geared towards data marketers and these individuals tend to have hard hitting database backgrounds and work for the brands that are now taking over AdWords. Brands have big budgets and Google has its eye on the money.

Your traditional agency isn’t staffed by database programmers. They cost too much?  But guess what? I know database types earn a small fortune, that’s why I became one in the late 1990’s. A week after joining one of the first dot com boom companies, their database system crashed. It took them 18 hours to get the database back. They lost over £10K per hour! Turned out they could afford a database type as they earned too much. My ears pricked up at this point in the meeting. I volunteered to train as the database administrator / programmer. Next time the same crash occurred, it took me 2 minutes to fix it. Those were the days of the internet gold rush.

I really embrace this move to big data. It gives even smaller players an advantage if you understand it.  But that’s the problem; nearly all agencies are lost at sea with product listing ads. They don’t understand it and don’t have strategies to win.

To help you I promised last week that I give you a DIY review check list for Product Listing Ads so you can to review your own performance, so here goes;

Product listing ads!

I have spoken to many clients now over the past 12 months or so who have taken up the opportunities given by Product listing ads many of them when they arrive have done nothing more than set up a simple feed through Google Merchant Centre and left it? Unbelievably many of them weren’t running because they didn’t realise they had to regularly update their feed. If any of this sounds familiar then straight away you have problems don’t bother reading the rest of this blog and call us straight away.

If you are still reading then here are the top 5 tips to consider when optimising your account;

1. Disqualify prospects. The real secret to AdWords isn’t traffic simply it’s getting the right traffic that will convert.  Without conversions, you won’t be able to repeat the sales cycle and buy quality traffic. Do you know which search terms are triggered against which products? If not then you have problems. Whilst your overall traffic may look good, it’s alarming when you suddenly see which terms appear against each product. A lot of people don’t even know that it is even possible to find this out.  If you can’t the control search term product relationship, you’re attracting and paying for clicks that won’t convert. You must disqualify the timewasters. The usual symptom is a single product listing campaign with a single ad group.

2. Bidding structure. Around 80% of the new clients I deal with who have PLA’s already in place have a campaign called My Product Listing Ads and then an ad group called Ad group #1 and all of their products are bundled in here. The ‘we know what were doing’ brigade, have progressed to a campaign(s) with several ad groups targeting brands or other simple targeting options but this technique is typical of those who have fallen behind the field. But back to the point, if you should have 2000 products ranging from £1-£1000 you have no way of controlling the conversions costs for products of varying price. All the products have the same bid and the conversion cost is spread across all these products. Now how can you measure product ROI profitability when they are all bundled into one basket? You need to make sure you can clearly see what products you are selling, what each product cost in advertising and what conversions each product generated. Without this you have no way of measuring your performance and adjusting prices to reflect ROI.  If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.

3. Keywords. Unlike text campaigns PLA’s aren’t driven by the traditional keyword method, Google uses data from your product feed to deduce the most appropriate keywords.  Google uses fields such as title and description amongst others to search for keywords. It’s a miss conception that the  high quality of search traffic generated by PLA’s is down to a better keyword engine, it’s actually due to visual filtering by prospects who can see your product prior to clicking. This visual filter increases search term quality.  The issue for many is that Google can either disqualify products in your feed due to inappropriate content such as chemical names in ingredients within your descriptions or fail to show your products due to a lack of weight within your feed for keywords. If you’ve optimised the campaign structure and bids but still are failing to achieve or high search volumes you need to consider feed optimisation.

4. Ad Promotion Text. If you hover over a PLA ad image in the SERPs page, you may have noticed that some have a short promotional message such as Hurry, Limited Stock. If you’re ads don’t feature this you’re wasting a vital opportunity to improve conversions.

5. Shopping Results. Google’s shopping result page as we all should know by now is a paid listing service. You can only appear if you’re advertising in Adwords. But is this really true? Have you every wondered how some of your competitors have incredibly low prices and always appears as the lowest cost supplier when you click the compare 25+ stores in the shopping results? Well, it’s still possible to feature in Shopping results and pay nearly nothing. It might be that you’ve turned off your PLA’s at certain hours to reduce spend, but you could still pick up sales from Shopping. Or how about turning off ads for low ROI products and still pick up sales on the Shopping network. If you don’t know this secret, then you’re failing behind.

So there are my top 5 tips for identifying issues with your PLA’s. You will have noticed there is a common theme throughout it’s all about control and the only way to get that is to measure, measure, and measure some more. But that’s a story for another occasion maybe next week?

Last week I set you all a challenge regarding your campaigns being shown worldwide. Those of you who believe they are not, we wagered you a free session worth £150 that you were advertising worldwide. We had a really good response from this and still no one has beaten the analyst. Every single advertiser so far has found out that they are advertising worldwide, despite their belief they are advertising in the UK only. So we are rolling it onto this week. So book your free health check with Ian and see if you can “Beat the Analyst” and get yourself a free Mentoring session? The gauntlet has been thrown, so call us on 01244 470067

John Langley

John Langley


I am the founder of Click Convert, an Award Winning agency, here to deliver great marketing for Small and Medium Businesses. We’ve created over $1.1 billion in sales for clients. We’re one of the top digital marketing companies in America and the UK for small and medium businesses digital marketing. We’re a Google Premier Partner, a Google Top 50 agency and our work was recommended by Google’s CEO in 2020. Outside of family and Click Convert, Cars, Adventure and Pizza are my passion. Our vision is to Inform, Empower and Deliver to help both clients and readers.

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