Over the past few months, Google have dabbled with the idea of showing shopping ads on image results on mobile.

This shows image results as shopping ads

 

 

This pilot will now become live as of Monday 23rd May 2016.

Since the switch from showing image results to shopping ads in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) happened in 2012, you may argue that Googlers are used to this sort of ad-pushing update and this isn’t big news…but in our eyes, they’ve crossed a line.

Google’s mission for the search engine arm of their corporation is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. But before we explore that statement in more detail, let’s take a trip down memory lane to the previous update to image search results:

 

A Recap of Part One

Do you remember when Google started replacing images with shopping ads in search results? 2012 certainly feels like a lifetime ago!

Yes, the search engine giant faced a backlash of “is it relevant?”, and “stop pushing the hard sell” comments but we, as consumers, got over it.

Brands have generated revenue from it, advertisers love a good shopping campaign and you could definitely argue that the global Googling population got used to the idea of product-related searches returning shopping ads. And even finds them useful.

It is safe to say that seeing shopping ads is now the norm.

When Relevance Becomes Interruption

However, going back to Google’s mantra of making “the world’s information…accessible and useful”, we are left questioning exactly how useful this update is.

Google say that the change is largely about enabling more on-the-spot purchases, but if we (the consumer) wanted to make a purchase wouldn’t we click a search or shopping ad from the SERP or click the Shopping tab to shorten our purchase process?

To us, the encroach of ads to the image results page, when consumers are clearly still researching as opposed to know exactly which product they’re looking to buy, is borderline interruption marketing and an update that we didn’t expect to see in the image results page.

Why have Google launched this update?

According to a BloomReach survey of search behaviour, 44% shoppers go direct to Amazon to search for products compared to just 34% who research on search engines for product retailers.

Google have introduced this ‘shopping ads on image results pages’ feature to appeal to mobile shoppers who may be comparing products in-store and more open to purchasing on-the-go.

What does this mean for organic results?

From the SERP, there isn’t any change to look out for, but retailers may find that they get less traffic from images. Especially on mobile, shopping results have dominated product-led searches – and the shopping images are getting bigger and more interactive (i.e. adding scrolling functionality to mobile searches) with every update.

On this basis, we predict the same fate for the image search results – shopping ads are small while the test is rolled out, but if CTR is high and conversions improve, there’s no reason why Google won’t increase the image size further.

Prior to 23rd May launch, organic image results occupied around 66% of the mobile screen. However, this is expected to drop to around 25% post-launch.

This is great news for paid marketing advertisers, brands with shopping feeds and purchase-ready consumers, but not so good for visibility of organic search results. However, this continued ‘hard-sell’ from Google could also see adoption of Ad-Blocking software increase; not ideal when brands are aiming for return on attention; promoting ads and content that are useful and relevant to consumers.

 

With paid ads starting to navigate away from the main SERPs, we believe this to be the slippery slope for the other results tabs. If image results are being interrupted by ads, there’s no reason why the same fate isn’t coming to Videos, Apps, Maps and Books.

Watch this space, and prepare to be interrupted.