Observing a Colossal Shift in Ecommerce Organic Search Results

By Steve Weber on September 18, 2017

The search landscape is changing for ecommerce brands. 

We’ve noticed the organic search impact on a recent search result page change and wanted to share our point of view about how brands can use it to their advantage in Q4 2017 and into 2018.

Thanks to a now widely available Adwords update, ecommerce brands can now take advantage of having two ads above the organic listings in search results. 

Over 40% of shopping related searches on Google are for broad terms like ‘women's athletic clothing’ or ‘living room furniture’. For these less defined searches, what we've often shown are specific product ads -- say, a teal sofa -- and that may not be the most useful experience for the person who isn't sure what they want to buy. Showcase Shopping ads help people further explore and discover what they want to buy and where they want to buy it. For example, if a shopper searches ‘summer dresses,’ ASOS, a global apparel retailer, can now showcase its collection of dresses in a visually rich experience. 

This update was intended to announce the beta program of the new showcase shopping. Here we are nearly one year later and the new ads were subtly rolled out for all advertisers within the new Adwords interface update. The new ad type impacts most high search volume keywords that have commercial intent.

So what Does this Mean for Ecommerce Brands and Advertisers?

Essentially, a new type of product listing ads (PLA) will be displayed for broad (high search volume) searches as well now. This also includes high search volume brand name searches.

For an example, here is a search for the keyword 'Jansport'.

Jansport Image.jpg

As you can see, Jansport have their showcase shopping ad and their text ad displaying above their organic listing.  

The tradeoff for having the new type of product listing ad beginning to display for high search volume branded queries is that now the brand’s organic listing will fall below the fold on some devices. This means that searchers will need to scroll in order to click the brand’s organic listing.

And here is where it starts to get real.

Did you know that most searchers don’t realize product listing ads are actually ads?

It’s true!

In late 2016, the Pepperjam usability lab conducted a study about how searchers perceive product listing ads. Our findings concluded that most mobile searchers are drawn in to click PLAs when they display in search results because they include a picture and most searchers do not seem to notice that they are clicking on a “sponsored” ad. You can read the full results of our PLA study here.

So what Does this Mean for Ecommerce Brands Focused on Organic Search Growth?

If you are an ecommerce brand reporting weak organic year over year traffic numbers particularly on your own homepage, this is most likely the reason why. 

Before panic ensues, and you begin to think SEO is a dying art, let’s focus on the things we can control and use the changing search behavior to our advantage.

Our PLA study offered a crucial insight that we can still use to our organic advantage. 

Searchers like to click on the visual elements and images in search results. That’s the entire point here. Google is trying to give searchers more of what they want to engage with, so let’s give searchers the visuals they want! Brands can still win organically by optimizing for the intent of their shoppers as well as the changing searcher behavior. 

How Can an SEO Make that Observation Actionable?

One way we can make these observations actionable would be to focus on optimizing images and products so that they take up more visual organic search real estate.

There are some new search result opportunities to earn organic traffic from image clicks. For example, take advantage of some of the new image structured data updates that aim to pair similar images and products together. 

The end goal would be to display in Google image’s new organic “Similar Items” section. 

Similar Items Section 2.png

The “Similar Items” section is designed to help shoppers find products related to the images they are searching.

How Can Ecommerce Brands Get Their Products to Display in this New Organic Section?

The “Similar Items” section of Google Images relies on marking up product pages with schema.org structured data markup.

Brands that want to take advantage of the new section will need to mark up their product pages with following schema.org attributes.

  1. Product’s Name
  2. Product’s Image
  3. Product’s Price
  4. Product’s Currency
  5. Product’s Availability

While it is not required, we also recommend that you mark up the product’s color.

For examples and more information on how to mark up your products using schema.org structured data, check out Google’s documentation here

Tying It All Together for Search Result Pages to Come

Search results and searcher behavior change from year to year. The key take away is not only to adapt, but to stay current and open enough to see where your new opportunities can still come from.

The “Similar Items” image section will allow ecommerce brands an additional opportunity to earn an organic click from Google.  

As Google relies more on machine learning, they will put a greater emphasis on ranking entities (like images and products) over webpage text. In other words, as Google becomes smarter, it will do a better job at understanding more about your products rather than the html source code that your product’s pages are built with.

Imagine snapping a photo of an item you wish to purchase and then asking Google Assistant, “Google, where can I buy this?” 

That’s what Google is currently trying to solve for. These updates are a taste of things to come, so anything ecommerce brands and advertisers can do to assist Google with making connection pairings between their products and images will only help their SEO strategy in the long run. 

For a bigger taste of what Google is currently patenting with regards to image search, check some of Google’s recent image patents by searching here

If you have any questions about these updates, Pepperjam’s PLA study, or marking your product pages up with schema.org markup, please feel free to contact me at sweber@pepperjam.com.


Topics:   Pepperjam Thought Leadership