It’s common knowledge that everyone’s Google Search results differ to some degree. So naturally, the way Google serves up PLAs (product listing ads) must also differ – but how does that all work?

Google advertises products differently, no?

Well, yes, but it's fairly straightforward.

Before we dig into how Google decides which PLAs to display, let’s quickly review the product ad programs and where Google displays ads from each:

Google Shopping

  • Search
  • Images
  • Shopping
  • Gmail

Google Shopping Actions (Sold on Google)

  • Search
  • Images
  • Shopping
  • Assistant
  • YouTube

Surfaces Across Google

  • Search
  • Images
  • Lens

That’s quite the range of opportunities for getting in front of your audience. It’s vital that you take every possible step to win over Google when you create your product ads.

How Google decides which Shopping ads to show

Google Shopping products show up in Search, Images, Shopping, and as of recently, Gmail as well.

You don’t need to do anything specific for your products to perform on each individually. A product that works well on Shopping is also going to fare well on Search, Images, and Gmail.

That said, if a user is logged in, all Search results – including Images Search – are personalized. On the other hand, Gmail doesn’t showcase Shopping ads unless users express interest elsewhere on Google.

Otherwise, Shopping PLAs are as good as their product data and your bid

Different users searching the same query on Google Shopping will yield the same product results. The higher a product is here, the more optimal it is. Optimal products are more likely to show up in Search.

Let’s look at the factors that most affect your ads’ chances of showing up. Optimize your ads for each of these and you’ll quickly realize a much better ROI from your campaigns.

What product data affects search results?

When Google first evaluates your ads, the only thing they’ll be reviewing is the product data you’ve provided. 

While this is basic information, it’s a step that can’t be overlooked. Google doesn’t want to risk making assumptions about your products when it comes to ads. If you aren’t including the most basic information, they won’t appear in Search.

The product attributes Google requires for its ads are fairly straightforward. Here are the most important attributes that you must provide to Google:

  • id: Each product must have a unique identifier. Most companies just use the product’s SKU.
  • title: Put the most important details first. How does your market refer to your product? If relevant, include other descriptors like color, style, size, etc.
  • description: Describe your product to Google using terms you know your market will immediately recognize and understand.
  • link: Where do you want your Google Ads to send people who click? This is the landing page URL for your product.
  • image_link: Your product images – which are extremely important – have a separate URL you’ll need to provide Google, so it knows what to show potential customers.
  • availability: When you’re initially setting up Google Ads for a product, its status will generally be “in stock.” However, if that ever changes, be sure to note that in your ads.
  • price: Google cares about your product’s price just as much as your customers do. When you enter this information, make sure you select the currency for the country you’re targeting with your ads.
  • google_product_category: Google provides a wide array of product categories. Pick the one that best fits your product.
  • brand: What brand name does your market associate with this product? If your company manufactures it, it’s probably your brand name. Otherwise, use the name of the company that does manufacture it.
  • gtin: Manufacturer-assigned UPC, EAN, JAN, ISBN, or ITF-14.
  • mpn: Submit a product’s manufacturer-assigned part number if it doesn’t have a GTIN.

You can never be too thorough when it comes to the information you provide Google Ads about your products. The more information Google has about your products, the more likely it will be to show it to relevant searchers.

Build out your data as much as possible. If you aren’t going beyond required information, your products won’t be optimal.

For the full list of required and optional product data attributes, check out this Google Merchant Center Help article.

What role do budgets and bids play?

Once you’ve provided Google with all the relevant information about your products, you need to decide how much you want to spend on your ads. This includes both your Google Ads budget and bids.

In short, your budget is the absolute maximum you’ll spend on ads. No matter what happens, Google will never charge you more. You can choose an average daily budget for each ad or elect for a shared budget across your entire campaign.

Then, you have to decide how much you’ll bid in order to have your ad shown to potential shoppers. In other words, how much is it worth to your company to get that click?

When Google decides whether or not to show your ad, it will compare how much you’re willing to spend to what other companies are bidding. Obviously, higher bid amounts help your chances.

How does quality score and ad rank affect ads?

However, simply spending more isn’t enough to win over Google.

You could outbid your competitors by 10x, but if Google doesn’t think your ads will earn clicks, what’s the point of showing them? If people aren’t clicking on them, Google isn’t earning a single penny.

This is why it’s so important to build out your products and to optimize your ads. Refer to an ad’s quality score when troubleshooting performance – quality score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. 

This metric is about more than just how relevant your ad is, though. It also determines your cost-per-click (CPC). Higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions.

If Google doesn’t think your ad is very relevant, it’s going to charge you more per click because it’s less likely you’ll earn them. On the other hand, if your ads do appear relevant, Google is happy to drop the CPC. In the long run, more clicks means more revenue.

Quality score also impacts the other important factor for placement, Ad Rank. This part of the algorithm decides where your ad shows up on Search relative to others. If your ad is third, its ad rank is number three for that keyword. 

Ad Rank is determined by:

You should always focus on making your ads as relevant as possible. The same goes for your landing page quality. Doing so will give Google higher expectations about your expected CTR.

However, where your ads rank will also depend on how much you’re willing to bid compared to your competitors. No matter how much you’ve optimized the other elements, don’t expect first place if your bids are all far below your closest competitors.

Google Shopping Actions

Similar to Google Shopping products, Google Shopping Actions (Sold on Google) products are also shown on Search, Images, and Shopping. They’re also available through Google Assistant and soon YouTube, as well.

That said, Google Shopping is PPC (pay-per-click); its PLAs are common across Google.

Shopping Actions is PPS (pay-per-sale); its free PLAs are rare and more data-driven.

Google makes money if your product sells through GSA, but PPC advertising is the foundation of Google Shopping.

GSA products are only pushed on traditional Shopping surfaces when Google can nearly confirm that a product would be a perfect match. Google's careful discretion here keeps opposing systems balanced.

You can always easily search through “Buy on Google” options exclusively, or browse Stores on Google Shopping to find a wide array of GSA products.

Similar to searching within Google Shopping, the results displayed for a "Buy on Google" filtered query would be the same for all searchers. The higher a product is here, the more optimal it is. Optimal products are more likely to show up as organic PLAs.

Product data matters just as much for GSA products, just don't expect these products to commonly show up as organic PLAs.

Surfaces Across Google

Then there’s Surfaces Across Google, a new unpaid Merchant Center program that allows your products to be seen by customers, at no cost to you.

These non-ads function exactly as an ad would, they’re just free.

As of now, they’re outbound product ads within a Popular products section that shows up under very specific circumstances within Search, Images, and Google Lens.

By opting in, Google adds your products to the Google Search Index. In return, participating merchants become eligible to appear on Surfaces Across Google for free. Although fundamentally different from Shopping and Shopping Actions, product data is also crucial here.

What you can do to improve your chances of showing up on Google

There’s quite a bit you can do to earn Google’s approval of your product ads.

  • Be sure to give Google all required product information, as well as all possible optional info.
  • Optimize your data. Check your quality scores regularly for opportunities to improve your ads, landing pages, and keywords.
  • Test different ads, landing pages, keywords, and bids for each product.
  • Don’t be afraid to borrow from your competitors. Look for competitor ads that are beating your Ad Rank and then analyze every component of them. Analyze, emulate, improve.

Final thoughts

Google Shopping is PPC; its PLAs are common. Shopping Actions is commission-based; its free PLAs are rare. And Surfaces Across Google is totally free; its PLAs are experimental. Easy effective PPC ads, commission-based product listings, and free advertising, all on the world’s most popular search engine.

Top notch product data is critical to your success with all three programs.