How to Deal with AdWords Image Extensions

Last week, the pay-per-click (PPC) world was probably changed forever when Google began introducing an extension that allows advertisers to place images into its standard text-based AdWords ads on its search engine results pages (SERPs).

At present, Google says that about one in every six searches on the search engine provides results with "visual content," and that number is only going to increase as Web users demand more and more easy-to-digest and visually appealing content. As a result, the company decided to improve the overall flexibility of its paid search ads to follow consumer trends.

But wait. I know that you may be thinking to yourself that image-based PPC ads just sound a lot like Google's already existent crop of product listing ads (PLAs) that feature a clean cut, catalog-ready picture of the products (or related products) that a user searched for, along with information like price and provider.

That's not the case with these PPC images, however, which are far sleeker and focus on providing a visual experience with the product in question, as opposed to just a sterile image totally devoid of personality. Google's paid search ads can also feature more than just static images, as they'll work with animated gifs and Flash animations, as well.

It Pays to Be on Top
Let's not forget that the inclusion of image content on AdWords ads is still an incredibly new phenomenon, and one that exists only in beta mode. Because of that, no one really has much information about the specific (and important) details regarding things like how many ads will be able to display image results, or if there will be overlap with PLAs.

However, what is unquestionably clear is that, for now at least, all PPC images (which come in groups of three) are going to be located directly above and limited to the first paid search listing, which really draws the user's attention to the top of the section and highlights the ranking in the top spot. This makes having the number one paid search ranking on Google just became significantly more appealing.

What the Beta Launch Tells Us
So, although details are still sparse regarding the actual changes that image-augmented PPC ads will make for the paid search industry in the long run, even with just a week of testing, a few key observations have already emerged.

For now, only big money advertisers like Samsung are actually able to show images with their PPC ads, but Google is already accepting applications from current AdWords customers to include images, custom text and site links in their own paid search ads.

What we have learned from their experiences, and from Google's initial announcement, is that there will be some restrictions on the images that advertisers can display with their PPC ads. The biggest (and most obvious) being that they absolutely must own the image that they're trying to display. And for anyone who thinks they can be sneaky and just pass off a stolen image as their own, they should know that Google will go through a rigorous review process before actually showing the images with the ads. (This also helps ensure that nothing to questionable or inappropriate is displayed.)

A handful of advertisers and PPC managers have already had some trouble getting their images approved by Google, such as a company that tried to promote pictures of dresses for the keyword "runways." Google has also turned down a collection of images because it apparently only allows one of the three pictures displayed to have white space around it (presumably to ensure they don't end up looking too much like PLAs).

Needless to say, following the AdWords guidelines may prove to be trickier than you may initially expect. Thankfully, there are a few general rules of thumb that advertisers can keep in mind to streamline the validation process. For starters, make sure you present Google with high quality images right off the bat, and they cannot include animations, overlays or logos that are not part of your product. Google also prefers pics that are 640px by 360px and only allows a 16:9 aspect ratio. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that you must submit an image that is already available and visible on your website.

The Story So Far
Right now, just one percent of all Google searches are even seeing these image-conscious PPC ads, so there's not a lot of concrete data that we can go off of, particularly when it comes to getting performance reports on individual images.

In the meantime, one thing that advertisers and PPC managers can do is to create new ad groups specifically for these image extensions that indicate when images should be representative of all of the ads or keywords in an ad group, and to make sure (or at least most) of the keywords in said ad group are "image-seeking" and don't include information about the product's price or online reviews.