Google PLA.jpg

Google can dream all it wants about robots, smart homes and artificial intelligence. But as we explained yesterday in a story about its latest acquisition binge, Google is still basically an advertising company.

And Product Listing Ads (PLAs), which combine images and text, are one of the key tools it has in its increasingly large and sophisticated bag of tricks.

Let Me See

Introduced in 2012, PLAs are search ads with product images and prices that appear in a prominent place of a Google search results page. Displayed on the right side of a search results page, the PLAs are more visual and more engaging than paid text results that show up directly above the organic search results

They replaced free comparison-shopping listings, and both customers and retailers seem to love them.

Three studies — one from Adobe, another from Marin Software and a third from IgnitionOne — independently show PLAs earned a lot of the credit for the success of Google's ad business in the fourth quarter last year. 

In a released today, Adobe notes there was  "explosive growth" for PLAs in the last three months of the year. Kohki Yamaguchi, senior business analyst for Adobe Digital Marketing, told CMSWire the statistics show increased ad revenue potential and better ad format diversification. "Paid search advertising is transforming. Marketers are no longer dependent on single-format text ads. We are moving to a more varied, diverse marketplace filled with multiple ad formats," he said.

Adobe reports cost per click (CPC) rates for PLAs are up 80 percent year-over-year compared to 11 percent growth in Google text ads during the same period. And think about this: In just one year, PLAs have become more important to retail advertisers than Bing and Yahoo search combined.

Yamaguchi said advertisers using both Google PLAs and standard text ads got 22 percent of their clicks from PLAs. Bing and Yahoo collectively captured just 20 percent of search clicks.

Other Studies, Similar Findings

Adobe's report comes on the heels of a similar study (registration required) by IgnitionOne and yet another by Marin Software (registration required). 

IgnitionOne, a digital marketing firm, reports PLAs represented a "significant area of growth" in the final quarter of 2013 coinciding with the holiday shopping season. IgnitionOne President Roger Barnette said the performance proves "the ad product has come into its own” — and that "both marketers and consumers have found value in these ads," as shown by the increase in spending as well as the increase in the click-through rate compared to standard search ads.  

The click-through rate for PLAs last year was about 47 percent higher than the click-through rate for text-based pay-per-click ads on Google, IgnitionOne reports. The rates averaged 2.8 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.