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'They should all be worried': Google is bringing shoppable ads to image searches — and it should terrify Amazon, Instagram and Pinterest

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  • Google is rolling out shoppable ads to search results on Google Images and extending its "showcase shopping ads" to Google Images. 
  • Other platforms including Amazon, Instagram and Pinterest also are focusing on visual search as brands use it to find customers and boost sales.
  • But media buyers said Google's move is a direct threat to those platforms since Google is the undisputed king of search.

Google is rolling out shoppable ads to Search results on Google Images, taking on Amazon, Instagram and Pinterest in visual search.

The shoppable ads are similar to those already offered by Pinterest and Instagram and will let brands and retailers promote their products in sponsored posts in Google Images results. Users will see the price and brand of the products when they hover over them and can buy them directly on Google Images.

The company made the announcement during Shoptalk, a retail conference held in Las Vegas this week, and is testing the ads on a small percentage of traffic with retailers on broad search queries such as "home office ideas" and "abstract art."

"Google has always been a place where you can find a specific product or store, but it's also a place where people increasingly come to look for inspiration or discover new brands and products," Google's president of global partnerships Daniel Alegre told Business Insider. "That's why we're investing in shopping solutions across more of our properties, to help retailers connect to more shoppers."

Alegre said that 50% of online shoppers were motivated to buy a product after seeing images of it, so it was a no-brainer for Google to invest in the format. The company is also extending "showcase shopping ads," a format it introduced in 2017, to Google Images.

Visual search is emerging as a new frontier for marketers

Other platforms including Amazon, Apple, Instagram and Pinterest are emphasizing visual search as more brands use it to find consumers and drive sales. While its parameters are still being defined, visual search generally refers to the use of digital photos to get information, rather than text or voice.

Read More: 'It's a game changer': Google, Pinterest, Snapchat and marketers are rushing to crack the latest advertising search trend

Pinterest got in early with its shoppable Pins, Lens and other features, but Amazon is emerging as a player with its brand pages, branded videos and immersive product pages. Advertisers are drawn to Amazon as customers are just one click away from purchasing the advertised product.

Google's entry signals that visual search is maturing, said media buyers, as brands and retailers use it to drive discovery and purchases. 

"This is just further testament to the fact that search is becoming more than just a keyword," said Doug Rozen, chief media officer at 360i. "Visual search is maturing, and platforms know that they have to contend with the same KPIs (key performance indicators) and deliver some form of conversion, not just a branded impression."

George Manas, president at Omnicom Media Group's Resolution Media, called Google's move smart, given how online shopping has changed and the entry of other platforms to visual search.

"Besides reacting to obvious business pressures of people going directly to Amazon and Instagram to actually buy products, this is also a nod to how commerce is evolving online, from something that was historically a purely transactional experience to something  that is now immersive," Manas said.

Google's move is a direct threat to Amazon and Pinterest

Pinterest and Amazon may have gotten a headstart, but Google remains the king of search.

Google accounted for 71% of the US search ad market in 2018, according to eMarketer, with its net search ad revenues estimated at $34.42 billion. Plus, voice and image-based searches are on the rise and are expected to make up at least 50% of all searches by 2020, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker.

"I think they should all be worried, even though Amazon, Facebook (Instagram's parent) and Pinterest all have some share," Omnicom's Manas. "Google is extraordinarily well positioned to capitalize on visual search."

Shoppable ads on Google Images would also be attractive to traditional brands and retailers trying to catch up with direct-to-consumer brands, he added. 

"This opens up the canvas and democratizes the digital storefront," said Manas.

But Maggie Summers, VP of media at iCrossing, pointed out that Google's move might mean fewer people look for inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram, Google is not inherently a social platform.

"Social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram will be able to lean on their advantages, like sharing, whereas Google has historically not been able to play in this space," she said. 

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'They should all be worried': Google is bringing shoppable ads to image searches — and it should terrify Amazon, Instagram and Pinterest

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