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7 Useful Image Optimization Tips For Your E-commerce Store

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7 Useful Image Optimization Tips For Your E-commerce Store

We all know that search traffic is important – but here’s something you might not realize:

While the core Google search engine makes up a full 64.8 percent of searches on all major web properties (including Amazon), Google Images make up another 21.8 percent.

Google Image Search Share Is Bigger Than You Think

Let me put it this way: Google image searches make up 25.2 percent of all Google searches, and over 900 percent more searches than Bing.

Yet this industry probably dedicates something closer to 99 percent or more of its resources and discussions to Google’s core search product.

Why?

First, I want to avoid being too dismissive of people who haven’t taken image search seriously here. Google image searches are not as intrinsically valuable as core Google searches; the image search product is not friendly for producing click-throughs, and searchers who are looking for images are already less likely to click-through anyway. User intent is harder to place, is usually higher up the funnel, and may even be completely divorced from your industry.

Therefore, I want to be clear that there are reasons why we don’t spend more time talking about image search.

However, I also want to be clear about this: there is no way we should be neglecting what 25 percent of Google searchers are doing. There are certainly ways to take advantage of this neglected sector of the search market.

This is especially true for e-commerce sites, in particular, the ones based on the marketplace model, with a wide variety of products, because image search is a way to get your products directly in front of image searchers. This is great for branding, and there are ways we can encourage click-throughs that few competitors are taking advantage of.

Why Is Google Image Search Important for E-Commerce Sites?

The SEO press focuses heavily on text-centric SEO strategies because that is what the SEO press has the most experience with. It is a blog-focused industry.

Moreover, we encourage e-commerce sites to have more unique product descriptions on their pages, better titles in their title tags and H1 tags, and to adopt content marketing strategies such as guest editorials and blogging.

However…

E-commerce has an important difference from more content-oriented industries – it is oftentimes visual.

That is especially true for e-commerce sites in more design-centric markets. Consider the following:

  • Clothing
  • Jewelry
  • Furniture
  • Photography
  • Artwork
  • Sleek gadgets
  • Home interior
  • Recipes/Food

Also, consider the fact that people may search for the following in virtually any industry:

  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Infographics
  • Visual data
  • Company personalities
  • Company buildings
  • Company logos
  • Product images
  • Product how-to’s

And so on.

Image search is important for e-commerce sites because people are, in general, visual creatures. It’s important for us to see visual images of a brand and its products before we feel comfortable buying it.

Image search can be a path for discovery as well.

A prospect need not be looking for images specifically to your brand, for them to stumble upon yours if you have appropriately optimized your images. Moreover, if you leverage image SEO properly, you can take advantage of this to put your products out there, where browsing users will find them, possibly enticing them enough to want to buy the product itself.

To summarize, the more likely a consumer is to buy your product based strictly on how it looks, the more resources you should invest in image SEO for your e-commerce site.

Now that we’ve established how important and neglected SEO for image search is, I want to share some tactics and strategies you can use to make the most of your images.

1. Include Text in Your Product Images

It’s generally a bad idea to use an image to represent text, as far as SEO is concerned. The reason why is simple: Google can read text, it takes more resources to read images, and we shouldn’t assume Google is properly interpreting anything it sees in images, no matter how advanced it has become.

Including text in your product images, on the other hand, is often a good idea.

The primary reason for this is that if your goal is to incite clicks from people who may end up buying your product, text can be a differentiator that pulls people onto your site by conveying information that can’t be communicated visually.

Here are a few examples:

  • Pricing information, provided this could be easily kept up to date either by replacing images or by dynamically generating them.
  • Any unique selling proposition associated with the product that isn’t immediately obvious from looking at it.
  • Any special deals or offers associated with the product.
  • For content pieces, the text indicating toward the subject matter and its usability to the reader.
  • Any promise of things that are on the page that can’t be discerned just from looking at the image.

In other words, don’t just consider the image in the context of the page it will be placed on. Consider it in the context of the types of image searches it will show up in, and in the ways that this particular image will not just stand out, but draw the user onto the page, as opposed to merely looking at the image and finding it pleasant.

2. Earn Links by Producing Images for Content Producers

Consider the kinds of images that content producers use: in particular, the kinds of content producers who need to source their images in order to be taken seriously.

This is where it can be incredibly valuable to produce images such as:

  • Images that cleverly represent statistics
  • Images that convey how to do something that would take much longer to explain in text
  • Quote images
  • Images that visually represent the most important points in your content
  • Images that help answer a question
  • Graphs, charts, and similar data that content producers will look for when trying to find case studies and similar content

When you produce content of this kind in your mind, keyword research is absolutely vital.

You need to be selective with your keywords and make sure that your images are properly optimized to use them. The keywords you choose should clearly communicate a user intent that is close to something a content producer would be looking for, and you need to choose a keyword that isn’t already saturated with high-quality images you can’t compete with.

Doing this can be a powerful way to earn links organically and passively over time.

3. Make Sure Your Technical SEO Foundations Are Strong

Under no circumstances should you have any issues with the following image SEO foundations for any image that you want to rank well with, in the search results.

Exceptions can be made for design elements and other images that you don’t really care about turning up in search results, of course, but beyond that, these are absolutely vital for essentially ever image on your site.

Your product images, in particular, are the place to start.

Image Filename

This is a no-brainer. Make sure that your keywords, or at least a variation on them, are included in your image filename, which should be descriptive.

Don’t stuff keywords into the image filename. Only one variation on a keyword should be included, and filenames shouldn’t get cumbersome in length.

Make sure the filename is legible. Meaning; you should use hyphens or underscores in between words in your filename in order to ensure that the search engines see the individual words. Don’t leave spaces in your filename, because these will show up as “%20” instead, which may make the filename illegible.

Avoid naming conventions that are only useful to your internal systems. Your naming conventions should be transparent to users and search engines and should not add any “junk” such as hexadecimal labeling. Only descriptive information and words people would search for in an image search should be included.

Image URL

Pretty much the same advice goes for the image URL as for the image filename. You may want to consider using a different variation on your keyword than the one you used in the filename, but otherwise, the advice is essentially the same.

Ensure that a sound URL architecture is in place for your image URLs. A standard folder like /images/ is OK, but if you really want to go the extra mile and give the search engines more to work with, create subfolders for different types of images, such as /images/pants/men’s/, for example.

A better hierarchical taxonomy for your image URLs may help the search engines gain a better semantic understanding of your images, which will allow you to turn in more relevant search results.

Image Alt Attribute

The image alt attribute should include your keyword, but in most cases, it should include more. Bear in mind that even though many SEO practitioners treat the alt attribute as if it’s some kind of meta keywords tag. It isn’t.

The image alt is intended for use by screen readers for the visually impaired, as well as a substitute for your image on browsers that can’t display the image for whatever reason. If you wouldn’t want your image alt to show up as a replacement for your image, bare for your readers to see, it means you are doing something wrong.

Use the image alt as a descriptive replacement for your product image that includes your keywords, not as a keyword dumping ground.

Compress Images

Make sure to compress your images, to keep load times down. If your images don’t load fast enough, they will slow down your site, which can hurt your SEO.

While Google keeps thumbnails on hand, the larger images are loaded from your site, so if your image takes too long to load in Google images, the user will be far less likely to click-through to see more.

Never upload a product image that is larger than the largest it will show up on your site. While the modern era of responsive design means we will frequently size down images to fit devices, we should always be aware of the maximum size an image will display at, and never upload an image larger than that size. Anything bigger will only take up space, slow down your site, and harm your SEO performance.

Be careful with file types:

  • For most images, you should use JPG.
  • Use GIFs for simple images with a limited number of colors.
  • Generally, you should only use PNG for specific images intended for print or that absolutely need to be visually stunning. Even in those cases, a JPG with limited compression will usually do the trick just fine. The one place where a PNG is necessary is if your image requires transparency.

Mobile-Friendly Design

Modern users expect every site to be mobile-friendly. If your site is not responsive, many users will bounce as soon as they see your site.

Just as importantly, mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor.

The following commonly used CSS is to make the img attribute a responsive one:

img {

max-width: 100%;

height: auto;

}

This CSS will allow images to scale down to fit a screen, they will never be scaled to more than 100 percent of their original size. You can allow the image to be scaled larger by using “width” instead of “max-width,” but this isn’t recommended since it can result in grainy images.

The “height: auto;” argument resizes the height of the image so that it remains in proportion; otherwise the image will end up being squashed when the window is narrowed.

For especially large images, you can cut a lot of load time for mobile users by including different files for different devices:

/* For width smaller than 400px: */

body {

    background-image: url(‘img_small.jpg’);

}

/* For width 400px and larger: */

@media only screen and (min-width: 400px) {

    body {

        background-image: url(‘img_large.jpg’);

    }

}

The “@media only screen and (min-width: 400px)” argument tells the browser to use a different image (in this case, “img_large.jpg”) when the browser window is over 400 pixels wide. This prevents the large image from being loaded in a small browser window and thus, on a small device. Mobile devices are usually slower, so this saves time, enhances user experience, and may improve your performance in the search engines.

4. Use a CDN

How quickly an image loads is an important factor for user satisfaction and for building authority with search engines.

One method you can use to increase the speed of image delivery time is a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN is a network of servers located around the world, designed for delivering multimedia such as images and video.

What makes a CDN different from a hosting company is the design that specifically minimizes the physical distance between a user and the server that is providing them with content. By reducing the number of network points between the user and the server, the content can be delivered quickly.

This generally isn’t necessary for text, but it can make a very big difference for images and other multimedia, especially if you have an international presence.

5. Submit an Image Sitemap

An image sitemap allows you to explicitly notify Google about all of the images on your site, as well as to include metadata to help the search engines better understand those images.

If you’re using a CMS, verify that it is set up in such a way that automatically updates your image sitemap. If you’re on WordPress, for example, you can use the Advanced Image Sitemap plugin.

Verify that your e-commerce platform either uses an image sitemap or includes your images in the sitemap. Shopify, for example, includes the images in the sitemap itself.

You can also use a tool such as xml-sitemaps.com to create an image sitemap. If you use this method, it’s important to update your image sitemap periodically, or your sitemap won’t be up to date, because it isn’t automatically updated when your store is updated.

Don’t forget to submit your sitemap after it is up, and make sure to reference your image sitemap from within your parent sitemap if possible.

6. Keyword Choice Tips

When choosing keywords for images, you need to think a bit differently about what you’re trying to accomplish.

What people are searching for in core search isn’t necessarily the same as what they are searching for in Google Images, and this puts limitations on what is possible with the Keyword Planner.

The one place Google will give you concrete data on images is in Google Trends. See here.

If you want to find these again on your own, just pay attention to the filters. In the menu bar that includes categories such as “Worldwide” and “Past 12 Months” you will also find a filter that usually says “Web Search.” You can change this to “Image Search” to find out what is trending with keywords for images in Google Trends.

As you probably already know, Google Trends has limited value for discovering “evergreen” keywords. That is, you can’t dive particularly deep on any specific niche in order to uncover new opportunities, and the focus of the tool is on what is “topical” rather than what will last for a long time.

Another option is to add words like “images,” “image,” “pictures,” “pics,” “charts,” “graphs,” and so on in the keyword planner. While this won’t tell you how many people are searching for your keywords in Image Search, and won’t include people who search for these phrases without the word “images” or similar, it can give you a rough idea of how different keywords compare against each other.

Alternatively, you can check any keywords you find in the Keyword Planner in Google and see if it shows any image recommendations. This is a strong indicator that people who search for this phrase are often looking for images and will likely visit the image search results.

Of course, knowing that a keyword is commonly used in image search isn’t necessarily an indication that it’s the right keyword to go after. You also need to consider the user intent. Are these people just looking for images to download? Will these people consider buying the product by just the image? Are they content producers who will copy your image and cite you with a link?

If it’s reasonable to believe that a significant number of the searchers will fall into the second camp, this is a keyword worth considering.

If the user’s intent is more likely to make a copy of the image and paste it to Facebook, it’s the kind of thing you should disregard.

The most common mistake people make with keywords for product images is focusing too heavily on branded keywords. Of course, the brand and product name should be included in the filename, alt tag, and so on. However, if this is the only keyword you are using, you won’t capture any demand from searchers who search for products like yours but who aren’t searching for your brand name.

Make sure to include these more “generic” keywords. That isn’t to say overly broad, unspecific keywords, but keywords that describe the product rather than the brand.

7. Use Unique Images Wherever Possible

Most marketplace e-commerce sites use images provided by the product manufacturer on their product pages. There are obvious reasons for this, particularly when there is a large product catalog available.

The problem with this is that Google rarely displays duplicate images in the search results. It will often index them, but it generally will not display them, since no user needs more than one copy of the same image.

The only way around this problem is, of course, to include unique product images on your product pages.

It goes without saying that it isn’t always possible to do this for every product page, especially for larger sites. Additionally, depending on your agreements with product manufacturers, you may not always have control over this.

Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort to include some unique images, even if only on a few high-performing and high-potential pages.

Extra points if you take the extra step of making sure that your image will differentiate itself from everything else visible in the image search results.

If there is one thing better about image search results than core search results, it’s this: users are often willing to dig much deeper than the first “page,” (which is actually an infinite scroll) of the image search results.

Therefore, if you can make something that stands out, it has the potential to draw traffic even if it doesn’t show up high in the image results at first.

Leverage an Untapped Approach

Few in the e-commerce space are investing heavily in image SEO. Most haven’t even mastered the basics by ensuring their image metadata is complete.

While image search has its limitations, it also offers opportunities that other approaches do not. Use what we’ve talked about today to put yourself at an advantage. Thank us later!

More Image SEO Resources:

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Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder at E2M

Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder of E2M, a digital marketing agency and Preceptist.com, an executive branding & content marketing agency. ... [Read full bio]

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