PMG Digital Made for Humans

Maximizing Success with Visual Search

7 MINUTE READ | December 2, 2019

Maximizing Success with Visual Search

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Mason Suess

Mason Suess has written this article. More details coming soon.

While visual search has risen to prominence via shopping over the last several years, Google recently developed additional visual search ad options that enhance the way that brands re-engage with existing customers and reach potential new ones.

Visual search technology uses images to connect users with products and/or categories that are similar to what they are searching for. For advertisers, visual search allows brands to engage with customers beyond a text ad format —highlighting products/categories that are important to the brand.  Visual ads live within both the Google search engine results page and now across other Google inventory like YouTube.

Visual ads are important because they allow brands to create a unique brand experience that is visually appealing to consumers while driving awareness and consideration for a product/service.

Shopping ads own the top of the search engine results page (typically above text ads) and account for over two-thirds of all click traffic on Google. These ads will be the first thing users see when they conduct a search. As consumers become more comfortable shopping via Google Shopping and as Google’s algorithm continues to favor feed-based advertising, it will be critical for retail brands to evolve media strategies to focus more heavily on opportunities within visual search.

Google continues to evolve its visual search offering, with shopping capabilities now available in Google Images and YouTube through Gallery Ads, Shoppable Images, and Showcase.

For many retailers, the first step into visual search is via shopping ads, more specifically, Product Listing Ads (PLA**)**. This feed-based ad unit allows retailers the opportunity to promote each of its product SKUs individually. 

Example of Product Listing Ads

PLAs have been in-market on Google for several years now (since 2002, where has the time gone?) and many retailers rely on this tactic to drive revenue.

With greater ability to measure drive-to-store strategies, several of PMG’s clients have benefited from bridging online search with offline store sales, via Local Inventory Ads (LIA). Google launched LIA in 2017, enabling retailers to deliver local inventory information to consumers in an easily digestible and reliable way:

Example of local inventory ads

The LIA unit looks very similar to the PLA unit, however, a simple “In Store” tag overlays the product image. In addition to the product feed that is required to run PLA units, a local inventory feed also needs to be sent to Google Merchant Center to activate LIA capabilities.

Advertisers at PMG are measuring in-store performance via offline revenue floodlight tags, as well as Google Ads In-Store Visits metrics. For one of PMG’s retail brands, LIA units drove a 40% lower cost per store visit than PLA during 19Q2 at similar investment.

The newest star of visual search is Showcase. The Showcase unit is a storefront for brands to highlight top product categories. These ads predominantly serve on mobile, upper-funnel queries (makeup, jeans, etc.) and PMG brands are using this unit as an introductory moment to engage potential new clients.

Example of Showcase Ads

Unlike PLAs, whose sole purpose is to drive revenue, Showcase units exist to drive awareness and consideration. It is the best unit to reach new-to-brand customers who are in the “discovery” stage of the purchase path. Driving new customers is a core tenant for many of PMG’s clients and we discovered that for at least two of our brands, Showcase units drove new customers more efficiently than PLA, LIA, and non-branded search.

Google continues to expand showcase auctions throughout 2019 (however, video in Showcase is being deprecated). Due to the expansiveness of queries that are triggering Showcase ads, we expect showcase to account for +30% of shopping impressions during 19Q4. The majority of larger brands across several verticals have adopted Showcase into their digital strategy. Your competition has likely also adopted this ad type, and if that is the case, an “always-on” strategy should be considered to defend share of voice and expand reach to new customers that are still discovering.For more details about how to execute the right showcase strategy, read PMG’s Price Glomski’s piece in Digital Commerce 360.

Discovery Ads build awareness and drive consideration for brands, serving across Gmail, YouTube, and the Discover Tab (Google Search). This inventory allows brands to engage with shoppers on a new platform outside of the search engine results page and is a great tool to efficiently promote a new product line or offering to a wide range of users.

Example of Discovery Ads (Beta)

This product is still in Beta, however, one of PMG’s retail clients has had success driving new to site users— shoppers that may not have otherwise considered the brand.

Google’s shopping experience has trickled into Google Images via Shoppable Images. These ads —like Showcase— primarily trigger on exploratory terms and appear in the image results tab on Google. This ad type is good for brands looking to drive new customers.

Example of Shoppable Images

These ads add value by allowing users to shop entire outfits, collections, or looks all in one place. Because shopping within images is new, this could be a good chance for your brand to get in before your competition. This inventory is new and widely untapped, however, we expect this feed-based ad unit to keep growing in popularity.

Gallery Ads —a visual text ad unit—- allow brands to present a series of images to users who are in the discovery phase of the purchase journey. The ad type triggers on mid-upper funnel queries (jeans, makeup, men’s shoes, etc.) that are typically more competitive within the text ad marketplace.

Example of a Gallery Ad

This tactic acts similarly to a text ad in that it serves in existing campaigns, targeted to selected keywords (not feed-based). Pick keywords that are important for your brand to ensure that you are maximizing search real estate across your most valued terms. The visual asset gives brands more share of the search engine results page (it takes up most screen above the fold). 

Determine your goals. Revenue? New Customers? Store Visits? All Of the Above?

Likely your brand relies heavier upon one of these KPIs, and that will influence how you strategize and plan media. However, most brands (at least the ones with physical locations) would consider all of these to be key pillars of their success. With that, it is important to maintain a balance of driving upper-funnel (Showcase, Discovery, Gallery, and Shoppable Images) investment to increase new-to-brand users and enough lower-funnel investment (PLA/LIA) to drive revenue and retarget new users just acquired. 

Similarly, it is important to weigh the importance of in-store performance to overall business and flex spend into local inventory units as necessary. 

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While each brand has different goals in mind, visual search has unleashed new potential within SEM and we foresee the future of search leaning more heavily into visual and feed-based formats. Leveraging all, some, or a combination of these ad formats will set your brand up for success by maximizing Paid Search reach across the Googlesphere — keeping existing customers loyal while also driving new customers to the brand.