SEO Impact of Google Changes to Product List Ads (PLAs)

On May 31st, Google announced it will phase out the free version of Goggle Product Search (GPS) as it is merged into their existing, paid offering, Google Product List Ads (PLA).  As they combine these two products, they’re busily testing new ad display formats and locations on Google Search Results Pages (SERPs), potentially altering the ratio of paid to non-paid listings.   It is speculation at this point, but what could Google’s PLA changes mean to SEO?

First, let’s establish the playing field.  In a very useful graphic (seen below), Search Engine Land shows SERP real estate as it was when both GPS and PLAs existed together. Confusing, right?

GPS and PLA Ads

By combining the GPS and PLA ads, Google’s intent is to make product search results easier to understand for end users and, for merchants, the intent is to give greater control over the way products are displayed.   (It is interesting to note that this is an apparent reversal from Google/Froogle’s 2004 position that free ads are good because “… users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.”)

What will the combination of GPS and PLA ads do to non-paid results – “SEO” results?  Buzz from clients is peppered with fears that non-paid results could be pushed down the page, as more real estate is given to paid opportunities like PLA.   Given Google’s example below, that buzz is not without basis:

New PLA ad placement

Although the PLA scenario above clearly pushes non-paid listings down the page, at PM Digital, we do not expect this particular layout to be the one most commonly used by Google.   First, we’ve all seen eye tracking images like the one below… the standard “F” shape shows conversions to be best at the top left and top right positions on the page.

Google eye tracking chart

When asking ourselves where Google could find the best conversions for the new PLAs, we can speculate that they won’t bump the all three Adwords ads from the top left… so the most ideal PLA placements would either be below one or two existing AdWords ads on the left or at the top of the right column.   When checking Google, we see that retaining only one AdWords ad seems to be the test of the day:

Google PLA bumps AdWords

This layout results in no effective movement of SEO results down the page… but we do not believe this will be the ultimate PLA integration format.  This is too “costly” to their traditional AdWords offering, robbing it of the prime real estate it offers participants.

At PM Digital, we’re seeing a preferred format arise since the May 31st debut of the “new” PLAs, and it places the product listings at the top right corner of the page.   If we revisit Google’s “telescopes” example given on the 31st, we see:

Google PLA placement today

Just like the previous option, SEO results are not impacted by this PLA placement.  Moreover, this is less “destructive” to the good will and revenue streams already in place with AdWords advertisers.

In summary, it could be that Google’s new PLA placements will eventually move non-paid, “SEO” listings down the page but, within the next six to twelve months, we believe the top right placement will be the new home of Google Product Listing Ads. This is non-destructive to the AdWords program and does not move SEO results down the page in an appreciable way.

[UPDATE 08/07/12]

I thought it was interesting to see, when searching my iPhone for a new ceiling fan, that their mobile site is now notifying end users that “Google Shopping is becoming a commercial site.

Google Shopping

The link for more information leads to a post on the Google Commerce blog containing their rationale.

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