The PPC world is abuzz over the news that Google opened its beta for image extensions, which allow AdWords advertisers to include images with their text ads. In these very early days, PPC managers that have had campaigns in the beta are in experimental mode, while others are eager to get their accounts into the beta. We asked several marketers for their thoughts on the new feature and followed up with Google to get some more details.
Bringing A Branding Flair To DR
Below is capture of an ad with image extensions. The images have more of an editorial feel than the head-on product shots used in the PLAs. This is what Google is aiming for. The expectations are that the images are beautiful, convey a sense of experience and add something useful for the user searching. Think editorial and branding rather than direct response.
Image Extensions Give Visual Power To The Top Spot
Marketers know how persuasive images can be, and the fact that so many have seen success from product listing ads has them even more bullish about the prospects of image extensions.
“This is basically their version of PLAs,” says Elizabeth Marsten, Director of Search at Portent Inc., about a a stock photo client. She thinks image extensions will be “great for those industries and niches that were limited to text only because their product or service wasn’t something that had a MPN or UPI.”
Wordstream founder and CTO, Larry Kim also sees benefits for companies that have been left out of the PLA mix. ”Our research has shown that for travel and automotive, conversion rates were HIGHER in display ads vs. search ads. I’m sure it’s because the image is so much better at conveying beautiful vacations and fancy cars. Advertisers that aren’t ecommerce vendors with product feeds have been left out, but now with image extensions, those advertisers are going to do amazing things — at the expense of organic search results and those advertisers that are not using the image ad extensions.”
Tally Keller captured this ad for HTC One in a tweet, and like Kim, commented on the visual dominance the images give the ad.
“The introduction of image extensions further solidifies Google’s transition toward a more visually engaging SERP,” says PPC Analyst, Reece O’Neill. O’Neill says it’s too soon to offer feedback on his account’s image extension testing, but says that “With over 50% of above-the-fold content often dedicated to sponsored listings, it’s clear that businesses with large budgets will find the most success with PPC. I think it’s further evidenced by the fact that image extensions will only trigger for an ad in position one. Overall, I’d expect image extensions to yield additional paid clicks … but the lingering question of how conversion rates are affected remains to be seen.”
In my talks with Google, it was made clear that image extensions are open to all types of advertisers, including e-commerce companies, and should be seen as a blending of branding and direct response messaging.
Oddly, other than Google’s own “Sydney hotels” example, which I haven’t been able to replicate, I have not seen any non-e-commerce ads with image extensions.
Bumps In The Beta Road – Image Guidelines
One problem some PPC managers have encountered is getting images approved by Google. Even with the general guidelines Google has provided, it can be trial and error to find images that pass muster.
A team at PPC Associates was perplexed when the images for one client were disapproved. They were told it was because the client’s branded keywords were for “runways” and the images were of dresses. After a second try the ads were again disapproved because “we only allow one of the three images to have white space around it.” Google’s written rule of thumb on white space is that the “images should fill as much of the available space as possible and avoid unnecessary blank space”.
A few guidelines to keep in mind: Images have to be high quality. No animation, overlays or logos that aren’t part of the product are allowed. Images need to be available and visible on the website. Image size 640px by 360px is preferred, and only 16:9 aspect ratio is allowed.
You also may want to craft new ad groups for image extensions. The guidelines stipulate images should be representative of all the ads and keywords in an ad group. But more specifically, the majority of keywords in the ad group should be “image-seeking”, meaning product keywords are fine, but product + price/ reviews are not.
Lastly, if your images are deemed “too DR” they won’t get through.
Early Days: Low Traffic & Small Data
Currently image extensions are limited to the top ad position, and it’s not always easy to get image extensions to show even when ads are already running in the top spot. PPC Associates were told that approximately 1% of all searches are actually seeing the ads now. So early adopters will need to be patient and expect relatively small data as Google ramps the testing.
While many marketers are hoping to be able to see reporting on individual images, it looks like that won’t be available, for the near future at least. The reporting will show aggregate clicks on images versus headlines and won’t get more granular.
Impact On Organic
It’s a bit deceiving, but the image extensions don’t actually take any more real estate from organic listings than when there are three traditional text ads — in both cases the top ad block is in line with the bottom of the right side PLAs.
Yet, Larry Kim says, “These blinged-up ads (like PLA’s) steal all the commercial intent from the SERP. Price and images in the ads suck in the people looking to buy and what’s left over are just the tire-kickers.”
Elizabeth Marsten says, ”it will make a SERP even ‘noisier’ than before”.
What do you think about image extensions? Share your thoughts and any beta experiences in the comments.