Google Launches Smarter, More Visual Ads Timed for Holiday Shopping

'Showcase Shopping' ads give retailers a boost in search

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       Showcase Shopping ads could help connect consumers' vague searches with retail products. 

Ahead of the holiday shopping season, Google is working to create more visual products for retailers that want to customize how their brands and products appear in search.

Google's "Showcase Shopping" ads, unveiled today to a small group of reporters in New York, are meant to help people find what they're looking for even when the search query they entered is quite vague. According to Google, more than 40 percent of shopping-related queries on Google are for broad terms, such as "summer dress," "women's athletic clothing," or "living room furniture."

With the new format, a retailer can choose to have a certain series of images appear in search results related to various search queries and keywords. If a user clicks an image, they'll be brought to another page with additional information about the products. According to Google, 44 percent of people mentioned using images to find ideas while shopping online, illustrating the role that images play in online shopping. Showcase Shopping ads will be available in the coming weeks to all merchants running campaigns in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

"This is a different ad format for shopping that will put the retailer first and really help people explore and discover what they want to buy and where to buy it," said Jonathan Alferness, Google's vp of shopping and travel.

Mobile research and mobile shopping both continue to grow in prominence. According to Google, shopping and travel searches are up 30 percent year-over-year, and mobile search related to finding the "best" product has increased more than 50 percent.

Along with the Showcase Shopping ads, Google is also updating its TrueView ads. The format, which was first unveiled last spring, will soon allow marketers to include a banner companion next to a video ad so that users can scroll through product images and information while a video is playing. The latest updates will also let advertisers decide which products they want to highlight as a part of the campaign.

According to Alferness, the number of advertisers using the TrueView product has increased by 50 percent from January 2015 to January 2016, with one in three advertisers using the product on a weekly basis. While he wouldn't provide a benchmark for the growth, Alferness said Google is seeing "really, really great momentum."

"We're trying to find ways to better infuse the unique aspects of the retailer into the ad formats to really help that retailer come first to the consumer as a choice," he said.



TrueView ads will soon incorporate banners that can provide additional product info.

Mobile is also playing an increasing role in travel research and booking. According to Google, visits to mobile travel sites comprised around 40 percent of all traffic to those websites during the first quarter of 2016. Mobile conversions have also grown, rising 10 percent. And now, nearly half of all referrals from Google Hotel Ads come from smartphones, growing nearly 2.4 times year-over-year. Brands like La Quinta are seeing mobile web traffic account for a third of all traffic to its website, with mobile bookings increasing by a factor of four in three years.

Because of this, Google is adding features related to booking hotels and flights. For example, through the company's Hotel Smart Filters, users will be able to filter based on prices, ratings or preferences like whether a hotel is "pet-friendly."

Google also is adding features related to finding deals to point out when a hotel's price is lower than normal or when a hotel is running a discounted rate. It's also adding tips for when prices are lower—much like it already does with flights.

Speaking of flights, price tracking also is getting an update and will now allow consumers to skip checking back all the time for the latest prices and instead opt in to track fares for specific routes and dates.

Google Flights will now let users set up alerts for when prices drop.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.