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There was an interesting question on the forum the other day: What’s the best structure for a product listing ads (PLA) campaign? And what’s the best way to get started? As it turns out, a state of the art PLA campaign structure is very powerful, but actually not that hard to set up. All you need is the AdWords Editor, a spreadsheet, and a simple step by step process. But let’s start at the beginning…

The Default PLA Structure

Google has made sure that everyone can get started with product listing ads quickly: Create a campaign and make sure it has the product extension, add an ad group and put in the catch-all product target All products and possibly an ad. This can be done in five minutes and it’s a good way to get your first PLA campaign on the road. The resulting structure will look like this:

The default PLA structure

This setup is fairly simple and comes with some limitations. Since ads are assigned to ad groups and there’s only one ad group covering all products, this means that you can’t have different ads for different products. Bids can be applied at the product target level, but since there’s only one product target for all products the result is the same: One bid is applied to all products.

Not everyone needs different ads, but having the same bid for all products is a serious limitation. With only one bid you can’t treat your best selling products any different than your slow sellers. The bid you apply will have to work for the blended average of all products, with the bestsellers’ profits offsetting the losses from the shelf warmers.

Another drawback is that AdWords won’t show any statistics beyond your product targets. You can get some of the information from other sources, but AdWords won’t tell you anything about individual products.

A State of the Art PLA Structure

To overcome these limitations, a better structure is needed. The following setup solves all of these problems:

Granular PLA campaign structure

Here, each product has its own ad group. Inside each ad group there’s a product target that is linked to a single product using the product’s id attribute in the target’s definition.

This setup allows you to bid on individual products, which you can do at product target or the ad group level. It also gives you the most flexibility to tune your ads to your products and it lets you see stats for each individual product.

How to Build a Super-Granular PLA Campaign

To build such a granular PLA campaign, you need access to your product feed and some tools. A good approach is to use a combination of Excel (or some other spreadsheet application) and the AdWords Editor.

These are the necessary steps:

1) Create a PLA campaign and add the product extension. Note: A campaign can hold up to 20,000 ad groups. If you have more products, you will need more than one campaign.

2) Download the campaign into AdWords Editor. Add an example ad group. Then put in an example product target with id=12345. Select the target, right click, and copy it.

Step 2: Copy the product target

3) Get your product feed and open it in a spreadsheet. Make sure you have a table with all of your products.

4) Paste the product target from the editor right next to the table. This should get you a column Campaign, then a column Ad Group, then Product Target Condition 1, then Product Target Value 1 and some more. This demonstrates what you’ll need.

Put the copied product target next to your products

5) Now use simple formulas to replace the example values with real values. Leave the campaign name. As ad group, use the product’s name (formula “=B2″, for example). For Product Target Value 1 put in the ID (again, use a formula like “=A2″).

Use simple formulas to create the real product targets

6) After you’ve done this for one product, do this for all the other products by copying the line with the formulas down next to all other products.

7) Select the columns with all the product targets and copy them. Go back to AdWords Editor and to the product targets tab. Click on the button Make multiple changes and then select Add/update multiple product targets.

In the AdWords Editor click Add/update multiple product targets

Check the box top left (“My product target information below includes columns for campaign and ad group names”). Paste the columns from the spreadsheet into the field below. Then click Process and accept the changes afterwards.

Import your product targets

8) This creates a lot of ad groups as well. Go to the ad groups tab and give those ad groups a bid.

9) Add an example product ad in the editor and use the same process (steps 4-7) to create ads for all of your ad groups as well. Using the same ad text for all products is perfectly fine, but you also have the flexibility to customize your ads.

10) That’s it – you’ve just created a state of the art PLA campaign. Don’t forget to upload everything. Make sure to keep the spreadsheet.

There is one downside to such a granular campaign: you have to keep it up to date. It’s no problem if a product is no longer available: If it’s dropped from the feed, AdWords won’t promote it. But if you have new products, you’ll have to update your targets. You can re-use the spreadsheet to do this quickly when needed.

A good addition to such a campaign is a catch-all target (All products). This way even new products are at least somewhat covered. Put a very low bid on it – much lower than all the other ones – to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your other bids.

Two Bonus Advantages of a Granular PLA Structure

In addition to full bidding control, individual ads, and individual statistics for each product, a granular PLA structure has a two more advantages. The first one is that it gives you the option to bid on the ad group level instead of the product target level. This allows you to use automated rules and AdWords Scripts, which can be applied to ad groups, but not to product targets.

The other advantage concerns the search query report. Especially with large and diverse feeds an account manager often struggles to make sense of search queries. For example, is the query “gel 3030″ relevant or should it be excluded? Having ad groups named after a product can provide some context since, in the report, the ad group’s name is right there next to the query. For example it would be easy to see that “gel 3030″ is indeed a relevant query for the product “Asics Gel 3030 Running Shoe”.


With the AdWords Editor, a spreadsheet and a simple step by step process it’s possible to create a state of the art PLA campaign. The process outlined here can be adapted to suit your needs. For example, you could put additional information in the ad group names, mention brands in the ads, or add custom bids depending on prices or other criteria.

So I hope this helps you build the perfect PLA campaign. If it does, or if you have questions, I’m looking forward to your feedback.

This article was written by Martin Roettgerding, Head of SEM at SEO/SEM agency Bloofusion Germany. You can read more from him at his Advanced PPC Blog PPC Epiphany, or contact him on Twitter @bloomarty.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

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