The Merchant’s Guide to Optimizing Images for Visual Search

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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While eCommerce voice search is on the rise, online merchants are also becoming supremely aware of visual search and its implications for the eCommerce industry.

As intelligent, new visual search capabilities permeate the digital landscape and become integrated with a variety of apps, websites and search engines, the days of keyword-driven queries gives way to pictorial-based searches. This transforms the way people search and the way retailers optimize their offerings for those searches.

Today, massive platforms such as Google, Bing, Pinterest and a multitude of others enable their users to search with images as opposed to words. Given the relatively recent resurgence (Bing employed visual search in 2009 but removed it in 2012 due to lack of usage and accuracy), eCommerce business owners must evolve with the times to remain competitive and ensure their products remain visible in the new search environment. Therefore, it is vital to employ images in a modified manner.

For the uninitiated, visual search works as such: Instead of searching words to return relevant results, users can now drag a graphic, snap a photo or (in some cases, as with Google Lens) use the live viewfinder to utilize images to find information or similar results based on image offerings from indexed sites.

For eCommerce purveyors, this new tech offers a multitude of opportunities. Now, consumers can find products they see in public places with a quick shot from their camera, leading them to stores that carry specific or similar items.

consumers finding products with phone graphic

The days of numerous, clunkily-worded, uncertain searches are coming to an end. Supporting this idea is research from Moz and Jumpshot which shows visual search now dominating 27 percent of all searches across various platforms.

Are you feeling that sense of urgency to optimize for image search yet?

Let’s get started.

Include Original Images

Online sellers should take great care in crafting original images for their products. After all, it’s these photos that help sell merchandise. Pulling images of products from manufacturer destinations simply won’t do in the increasingly personalized world of eCommerce (and SEO).

Under the paradigm of visual search, if a site features unoriginal images, users could end up on a multitude of different websites that feature the same products, with seemingly no difference between them. However, when merchants create unique product photos, they are separating themselves from the pack by making their images stand out.

product photographer adjusting camera lens

If retailers don’t have the budget to hire professional photographers, try customizing images using filters or online image customization platforms.

Moreover, retailers should not only use original images on their sites, but there should be a variety of them to view. One image doesn’t equate to “optimized.” Retail sites should tout numerous product photos from different angles (as visual search users could be snapping a picture of a product from any direction) helping to ensure that a site will surface, as well as include in-action shots (as these could be closer to what consumers actual upload to an engine). Moreover, the more images a merchant has for a product, the better “feel” potential buyers can get for the item, ultimately making them more comfortable in the decision to buy.

The more comprehensive visual coverage a site includes, the more likely it is to display and earn a click-through in the SERPs.

Employ High-Quality Photos

lipstick product shot

To properly rank in the visual SERPs and optimize images for website sales, pictures must be original and high-quality. These requirements mean that merchants should be investing in obtaining great photos. The reason for this is that clear, high-quality images enable search engines like Google to properly process photos and match it to a user’s query–plus, grainy, pixelated images don’t move merchandise very well.

Visual search works by attempting to identify matching colors, shapes, faces and other components within an image, and return similar results. While more traditional SEO elements play a role in this as well (more on that momentarily), the image’s appearance is the most essential quality. If an image on a site is of poor quality, it is unlikely to surface for the search.

Additionally, if a site features low-resolution images, it likely isn’t driving many conversions. Therefore, high-quality images are not only a necessity for image optimization SEO purposes, but for engaging site visitors and enticing them into buying a product.

Craft Robust and Unique Descriptions, Titles and Tags

Just as in-depth keyword research is vital to SEO in the text-based SERPs, the same holds true for visual search. By uncovering valuable keywords for a product, merchants are enabled to craft better, more accurate descriptions for item images.

When conducting keyword research, retailers will predominantly want to target long-tail keywords (phrases that contain three or more words) as these are much more specific and tend to be used by more qualified leads that are ready to buy.

image titles and descriptions graphic

With the proper keywords selected, integrate these words and phrases into the image’s title and description. The reason this is important for visual search is that Google and other platforms still take cues from these data points to identify the subject of an image, thereby helping the engines to surface the most accurate results quickly.

However, product descriptions are not solely intended for bots as these often help to influence buyer decisions. Expertly crafted descriptions can be the factor that pushes buyers into making a purchase then and there.

For these reasons, image titles like “img4425.jpg” and descriptions such as “Black wireless headphones” will not do at all as these don’t help Google or consumers.

Using the keyword research conducted earlier, aim to craft extremely informative, rich and enticing image titles and descriptions.

Moreover, after uploading a photo, don’t forget to optimize alt tags as these are an excellent source of additional information about images. Alt tags serve to provide context to search engines and help them to rank pictures accordingly.

Be sure to utilize keywords here as well but, as always, refrain from stuffing.

Include Schema Markup

xml lettering over blue and green background

As was revealed to TechCrunch in 2017, visual search’s algorithm utilizes both image recognition capabilities and schema markup to rank images. Given that Google representatives noted that rankings would take images that focus on a specific product and a site’s authority into account, it is therefore essential for retailers to continue building domain authority. This is achieved, in part, by utilizing unique, high-quality images of individual products, while also giving schema markup implementation great care.

Given this dynamic, merchants must include product markup on the host page and include the proper information for the item’s name, price, availability, image and other pertinent details. The more valuable information a retailer includes, the better, as this is likely to help drive click-throughs.

Including this information can help feature products with rich snippets that, directly on the search engine page, show off the item’s name, price and other conversion-driving details. These features are vital as studies have shown rich snippets to increase click-through rates by more than 675 percent while also earning between 20 and 40 percent more traffic than merchandise that does not feature such elements. These stats show just how important proper product markup application can be on visibility, traffic and sales.

After implementing the data, test some of the URLs with Google’s Structured Data Testing tool to verify that the information is displaying correctly.

Finally, be sure to submit an image XML sitemap to Google to help ensure that images get crawled and indexed speedily and efficiently.

rich snippets information graphic

Visual search is on a trajectory to explode in popularity over the next several years. As this technology becomes increasingly integrated with a multitude of platforms and used by more significant numbers of consumers, it will become ever-more refined in its accuracy and vital in the eCommerce landscape.

Now is the time to perfect image optimization SEO techniques to transcend the competition effectively. The better a merchant becomes at this set of tactics, the more likely they are to rise to the top of the visual search results through implementation expertise.

Visual search is the future of product discovery. Prepare now or pay later.

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