Google has been doing a lot of experimentation with search ads, and they recently made what could be a dramatic change for advertisers. All of the existing extensions are text based, with product listings and off-site display ads offering the only option for capturing attention with images. Apparently Google has decided that a highway with text-only billboards might need a little sprucing up. They’re now starting a beta for image extensions in search ads.

One in Six

Google’s decision to evolve the visual layout of their ads comes with some statistics. According to their post on the matter, “one in six searches on Google today provide results with visual content.” Given those numbers, the decision to try this new layout may be as much a response to advertisers as it is to users of the site.

Visual Advertisers

Their post also indicates that they won’t just be offering this to every advertiser out there. These ads will be limited based on a criteria that Google will determine by user intent. Searches that are “likely for visual content” will show these ads, which seems to mean that a user making the search intends to find images related to their search term.

This limitation is necessary to keep things from turning into a free-for-all, but a wide range of advertisers should still be able to take advantage of this new advertising tool. Car dealers who used to have to rely on plain text to convey their message might be able to  attract attention with specific shots of vehicles, for example.

Image Extension Ad
Based on Google’s mockup, the ads should look something like this.

Restaurants could feature a popular meal, hotels could offer photos of their rooms, and photographers could use it as a chance to show off their talents. The limitations aren’t fully known yet, so now is a great time to try and get in so you can start testing out some ads of your own. You can ask for an invitation into the beta by filling out this form. With any luck, this feature will expand beyond beta and give everyone an opportunity to give users more reasons to click through.