Every few months Google ramps up their testing in both AdWords and in Product Listing Ads. And January has definitely been a month of changes with Product Listing Ads.
PLAs in Image Search Results
First, a new launch. Google has launched a new PLA carousel that showcases products right in Google’s image search results. Directly below the line which shows the grouping of images that allow searchers to narrow down their image search, Google is now displaying PLAs across the entire page.
What is particularly noteworthy about this is that it is the first time that Google has ever placed PLAs on the image search results, despite it being the perfect visual complement to the search results. Google did test text ads on the image search results for a while, occasionally with thumbnails, as part of their image search redesign in 2010, but they never seemed to gain popularity. But these new PLAs in Google image search are much better suited than the text ads that never really fit the look of the results.
These new image results PLAs are in carousel format, which means a searcher can use arrows scrolls, or swiping on mobile, to scroll through the remainder of the results. Google is capping the number of individual PLAs in the image search results to 15. So if you’re trying to optimize to show in image search you will need to make sure you are in the top 15 for your keywords.
This does showcase more products than what we see in the regular Google search results, which we normally see capped at 10, but most often in units of 4-5 products. This also means using the carousel can be a great way to see what other competitors are also running PLAs for your keywords. Right now, in order to see competitors’ PLAs in action, advertisers are stuck reloading search results that show PLA’s to see them. But these new image ads make it slightly easier for advertisers to see more of their competition’s ads, and narrowing down in subsequent searches will display even more.
It does raise the question whether searchers will realize they are clicking an ad or not, since they do appear to be image search results to the casual searcher. As a result, advertisers should watch their ROI closely to see how well these ads perform.
PLAs in image search results are available to all advertisers and display on both desktop and mobile.
Now for a very interesting test: Google is testing an expandable PLA in their search results. This means that the usual standard PLA box expands to 16 individual product listings, right within the search results page. When a searcher expands it, it pushes down both organic and regular AdWords ads further down on the page.
Spotted first by Channel Advisor, the ad unit looks like a traditional 4 product PLA at the top of the search results like we have seen many times before. But this one has a small arrow at the bottom right corner of the PLA ad unit.
Once a searcher clicks the expandable arrow, it expands both to the right and below the ad unit. This expands it to 8 ads across and two rows down, displaying 16 total individual products. This also pushes down both the right sidebar AdWords ads, as well as the AdWords below the PLA and the regular organic search results underneath. This means that both advertisers and organic listings could be pushed below the fold on smaller screens.
This seems to be a new and extremely limited test. Despite many advertisers looking for this test, no one else has been able to replicate it yet. So it is likely it was a very limited 1% test, like many of the advertising tests we see Google do, and they might have stopped testing it.
Does this mean we will see this expandable PLA unit launch? It is hard to say, but Google definitely would have been tracking how much interaction happened with the ad unit during the test, particularly if people were actually expanding on it and if they clicked on any of the product listings that were shown after the expansion. So we could possibly see more of these, or not, if Google decided the CTR didn’t justify the real estate on the search results page.
Emojis in PLA Display URLs!
Lastly, The SEM Post broke the news that advertisers can add emojis to the display URLs of PLAs. Yes, really. This was a short-lived trick in both AdWords and the organic search results last year, but Google closed that loophole after two months. So it isn’t clear if the ability to show emojis in PLAs is deliberate or if the no-emoji rule somehow missed PLAs.
It seems you can show a wide variety of emojis in PLAs. This includes both single color and full color emojis, although keep in mind that some emojis will display differently depending on both the browser used and the OS. But for advertisers, it makes sense to use emojis that will complement the product, not detract from it.
To show emojis in PLAs, advertisers just need to add the emoji right into the name settings within the merchant settings, then they will show up when the PLA is displayed on the search results.
It is always great to see Google continue to test and innovate with both AdWords and Product Listing Ads since it gives advertisers new and interesting ways of targeting their customers.
About the author
Jennifer Slegg is a longtime speaker and expert in search engine marketing. When she isn't sitting at her desk writing and working, she can be found grabbing a latte at her local Starbucks or planning her next trip to Disneyland. She is the founder and editor of The SEM Post, a search industry news resource for search marketers and advertisers. She regularly speaks at Pubcon, SMX, ClickZ and more, and has been presenting at conferences for over a decade.