Refinement bubbles are a common component across many of the SERP features currently available within Google Search.

They act as a Related Search tool that predicts what the next search might be, allowing the searcher to refine at the click of a button, rather than typing additional words.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen considerable expansion of this feature within Search. From Featured Snippets to Image Search, and now product-related features.

With Featured Snippets, refinement bubbles were reported to be rolling out as a component in April of 2018. It appears this is still a component in some capacity:

featured snippet refinement bubbles example

The above result shows a Featured Snippet being triggered for a query. Before selecting an option, the standard FS displays, but with several refinement bubbles to choose from.

After a refinement bubble is selected, you’re then able to quickly scroll through other related results until you find a FS that piques your interest.

The same can be seen with Image Search-related features. Just under a year ago, I found that Google had decided to incorporate the feature into images in web search on desktop.

Here’s what this looked like before:

image search refinement before

And after:

image search refinement after

This information provides a lot of insight for SEOs, allowing them to see related queries for Image Search results. In this case, clicking an option takes you directly there.

The result being filtering of Image Search results, with targeted Ads in the form of PLAs and images taken from a website’s product page (with alt text being the primary reference point):

Image Search Google Refinement Bubbles

On the surface level, it appears as if there are Ads at the top and just images in the generic results. But if you select an image, you’ll see that the product Structured Data is also visible here:

Image Search Showing Structured Data for Images

Following these refinement bubbles can really take you on a journey through Search for product discovery. Many of which support you along the way for potential purchasing intent.

More recently, I found that Google was starting to show the refinement bubbles that we had gotten accustomed to alongside Organic Product Carousels on desktop.

It was however quite basic functionality, which just took you to a completely new search – without the same advanced filtering that we were seeing in Image Search.

Popular Products Refinement Bubbles

I’m now seeing this expand even further, which prompted this post. I saw this feature functioning with PLAs for the first time maybe a couple of months back, but now it’s rolled out to the Popular Product Carousel.

As mentioned above, it was previously quite basic functionality. The mobile version of this has proven to be considerably more advanced and probably works more like Google would have intended.

popular product refinement example

And the same can be seen for the Product Listing Ads (which I believe has been happening for longer):

PLA refinement bubble example

On the Organic Product Carousel side of things, this feature is something that I’ve written about extensively and I regularly reference my post as an explanation if you haven’t seen it yet.

The difference between the refinement bubbles I’m seeing now on mobile compared to my previous sighting on desktop is that the filtering works directly within web search.

As a user, this is incredibly useful. For instance, with the PLAs, you’re not taken to the ‘Shopping’ tab (which is how Image Search works). You can filter directly where you are.

And the same goes for the Popular Products Carousel. You can refine as far as you like – potentially leaving you with a single search result. Once selected, you can proceed to wherever you’d like to purchase.

With Organic Product Carousels, this presents a potentially problematic situation. If you read the full quote from Cindy Krum in the post I linked to above, Cindy mentions that there’s are a lot of clicks between the Organic Product Carousel listings and your website’s product page.

This is all independent of the refinement bubble situation (Google is just getting you to this moment faster), but it can be a big roadblock for an on-site purchase.

Refinement bubbles operate in various ways, some more useful than others. The latest addition feels like more of a useful one for the searcher for the most part.

Let’s see if the trend of refinement bubbles continues into 2020.