Google’s Product Listing Ads (PLAs), may narrow the revenue gap between SMB’s and enterprise businesses as they are more focused on the product being sold, instead of the company selling it.

Even with a variety of tools, such as analytics, social media and email marketing, larger businesses still having an advantage over their smaller competition. They tend to have more resources, bigger marketing budgets and a larger staff, which enables them to create better websites, respond to customer concerns more quickly and have better advertisements.

Elizabeth Marsten is the director of Search Marketing at Portent and author of the e-book “Product Listing Ads for Everyone Else.” She spoke to CMSWire about PLAs and why they are a valuable resource for SMBs.

What are PLAS?

PLAs, which were launched about a year and a half ago, are ads that appear when someone searches for products on or Based on the item that is searched a customer will see pictures of the item, its price and the store name. When the ad is clicked the user will be redirected to the full ad and see a button that's linked to the company's official website.

Google wants the most unique experience they can give you when you shop," says Marsten.

As for businesses, in addition to posting their products, they can also use the service to track and monitor their progress with tools like Product Targets, which shows how far an item is from a pre-determined goal and the Auto Targets tab, which monitors group performance.

In order to use PLAs, a business needs to be signed up for both a Merchant Center account and an Adwords account, as tools from those services are used along with the PLA tools. Ads and campaigns are managed through Adwords and product information is managed through the Merchant Center.

The PLA Experience

As was mentioned, many small businesses often struggle with trying to compete against larger corporations. Says Marsten:

Larger companies have more resources and they have developers, but someone with 10 products can compete with them as long as they push their products accordingly [with Google PLAs], such as putting them into proper categories, having right name, having a good description and filling in all the right attributes to show Google what they have.”

In using PLAs, smaller businesses have the chance to become successful and profitable because unlike text ads, PLAs don’t use a keyword selection or bid aggregation to give one ad priority over another. It focuses more on the details and ad quality when presenting and ranking products.

According to a report from Kenshoo that covered search advertising trends in 2012, PLAs are a better ad format than text ads because “Eye-catching PLAs draw nearly 1.5x the CTR of regular text ads and convert 23% better, resulting in a 31% higher ROAS.”

For example, if a person was searching for a sterling silver necklace through they would see results from large businesses like Macy’s and Saks, but also from small businesses like eBay seller crafty-queen and Dogeared Jewels and Gifts. Therefore, these businesses have a good chance of being noticed by a potential customer because they've provided a lot of information about their product.


PLAs also operate on a pay-per-click basis, so business are only charged when the picture to website click happens, which would benefit a business with a small marketing budget.

The PLAs offer a lot flexibility and when you get them started they can be a lot cheaper than the regular search text ads,” says Marsten about the two services.

Therefore, unlike text ads, PLAs are affordable and treat all product listings as equally as possible.

Not Everything is Easy

Despite these positive features, the PLA process isn't always an easy one. In addition to some shopping carts not being compatible with the service, having to set up a minimum of three individual accounts with Merchant Center, Adwords and Webmaster Tools and putting aside time for development purposes, one of the most common problems is the set-up.

According to Marsten, for example, if a clothing merchandiser wants to set up a product feed (or a group of similar products) items can’t be added to it as a group, but everything has to be uploaded separately. This can prove to be time consuming and tedious, especially for those who have a large inventory and a small staff.

She assures SMB’s that once they move pass this initial stage, everything else will work in their their favor because, as was mentioned, search result rankings are centered on product details.

Adopting this compelling ad format with its embedded images and product-rich information will deliver higher conversion rates at lower costs," says the Kenshoo report.

Therefore, having to provide all of these details will eventually help with these smaller businesses with marketing efforts and improve company revenue.

Once you’re up in running you don’t have to do as much maintenance as you would with an Adwords or paid search account," says Marsten. "Once the feed is up and is running, you have decided what your cost per clicks is going to be and how segmented your products will be, it’s actually a time saver and you have the ability to compete with bigger companies as well."

Overall, Google PLAs can be a useful tool for an SMB that is struggling or looking to expand their customer base.