Online retailers may soon see changes to the way product listing ads (PLAs) appear in Google search results. As the company works towards a more unified mobile and desktop search experience, Google has begun testing a PLA carousel at the top of Google search results. At the same time, PLAs have begun receiving numbered rankings based on a hybrid-system of online reviews and bids.
Here are the key points that search marketers and PLA users need to know about these two changes:
“Top” & “Best” PLA Results Now Ranked Numerically
As far back as 2014, Google has been testing adding numbered rankings to PLA results. As of this month, this feature’s testing phase has ended. Now, when users search for “Top” or “Best” products (i.e. “Best Electric Drill”), the PLAs returned by that search are often explicitly ranked. On desktop, the ranking numbers appear in a small gray circle in the top left corner of each PLA. On mobile, they appear in a small blue ribbon on each PLA’s left side.
While top PLA slots have always been valuable, this change may make those slots even more so, since customers will take the #1 slot as Google’s endorsement of a product as “Top” or “Best” in its class.
Many search marketers are curious how these rankings are now calculated. Google has explained that the rankings will come from a two-step process based on online reviews and bidding. First, Google reaches out to sellers of top-reviewed products. Those sellers are then invited to bid on slots through Google’s auction. This means that if your product is the #4 best-reviewed in that category, for example, you will still be able to bid for a #1 ranking in PLAs.
Carousel Feature Tested for Desktop PLAs
Over the past year, Google has been making a strong push toward a more unified mobile/desktop experience. Just last month, right-side ads were removed from search results. PLAs were not included in this removal, but that may change soon. Google is now testing a scrollable carousel for PLAs placed at the top of search results that many search marketing experts believe is meant to replace right-column displays.
The new carousel is five PLAs wide. There is a grey arrow on the right side of the carousel when displaying PLA slots one through five. Clicking on that arrow allows searchers to scroll and reveal PLA slots six through ten (a grey arrow then appears on the left, allowing users to scroll back to slots one through five). Google is currently testing the feature in a group of select markets, and has released no official word on the feature’s future. If implemented, slots one through five are likely to see increased bids by search marketers.
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