Now that paid search is firmly a mobile-first ad channel, it makes sense that Google is rethinking the “canvas” of the search engine results page (SERP) to better align with the smaller screen. As reported by SearchEngineLand.com, Google is testing some larger, visual search ads right now.
Born on the desktop
Search marketing started on the desktop two decades ago with monitors generally five to ten sizes bigger than today’s average smartphone screen. Smaller screens mean that less information can be presented above the fold, so it certainly opens up the conversation about the SERP design in this new era of the mobile-first web.
A few years ago, Google introduced Model Automotive ads that feature large-format images, performance details, and links to the manufacturer’s website, nearby dealers and other information.
Initial advertiser feedback was completely positive. “Across our core line of car models, we’ve seen a 45-percent increase in conversion events and a 30-percent decrease in CPA compared to standard text ads,” said Dionne Colvin-Lovely, Toyota Motor Sales, USA at the time (2016).
The recent larger, visual mobile search ads were spotted and shared by a SearchEngineLand.com columnist. The featured brand was Nike with a carousel of images.
From SearchEngineLand.com: “The format features multiple headlines followed by a large carousel of images and a description below. Users can swipe through the set of images in the ad. Clicking on any of the images brings up a Google-hosted page of all the images and their captions. A card with a link to the advertiser’s site is at the bottom of that page. Just like any other text ad, clicking on the headline takes you to the advertiser’s site.
“This expansion is just a test for now. ‘We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers and users, but don’t have anything specific to announce right now,’ a Google spokesperson said when we asked about this.”
Social creativity influencing the mobile SERP
The real pioneers of maximizing ad space on mobile devices are the social publishers—such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat—who have pushed the boundaries for how to best reach and influence consumers with visuals on smaller screens. Social advertising is one of the fastest growing marketing channels because the formats lend themselves so well to influential storytelling versus the standard paid search, three line text ads.
Facebook Carousel Ad
Large, full screen interactive mobile ad units have become more popular with advertisers over the last few years because it gives them the opportunity for better storytelling. Across all Skai advertisers on Facebook, carousel ads grew 53% year-over-year in Q4 and as a share of total spending, they grew from 17% to 22%. Carousel ads were responsible for over half (52%) of social clicks across all Skai advertisers in Q4—this includes likes, comments, and shares because carousel ads can have multiple engagement points.\
One of the biggest drivers for the adoption of carousel ads is Dynamic Ads for Products (DPA), and 98% of spending on DPA in Q4 2018 was for the multi-link (carousel) variant, versus single link. With this focus on product ads, it follows that ecommerce advertisers like the format and carousel ads grew 76% YoY among these advertisers, compared to 53% across all advertisers.
Facebook Dynamic Product Ad
The Mobile SERP is Evolving
This testing of larger, more interactive mobile search ad format is aligned to the trend of search becoming more visual. According to Mozcast.com, which tracks a rolling 30-day window of desktop and mobile SERP results, at the time of publication of this post, 21.3% of results pages had videos and 11.4% contained images.
Pinterest’s CEO Ben Silbermann has previously said that “the future of search will be about pictures rather than keywords.” One of the keys here is that because search engines are accessed mainly by mobile now, every search engine has a camera attachment. Versus online text, visuals cross language boundaries and the old adage a picture is a thousand words dictates that a few pictures can tell a bigger picture than a few paragraphs.
We should expect to see more changes to both search engines and paid search advertising over the next few years as both consumers and publishers learn together about what works best of the smaller screen and the mobile SERP. Look for Google and other engines to find inspiration from the social publishers, whose ad units take full advantage of the smartphone screen.