Google PLA GTIN Issues in Adwords / Google Merchant

Running Google Shopping PLA ads? Then they probably got turned off on May 16th.

If you’re like me you check Google Analytics at least 10 times a day. Seeing new visitors, sales, conversions in quasi-real-time is addictive. And if you’re like me and noticed a massive drop in traffic on May 17th, then you likely also flew into a panic. I optimize an e-commerce store for a medium sized e-commerce site and monitor traffic on a daily basis. I don’t work in their pay-per-click account but I definitely notice trends. In this situation their PLA (Product Listing Ads), which are usually crushing the search engine marketing game, fell off the face of the earth.

My first thought was something happened to the Adwords account.

I assumed a store employee or someone managing the Adwords account turned off the ads. Or maybe decreased the budgets to save some cash. But upon inspection, there was no change in the Adwords history for over a week.

This led me to looking at the products and double checking their Google Shopping feed sync.

My client uses Big Commerce for their e-commerce and content management platform. After exporting the products I noticed all the Google Shopping feeds were turned off. Considering there was no logical reason to do this, I assumed it was an error upon uploading. Something like a poorly configured CSV file header / column situation. But I went one step further and discovered the real issue.

Google pushed an update to their Google Shopping PLA ad regulations end-of-day May 16th, 2016.

My client recently parted ways with their previous pay-per-click management company who setup their Google Merchant Center. Nobody had access to this account. If we did, we would have received some kind of alerts starting in February 2016 warning about the stricter regulations. But alas, we received nothing. There were no alerts in the linked Adwords account, so unless someone was logged into the Google Merchant Center account, they had no warning. The enforcement of regulations on the Google Shopping PLA ads is related to the GTIN value and brand values. Before, these values could be blank. But Google is requiring UPC codes to be entered for physical products under the GTIN value field if ads are targeting people in the United States and about a dozen other countries.

Why is Google doing this to me / you / us?

Google is attempting to force more accurate product identification so as to serve more relevant products to searchers. That sounds warm and fuzzy. But my guess is Google knows that the PLA ads are wildly overpowered and they’re nerfing them. By running such an insane number of impressions for dirt cheap, they need to try to align these impression better to drive more clicks (which ultimately means more dollars).

How to get your PLA ads approved and running again.

You’re going to need to modify the product data feeding into your Google Merchant Center account. Notably, you’ll need to populate UPC or other product identifier data into the GTIN field. It’s a good idea to enter the brand data as accurately as possible as well. Once you’ve uploaded this data, it will likely take 3 business days for your information to be looked over and approved.

If you’re in an emergency situation, use Analytics to pull your top performers and work on those.

Look at your top performing products from your Google Adwords PLA ads and get those GTIN values filled out first. Manually upload a feed of products with GTIN information. Do not upload a bunch without GTIN values as these will fail.

Do I really need to have the GTIN information?

According to Google, yes. They say there are only very unique situations where you would not have UPC or product information available. For example, if you are the manufacturer of the product and selling it online, you might not have registered UPC data. However if you’re like most e-commerce stores and you’re reselling from a manufacturer, then you will need to upload the correct data to restart your PLA ads.

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