From midway through February (Friday 13th to be exact) Google will begin to roll out the commercial model for Shopping that was launched in the US last year. Despite initial annoyance from advertisers, recent research shows that, actually, the Product Listing Ad (PLA) model has been really rather successful.

Although PLA bids are managed within your AdWords account, they aren’t quite like regular AdWords ads. You don’t choose keywords, and you don’t write ad text (although you can – and should – still use different adgroups for your product categories).

Instead, it’s your Google shopping feed that forms the cornerstone of your PLA campaigns. And this is why having a well-optimised Google shopping feed is an absolute must for any retailer, big or small.

How do I optimise my Google shopping feed?

Katie’s awesome post from last year covered setting up PLAs, so I won’t go into detail about that here. But before you do anything else, make sure your AdWords account and Merchant Center account are linked. In order to appear for PLAs, you have to set your bids in AdWords, as you would with regular ads.

Secondly, do your keyword research. It’s the foundation of any optimised campaign, be it for SEO or PPC. PLAs are no exception. Know which queries your intended audience are searching for, and know your competition.

But really, the main thing to do is to make sure your data feed is clean and up to date. You also need to ensure that you provide as much info about each product as possible. The more fields and attributes you can provide details for, the more Google has to go on, and the more likely it is to serve your ad.

clean all the data

The attributes you can really make use of in optimising your shopping feed are as follows:

  • Product Category – where your product fits into Google’s defined product taxonomy.
  • Product Type – this lets you drill down a little further than category; here you can specify the type of product you’re selling, e.g. “leather sofas”, “prom dresses”, “young adult novels”. You’ll need to do some keyword research to make sure you’re using the right terms here, i.e. ones that aren’t too competitive, but still have decent search volume.
  • Product Title – be as descriptive and relevant as you possibly can. Make sure you’re using keywords
  • Product Description – again, be as descriptive as you can. The more information you can provide about the product, the better.

There are plenty of other attributes to fill out. Some are required (product ID, availability), some are recommended (sale price for sale items) and some are optional (expirationdate); however the above are the ones you should focus your optimisation efforts on.

Images and PLAs

The Image_link attribute refers to the URL of an associated image for any product on your site. As with everything else, the better and more relevant your images are, the more likely you are to get clicks. This means making sure that your images reflect the products. So if you’re selling pink and yellow variations of the same armchair, make sure that each one has its own image.

pink armchair

Ensure you use images that help you stand out, and make sure you test, test, test your images to see which one works best.

Remember, you MUST have an image of your item. If you have no image, you won’t be able to submit the item.

Fine tuning your PLAs

Whilst you do not enter keywords as you would for your regular ads, you can still make use of negative keywords for PLAs. So if you DON’T want your ads to appear for certain search queries, you can ensure that they don’t by making sure you have a comprehensive negative keyword list in place for your PLA campaign.

You can use the AdWords_publish label to determine which products show in your feed. This could be very useful if you have a lot of limited edition or seasonal products.

You should also investigate the other AdWords specific attributes – adwords_groupings and adwords_labels – to allow for smarter bidding.

Keep updating your shopping feed

As with your website’s content, Google appears to favour product feeds that are updated regularly. How often you update your feed is up to you, but try for at least once a month to keep your products up to date and keep in Google’s good books! Depending on the products you sell and stock turnover, you may have to update much more regularly than this, so it’s really whatever is best for you.

PLAs are on their way, so it’s important to make sure you’re ready for them. As a retailer, you will miss out if you aren’t. But you’ve got a few days now to make sure your Google shopping feed is in order before the first major change happens, so get optimising, give them as much information as possible, and you’ll be ready to go!

Helen Laird is an experienced digital marketer specialising in SEO and PPC. She is the Online Marketing Co-ordinator for Wilkinson, a major UK retailer. Follow her on Twitter @HelenLairdSEO and add her on Google+.