Yesterday saw the latest development in Google's search advertising product.

Shopping ads, or product listing ads (PLAs), are set to appear within Google image searches.

I asked for some initial thoughts from agency search practitioners. Here are a few things to look out for.

An example of PLAs for the image search term 'crystal necklace'.

google PLA in image search 

Expect a drop in organic traffic from image results

Of late, Google's product changes in search have led SEOs to bemoan the erosion of natural listings, notably with more and larger ads appearing on mobile (three text ads at the top instead of two, and large format PLAs).

PLAs in image search continues this trend, as Max Holloway of Pi Datametrics points out, saying "The biggest change to organic search will be the loss of real estate."

Max goes further, predicting the impact on those who get organic traffic through image listings:

Typically on Google Image search all results are organic and take up approximately 66% of the screen above the fold. With the introduction of Image Ads this drops to about 25%, so if you are currently getting a lot of traffic through image searches expect this to drop off significantly.

The ads themselves will be more relevant to the search and have extra information which will further take clicks away from organic results (such as prices, brand names and URLs of trusted websites).

This is another step in the direction of the first page of Google containing only paid-for or non-organic results!

This should have happened sooner, and fits nicely at the top of the funnel

The overriding reaction to the change seems to be 'duh, why didn't this happen sooner'.

Ruth Attwood and Marcus Knight of 4Ps Marketing sum this up a little more elegantly:

Ruth Attwood:

"I’m honestly surprised it has taken Google this long to monetise image search, but it makes sense because so many users take a visually-led focus when it comes to picking out a product to buy."

Marcus Knight:

"I think the channel will fit really nicely into the early awareness and consideration stages of the conversion process, as I expect users who are using image search are not necessarily looking for websites to visit, but images of a range of products to compare."

Image ads could become a powerful new tool

What Ruth and Marcus are of course picking up on is the power of imagery across ecommerce, from retailer websites, to Instagram and Pinterest particularly.

Viewed in this light, PLA ads in image search could become a powerful new tool.

Will Critchlow, founder of Distilled, agrees that there's much to learn in this area of the SERPs, but much to be positive about:

Pending seeing how this actually performs, I'm quite positive on this. Image search has been hobbled as a driver of organic traffic since the major overhaul a couple of years back, and we know that Pinterest and Instagram have made visual ads work.

Could Google combine the emotional connection of image ads with the targeted intent of search? Who knows, but I think it's an interesting experiment where visual and commercial searches intersect.

Instagram

instagram

But advertisers should keep on eye on CTR and CVR

The loudest note of caution, as usual with PPC, surrounds the implementation and testing of this feature by advertisers.

Ben Latham of Summit Media welcomed the new extenstion for retailers but warned they "need to be careful to measure campaign performance as click-through rate and conversion rate could be negatively affected due to the mindset of the customer in the image area of search."

This echoes Marcus Knight's earlier comments about PLA image search as most useful during the awareness and consideration stages.

And don't forget retargeting through PLAs

There will be doubts about Google image search's ability to drive sales (not just awareness) in ecommerce until results come through.

However, we shouldn't forget that remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs) work with PLAs, and therefore retailers will be able to retarget customers who have visited their site with PLAs in image search.

Marcus Knight of 4Ps Marketing makes this point, saying we should be "making the most of remarketing capabilities to ensure we are following up with users who are showing initial intent through image search."

That means image search could come into the mix as a useful recapture channel, as well as targeting new customers.

Could Google monetise image search beyond PLAs? 

David Trolle of Summit Media poses an important question - is this just the initial foray of advertising into Google image search?

Although not impacted at this stage, this change is most likely an indication of Google’s future intent to monetise image listings within the natural search space, in the same way that shopping listings were moved to a paid-for format (PLAs).

Will image ads become an option for all PPC advertisers, not just those buying Google Shopping ads? Will all of Google's natural search gradually become more image-led if proven to increase CTR?

Watch this space.

For more on this topic, download Econsultancy’s Paid Search Best Practice Guide or book yourself onto our PPC Training Course.

Ben Davis

Published 18 May, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Ruth said:
> I’m honestly surprised it has taken Google this long to monetise image search

Which is spot on: but rather begs the question, which the article kind of skirts round: is this overall, a bad thing for nearly everybody except Google?! (yes, some folks can try new ad things in new creative ways: so that group will benefit)

As a one-word Good or Bad: my reading of the article is that the change is Bad for most people. Is that a fair reading?

over 1 year ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

It's like asking whether PPC is bad for the user. Sometimes, yes, but it's part of the model and something we can just scroll past, in the end.

over 1 year ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

True enough.
I've been reading recently about how the brain works: and brilliant it is at being able to learn what to ignore.
Which allows us to drive a long journey, and not remember afterwards major roadworks we drove past.
Or to read web pages and not even see the ads!

over 1 year ago

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