15 ways marketers can optimize for visual search

Google, Bing, Pin­ter­est and eBay have all announced func­tion­al­i­ty or updates for visu­al search recent­ly – sure signs the space is heat­ing up and con­sumers will soon be able to search with images as well as with words and voice. Even though com­put­er vision tech­nol­o­gy...

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 10 comments

Google, Bing, Pin­ter­est and eBay have all announced func­tion­al­i­ty or updates for visu­al search recent­ly – sure signs the space is heat­ing up and con­sumers will soon be able to search with images as well as with words and voice.

Even though com­put­er vision tech­nol­o­gy is improv­ing, David Erick­son, vice pres­i­dent of online mar­ket­ing at Kar­wos­ki & Courage Pub­lic Rela­tions, said it’s still impor­tant to prac­tice tra­di­tion­al image search opti­miza­tion tech­niques.

That’s in large part because it is an effec­tive way to gen­er­ate more expo­sure for your images and, by asso­ci­a­tion, your brand.

Mar­cus Mil­er, SEO and PPC strate­gist at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing firm Bowler Hat, said the process is fair­ly straight­for­ward even though there are a lot of steps. What’s more, most of these steps are easy – and can even be auto­mat­ed on plat­forms like Word­Press or done via plu­g­ins.

First, Miller said to give your image a descrip­tive name, like funnycat.jpg.

You’ll also want to store your images in a rel­e­vant loca­tion, like: images/funnycats/smilingcat.jpg.

We want to think about what we can do to clear­ly illus­trate the con­tent of the image along with ensur­ing the image is opti­mized for speedy deliv­ery and ide­al­ly the cor­rect pix­el size for the tar­get device,” Miller added.

Here are 15 oth­er tips to ensure max­i­mum expo­sure for your brand’s images:

1. Names

Not only do you want a descrip­tive image name, you should also try to include rel­e­vant key­words, Erick­son said.

That’s because the file name adds addi­tion­al con­text for search engines and helps sig­nal what the images include, added Peter Oles­son, founder of SEO con­sult­ing firm SEO Vena­tor.

And, said Stephen Seifert, SEO and mar­ket­ing man­ag­er at trans­la­tion ser­vices firm Day Trans­la­tions, this is eas­i­er to under­stand when you con­sid­er a file name like image12.png, which does not help a search engine under­stand any­thing about what the image con­tains.

In oth­er words, you want to be as descrip­tive as pos­si­ble.

If your e‑commerce image is of an iPhone case, tell search engines more about it. Your image file name and alt text should be some­thing like apple-iphone-water­proof-shock­proof-case,” Seifert said. “When it comes to online mar­ket­ing and image opti­miza­tion, you are not sole­ly sell­ing to your tar­get audi­ence, you are sell­ing your prod­ucts to search engines as well. You want them to choose your images for rel­e­vant search queries.”

2. Alt Text

Speak­ing of alt text, you also want to make sure every image has an alt tag – and great alt text that accu­rate­ly describes the image, aligns with the file name and includes key­words where appro­pri­ate.

Per Oles­son, alt text tags are HTML codes added to images that pro­vide descrip­tions of the images.

This text pro­vides addi­tion­al con­text for search engines and helps users with screen read­ers who have visu­al impair­ments to under­stand the image,” he added.

This addi­tion­al text also helps brands cap­i­tal­ize on word-based search­es, which still dom­i­nate as visu­al search evolves, not­ed Scott Lit­vack, direc­tor of organ­ic search at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Wpro­mote.

3. Captions

Miller said you should con­sid­er using cap­tions for images to add even more con­text for search engines. Cap­tions should describe the pho­to or the action with­in.

Bradley Shaw of con­sult­ing and online mar­ket­ing ser­vices firm SEO Expert Brad, agreed, say­ing many brands don’t do this – like­ly because an image seems self-explana­to­ry – but cap­tions can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on rank­ings, so it should be a part of a site’s style guide­lines to always include cap­tions.

The idea is to pro­vide as much on-page con­text with the pho­to for search engines to fig­ure out the con­tents of the pho­to,” Erick­son said. “Be sure to men­tion place names and the names of peo­ple with­in a pho­to­graph, where appro­pri­ate.”

4. Tags

Tags also help images be found and, said Bill Winn, dig­i­tal PR and dis­play media man­ag­er of SEO com­pa­ny Inseev Inter­ac­tive, you should use relat­ed tags to help broad­en the num­ber of search­es for which your images will be found by, say, pub­lish­ers.

For exam­ple, a pho­to of a cou­ple pic­nick­ing at sun­down isn’t just that, it’s also a roman­tic date night idea,” Winn said. “Tag it with that and oth­er descrip­tions so that it pops up when pub­lish­ers search around top­ics that align with their arti­cles. These tips will help your images achieve greater cir­cu­la­tion and present more oppor­tu­ni­ties to request attri­bu­tion and back­links to your web­site.”

5. Keywords

Christo­pher Groz­don, CMO of SEO and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Dash-SEO, also sug­gest­ed tak­ing time to do prop­er key­word research for image titles and alt text. That includes tools like Ahrefs.

Once we’ve found an excel­lent key­word with high user intent, we’ll then incor­po­rate it into the image’s title and alt text,” he said. “This addi­tion­al­ly assists visu­al­ly impaired users by pro­vid­ing an audio descrip­tion of what the image is about.”

6. Size

Oles­son said to con­sid­er in advance where you will fea­ture the image and to size it accord­ing­ly for opti­mal dis­play.

Miller also sug­gest­ed con­sid­er­ing what device will be used to access said image to ensure the speed­i­est pos­si­ble deliv­ery. In addi­tion, use respon­sive images where pos­si­ble, he added.

You can also help speed load­ing time by incor­po­rat­ing brows­er caching so images can be loaded local­ly on sub­se­quent vis­its, Miller said.

7. Placement

You should also place the image close to relat­ed con­tent on the page, Miller said. This pro­vides even more con­text for search engines.

Dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant Collin Davis agreed brands should use con­tex­tu­al­ly rel­e­vant con­tent around images.

For exam­ple, a search for ‘iPhone 7’ on Google Images shows oth­er searched queries such as, ‘Rose Gold,’ ‘Mat­te Black,’ etc.,” he said. “So if you have a Rose Gold image and if you have used [it] on a prod­uct page, make sure that the prod­uct page…references…the col­or of the prod­uct [and the image is placed near­by].”

8. Structured Data Markup

Erick­son said to always include struc­tured data markup for pho­tos that accom­pa­ny con­tent that calls for struc­tured data, such as recipes or the thumb­nail images for videos.

Indeed, Davis said schema tags for images are used by Google, Bing and Pin­ter­est to pro­vide rich infor­ma­tion in SERPs. And that means they can help your images be found in search.

9. Geotags

Davis rec­om­mend­ed geo-tag­ging images relat­ed to a loca­tion in order to sur­face them in relat­ed queries.

For exam­ple, Pin­ter­est has a loca­tion-based fea­ture where­in you can search images from a spe­cif­ic loca­tion,” Davis said. “If you geo­t­ag your images cor­rect­ly with the loca­tion, this can sur­face up for such queries.”

10. Clutter

Erick­son said Google Pho­tos is get­ting increas­ing­ly bet­ter at cat­e­go­riz­ing images, which is a good exam­ple of com­put­er vision at work.

Com­put­er vision algo­rithms work by first rec­og­niz­ing the edges of things with­in a pho­to,” Erick­son said. “Once the edges of objects have been estab­lished, the algo­rithm can then rec­og­nize shapes. Once it can rec­og­nize shapes, then the algo­rithm can begin to make asso­ci­a­tions between dif­fer­ent shapes in a scene and under­stand and cat­e­go­rize objects.”

And that is why sim­ple, unclut­tered images are eas­i­er for algo­rithms to under­stand.

Laris­sa Muril­lo, mar­ket­ing man­ag­er at search opti­miza­tion and web­site mar­ket­ing tool Mar­ket­Goo, agreed visu­als should have either no back­ground or a “non-noisy back­ground.”

You need qual­i­ty visu­als,” Muril­lo said. “I agree with the advice that you should pick visu­als not based on your per­son­al pref­er­ences but on your goals and their fit with your larg­er strategy…and if includ­ing peo­ple makes sense in your prod­uct pho­tos, do it! This increas­es con­ver­sion rates.”

In fact, Neer­aj Vaish­nav, gen­er­al man­ag­er at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency RankUno Inter­ac­tive Tech­nolo­gies, said brands should ask ques­tions like:

  • How many prod­ucts are shown in a pic­ture?
  • Is the mer­chan­dise shown clear­ly?
  • Are peo­ple allowed to enlarge the image or rotate the prod­uct 360 degrees?

11. Image Open Graph Tags

Oles­son said an image open graph tag is a piece of HTML code that opti­mizes social media shar­ing.

The code works by hav­ing a ded­i­cat­ed image select­ed with­in that code,” Oles­son said. “When a page is shared with an image open graph tag, the ded­i­cat­ed image is fea­tured when the page is shared on var­i­ous social plat­forms.”

12. Image Sitemaps

Lit­vack said image sitemaps allow for eas­i­er index­a­tion of images – and par­tic­u­lar­ly those that are being loaded by JavaScript code. This, in turn, helps sur­face images in search results.

13. Pinterest

Michael Heili­gen­stein, direc­tor of SEO at small busi­ness advo­ca­cy firm Fit Small Busi­ness, sug­gest­ed also post­ing images on Pin­ter­est as it is a wide­ly used visu­al search engine.

Muril­lo not­ed Pin­ter­est allows users to cap­ture an image and find sim­i­lar prod­ucts and relat­ed con­tent.

What this means is that you need to make sure your prod­uct inven­to­ry is on Pin­ter­est, not only opti­mized for key­words and with detail-rich cap­tions, but also using high qual­i­ty images,” she added. “Take advan­tage of the image match­ing func­tion­al­i­ty of Pin­ter­est Lens as well as its Instant Ideas fea­ture.”

Heili­gen­stein warned brands should also have a strat­e­gy to get Pin­ter­est users to their web­sites so their jour­ney does not end on the social plat­form.

Winn also sug­gest­ed post­ing on pho­to-shar­ing sites like Flickr to make sure images are wide­ly seen.

14. Maps

In addi­tion, Tere­sa Walsh, mar­ket­ing exec­u­tive at online vehi­cle check site Cazana.com, sug­gest­ed maps as image-based brand assets.

Maps with cool sto­ries and unique data are the way for­ward,” she said. “They stand out and are incred­i­bly share­able. This is not only a cool way to get a visu­al rank­ing but it is a bril­liant white hat link build­ing strat­e­gy.”

15. Infographics

In order to con­vince con­sumers who find your images in search results to not just save said image with­out click­ing through to your web­site, Heili­gen­stein said to con­sid­er what you real­ly want from your Google Image search results and “put togeth­er images peo­ple will want to know more about, ones that are com­pelling but don’t tell the full sto­ry.”

And, he said, info­graph­ics or images includ­ing text are two great ways of doing this.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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