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Selling Physical Products? Scale Up With These 6 Google Product Listing Ad (PLA) Tips

If you sell physical products, Google Shopping is a “must-try” traffic source.

I’m an admirer of marketing that works and I’ve never seen a traffic source that works as consistently as Google Shopping.

Here are some examples of what we’ve done with Google Shopping…

  • We recently launched a shopping campaign for an apparel company. It generated 143 sales in the first 30 days on just over $1,400 in spend.
  • A recreational sports company raked in $12 in revenue per click and was paying less than $.30 per click during the summer months.
  • A medical device company is seeing 1,663% returns during just two months after we restructured their campaigns.

…I could go on and on.

Today I’ll give you 6 ways to scale your business using Google Shopping’s Product Listing Ads (PLA’s).

But first…

What is Google Shopping?

When you search for a product on Google, you’ll typically see product listing ads (PLAs) appear on the top or the top right. Depending on what type of product you’re searching for, Google will usually show 1-8 products.

Google Product Listing Ad

You’ve probably heard of both Google Shopping and Product Listing Ads. Both are correct terms. Google Shopping is the campaign type, PLAs are the ad units. When you see Product Listing Ads, you’ll notice a couple of things:

  1. They command attention…and clicks. In fact, a recent study by Wordstream revealed that for some product queries, the ads get 64% of the clicks!
  2. They’re compelling. If your search is specific enough, you’ll likely see exactly what you’re looking for complete with picture, price and maybe some reviews and an offer.

How Does it Work?

There are two platforms that facilitate Google Shopping Campaigns: AdWords and Google Merchant Center.

Google Merchant Center is where your product data or data feed lives, as well as shipping and sales tax information.

Your data feed is simply all the relevant data about your products:

  • Product titles,
  • Descriptions,
  • Sizes,
  • Colors,
  • Price,
  • Image,
  • Product type…

…formatted in a way Google likes.

AdWords is where your Google Shopping campaigns live. This is where you control bids, budgets, targeting and other settings, like location targeting and device targeting.

While Google Shopping is managed inside of AdWords, it is fundamentally different than traditional text ads. With text ads, you choose the keywords you want to target, you write your ads and tell Google how much you’re willing to pay per click from a specific keyword.

With Product Listing Ads, you don’t chose your keywords. You set a bid on your products and Google decides what keywords are relevant based on your data feed. You can then add negatives to prevent your ads from showing for undesirable keywords, but you can’t choose your keywords. However, by crafting your data feed you can have great influence over the keywords Google finds relevant for you.

Why Shopping and Why Now?

Consistent Returns

On average the campaigns our agency manages generate over a 600% return on ad spend.

This means for every $1 spent with product listing ads, we see an average of just over $6 in sales. The range we most commonly see is between 300% and 1,300%. These numbers are based on gross sales and don’t take into consideration management fees, but with those returns you don’t have to have great margins to turn a profit.

New Customers

Google Shopping is a great way to drive clicks from new customers.

In 4th quarter of 2014, PLAs accounted for 56% of all non-branded clicks for merchants (source: RKG). The secret is out. Merchants and agencies now know how powerful PLAs are. According to AdGooroo, the top 20 advertisers now spend 63% of their search marketing budgets on PLAs.

Google Product Listing Ads vs Text Ads

Lower CPCs

The graph above says otherwise, but we consistently see lower costs per click from shopping ads.

It’s true that PLA competition is growing all the time, and with increased competition, CPCs will go up….

That said — we still see clients paying 20-50% lower CPCs for PLAs than for text ad clicks.

With Google Shopping, you can bid lower and go after longer tail keywords that are often very profitable. Big advertisers like those in the study above usually bid higher in order to show up for broad, highly-contested search terms that command a much higher CPC.

High Buyer Intent

When someone sees a picture of your product along with it’s price and they click on it, they are showing a pretty high purchase intent.

This is the equivalent to the in-store shopper picking up an item and examining it. We’re seeing up to 130% higher conversion rates from PLAs compared to text ads.

Google’s Grabbing More Comparison Shopping Engine Clicks

There’s now a gap left by Amazon’s departure from Products Ads and it will most likely be filled — at least partially — by Google Shopping Ads.

Up until recently Amazon allowed for product ads to appear in search results when someone searched for a product on Amazon. They recently announced the discontinuation of those ads.

In the chart below from 2nd quarter of this year, you can see that most of the Comparison Shopping Engine’s revenues are dropping. This is due in large part to the growth of Google Shopping. Why go to Pricegrabber when you can get shopping results directly from Google?

Amazon recently shuttered their product ad offering, making Google an even more compelling place for online retailer’s ad dollars.


Now that you know…

  • What Google Shopping is
  • How it works
  • Why you should be using it

… you’re ready to scale your business with these 6 tactics. Without further ado…

How to Use Google Shopping

1. Sell Your Core Products to New Buyers

This one seems obvious, but it’s important to note that Google Shopping is for physical products, not services, and no products bundled with services. Some digital products can be sold, but not if they require the download or purchase of additional software.

There are also landing page requirements that may cause some small marketers to bristle just a bit:

  • No pop-ups allowed
  • List a privacy policy,
  • List a physical address
  • List a phone number

All of those are good things for shoppers in my opinion, but I know some merchants don’t like to list them.

Your information provided in your data feed must closely match what’s visible on your product page. See the ad for the Bonavita kettle below. The product page just features that product.

The price and availability match exactly — You can’t advertise a lower priced product and send traffic to a higher priced product.

Here’s the Product Listing Ad…


… and here’s the product page on the advertiser’s website.


2. Sell Tripwire Offers

I’ve loved this concept since the first time I learned about it from Perry Belcher.

I know most people reading this are intimately acquainted with Tripwires, but here’s a brief explanation for those unfamiliar:

A Tripwire is a low priced offer that is sold with the intent of developing a customer and getting them into your sales funnel. So your goal may be to sell a high ticket info product or physical product, but a tripwire is an easy way to get a buyer and start up selling.

A few caveats about this…

We’ve consistently seen that larger feeds will pick up momentum faster than smaller feeds.

So if you are only selling a few products, Google will be slow in showing these products, especially in the beginning. If you are just selling a couple of products, I would still suggest trying Google Shopping, but it might not create a windfall for you. Also, you can’t sell weapons, or anything that attaches to weapons.

Here’s a full list of restricted products that are a no-go with Google Shopping.

3. Pixel Your Audience

This concept made my inner marketing nerd rejoice.

I believe it was Roland Frasier who first introduced this at last year’s Traffic and Conversion Summit — the idea is that you can measure your traffic sources on a Cost Per Pixel (CPP) basis.

Pixels are used in remarketing to allow you to advertise to a person who has visited your site. Structured the right way, you can use your remarketing lists almost like email lists.

Here are some average CPCs from recent weeks with actual shopping campaigns. These CPCs can translate into some pretty attractive CPPs.




4. Use SEO Tactics

Google Shopping has a many similarities to search engine optimization (SEO).

Since you aren’t picking the keywords that your ads will show for, you have to craft your data feed so that Google finds you relevant for your target terms.

There are several data points that are important, but three of the most important ones are:

  • Product Titles,
  • Descriptions,
  • Product Type

Titles are the most important and you’ll want to think about how most people will search for your product. What important attributes are shoppers looking for? Usually you’ll want to include things like…

  • Brand,
  • Color,
  • Size,
  • Model number,
  • Material type,

….in your title. Order is important as well. Google places more weight on the front of your title, so add the most important words first.


Descriptions and products titles are important as well.

One way we usually think about these is that your title should cover your most relevant and most desired keywords, and your description will reinforce those and introduce some long tail keywords. Remember, no keyword stuffing.

It’s not necessary and could get you in trouble — just be clear and descriptive.

5. Think Lifetime Value

You can have one of two goals when it comes to Google Shopping:

  1. Generating a sale
  2. Generating a customer

If you have your sales funnel defined and you have plenty of upsells and cross-sells, then you should think in terms of generating a customer. (Generating a sale is transactional.)

How much profit can I spend to close this sale?

Generating a customer is more strategic.

How much can I spend to acquire this asset that I can cultivate and sell to again and again?

The great thing about Google Shopping is that you can often make a profit or at a minimum break even while you generate a customer.

6. Smart Bidding

Scaling mostly comes down to bidding.

Your overall feed quality will influence what you can and can’t show up for, but your bids will determine your velocity and overall exposure. A lot goes into bidding, but here are some important points to consider.


  • Profit
  • Price
  • Potential

…when you are setting your initial bids.

Price: If you are selling a higher priced item, then CPCs will usually be higher. To be competitive you’ll likely need to bid where your competitors bid.

Profit: Are you willing to spend all of your profit to close a sale? If you have $25 in profit on an item and your conversion rate is 2%, then that means you’ll need 50 clicks to close a sale. $25/50 is $.50. So for this product $.50 should be your max CPC. Usually we would want to start lower in the beginning.

Potential: What is your objective with this product? Exposure? Getting a customer so you can sell them more? If so, then maybe you want to budget more than your available profit per product.

Google Product Listing Ad Tools to Use

My favorite tool for PLA research is SEMrush.

With a paid version of SEMrush – or a free trial – you can see actual PLA data from your competitors. Start by searching for your product in Google. See what competitors pop up. Then enter those competitors into SEMrush and you can see all the Product Listing Ads they running, and the keywords that trigger those ads.

(If you’re a Digital Marketer Lab member, Roland Frasier did a great What’s Working Now webinar on Market Research and covered a bunch of great uses for SEMrush. You can access it here.)


(source: PLA copies sample for

SEMrush also provides helpful keyword data buy showing keyword volumes for keywords and also related keywords. This can be extremely helpful while you are crafting your product titles and descriptions.

All indications point to Google Shopping continuing to grow for the foreseeable future.

Two driving factors almost guaranteed that Google Shopping will only grow:

  1. Consumer’s desire to buy things easily and quickly especially on mobile devices.
  2. Google’s commitment to becoming more of a shopping destination as indicated in part by the roll out of “Purchase on Google”.

Like any marketing channel that delivers results, success will become more challenging as more and more merchants enter the fray. Even still, well-structured campaigns, powered by optimized data feeds, driven by strategic marketing minds should continue to deliver great results.

Brett Curry

Brett Curry

Brett Curry is the CEO of OMG Commerce and serves as the Lead Strategist for Classy Llama. Brett is also the host of the Llama Commerce Show - a podcast dedicated to demystifying eCommerce into actionable bites. He is a fervent believer in getting your message out as clearly and efficiently as possible. Brett is a search marketing expert for e-commerce, and specifically, a Google Shopping evangelist. Want an expert to review your shopping campaign? We’re happy to take a look and provide a no cost, no obligation review for you. Check it out here.

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