Simple answer, as it often is: Google.
Your website product images have always been an SEO factor – user experience, relevance to search, size, structure in the page, accessibility…the list goes on.
But there’s a whispered 2019 Google algorithm change you should know about. Visual search is very much here.
Google algorithm change for images in SERPs
“Starting March 19, there was a MAJOR change to Google’s algorithm for ranking the image carousel. [Our charts] clearly show that not only are images more frequently appearing in the Top 10, they are showing up HIGHER in the SERPs than ever before. The result is a significant increase in the visibility for images and, consequently, a decline in the visibility for everyone that was previously in one of those Top 3 positions.”
Mitul Gandh, seoClarity
Sponsored Google Images
And now, the thing that explains why Google is suddenly prioritising images. Google Image SERPs now include shoppable sponsored image results. These sponsored product image results put your business right up top with the product, price and link to your website.
“50 percent of online shoppers said images of the product inspired them to purchase, and increasingly, they’re turning to Google Images.”
Google, March 2019
Although Google also claims it’s the first place shoppers turn to (Amazon may have a thing or two to say about that), it does make sense that Google is massively important in the research phase and could hijack that phase and turn it into buying. Just like Instagram is doing.
There’s also the ever-increasing trend of searching for products WITH an image, like on eBay and Aliexpress. Browsing and musing turns into immediate cash, for the platform and for the seller.
Another addition for sponsored product image results was last year’s Showcase Shopping ads. Rather than an individual product, this kind of ad shows a range of your products that answer the search query, along with your brand name. The searcher can click to expand, showing a company description, reviews, key service features and products.
Be warned: these work with CPE – Cost Per Engagement. If a searcher expands the ad and spends 10 seconds looking at it, that’s an engagement. NOT a click to your website, like with PPC.
How to improve your product images
If you’re selling physical products, it’s time to invest in your product photography.
Bringing this in-house can be more affordable than you’d think. A decent studio setup can happen for under £5,000, including the camera and lenses. Send your most creative person on a photography course or get a part-timer in.
It’ll save you time waiting for manufacturer images of varying quality, and it’ll make you money as your website looks better, your products are more enticing and you can experiment with sponsoring your products with Google tools.
How an independent music shop is championing product imagery
“As an independent music retailer, we used to spend a lot of money sending product photos off for editing, as well as dealing with inconsistency in manufacturer-supplied imagery. We gradually spent a bit of cash on our own studio and camera equipment, and now do everything in-house.
“This year we’ve invested more, but just a bit of research got us a professional studio setup with pro flash heads, one of the best cameras you can get and back drops – for under £5,000. Going down the second-hand route is a great option for small businesses and you’d be surprised how much money you can save.
“I’ve gone from managing eBay and Amazon to focusing on product images nearly full-time. Doing it ourselves has saved us money, improved the quality of our product images and helped to differentiate us from other music shops.”
Phil Gerbi, Photographer and Image Editor at Chamberlain Music
If that all sounds quite scary, start with a second-hand camera and a mini studio lightbox for small products. But if you’re passionate about the products you sell, you may well be the best person to capture them – and your product images are worth the investment.