Google testing product images in organic search

Apr. 03, 2014 | by Modestos Siotos

Google are currently testing the performance of product images within the organic listings. Up until now, product images have been available just in Google’s paid listings. Thus, this could be big news for e-commerce (and finance) sites should the search giant decide to permanently include them in its free listings.

It is still unclear how Google picks the image thumbnail that is being displayed in the organic search results as they do not seem to be influenced by the use of structured data, nor the image properties (e.g. filename, alt tag).

In the following example, all three search results are from Ebay, yet two appear with a product image and one without.

serps-thumbnails-summer-huts

Organic listings for ‘Summer hats’

It is also worth noting that the product thumbnails are bigger compared to the  authorship ones, hence more prominent as we can see in the following example.

serps-thumbnails-macbook-air

Organic listings for ‘Macbook Air’

When combined with positive reviews they appear even more prominent and very likely to attract significantly higher click-through rates as in the below example.

serps-thumbnails-ugg-boots

Organic listings for ‘Ugg boots’

For highly visual products the image that appears in the search results can be crucial factor, as it would greatly influence the number of clicks to category pages like in the following example.

serps-thumbnails-coca-cola

Organic listings for ‘Coca-cola posters’

Google seem to be testing images even for the listings of non e-commerce websites, such as the one below that appear to some UK users when searching for car insurance.

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Search results for ‘Car insurance’

In the above example the car thumbnails are being pulled in from the banners of the corresponding pages. In this case, each image offers a great space to add the business’ unique selling point (USP) or value proposition so that the listing can become even more attractive to searchers.

But even without a straightforward marketing message, a compelling image can still be quite powerful due to its visual nature. Advertisers could take advantage of the new visual space that will hopefully become available to them in Google’s organic results.

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Search results for ‘Life insurance’

If this is update is to take place, Google should definitely provide web-masters with a way to choose which images should appear in the organic results. Otherwise, making a random choice could negatively affect the click-through rate of the listed sites as in the below example.

serps-thumbnails-home-insurance

It will be interesting to see if Google decide to roll this update out globally but in the meantime brands could start thinking of the ways that would allow them to fully leverage the great potential this opportunity presents for their online digital presence.

Note: At present these results appear to a very small number of searchers, hence trying replicating them may not be possible.

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    Comments (2)

    • Modestos Siotos

      It is definitely a challenge.

      I have come across several examples where Google is pulling out either irrelevant images or just low quality ones, which ultimately can have negative implications to CTR. Let's hope that if they decide to roll this update out they will allow webmasters to choose which images should appear in the SERPs.Apr 5, 2014 09:43 pm

    • Depesh Manalia

      Good spot Modestos.

      There's a big merchandising challenge with Google potentially pulling out the wrong image or a less than optimal image. It then potentially creates further markup overhead in generating the right image for Google (assuming it takes the markup route, or looks for relevant ALT tag to rank images) of which Google has no control as to how relevant it is (Moneysupermarket's image is more enticing than LV's which I imagine is another optimisation string to the SERP bow)Apr 3, 2014 02:57 pm

     
    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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