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An eCommerce Marketer’s Definitive Guide to Visual Search

9 Min Read

Google is constantly changing its algorithms and updates, and eCommerce brands looking to outperform the competition need to stay abreast of these changes. One significant new trend in this regard is visual search.

Research shows 62% of Gen Z, and millennial consumers want visual search functionality, while nearly 23% of Google search queries yield images. At the same time, only about 8% of eCommerce brands have added visual search to their site experience.

Clearly, this is a huge untapped opportunity that you would do well to capitalize on before your competitors catch up.

An Ecommerce Marketers Definitive Guide To Visual Search

What is visual search?

Essentially, visual search refers to search made about or with images. The most common way for users to do this is through Google Image search, either by entering keywords and looking for matching images or searching through image files for the original source.

One significant step forward in this direction is Google Lens, which allows users to add calendar events, find recipes, take photos of products they like, and learn where to find them online.

Visual Search
Image Source: [1]

Social media platforms like Pinterest also have functionalities that allow users to shop with the help of pictures they take. Similarly, individual brands like Neiman Marcus have their versions of visual search tools.

The luxury retailer, for instance, has embraced experimentation by launching a feature in their mobile app called “Snap. Find. Shop.”

Their customers can take pictures of any shoe, handbag, or clothing through their phone camera. The app would then scan the Neiman Marcus inventory to see if they carried an item similar to the item in the photo.

The innovative app makes product recommendations that the customer can purchase from the app itself. Due to this functionality, Neiman Marcus has been able to increase its overall app usage and customer engagement significantly, thereby reducing customer churn.

Why visual SEO matters

At present, there are over 1.8 billion websites on the Internet, and that number is going up every day. To stand out among all that competition, you need a good reason for customers to look at your website rather than anyone else’s, and strong visuals are a big part of that. Here is why visual content is your new best friend when it comes to site SEO:

1. Conveys more information

Today’s customers are comfortable when it comes to Internet searches. It is not surprising since 50% of site visitors decide whether to keep browsing a site or abandon it within eight seconds.

You thus have only a small window of time in which to make an impact — and visuals, with their high retention rate, allow visitors to learn much more about your site within that small window than a block of text would.

Visual Seo Conveys More Information
Image Source: [2]

Therefore, invest in creating high-quality infographics, charts, and data visualizations that sum up important information in an eye-catching manner, and position them on your webpage in a way that site visitors cannot miss.

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2. Attracts more links

Backlinks are critical to establishing your website as domain authority, in addition to being one of the biggest search ranking factors.

While backlinking remains a challenge for SEO executives, having strong visual content such as a data-packed infographic can boost your backlinks in much less time than a blog post or other text-based content would.

Therefore, help the process along by promoting your infographic among your professional network, follower base, and content influence — the more popular it becomes, the more likely it is that sites will link to it.

3. Improves average site visit length

The longer visitors spend on your website, the higher your search rankings go, especially since Google launched the Rankbrain algorithm in 2015. Having an infographic, a video clip, or even an evocative image on your website’s landing page is an instant attention grabber. It creates a feel-good vibe that encourages the visitor to stay longer.

Moreover, 95% of purchases are driven by emotion. That makes visuals an essential and powerful sales tool. They can efficiently communicate valuable information about your business offering, which significantly increases the chances of getting more conversions.

To convert the people you are sending to your website, you must opt for proper conversion rate optimization to get more out of your existing website traffic. Strong visuals can help you achieve this goal comfortably.

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4. Boosts social activity

There is a strong correlation between a website’s social presence and its SEO rankings. The more social activity you enjoy, the likelier it is to generate clicks.

Plus, new social media algorithms make it much likelier for image-based content to show up on people’s feeds than text-based content — which makes it all the more critical for you to invest in solid visuals for your Facebook and Instagram pages.

Tips to optimize visual search for your business

Image-based search technology will only evolve over the next few years, and eCommerce websites that do not come along for the ride are bound to suffer. Here are some easy tips on how to incorporate visual search into your site optimization and appeal to the new generation of visual-first buyers:

1. Add images to your sitemap

Build up an extensive library of high-quality original images and include them on your sitemap so that visual search engines can quickly scan them. Be sure to have a system of organizing them, such as by URL. With the help of an image sitemap, you will give Google crawlers more information about the photos — and make them more susceptible to show up in search.

Site Map With Images
Image Source: [3]

2. Size your images correctly

When it comes to image sizing for your website, remember that less is more. Excessively large images will only slow down the load time and bring down the user experience on various browsers and devices. This would obviously hamper your search rankings in the long run.

Before uploading your images, use a compressor such as TinyPNG to bring them down to an optimal size without compromising quality or the proper proportions.

It would be best to choose an image file type that lends itself to adaption and compression — JPEG is usually the best. For videos, AVI works best.

3. Name your images properly

Search engine bots will be scanning your image file names besides the images themselves. Be sure to add a unique and relevant name and a short but descriptive alt text to each. This way, even if the bot cannot recognize what your image contains, it can refer to your file name and alt text for the right keywords and feature you in search results.

For instance, if you have a photo of Notre Dame on one of your landing pages, the file name should not be DSC1456.jpg. A proper file name would be “notre-dame-paris,” ensuring the main subject of your landing page is at the beginning of the file name.

4. Include alt tags

As mentioned above, alt tags are essential for search engine bots scanning your site. However, they are also helpful for consumers using screen readers to browse your website. Even if those consumers cannot see the image, alt text gives them an idea of its contents. When writing alt text, be sure to keep it clear and relevant for the reader — do not stuff keywords in for its sake.

Image Alt tag examples
Sources: [4]

A typical alt text: <img src=”escalator.jpg” alt=”man on escalator”>

A converting alt text: <img src=”escalator.jpg” alt=”man wearing backpack walking down an escalator”>

Alt text can help you rank in Google Images, which is responsible for 20.45% of all online searches worldwide.

5. Optimise your eCommerce site for text search

While visual search should undoubtedly be a focal area, you do not want to forget about ranking for traditional text-based search either. Optimize your eCommerce site’s text for SEO and be as careful about your keywords, headlines, alt tags, and metatags as you would be for your image file names and alt tags. Do not forget to A/B test them over time to see what works for your site and what does not.

6. Add captions

Captions provide context for your images and also weave it in with the rest of the text content on the webpage. You may use the same image more than once on your website, but add different captions to suit different contexts.

Captions with relevant keywords help boost your search engine results and boost the customer’s reading experience by providing details about the fabric and design theme for an image of a dress.

7. Upgrade your chatbot

Several chatbots now offer visual search functionalities as well. If you are serious about optimizing your website for visual search, adding a chatbot like this can streamline conversations with site visitors.

The chatbot provides links to relevant images as real-time answers to queries. For instance, if someone asks about summer clothing on an apparel website, the chatbot can respond with images from the latest summer collection.

American Eagle Outfitters, for instance, has a chatbot that asks questions to visitors and makes product recommendations based on the information collected.

Upgrade Your Chatbot
Image Sources: [5]

8. Optimize your social media visuals

Particularly on channels like Instagram, having the right visual appeal is key to attracting and retaining customers.

Apart from using high-quality images, pay attention to how your feed looks — for instance, Instagram uses a grid layout, so you want each photo you upload to complement the other ones around it visually.

Moreover, to attract the attention of shoppers, your Instagram feed needs to reflect your brand aesthetics appealingly.

For instance, if your retail brand stands for earth-friendliness, create an Instagram feed representing just that. Your choice of images needs to reflect your brand aesthetics.

Optimize Your Social Media Images
Image Source: [6]

Infuse warm and earthy vibes through the artistic selection of your product photos. Plus, use the right hashtags so that your images are easily searchable, and be sure to post at the optimal times for maximum engagement.

Wrapping it up

As Google continues to push the boundaries of what search is and what it can be, eCommerce marketers need to plan for the future of search, which at the moment, is exceptionally visuals-focused.

Since online shoppers cannot touch or feel a product, they depend heavily on images to make purchase decisions. Therefore, it is essential to optimize eCommerce sites for visual search. What do you think?

Lucy Manole
Lucy Manole Lucy is a creative content writer and strategist at Marketing Digest. She specializes in writing about digital marketing, technology, entrepreneurship, and education. When she is not writing or editing, she spends time reading books, cooking and traveling.
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