Mobile Visual Sitelinks: A Case Study

March 9, 2019

Do you have a client that has a colorful array of items for sale or services and content that may be deemed visually pleasing? Were you upset when they sunset Google image ads? If your answer to any of those items was “yes,” then you may be interested in learning more about Google’s mobile visual sitelinks.

Whether or not you have a specific mobile strategy for your client, these may be appropriate for you to roll out. Because, let’s face it: the fact that you run on mobile at all is strategy enough nowadays. Using visual sitelinks is a very easy way to enhance your current sitelink extensions which show on mobile search engine results pages, and it helps you take up a good deal of results page real estate.

It is fairly easy to get started. First, you need to make sure you are opted in to this feature. You can check by looking under the “Labs” tab in the AdWords UI. If you see a “Visual Sitelinks” option, you are in business! If you don’t, you need to start nagging your Google rep ASAP. When you are opted in, all you need from the client are the images. The specifications which Google provides for images are straightforward:

Google Specifications:

  • JPG or PNG
  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • 1280x720px
  • Max file size: 5MB
  • Color Space RGB
  • No logos, overlays or collages

After you get these images from the client, it is ALL on you. Mobile sitelinks work very similarly to regular sitelinks, and several of the same copy guidelines and rules will apply. You still can’t use the same landing page more than once (reminder: this includes whatever is being used as the keyword’s final URL). The biggest difference is that instead of two description lines with 35-character limits, you have one description with a limit of 50 characters. Title character limit is still 25. More importantly, you also should make sure that the titles and descriptions you’re writing are relevant to the image itself. You can’t say “Check Out Our Solutions for Office Efficiency” and have it run with an image of a hammock between two palm trees on a remote tropical island. It’s wishful thinking AND your extension will be disapproved.

Other than that, I’d say it is a safe bet to use the same best practices you’d use when launching anything: Relevance is the key. Strong associations between the image you use, your sitelink title and description, the search keyword which triggered it and your landing page content will only serve to help your visual sitelinks serve more often.

We completed a seven-month study testing the effectiveness of mobile visual sitelinks on an e-commerce client. This is a new and innovative tech company that has recently bolstered up their branding both offline and on. It should be noted that, for this study, we only looked at orders and not revenue.

Here are a couple general observations we noticed during this study about mobile visual sitelinks and how Google AdWords has adjusted the way they serve and report on the performance over that time span.

First, it is important to note that if you started using visual sitelinks prior to September, reporting changed significantly towards the end of August in the UI. In the beginning, all visual sitelinks that were triggered were collectively given equal credit for the impression, click, cost and conversion. Now, the individual visual sitelink that was seen or scrolled to receives the impression. Additionally, the visual sitelink that was clicked on now receives the click and the conversion. It is easier now for the user to determine which mobile visual sitelink is generating the best performance.

The second observation revolves around Google optimizing based on performance. We mentioned above that advertisers had little insight into which particular visual sitelink was performing well prior to September. In this case study, the e-commerce client had visual sitelink A (VS-A) receiving most of the impressions, clicks, etc. during September, the first month there was a delta in reporting between the visual sitelinks. Performance was subpar, with a cost per order (CPO) of $188. Visual sitelink B (VS-B) had a CPO of $32 during this time. The breakdown of impressions are as follows for September 2017:

VS-A – 81 percent
VS-B – 16 percent
VS-C – 3 percent

The Google algorithm saw this discrepancy and performance and adjusted the following month (October 2017) to focus more on VS-B. The breakdown of impressions are as follows for October 2017:

VS-A – 8 percent
VS-B – 88 percent
VS-C – 4 percent

The system made the appropriate changes by moving VS-B to the first image shown. This had a significant impact to the mobile visual sitelink performance. Performance prior to September was $470 CPO for all mobile visual sitelinks for the months of June – August 2017. October 2017 – January 2018 had a $108 CPO — a 77-percent reduction in CPO. Over time, the CPO improved to $80 from December 2017 – January 2018.

While the reduction in CPO is great, the reason for taking the time to develop assets and utilize a feature like this is to better optimize the performance of your campaigns. We need to look at mobile performance overall during this time frame versus mobile visual sitelinks to understand if the impact is helping reduce the CPO or increase the engagement (CTR) of the ads.

As an engagement ad, mobile visual sitelinks perform better than the rest of mobile. Again, mobile visual sitelinks only show 10 percent of the time when you are in position one on the SERP. There are a few factors that are in play here. The higher your position on the SERP, the higher your CTR. Mobile visual sitelinks ensure that they are only present when the ad is in position one, the highest CTR location. Brand also has a higher CTR and is most likely to show in position one over non-brand keywords, thus giving visual sitelinks an even higher probability of outpacing mobile overall.

While there are still similar overall discrepancies, the outcome remains the same. Mobile visual sitelinks are an excellent way to take up SERP space and draw the user in to engage with your ad. Unfortunately, they aren’t a reliable source of immediate returns. Mobile visual sitelinks are best used as a branding engagement on a lead gen client. If these extensions continue to simply be eye candy and not an effective way of marketing towards a return goal, they’ll probably go the way of the dodo — or Google image ads.


And Sean Cohen
Follow ForwardPMX

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