Digital marketing experts are constantly analyzing the state of search to monitor trends, uses and techniques that are giving certain organizations an edge. While looking into video thumbnails (one of the most effective means of turning SERP appearances into clicks) PushON’s James Flacks came across something of an anomaly with product video thumbnails.......

There appeared to be a video thumbnail link on a search result for UK retailer Marks and Spencer, but when the link was clicked, the page contained no video. This snapshot of the SERP (showing a section that appeared below the fold) shows how the result looks, particularly in comparison to the non-thumbnailed result below it:

Can Video Thumbnails be Manipulated for Google Search Results? Image 1 Marks and Spencer

SERP selection showing video thumbnail

Taken in isolation, it could be a little trick to draw the eye and the mouse to the pictured luxury leather washbag. But Google already has a means of getting still images into search results, Product Listing Ads (PLA), which advertisers have to pay for. This technique (if indeed it is being done on purpose, and is not a bug or some kind of fossilised video remnant) effectively grabs the online retailer a PLA for the cost of an organic link, i.e., nothing.

And if it's deliberate, Marks wouldn't just trying to corner the lucrative luxury leather washbag market, either. Plenty of their pages look like they’re going to show videos but don’t.

Maybe there’s an innocent explanation. But the results hint that something clever is going on. There’s no doubt that searchers are more likely to click on a lovely colourful image than on a dull blue hyperlink, a fact that’s proved by the premium that retailers will pay for PLAs over normal PPC ads. If the results can so easily be manipulated to show false video thumbnails, anyone who’s coughed up for the premium ad might have grounds for complaint if it turns out that you can get an image link for free.

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There could be a loophole that needs closing up here.

Video Thumbnails: Further Resources

  • Angus Farquhar

    We have had this happen on a few pages where we have removed the video but the page has not been re-indexed. I thought it would be a temporary thing but it has lasted for a significant time so this could be simply a quirk rather than intentional.

  • cstebbins

    Yes. A competitor of a company I used to work for did this on an enormous scale. It took Google a looong time to penalize them, but I do not see the fake snippets in the results anymore!

  • Dani Stein

    This kind of thing is becoming more and more prominent because the way that many marketers optimize videos, they strictly use meta tags in their markup rather than actually marking up content that appears on a page.

    So, for example, a page with a video on it, when properly optimized and marked up, uses actual information ON that page for the markup. However, it's possible to implement meta tags that represent information that doesn't actually appear on the page itself. So people have started using these meta tags and markup to optimize elements of their pages that aren't really there - just to have it show up in search results.

    It probably won't last long, though - Google recognizes when the information isn't actually there, and while it may appear temporarily in search results, it won't be a permanent rich snippet like it would be if the correct information had been correctly marked up.

    I just did a Google search for the same product and didn't get a video thumbnail in the result.

  • Mark Robertson

    Looks to me as Google is mistakenly identifying them as video due to some video player references in the on-page javascript.

  • Joanne Talkington

    How do you know that's not just an image thumbnail that fooled you into thinking that it's a video thumbnail?

    • James

      Google doesn't support image thumbnails in the SERPs despite them being part of the product schema specification. Only way you can get them is paid listing adverts.