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Google Adds Image Thumbnails to Far More Local Searches on Mobile

Image Thumbnails, a mobile SERP favorite, are now present on far more SERPs than they had been just days ago. The proliferation of the thumbnails on the mobile SERP does not appear to be a simple across the board increase in the SERP feature. Rather, the data indicates that the uptick is heavily due to the feature now being relevant to local queries on mobile. 

A Dramatic Increase in Mobile Image Thumbnails

On July 13th, our Mobile SERP Feature Tracker began showing an increase in page one SERPs showing Image Thumbnails (mobile). By the time the data leveled off, mobile Image Thumbnails had gone from appearing on 15.7% of all mobile page one SERPs to an all-time high of 44.5%. That's an enormous increase, a 183% increase to be more specific. 

Mobile Image Thumbnail Spike

To give this data some context, the most notable increase in the SERP feature, prior to the one just seen, occurred in September 2016. At that time, mobile Image Thumbnails had gone from appearing on under 1% of all mobile page one SERPs to just over 10%.  

Image Thumbnails 2016 Data

Since then, the feature has fluctuated between showing on around 7% of mobile page ones to upwards of 15%. At no time during this prolonged period had the feature ever gotten close to the levels we're currently seeing. 

Mobile Image Thumbnails Now Apply to Local Searches 

Upon noticing the increase in mobile Image Thumbnails I started to look at which keywords now scored the feature relative to the recent past. It quickly became quite evident that the proliferation of mobile Image Thumbnails was largely due to local searches. That is, and as opposed to the past, Google is now showing Image thumbnails for queries that indicate a location. 

To be clear, I am not referring to searches for specific locations. Keywords such as Canada and Germany or even specific locations like Bryant Park have consistently brought up SERPs that contain Image Thumbnails on mobile. Rather, Google is now showing the thumbnails for queries that reflect a local service, business, etc. At the same time, I am not referring to thumbnails within the Local Pack, that has existed for some time. I am strictly referring to Image Thumbnails in organic results. 

For example, as of July 13th, the keyword toyota dealer in denver did not produce Image Thumbnails. As you can see below, that is no longer the case: 

Local Search Image Thumbnails 1

From what I can tell, this pattern applies across the board. Here's the mobile SERP showing Image Thumbnails for the keyword new homes for sale spring tx which all things being equal, is not a static product (houses go onto and come off of the market constantly): 

Local Search Image Thumbnails 2

Accordingly, Google is showing the thumbnails for service-related local queries, such as restaurant linen service michigan

Local Search Image Thumbnails 3

Taking this to its logical end, near me searches also bring up the feature post spike: 

Local Search Image Thumbnails 4

To such an extent, when Google perceives user intent to reflect a local inquiry, as in the case of mower shop (which brings up the Local Pack), mobile Image Thumbnails may now appear: 

Local Search Mobile Image Thumbnails 5

Here is a list of 50 'local' keywords that as of July 12th did not bring up mobile Image Thumbnails, but now do (just in case you were curious to see some other examples): 

Local Search Image Thumbnail Keywords

A Vision and a Dash of Color 

A Dash of Color

Google has long used its SERP features to advance its desktop as well as mobile search strategy. However, this practice is all the more impactful on mobile where Google has been quite creative in the development of its mobile SERP features. What exactly is behind Google using more Image Thumbnails for local searches on mobile is, of course, hard to say with exact precision. The search engine has long advocated for a more visual search experience on mobile, and as such has traditionally shown more carousels on mobile than on desktop and of course employs Rich Cards on mobile as well. It being mobile, where local search is most applicable, creating a visual SERP experience for these queries makes natural sense. It's really a simple equation, if mobile is the predominant force in local search, and if mobile is suited for a more visual experience, then combining these two elements via Image Thumbnails for local searches is merely the natural evolution of the mobile SERP.    

About The Author
Shay Harel is the CEO of Rank Ranger, an innovative and comprehensive SEO & digital marketing Saas platform. In addition to overseeing company growth, Shay can be found tapping away on his keyboard developing new and unique SEO data reports.

When not hard at work helping guide the SEO industry, Shay enjoys spending time with his family, strumming his guitar, exploring exotic places, and indulging in fine wine from his growing collection.

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