Category Archives: Shopping (PLAs)

Search vs Display

How to Optimise Google Display for Conversions

The Google Display Network is a great resource to have in the armoury for any digital marketer. The GDN has a dual branding and direct response function within the marketing mix. What I mean by brand is awareness and intent stimulation as opposed to direct response which is more purchase/action.

There are numerous targeting methods available in the Google Display Network including contextual keywords, topics, interests, remarketing lists and demographic targeting. Each of these deserves their own blog post, this post is only concerned with broad targeting options, ie. topics & interest targeting.

The GDN (including YouTube) sits quite comfortably in the world of traditional advertising, ie. TV, print, radio. This is a channel that disrupts the audiences’ activity with a brand or product message in order to make them aware of the advertiser’s offering. Like traditional advertising, audiences & media are chosen based on the likelihood of a positive reception to this message.  Audience choice can be informed by market research, historical/seasonal data or by vertical insight. Either way, the audience isn’t looking for the brand or product so you will notice a different level of response metrics and behaviour to what would normally be seen in other online channels, eg. search advertising.

The point of difference between these two broad online channels, ie. search & display, is that searchers are looking for something while display audiences may not be ‘in the market’ just yet.

So Why Do Display Advertising?

If search can deliver superior ROI and on one hand appears to be better value to display, why would we even bother with display? The answer is intent. Searchers don’t suddenly wake up one morning and look for a product, service or brand that they’ve never heard of before. Search is powered by the world of intent but it is also confined by it too.

Essentially we need stimulus activity to help drive search intent, otherwise advertisers are limited to the natural search intent for their product or brand. Ok if you’re a big established brand you can leverage the knowledge of your audience to drive your search. But what if you have a new product or are indeed a new brand? What then? If you have a new USP then people need to know about this to fuel your search activity and influence search volumes through awareness.

But Display Isn’t Just About Creating Intent

While I am an advocate of display campaigns to let people know about your offering, it is not simply confined to this. Performance display is a way of directly increasing the ROI of your stimulation activities by marrying them with conversion-focused goals.

In the traditional model, CPMs hid the truth about display. A CPC model is a far more effective pricing structure in terms of true engagement and brand interaction. Display ads served on a CPM model serve no-one’s interests but the media owner. If an impression is served below the fold the advertiser still pays. This is not performance marketing. When someone clicks, at least we know that they interacted with the ad. Even if they clicked by mistake, all is not lost. A small percentage of visitors could be convinced by the website, especially if we consider that they are within the target audience and therefore should be open to the advertiser’s offering.

Approaching Display Like Search

In order to  get the best out of Google Display campaigns, I tend to approach them like I would any paid search activity, working backwards from the lowest level. In search I work backwards by keyword to create ad group themes and then campaign themes. Google Display should be no different. However, when using topics or interest targeting, there are no keywords. This is where ad group management comes into the mix.

  1.  Put one interest/topic per ad group. This keeps everything tight and allows you to quickly see how each target is doing at an ad group level. If you mix targets one target maybe performing well and others may be performing poorly, so at first glance at an ad group level, everything appears to be doing badly. Keep them separate, it’s a bit of extra work but it’s well worth it.Set up Google Display Targets
  2. Group interest ad group themes in interest campaigns, put topics in topic themed campaigns.
  3. Like in search, keep your high volume targets in their own campaign to manage daily budgets more effectively. Keep news and other high-volume topics & interest campaigns separate from more specific targeting.

Think of Targets like Keywords.

Now that the structure is set up to effectively communicate with your desired audience, let the campaigns loose into the world to see how they perform. Unfortunately there is no definitive science to this. The campaign is built to best practice to match an audience profile as determined by the brief and the rest is done by Google’s topic & interest target groups. However we will soon see what’s working and what’s not.

After 1-2 weeks, it is advisable to pause any ad groups with no clicks as these are obviously not working as a targeting selection or someone would have clicked. Again using clicks (interactions) rather than impressions as a measure of success.

The next area to look at are the placements themselves. in the placements section within the AdWords Display Network tab you’ll see a list of every website the ads have been served on. Think of these as your keywords. Pause or Exclude (you can exclude at ad group level because each target has its own ad group, don’t recommend excluding at a campaign level as a placement might be performing well in another ad group within that campaign) placements that are under performing in terms of clicks or conversions.

By excluding poorly performing placements from your topics & interests targeting you can enhance the performance of those websites which deliver on your conversion KPIs. Bid up on placements which convert at an acceptable CPA and pull bids back or pause/exclude those with an overly expensive CPA.


By following this methodology you can drag broad targeted Google Display advertising kicking and screaming into the world of performance advertising. What’s more, display should not just be seen as an awareness tool but also one that directly contributes, in a positive way, to the overall ROAS of the campaign.

While display will never have the same direct response ROI impact as search advertising (we just have to make our peace with this) it does serve as an important tool within the digital marketing mix.


Google Dynamic Retarging


Furthermore, there have been a number of advances in direct response display in the world of ecommerce. The use of feed managed display retargeting like Criteo or more recently Google’s Dynamic Product Retargeting display provides up-to-date price specific visual ads retargeted to those who are most likely to buy.

So gone are the days of smokescreens and CPMs. Performance display is all about measurable returns in terms of blended direct response and awareness, ie. how activity influences other channels to perform and this is how display campaigns should be evaluated.

And then there’s Google Shopping..


Product Listing Ads

How to Use the New Google Shopping Campaigns

Google Shopping campaigns are the latest iteration of Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and have recently come out of beta. They add new categorisation functionality which makes managing and optimising these campaigns a lot easier.

A Few Things to Note about Google Shopping (PLAs)

  1. Google Shopping is a CPC comparison shopping engine channel (CSE) run by Google.
  2. Google Shopping is a search based-channel where product images, prices and seller ratings show up in the sponsored search results.
  3. The items for sale in Google Shopping are created using a live data feed from the advertiser’s product inventory. This feed contains information like: product image, name, description, price, delivery costs, size, colour & stock level etc.
  4. Media costs and reporting are managed through the AdWords interface (also refer to Google Analytics E-Commerce Reporting for ROI and ROAS metrics).
  5. Google has recently added dynamic retargeting ads through the Display Network. These ads involve displaying ads that are generated from the information in the Google Merchant Centre Product Feed and served using predefined display templates which Google provides when you set up the campaign. These display ads are interactive and contain product information such as image, name, price & a deep link URL to the product page.
  6. Google Shopping is only available for the following Countries: US, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. However, Google may have rolled this out to all countries on February 2nd 2014 (I will clarify this shortly).

Setting Up Shopping Campaigns

Getting the most out of the New Shopping Campaigns

Data feeds are cold, heartless pieces of .xml. In the old PLA system, AdWords Labels or Attributes had to be added to the feed at source to then filter the feed in AdWords into subcategories based on your inventory. This added an extra layer of involvement at the feed going into Google Merchant Centre to optimise the campaign effectively in AdWords.

Benefits of Google Shopping Campaigns include adding the ability to separate product inventory using the standard column data within the feed in AdWords so we don’t need to jump back and forth between the feed manager, Merchant centre and AdWords.

In these new Shopping Campaigns, products can be split out by Category, Brand, Item ID, Condition and Product Type as well as 5 custom AdWords Labels (these have to be added at source in the data feed).

Think of it like AdWords Campaign Ad groups & Keywords. Once you have split out your campaign by your top level category from the feed (usually product type) you can sub-segment these  product categories by an AdWords Label (perhaps the product name) or by the product ID (this can be numerical SKUs so custom labels may work better)


Once the feed is working and the campaign is set up you can organise the individual items in the feed as you see fit to evaluate which products performs best. Following that you can increase or decrease bids for individual items to build scale and increase revenues as per individual KPIs.

This new functionality offers superb individual control and the ability to drive revenue on a product level within Google Shopping. It also streamlines the process by allowing other category variables to be used to segment the campaign.

A Final Thought

If I had one wish for Google Shopping, I would wish that  Google Merchant Centre was fully integrated into the AdWords interface so data feed management, costs/performance analysis and segmentation all live in the same place. Here’s hoping..