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Reversing Course, Amazon Testing Google Product Listing Ads, May Be Ramping Up Efforts

Over four and a half years after Google Product Search moved to a pay-to-play model under the new Google Shopping name, it appears that long-term holdout Amazon is finally testing the Product Listing Ad (PLA) format in the final days of 2016.

As a potential competitor for nearly all retailer search advertisers, Amazon had been conspicuously absent from Google’s Shopping listings, but continued to run standard Google text ads. In the meantime, PLAs have grown to dominate the share of ad traffic produced by competitive e-commerce queries on Google. In Q4 2016, PLAs will produce just under half of all retailers’ Google search ad clicks, but between two-thirds and three-quarters of clicks on non-brand queries.

The conventional wisdom around why Amazon had refused to participate in Google Shopping has been that doing so would strengthen Google’s position in the battle to be consumers’ first destination for product searches by making Google’s results more complete. That and Amazon would have to cut a (bigger) check to Google every month for traffic that Amazon may have eventually captured anyway.

As more and more searches shift to mobile though, that stance may be less tenable and profitable for Amazon, as Google’s status as the default search provider on the two major mobile platforms has meant that Google’s already commanding lead in the search business has only grown in recent years. With less competing real estate on phone results, PLAs also generate a higher share of ad clicks on mobile than desktop.

Amazon PLA Testing Appears Limited, but Growing

Some marketers first noticed, or were alerted to, Amazon running PLAs early last week. Since then, it has not been as easy to trigger an Amazon PLA as one would expect if Amazon were aggressively bidding on the format across all of its product categories, but we’ve managed to capture some screenshots here and there.

To get a better sense of what Amazon is doing, it has been more revealing to look at Google’s AdWords Auction Insights report for a number of retailers’ search programs.

For about half of the programs I checked, Amazon is not listed at all, but for the others, Amazon first pops up on December 20th. It is anecdotal, but Amazon seems to be showing up more consistently for home goods retailers.

Where Amazon does show, its impression share for PLAs generally started in the mid-teens and remained there through December 23rd. Amazon’s share then jumped over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (the most recent day that is populated in the Auction Insights report) and is now already high enough to make Amazon a top five competitor for some programs.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation over the next few days and weeks. It is certainly possible that the recent Amazon PLA impression share spike is a fluke (possibly as a result of their leaving their bids unchanged as the competition lowered theirs) and/or we’ll see Amazon abandon this test entirely.

Make no mistake though, if Amazon begins running Google PLAs in earnest in the new year, it will have major ramifications for retailer search advertisers, as well as for Google and Amazon. Stay tuned.

Special thanks to Melissa Rowland, Todd Bowman, and Corey Egan for their contributions to this post.