Google SERP Image Thumbnails: What It Is and Why It Matters for Your Website
Two years ago, Rank Ranger wrote that Google has become much more likely to show thumbnail sites in mobile search results. Interestingly, there were more thumbnails if the location was taken into account in the search. They were kind of tied to local search. In 2019, 67-70% of search results with image thumbnails were already on the first page of mobile search results. However, Google returned more thumbnail sites when keywords related to the product were included in the search now.
The trend towards SERP rendering was clear. Representatives of the search engine confirmed it:
It was just a matter of time before Google started testing results with thumbnail images on the desktop version.
What are Image Thumbnails and Why are They Needed
A thumbnail image is a preview. It is a copy of a picture on the site reduced to a small size.
Marketers know that images are eye-catching and can drive clicks. This means that the visualization of search results can directly affect the growth of organic traffic.
Where Does Google Show Thumbnail Images?
Google uses small thumbnail images on a few occasions.
1. Google News Page
Small square thumbnail images in Google news have long been the norm. This format is great for this page as it immediately provides more information about the event.
2. Google Shopping Page
Since this is a kind of online storefront, all products are shown with corresponding images.
3. Video or Image Recommendations
All videos are displayed with a small preview. If the topic of the search is related to a visual, the SERP results will definitely contain a block with a search for similar images in Google.
4. Google Discover Recommendations Feed
This is a personalized recommendation feed available in the Google search app on Android devices and on the web version of Google.com in all other mobile browsers. The feed shows the user news and other content of interest to them and mostly recommendations accompany the thumbnail images.
5. People Also Search Recommendations
At the bottom of the search page, Google suggests looking at results that might be of interest to a user with a similar request. They almost always have small previews, which definitely attracts attention.
6. Top Materials on a Given Topic
If the topic is popular, the search engine gives out the top news materials on it and puts it in a separate block. Please note that thumbnail images for Google News in this format can be rectangular, square, and sometimes two images.
7. Search Results Page
Some SERP results now show the user the page title, URL, short description, and Google thumbnail. So far, the search engine is only experimenting with sketches. Not all results are displayed with a preview. The thumbnails that appear in the SERP are cropped versions of images that Google selects based on the user’s request.
8. Google Suggest Dropdown
By typing a search into the search bar, the user can now also see various sentences with Google thumbnails. Notice how they attract attention. Recommendations without sketches fade significantly against their background.
Google Suggest thumbnails are still an experiment.
How to Make the Site Appear with a Thumbnail
As we can see in the examples, not all sites are displayed with a thumbnail image on the Google search page. Those that don’t have previews lose a significant amount of click-through rates. Why does Google select a thumbnail image for SERP results in some cases and does not in others? This remains a mystery. Roger Montti writes in Search Engine Journal that the image parameters are clearly not the problem. Even if the picture on the site has a non-standard aspect ratio of 3: 2, Google can crop it and place it as a preview without any problems.
According to experts, sites in the SERP were left without thumbnails if their images were not listed in the Open Graph Protocol meta tag or in a structured data format. It’s an easy fix. In the Open Graph protocol, you can add a link to an image in the “og: image” tag. Read the article on Open Graph Meta Tags.
These are all just observations and assumptions. Google representatives did not give any comments on this matter. In any case, it is better to set up the Open Graph markup and structure the data in JSON-LD Schema.org format. It will definitely not be superfluous.
The display of the thumbnails on Google Suggest is a guess. One can only assume that the miniatures are shown for specific entities and not for generalized concepts. If the request is about a person, the recommendation will most likely be with a photo.
In general, Google is only testing the ability to add thumbnails to search results, and Google Suggest. Whether such a format is approved or not will depend on many factors. The main one is the benefit to users. Nonetheless, no one bothers you to prepare for possible changes. After all, an increase in the site’s click-through rate is at stake.
How to Optimize Your Thumbnails for Google Searches
1. Find the right image
After looking at hundreds of searches, there is a pattern that Google makes small square thumbnails for organic search results. It is not necessary to select an image with equal sides for the preview. The search engine will crop it as needed. Note that it may cut out some of the important information. The image should be clear and without unnecessary small details.
You have no control over how Google renders your thumbnails. It can end up being blurry, stretched, or incorrectly cropped. Therefore, make sure that even in this form it is clear what is shown in the sketch.
2. Select an image on request
It is important that the content of the picture matches the request. This will make your thumbnail search more productive. Otherwise, your site will either not be visited or will be quickly abandoned. This will increase the bounce rate. Read more in the article What is a Good Bounce Rate?
If the image clearly reflects the key information about the page on the site, the CTR and user engagement on the page is likely to increase. Read the related article – Why Is Click-Through-Rate Important?
3. Use a consistent style
A preview in the color scheme of the site or with a corporate logo will help to increase brand awareness, as well as attract customers who have previously worked with your company. Make the most of this opportunity and create images for sketches in the style of your brand.
4. Optimize image for search
As we already wrote, Google representatives have never told how the system selects an image for a preview. Still, you can help robots make the right choice. To do this, you just need to optimize the image for search. Set the correct file name, alternative text, and title, which will contain keywords. Also, make sure that the picture is not too large. This slows down the website loading speed. More information in the article SEO Images: 11 Perfect Tips for Optimize your Site.
In general, you don’t even need to know what a thumbnail is in order for a site to have a preview. You just need to surround your image with an appropriate context and use standard SEO tools. Don’t forget about the Open Graph and Schema markup. Today, this is the most effective way to tell Google robots which image from the site they should use.