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The power of pictures

Display advertisers will tell you there's nothing quite like an image to convert browsers into buyers.

It's one thing to present potential customers with a couple of lines of text and a link in the sponsored listings, outlining what you're trying to sell. But it's an entirely different matter when you can actually show them a picture of the product in question. Consumers can forge an emotional connection to images of a new smartphone, car or jacket in a way that simply isn't possible with words alone.

Google goes visual

Search engines seem to be finally waking up to the power of the picture. Google, for so long the dominant figure in text-based search ads, has been rushing to incorporate images into AdWords entries in time for Christmas. Earlier this month, theEword reported on the beta launch of Product Listing Ads in which AdWords automatically scours the inventory lists of advertisers on Google Merchant Center. The result is more detailed cost-per-action ads featuring prices, retailer names and – crucially – product images.

Google Product Extensions

Now it's trying a similar trick with pay-per-click (PPC). Product Extensions provide additional information for relevant searches in the form of a plusbox below the main AdWords ad. Clicking this plusbox provides titles, images and prices for several related products drawn once again from advertiser inventory lists on Google Merchant Center. Regardless of which product is ultimately clicked, Google AdWords account holders will be charged a flat PPC fee.

But Product Extensions is not merely a PPC clone of Product Listing Ads because advertisers enjoy significantly more control of the results. Unlike Product Listing Ads, it lets you choose which entries are displayed in the plusbox for particular keywords. This can be used to direct customers towards eye-catching deals and runaway bestsellers. If Nokia smartphones are proving far more lucrative than iPhones, you can ensure these are the first things that potential customers see.

Here's an example of Product Extensions in action:


Product Extensions and online marketing

Mark Baker, online marketing manager at theEword, has looked into the latest Google AdWords innovation. He said: "I think the Product Extensions are a good idea for advertisers to place their relevant products in front of consumers in one search, and in turn a win for consumers to instantly see a range of their desired products as images instead of just text ads. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the free Google products service and whether it increases conversions as opposed to just click through rates.

One final point. Both features are primarily targeted at the US market right now. Product Listings Ads is being tested by a limited number of US advertisers, while Product Extensions has just gone live for all US advertisers but is still at the beta stage internationally. However, Google AdWords has indicated that both should be rolled out to a wider audience soon.

Richard Frost
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