There’s only one thing that’s perpetually true about SEO: It’s always changing.

Google constantly releases new updates and algorithms, and it’s up to ecommerce brands to be on top of the latest changes if they want to reap the benefits.

Here are some fun visual search stats for you:

Pretty convincing figures. But only 8% of retail brands have incorporated visual search into their ecommerce experience. Hello, opportunity! Let’s take a look:

What is visual search?

Visual search is the broad term for queries made with images or about images. There are a few ways users conduct visual searches, one of the most common being a Google Image search. You can enter words to find images that match your keyword, or search by image files to find the original source and where that image is published. Bing also has its own image search.

But that’s just the basics. Visual search is continuing to get more advanced as the technology improves. The Google Lens app is a seriously improved version of the basic image search. You can find recipes or directions, add events to your calendar, and translate words from a photo.

Ecommerce brands take note: Google Lens also allows users to find where to buy products online. They snap or upload a shot of the coveted piece and Google will tell them where to get it.

Social media platforms, especially image-driven ones like Pinterest and Snapchat, have also launched their own versions of visual search. Snapchat users can take a photo of a product within the app to instantly search it on Amazon.

Snapchat visual search

Image: Snapchat

And with Pinterest Lens, users can upload an image to receive recommended Pins based on the content of that image. The site sees more than 600 million visual searches each month, and Pinterest Ads convert at a rate of 8.5%.

Ebay also has its version of visual search, functioning in much the same way. Take a photo, find similar products.

And many brands are taking visual search into their own hands. Neiman Marcus, for example, has a visual search tool which gives users product suggestions based on images they take/upload to the app. It’s a great cross-sell and bundling opportunity.

Why visual SEO is important

Visual SEO isn’t just a buzzword that we’ll forget about when the next one comes along. It’s important to incorporate it into your SEO strategy now so that you’re prepared for the future. As Google, social networks, Amazon, and other online platforms continue to bolster their visual search experience, we can only predict that the tech isn’t going anywhere soon.

Improving the overall SEO of your images will usually lead to a faster website, images that are easier to read for both Google and the visually impaired, and improved voice search optimization,” says James McMinn, digital strategist at Matchbox Design Group.

Visual search itself is being used more and more. According to one 2017 report by Jumpshot and Moz, visual search is on the rise. 27% of all searches were for images.

Visual content is also more likely to resonate. Eye tracking studies confirm that consumers look at images more than words.

Plus, users conducting visual searches are often more primed to buy. Natalia Wulfe, head of marketing at Effective Spend, breaks it down:

“Visual search expands your reach on search engines to customers in all stages of the purchasing funnel. Text-based search, on the other hand, is typically most effective when customers are low in the purchase funnel — when they know exactly what they’re looking for and how to describe it.

But what if a consumer sees a chair at a café that they like because its modern aesthetic matches their home decor? They don’t know what material it’s made of, who the manufacturer is, or what to call its design.

With a text-based search, you might be limited to searching for “modern chair,” which will return an endless number of results to sift through. But if you do a visual search with an image of the chair, you’re giving the search engine a lot more information to consider — the contours of the chair’s seat and backrest, the colors and hues of the fabric, the patterns of its wood grain.

In other words, visual search is like a SUPER longtail search query. And the more specific your query is, the better the results are going to be. So with good visual SEO, ecommerce brands can put more relevant products in front of more searchers more efficiently.”

How to optimize your ecommerce site for visual search

Understand how consumers are using visual search

Before you can begin to understand how to optimize your site, you need to understand what you’re optimizing for. This starts with putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and considering the context of their search, as well as the desired outcome of their search.

Pinterest, for example, published findings from their 2017 search data. The top categories were:

  • Fashion
  • Home decor
  • Art
  • Food
  • Products
  • Animals
  • Outfits
  • Beauty
  • Vehicles
  • Travel

They dug even deeper into the data, revealing the top specific items users queried via visual search:

  • Tattoos
  • Nails
  • Sunglasses
  • Jeans
  • Cats
  • Wedding dress
  • Plants
  • Quilts
  • Brownies
  • Natural hair

If your business is one of those niches or you sell one of the listed products, you’ll want to consider Pinterest strategies for your ecommerce site — as well as optimizing for visual search. “Enable your customers to ‘Shop the Look,’” Shane Barker, digital strategist, recommends.

Use multiple images for each product

Using more than one product photo to represent your merchandise isn’t just good for the user experience, it’s also good for visual search optimization. Multiple images allows you to provide a positive user experience, which Google has repeatedly said it prioritizes when determining rankings. Plus, you have different opportunities to plug in keyword variations for each of your image files.

In one analysis of the top fashion ecommerce sites, we found that brands had an average of 8 images per product.

The analysis also found that while white background shots prevailed, some brands are also experimenting with contextual or lifestyle shots. This shows the product in a real-world setting, giving users a taste of what it’d be like to actually own the item.

“A home decor retailer could include a photo of one of its lamps on a side table in a living room, a few of its throw pillows on a couch, or a set of its planters on a windowsill,” says Wulfe. “If ecommerce brands aren’t including these kinds of contextual/environmental images on their website, they’re missing out on potential impressions and traffic from visual searchers high in the purchasing funnel.”

Dilly Designs Art

Dilly Designs Art features products in shots with people, on white background, and in contextual settings.

Make sure your images are high-quality

High-quality product photography is good for users after they’ve hit your site and started browsing products, but they’re also effective in aiding product discovery. “Visual search bots scan for colors, patterns, and shapes that it can recognize and match to similar or complementary colors, patterns, and shapes from other images,” says Wulfe. If the images are of poor quality, Google won’t be able to get a good read on them.

Take a look at the ecommerce site Dots & Loops. You’ll see white background and lifestyle/contextual photography, focusing on product details and attributes.

ecommerce site Dots & Loops

“This is critical for reaching shoppers in all different stages of the purchasing funnel,” Wulfe says. “High-res photos of products on a plain white background are perfect for consumers who are actively looking to buy. But those types of images are less likely to resonate with shoppers who are casually browsing for ideas and inspiration and may not be ready to purchase.”

McMinn agrees, and suggests brands invest resources in updating any outdated or poor-quality imagery on their site. “Go back and fix all of your old images, even if it takes you a long time,” he says. “Don’t use stock images and make sure your product is front and center in your photos.”

Related: Find out how high-end jewelry brand Claurete captures high-quality product shots >

Put images in your sitemap

Your sitemap is essentially a “map” of your website — it houses information about the content on your site (text and images) and how each of those elements are related.

Here’s how Google breaks it down: “A sitemap tells the crawler which files you think are important in your site, and also provides valuable information about these files: for example, for pages, when the page was last updated, how often the page is changed, and any alternate language versions of a page.”

Search engines use the sitemap to learn more information about your site. If you create an image sitemap, you’ll give crawlers more information about the photos — and make them more primed to show up in search.

Add image badges

This one’s a little more technical, but Google has also put together a handy guide. Essentially, image badges “help you discover and take action on Image Search.” The badge tells users what logical actions they can take by clicking through the image to the site.

Size and format your images appropriately

Google has image optimization guidelines, and part of that includes recommend formats.

Google image optimization guidelines

Plus, a big part of SEO is having a quick-loading site. Big images can slow load speeds, delivering a suboptimal user experience. Compress your images so the file size is smaller. Here’s how to do it without compromising image quality. “You can also start to lazy-load your images on your website,” says McMinn. “When we lazy load images and video, we reduce initial page load time, initial page weight, and system resource usage, all of which have positive impacts on performance.”

You also want to incorporate keywords in file names and alt tags. “If you have an image of a green Nike hat, then = name the image with the words “green Nike hat” in it — and also include your brand,” says McMinn. “Make sure the image name is descriptive, too.”

Some other basic guidelines:

  • Only use GIFs for small product images — and never as your main shot
  • Make sure all your images render appropriately on mobile

Go beyond just images

A multimedia approach is best, especially if you’re optimizing for visual search. “Brands should \ incorporate more video imagery into their sites,” says Wulfe. “Instead of a static image of an outdoor rug on a patio, how about a 360-degree panoramic of an entire backyard, complete with patio furniture, grilling station and pool deck?”

Just over a quarter of the top ecommerce fashion sites incorporate multimedia on their product pages. This will not only help you stand out in search, but also in the eyes of the customer.

Marshall Amplification has videos and close-up shots that are high-res for visual search and user experience.

Marshall Amplification's high-res, close-up shots

Create your own visual search

Even though it’s not mainstream yet, creating your own visual search experience can help you get ahead of the curve. If you implement it now, this gives you time to work out the kinks before it does become widely adopted. This way, your competitors will be dealing with technical issues while you’ve already hit your groove.

“Ecommerce sites [with visual search] will be able to serve a range of relevant results to the shopper that encourage higher revenue orders,” says Wulfe. “Perhaps they came to your site looking for a chair that matches their rug, but your internal visual search serves them a floor lamp and throw pillows to complement it too.”

Shane Barker, digital strategist

To Wulfe’s note, visual search isn’t just allowing users an easier way to find what they want. It also provides you more data and insights, as well as marketing opportunities. “Combine artificial intelligence (AI) and visual search to offer personalized customer experiences,” says Barker. “Send personalized email and in-app messages to maximize user engagement.”

Remember Google Snippets

Ever notice how some SERPs have a box with questions related to your query? It usually says “People also ask” and looks like this:

"People also ask" in Google search

And some also have a call-out box with a quick answer to your search.

call-out box in Google search

You can use images to optimize for those highly coveted Google Snippets. Ross Hudgens, founder and CEO of Siege Media, sums it up in this tweet:

tweet from Ross Hudgens

Implementing SEO into your ecommerce strategy

Optimizing for visual search is just one way to incorporate SEO into your ecommerce marketing strategy. To get even more search traffic, check out:

In her past agency life, Alex has led digital marketing initiatives for Fortune 500 companies. Now, she’s passionate about helping retailers and retail industry leaders harness the power of the written word and fuse it with strategic content, email and social media marketing campaigns.

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