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Product Extensions: Understanding Patterns and One Important Fix

Starting in late November 2009, Google made product extensions universally available following an extended period of beta testing.  (Some earlier observations can be seen in an earlier post)   Product extensions (also known as Product Plusbox) allow relevant product images to show in an AdWords ad by connecting the advertiser’s Google Merchant Center account directly to AdWords campaigns.  Once enabled, Google shows the product extension in the form of a “Plusbox” icon with the text “Show Products from {Insert Advertiser Here} for {Insert Searched Term Here}” below the ad.

Upon expansion of the “Plusbox”, anywhere from four to six images of related products and links appear for the user.  The real questions are: when and how often does Google choose to show the product extensions?  And just how well do product extensions help with click-thru-rate?

Plusbox Show Rate and Click Volume

Looking over several clients who have implemented product extensions either on a few campaigns or account wide, there seems to be recurring theme on where product extensions are showing up.  If a keyword has high click volume, expect to see a Plusbox a higher percentage of the time.  On the whole, product extensions appeared about 61% of the time on the top 50 click keywords and only 44% of the time on low volume keywords.  This even held true when lower traffic keywords had higher CTRs than the high volume keywords.

Plusbox Increases CTR for High Click Volume Keywords More

Ads with product extensions have about an 11% higher CTR than ads without product extensions on the aggregate. This number becomes 28% when you are only looking at the top 50 keywords by click volume!  No wonder Google is serving these ads more often!  Surprisingly, lower volume keywords, those outside of the Top 50, actually had CTR decreases of close to 10% when product extensions were present. This led me to wonder: why the disparity in performance?

When high volume keywords are searched, they tend to appear above the organic search results due to high volume and competition.  This results in a Plusbox message following the above formula, “Show products from {Advertiser} for {search term}”.

When the keyword has a lower click volume, then the keyword can move to the right panel and the message will change to “Show products from this advertiser”.  While that data is difficult to tease out on a query by query basis, we are generalizing that lower click volume keywords are often appearing on the right panel, as compared to those analyzed in the “top 50” group defined above.

It appears that the message is alerting users that what they are clicking on was paid for by advertisers, which could be discouraging some users.  In all of the accounts, there was a significant gain from using Plusbox for the high volume terms versus using it for low volume keywords.  The only instance in which this disparity was not true was when the advertiser’s brand name appeared on the right column.  When the advertiser had a brand name consistently appear, instead of “this advertiser”, the CTR advantage with Plusbox between high volume and low volume keywords was almost identical.

The Fix

The decision for Google on whether to show the advertiser’s name or just the word “advertiser” is decided in the Google Merchant Center and is based on character length.  Sign into the Google Merchant Center.  Go to Settings and then General.  There the Company name will appear.  Make sure the name is under 20 characters and does not include suffixes (Co., Inc., etc.).  With these rules followed, along with some more common sense rules seen here, then you should be able to save your CTR from the “advertiser” message.

Words for the Wise

While it appears now that product extensions can be the answer to many paid search prayers, I would like to offer up a few words of caution.  First, it is only a matter of time before product extensions become fairly standard on ads.  As the competition increases and levels out, I wouldn’t expect the same bump in CTR.  Second, CTR is not the end all be all.  If the account isn’t running efficiently or to target, adding more clicks does not mean that you will profit more money.  It could intensify the problem.  Third, make sure your account allows you to show the company name in Plusbox ads in the right column.  If you don’t, you could watch the CTR shrink.

Comments
11 Responses to “Product Extensions: Understanding Patterns and One Important Fix”
  1. Andy says:

    But what about the expansion rate of the plus box?

    I’ve also noticed these improvements in performance because of the product extensions, but this doesn’t really mean a thing if the plus box is not expanded. In my own experiences, the expansion rate is really low meaning people either don’t care or don’t reach that point of the ad which in turn means they are only reading the headline and 1 or both lines of copy.

    What has been your experience with the expansion rate for this specific study?

    Thanks

  2. John Thornton John Thornton says:

    Hey Andy,

    I think that is a great observation. When looking over the data, I saw almost insignificant expansion rates. Most of the data I spoke to is almost purely related to headline clicks. Searchers just don’t seem to be interested in seeing the small array of products listed. The Plusbox makes the ad larger and more prominent. Searchers may read the line that says “Show more products…” but that doesn’t mean that they are inclined to expand it. The data supports people just prefer to travel through the headline, and they don’t like to see that it is an internet advertiser that is pulling them in.

  3. Charlie says:

    Does anyone know how to control/edit the product images shown in the expanded plus box? I know it’s coming from my merchant center feed, but currently, the products that are being displayed for my campaign aren’t necessarily the ones i would like to feature. If anyone has a fix for this, please share.

  4. John Thornton John Thornton says:

    Hey Charlie,

    Like many things with Google, nothing is guaranteed. However, the feed does allow you to list your preferences. After all other required columns, give the column header “adwords_prefer_for_query”. Then in each row you can list the keywords, comma separated, for which you would like the particular product to show. Try to avoid repeating keywords more than four times for different products or Google will tend to ignore your choices. I hope this helps!

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