Product priorities

Google's shift to Shopping Campaigns and Bing’s new Product Ads take center stage in search marketing.

Amy Dusto

Two topics stood out for search marketers at IRCE this year: Google Inc.'s requirement that all its advertisers switch over to Shopping Campaigns by August, and competing search engine Bing's launch of its own Product Ads program. Google first introduced Product Listing Ads, or PLAs, in the summer of 2012. PLAs, which feature product images and prices from merchants prominently in the central area of a Google search results page, replaced the search engine's free comparison shopping listings. Google began charging for PLAs in October 2012.

Retailers quickly embraced the new ad format—or, as with many Google-related moves, perhaps felt they had no choice but to pay to retain those prime positions. Online advertisers spent 618% more on PLAs in Q4 2013 than when they launched in Q4 2012, according to IgnitionOne's Q4 2013 Digital Marketing Report.

"[Your success with] paid search such as pay-per-click and PLAs can make or break you," said Bob Goodliffe, president of Cyberweld.com in his presentation, which kicked off a series of sessions at IRCE tailored to small retailers.

In early April, Google announced plans to phase out its original PLA ad-creation and bidding method in favor of incorporating PLAs into the Shopping Campaigns ad-management dashboard. Shopping Campaigns build on PLAs, allowing advertisers to manage and bid on ads for many products at once by creating custom product groups. For instance, a retailer can create a campaign just for shirts and, if it sees blue shirts selling particularly well, create a blue shirt subgroup and bid higher on search terms related to blue shirts.

Around the same time in early April, Microsoft Corp., which owns Bing, announced the launch of Bing Product Ads, which are similar to Google PLAs. In fact, retailers can import data directly from their Google PLA campaigns into Bing to create them, Microsoft says.

Bing Product Ads can appear on the same web page as a marketer's paid text ads and natural search listings on Bing.com as well as on sites owned by Yahoo Inc., which uses Bing as its search engine. While Google Product Listing Ads appear in the center of the search results page, the Bing ads run on the right side of the search results page, separate from natural search listings.

Retailers need to understand how Shopping Campaigns differ from Product Listing Ad Campaigns, as well as the best practices for a smooth transition, says Mary Weinstein, content director at search marketing firm CPC Strategy. Regarding the new Bing Product Ads, she says the big question for retailers this year remains whether they are a good investment.

Chris Crompton, group marketing manager at search marketing firm ROI Revolution Inc., thinks they are. He says the ads "should provide a big boost to e-commerce advertisers on Bing." ROI Revolution also spent time in IRCE's exhibit hall discussing the differences between the two primary search engines' ad formats and how retailers can use them effectively.