Google has been using image carousels in place of traditional sitelinks for selected AdWords clients. Visual sitelinks have been under development for a number of years, and are being touted by industry commentators as Google’s answer to Bing Ads image extensions, which launched last year.

Visual sitelinks have been available to a small number of clients for a number of months now, but the chances are you won’t have seen them in action – so far, the experiment has been limited to mobile users in the United States.

The images above show the visual sitelinks served in the most recent rounds of testing. The new format pairs each sitelink with a relevant image from the advertiser’s site, plus a short description. Users can scroll through the carousel by swiping laterally.

Based on the apparent success of recent beta testing in the United States, Google is currently rolling out visual sitelinks experiments to selected clients throughout the English-speaking world. There’s no word as yet on when the feature will be made available to all AdWords clients.

Will visual sitelinks ever make it into production?

Now those of you who’ve been following the digital marketing news closely for a number of years may be thinking this all sounds rather familiar, and you’d be right – Google abortively trialled image extensions similar to the new visual sitelinks beta back in 2013. Perhaps visual sitelinks will be just another panned trial, but there are several reasons to believe they have a better chance of making the grade this time around:

  1.  They chime with Google’s emergent mobile first philosophy (remember, the beta is only compatible with mobiles). Other AdWords features launched this year to target mobile users include shop visits conversions and location extensions.
  2. They pair nicely with the new Google AdWords price extensions, which are also delivered in a carousel format
  3. Beta test participants have reported good results from their visual sitelink experiments
    If visual sitelinks take their place in the standard AdWords product, advertisers will be compelled to think more carefully than ever about the images that accompany their products. There’ll be a new focus on each image’s ability to drive engagement, which could cause marketers to change the nature of the images used to accompany web content in general.

We’re likely to see more images that look great on smaller screens, and we may see a proliferation of ‘hooky’ subject matter, designed to capture attention.