Google is currently testing a way to make the shopping aspects of its Google Images search tool much more convenient via the introduction of "shoppable" and "Showcase Shopping" ads on Google Images.
The first of the new features is only rolling out to a few select testers for the time being but will almost certainly be the more impactful change for end users. Based on the example provided by Google and description, shoppable ads will incorporate advertisements as images among others in a Google search.
In effect, if a user searches for an image such as a desk or a lamp, a sponsored ad will appear — clearly marked with the "sponsored" indicator — amid more usual results. Tapping or clicking on the shopping tag overlaid atop the image will bring up titles and pricing for a product or products highlighted in the image. Users can then easily navigate to buy the product in question using the GUI overlay.
Categories for products will continue to expand as the feature is rolled out to more users, effectively allowing users to window shop via lifestyle imagery while performing day-to-day image searches.
Showcase Shopping ads, to the contrary, are the same ads that are already shown for thousands of retailers and brands across 17 countries. Those are the advertisements which are surfaced in other areas of search when the search query can be tied in with a product or brand. The change means that those will appear in Google Images as well.
Propping up a search giant's most profitable business
The name Google may most often be associated directly with web searches but the latest feature is arguably a bid to bolster the company's position in the advertising market amid growing competition. The company's ad revenue currently represents not only its own biggest source of income but also the biggest money-maker of Google's parent company, Alphabet. Competition on that front has been on the rise from long-time rivals Amazon and Facebook, among others, so its latest push in advertising couldn't come at a better time for the search giant.
Incorporating adverts via Showcase Shopping ads is a relatively straightforward and almost traditional approach, despite that they'll be appearing in image searches. On the other hand, the new shoppable ads will bring a unique and altogether much more passive approach to the table. That's because the images don't appear to be too different from those that already typically appear using the search engine. So they will still serve their intended purpose without being too overtly obtrusive.
At the same time, users will be able to get a better idea of how a product will look in a real-world — albeit staged — environment and alongside other products that are popular in related categories. That could feasibly lead to more sales than traditional ads if the feature goes off without a hitch.
Google hasn't outlined even a rough timeframe for shoppable ads to begin appearing in users' image searches. That's not uncommon for beta products but the search giant has typically offered a general idea for product releases when they're announced too. That could mean that there are significant bugs to still be worked out during testing or that there simply aren't enough products and images ready for a full-fledged rollout. In either case, it could be some time before the majority of end users get to see the new feature firsthand.