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Keeping Up With Google: What Are Shoppable Image Ads?

Mike Farrell

Return on ad spend (ROAS) is the top success metric for digital retail marketers. Most continue to focus their efforts on the bottom of the purchase funnel where intent is higher and ROAS is strongest. As a result, they also use last click attribution to measure and optimize their marketing performance.

Google is on a quest to change that, and its new ad format, shoppable image ads, is the latest in a slew of updates to drive full-funnel marketing within Google Ads.

Google started its quest with the release of data-driven attribution (DDA) in 2013, a model that gives more credit to upper funnel activity than last click attribution does. A few years later, Google released Showcase Shopping ads as an answer to not only the conversion rate problem on generic top-of-funnel terms, but specifically on mobile where upper funnel research activity usually takes place. In 2018, Google expanded Showcase ads to include video for branding purposes (also an upper funnel initiative), and now most recently Google announced shoppable image ads.

We’ll explore what this new ad format means for retailers and how to prepare for its rollout in our latest installment of Keeping Up With Google.

Release Date:

Google announced the launch of shoppable ads on March 5. Google is testing the new ad format with a select number of retailers and said it plans to expand that rollout to more verticals in the next few months.

What It Does:

Shoppable images appear under the “Images” tab of the SERP. The images highlight multiple products that consumers can purchase, similar to shoppable Pinterest pins. Consumers will see a “Sponsored” label as well as a price tag at the bottom of these images. When they hover over the price tag, shoppers will see the name of the products that are available for sale as well as the price.

Which Channels:

Shoppable image ads are available on Google Image Search.

What It Means for Your Business:

The launch checks a few boxes for Google. First, shoppable image ads bring more traffic to Google’s search network.

Second, the launch is another step towards monetizing the Google Image Search product. Google launched Shopping ads on Google Image Search back in 2016 with little success, as the ads felt out of place. This new product integrates the ads into the images in a much more natural way.

Third, and probably the most important, the new ad format takes the best of what key competitors like about what Pinterest and Instagram are doing from an ad perspective, and marries it with Google’s data and technology to better deliver highly relevant content.

Last, (surprise, surprise) shoppable image ads are yet another upper funnel activity targeting users while they are viewing images for research purposes.

There will likely be a spike in adoption early because shoppable image ads are the new shiny object of Google Ads. But unless retailers get out of their own way and start evaluating the effectiveness of these ads differently, i.e., exploring multi-touch attribution, the ads won’t gain the traction they should.

Retailers who continue to give all credit to the last touch before the sale, will not understand how a shoppable image ad began that shopper on their journey and nurtured them further down the funnel. Attribution models like linear, time decay, and algorithmic, can help retailers understand the entire shopping journey and the unique role shoppable image ads play at different stages of the funnel. We have an in-depth overview of different multi-touch attribution models to get you started.

I suspect Google Image Search might start looking and acting more like Pinterest in the near future, as Google expands into new areas of advertising. But that doesn’t mean Google will replace this channel or other top-of-funnel platforms like Facebook. Retailers will still need to understand the value of these channels to their business and develop a cohesive strategy across all of them.

Retail marketers should test shoppable image ads, because you should always be testing, but keep your expectations in check. These ads are not going to deliver huge returns, but I encourage you to evaluate them through the lens of other attribution models to see what role they can play in your full-funnel strategy.

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