The Visual Economy: Making Pictures Pay In E-commerce

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Justin Smith
Justin Smith
The Visual Economy: Making Pictures Pay In E-commerce

Pictures maybe worth a thousand words, but for e-commerce companies they can be worth a lot more. According to Bing, nearly 10 percent of all organic searches are for images and 40 percent of all search results contain “some kind of visual component”.  Since image search was launched by Google in 2001, it has grown to be a significant portion of most search-engine results pages.

Making Pictures Work for You

In a world of universal search, every area of the search results page is an opportunity to convert.  But today, consumers are visual-shopping animals.  Image results enjoy higher click-through rates than non-image content in the same location of the page. There is a reason nearly all site search results for e-commerce sites return images in the results. Since early 2013,  both organic and paid image search results have become  prevalent – often appearing above the fold on both Bing and Google. Images usually appear above most non-image organic results, as seen below.

Rustic table Bing 2

You can pay for Product Listing Ads (PLAs)  and the data is generally easy to segment. When it comes to optimizing for organic image search it can be more difficult to figure out what works. To answer these questions, my company BloomReach conducted a study on internal data derived from top retailer websites with total traffic of more than 10 million visits per month.

The result: image search is a hidden gem for companies with a strong conversion rate relative to other organic search traffic.

First, it’s important to note that in 2012, the world of image search was shaken up when Google made big changes to the image search algorithm in addition to announcing that Google Shopping was moving entirely to the paid model with PLAs. Image search traffic also dropped significantly in January 2013 when Google made changes so that source web pages wouldn’t load when people browsed image-search results. Even with these changes, our data indicated that 10 percent of all organic search visits still came from image search despite the overall drop.


Changes in Conversion Rates

So, how did these changes affect conversion rates for image search? Image search conversion rates remained strong and actually improved after the January 2013 change. Our data showed that between January 2013 and September 2013, the average image-search conversion rate increased more than 400 percent from 0.33 percent to 1.35 percent!


In fact, image search conversion rates now exceed non-image organic search conversion rates and are continuing to trend upward. In September 2013, image search traffic had a conversion rate 11 percent higher than non-image organic search traffic – 1.35 percent and 1.21 percent respectively. This improvement is likely attributed to a range of factors including changes in image search visits attribution, association of images with product focused queries, and changing user behavior.


What should you take away from this?

Image search is a significant source of traffic and conversions for e-commerce stores. Search marketers should focus on this area alongside organic, paid text ads, and PLAs. Here are 3 recommendations to help optimize a site for image search:

  1.  Set up your web analytics systems to break out image-search performance metrics so that you can easily view and track them. Image search should be considered as important and as actionable as paid and non-image organic search.
  2. Determine how you are currently performing on image search. We suggest evaluating overall visits, click-through rates, conversion rates, and revenue. Then, compare these to your non-image search performance, and determine how much of your business is coming from image search. If you are seeing high conversion rates, but low overall visits, you’re leaving money on the table.
  3. Optimize for image search to increase your visibility on search engines. Google Webmaster Central has a great blog post and help center article on how to optimize images. These principles apply to Bing and other search engines as well.

Our goal with this research was to emphasize converting organic image search directly contributes to the bottom line – and back it with solid data . As the e-commerce industry continues to migrate to more complex paid formats, driving more revenue from organic channels will be increasingly important to remain competitive.


Image credits:

Charts created by author.

Screenshot taken of Google results for “rustic table”

Screenshot taken of Bing results for “rustic table”

Justin Smith

Justin Smith

Product and Engagement Manager at BloomReach

With nearly a decade of experience as a high-tech analyst and consultant, Justin Smith has been leading strategic initiatives to ... [Read full bio]