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The Complete Guide to Optimizing Product Images

The e-commerce industry is growing at a staggering pace. It is estimated that currently there are more than 1.92 billion digital buyers globally. Or, in other words, 25 percent of the world’s population is shopping online in 2019. And by 2021, this number is expected to reach an astronomical 2.14 billion.

What’s more, e-commerce currently accounts for 13.7 percent of all retail sales worldwide, and this figure is expected to reach a whopping 17.5 percent in 2021.

Talk about having a huge (potential) customer base!

Of course, this massive opportunity comes replete with cut-throat competition. While it’s hard to determine an exact number, it is safe to say there are between 12 to 24 million e-commerce websites in the world competing for traffic and sales. Not to mention ecommerce marketplace mammoths such as Amazon, with net revenue of $232.88 billion and over 100 million Prime members, eating up small-to-medium sized online retailers.

Still, while most new ecommerce websites fail, there are plenty of successful ones, too. The success of your ecommerce venture relies on a myriad of interrelated factors, such as your ability to drive traffic, design an attractive user interface, and deliver a great shopping experience.

But what lies at the center of it all is visuals. You see, the biggest problem with online shopping is that the shoppers can’t actually touch, taste, or try your products first-hand before parting with their hard-earned money. This, coupled with countless online scams that happen every day, is what causes hesitation and cart abandonment.

High-quality product images help alleviate this buyer hesitation and skepticism. They allow a potential customer to get a better “feel” of the product and better ascertain its authenticity. Furthermore, well-optimized images lead to a better online shopping experience, higher rankings on Google, and thus more traffic and sales.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to optimize your product images for both, search engine bots and human shoppers.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Optimizing for search engines

In 2018, Google Images accounted for 22.6 percent of all internet searches. That is a lot of potential search engine traffic for your online storefront.

So, optimizing your product images for search crawlers is something you can’t afford to turn a blind eye to. Below are five ways to optimize product images for boosting the search engine visibility of your store.

Choose the right image file format

As you know, images come in a variety of formats, each with its own purpose. There are numerous formats, but the three main file types you must know about are JPG, PNG, and GIF.

The first one, JPG or JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), is the preferred file format for e-commerce websites because it allows higher quality with lower file size. JPEGs blend blue, red, and green light, which allows for the display of millions of colors. Other formats don’t allow all colors to show in an image.

You can adjust the file size of a JPEG, but in doing so, you also alter the image quality. As you’d expect, higher quality translates to bigger file size. And a bigger file size decreases your site’s load speed – frustrating visitors, increasing bounce rate, and lowering search rankings. So, you must aim to find an ideal balance between image quality and file size so that the image looks good and loads fast.

Generally speaking, JPEGs are an excellent choice for product images and photographs with many colors. Owing to their relatively smaller file size, they are SEO-friendly, too.

Portable Network Graphics, or PNG, is a relatively new format that supports lossless data compression, as opposed to lossy compression in JPEGs. Typically, PNGs have a larger file size than JPEGs but are also better in image quality. While PNGs are great for text-heavy images and images with few colors, JPEGs are the way to go for product photographs on your ecommerce store.

The third file type, Graphics Interchange Format (or GIF) needs no introduction. We all love sharing these fun little “videos” (not actually videos) on social media, and they’re a great source of laughter.

GIF is actually an image file format that can be used for small animations and low-resolution video clips. Like PNG, it also uses lossless compression that does not degrade the quality of the image. However, GIFs only allow a maximum of 256 colors to be displayed, which means they are not suitable for images with a lot of color variation.

GIF is okay to use for thumbnails, buttons, and icons where color variation is minimal. And as neither JPEGs nor PNGs support animations, GIFs are the only choice for animation without a huge file size (such as for an animated logo).

As a rule of thumb, use JPEG for colorful and robust images, use PNG for images with fewer color variation, and use GIF when something needs to be animated.

Reduce the image file size

While JPEGs are perfect for product images, you still need to keep an eye out for file size.

Note: image size is not the same as file size. Image size refers to the dimensions of the image, whereas file size refers to the amount of space required to store the image on your site server.

Now, file size is an extremely important factor to optimize. The larger the file size, the longer it takes for the image and consequently, the web page to load. The image size (dimensions) can be large and still have a small file size.

Plus, focusing on better mobile user experience is imperative.

A recent industry report from Google found that as page load time goes from one second to ten seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123%. Likewise, as the number of elements – text, titles, images – on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops 95%.

Moreover, page speed is now officially a ranking factor for both mobile and desktop Google searches. So, slow page load speed will kill your rankings on Google, which is simply unaffordable for your ecommerce store’s survival.

In short, speed equals less frustration, higher rankings, and more revenue. The most effective way to boost your site speed is to reduce the size of the image files on all your pages. How do you do that?

You don’t need to purchase and learn expensive and complicated tools like Photoshop. There are plenty of online tools that’ll enable you to compress your images with ease. You might have to spend some time to figure out the right size-to-quality ratio for your product images – find the smallest file size that still looks crisp and good.

Once you’ve found the right ratio, just apply the same to all the product images in your store. Also, as high-quality product photography is crucial to selling online, you can provide an option to view the full-sized image in a new tab or separate page.

To summarize, keep the file size of all images as small as possible – aim for under 100 KB.

Name the image file sensibly

Sure, search engines like Google are getting smarter as we speak. But crawlers still can’t actually “see” images or “watch” videos to understand the content. What they can do is crawl textual content.

In other words, what you name your image files matters when it comes to ranking on Google. A descriptive file name will allow search engine bots to comprehend what the image is all about, and thus rank it for your desired keywords. So, instead of leaving your file’s name as “image04.jpg” or “81957295.jpg”, take a moment to assign it a proper name.

For example, if the product you’re selling is a red backpack, then the keyword phrase “red backpack” should be in the image file name. Ideally, the more descriptive, the better, but don’t make it too long. So, something like “red-backpack-waterproof.jpg” makes far better sense.

Use dashes to separate words instead of underscore, as the latter combines words instead of separating them. Also, avoid including articles like “a” and “the” which don’t contribute any keyword value.

Use alt tags for all images

Essentially, alt tags are textual descriptions of your images displayed as an alternative to the images if they can’t be loaded by the browser for some reason. These short descriptions are included in the website’s code.

So, if the image files can’t be loaded on the user’s browser or your site’s having loading issues, the alternative text comes in handy to describe the image. Alt tags also help:

Search engine crawlers associate images with the webpage’s content by providing an accurate description of the image. This allows them to index the page properly.

Visually impaired users using screen readers to better understand the content.

In other words, using alt tags for all your product images will make your storefront more accessible and improve on-page SEO. For example, Banana Republic does a fantastic job of writing alt tags for their products’ images.

Writing alt tags for your images is similar to naming their files – keep them succinct and descriptive while including keywords. All in all, alt tags are a must if you’re aiming to fully optimize your e-commerce website, as they boost both user experience and search rankings.

Create image sitemaps

Your ecommerce store is brimming with images – in pop-ups, email opt-ins, discount banners – it’s all about visuals.

Using a sitemap, you can organize all these images and further help search engines in indexing your website properly. But what exactly is a sitemap?

According to Google, a sitemap is “a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, along with the relationships between them. Search engines like Google read this file to more intelligently crawl your site.”

It enables search engines to navigate the site more easily and find data more efficiently. Specifically, as you have a ton of image files, you can create a separate image sitemap which can facilitate crawling and indexing of pictures which might be difficult to find otherwise, ultimately improving your store’s SEO.

Optimizing for shoppers

There’s no denying it, search engine optimization is essential to compete and do well in the long run.

But your shoppers are humans, not search bots. Working toward rendering the best possible online shopping experience for your store visitors is indispensable. And again, product images play a huge role in achieving that goal.

So, in this second part, we take a look at five ways to optimize product images for shoppers, to get them to pull out their wallets and make a purchase.

Refine your primary product images

Your primary product images refer to the images visitors see when they land on the product listing page for the first time. These product images form the first impression and shoppers likely make up their minds within a matter of seconds after seeing them. Thus, it is important to get them right.

Here’s how:

Resolution

If you wish to impress shoppers and make your product irresistible, taking and uploading high-resolution product photographs is not optional. Poor quality product images will simply slaughter your sales.

As already described, achieving the right balance between image quality and file size is possible with the JPEG format. Nowadays, it is not difficult to click high-quality photos as even your smartphone is capable of doing so. Besides, you can always get a professional product photographer to do it for you. It is surprisingly affordable to hire one from sites like Fiverr.

Aim for at least 2000 pixels so your images won’t appear pixelated on high-resolution screens. This would also allow you to upload the same images on major marketplaces like Amazon or eBay should you choose to sell from multiple platforms.

Background

  • White or similar background for product images is standard on almost every online store, and for good reasons:
  • It highlights your product without any distractions.
  • It facilitates consistency across all visuals.
  • It looks clean and professional.
  • It saves you money and editing efforts.
  • A white background is mandatory for marketplaces like Amazon.

For most products, a pure white background works best. You don’t necessarily have to set up a white backdrop using sheets or blankets. You can simply use AutoClipping to easily and instantly remove the background of your images and make them pure white.

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Shadows

Shadows play an important role too. They can ruin a perfect image or add depth and richness to the shot. There are several types of shadow effects that you can use. Drop shadows are subtle and can be created during the shoot or in post-production. Natural shadows are created from using a natural light source such as a window, while reflective shadows can be made by using a reflective surface under the product during the shoot or in post-production.

Experiment with different shadow effects to find the most fitting effect for your products. If you’re doing all the edits post-production, such as changing the background and adjusting shadows, AutoClipping has got you covered. As you can see below, you can easily add and modify shadow effects to your images, in addition to making the background pure white.

Angles

When it comes to shopping online, people do judge a book by its cover. To help your shoppers visualize the product better, you need to take photos from many different angles. It improves your store’s credibility which results in increased conversions.

To cover a product well, shoot the front, back, top, bottom, diagonal, and interior (if applicable) of your product. The more photos you provide, the merrier.

Nailing your product images – high resolution, white background, correct shadowing, and showing multiple angles – is vital to the next point, which is to...

Allow shoppers to zoom

Your goal should be to do everything you can to emulate the in-store shopping experience. For instance, when you go to a mall to shop a backpack, don’t you pick it up and inspect it closely? You check for defects in the stitching and zipper. You also check its interior and whether it’s durable.

Similarly, your shoppers would want to take a closer look at the products before they finalize a purchase. That’s where the zoom feature comes in.

Adding zoom feature to your site is a simple plugin on most e-commerce platforms, such as WooCommerce and Shopify. It is definitely worth the cost (if any), as it is a standard feature today and expected by the shoppers.

Include lifestyle images

The primary images with pure white backgrounds are great to flaunt your product in high resolution in a distraction-free environment. But they aren’t enough.

Adding some lifestyle photography will help your prospective customers envision what it would be like to actually own your product. In essence, lifestyle photography means showcasing your products as they’re being used in real-life, everyday situations by ordinary people.

So, if you’re selling backpacks, a photograph like the one shown below would serve the purpose.

You can use a scenic background with or without models (or a hand model) to present your product in use. If you’re finding it difficult to come up with ideas for such photos, check out your favorite brands on Instagram. Again, hiring a professional photographer isn’t that expensive and will pay dividends in the long run.

Optimize thumbnails to drive upsells

When you’re shopping offline, the salesperson always tries to get you to buy more. And not just more in quantity, but more expensive too. If you’re at a fast-food joint for a hamburger, you’ll hear “would you like to make that a combo?”. Or, if you’re at a car dealership, the salesperson recommends you purchase a vehicle with a more expensive trim package that includes amenities such as leather seats.

The same happens online, albeit subtly. This is called upselling – a sales technique where the seller coaxes the customer to purchase related products, upgrades, or add-ons to make a more profitable sale.

Amazon, for instance, uses thumbnails to entice you to click on related products.

So does J.Crew.

As you can see, these little images are an excellent way to put other products in front of your shoppers’ eyes either once they’ve made a purchase or while they’re browsing product pages.

You should totally adopt a similar strategy for your store to drive more sales with less friction. However, if those thumbnail images don’t load, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. So, you also need to optimize your thumbnails for faster page load, better user experience, and higher search rankings.

They need to have a tiny file size – less than 30 KB would be ideal. Again, JPEG format works best, but GIF is fine too. And just like your product images, don’t forget to name your thumbnail images properly and provide alt tags.

Doing all this will increase your odds of maximizing the amount of profit you generate from each conversion.

Split test images to improve conversions

When creating product pages, designing call-to-action buttons, or writing website copy, it may be tempting to go with your “gut feeling” to predict what makes shoppers click and convert.

But making business decisions off your intuition can seriously hurt your bottom line. What you should do instead is bet on cold, hard data. You can get this data from reading case studies and “best practices” on the internet, but the best way to optimize conversions is by performing actual tests on your own website. Because it is always possible that what works for even the majority of stores out there may not work for you.

The answer – A/B testing. Also known as split testing, this is a conversion rate optimization (CRO) technique in which you compare the effectiveness of two versions – version “A” and version “B” – of the same element on a web page by showing one version to half of your visitors and the other version to the other half.

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In other words, it is a marketing experiment wherein you’re splitting your visitors to test two variants of a single element to determine which one drives more conversions. So, for example, if you’re A/B testing a CTA button, you would create two versions of the same page with only the button design/copy changed and show them to two halves of your audience, split randomly.

At the end of two to three weeks, you can determine which version performed better in terms of clicks. Likewise, your product images are no exception. There are a number of things you could test and optimize – would adding a couple more product images on your product page drive more sales? How many thumbnails to feature below each product?

Furthermore, you can test if higher quality (file size) and slower loading times increase your conversions. Who knows, maybe shoppers are willing to wait a little extra for a higher-quality image to load. You can even test if a grey background works better than a white one for your product line. Don’t guess, test it to find out.

Also, remember to test variations of only a single variable at a time. If you test more than one variable, you’ll never know which variable resulted in higher or lower conversions.

With the theory clear, wondering how to actually run a split test on your website? Use tools like Google Optimize, Optimizely, and AB Tasty to get started quickly.

Summing up

If you’re selling physical products online, you absolutely must invest some time and money in optimizing your product images. Your customers will appreciate it, and so will the search engines.

For search engines, keep the following five points in mind:

  • Pick the JPEG file format to find the right balance between image quality and file size.
  • Reduce the file size and aim for under 100 KB.
  • Use a descriptive name for all images.
  • Use alt tags for all images to improve site accessibility and crawlability.
  • Implement an image sitemap to give search engine crawlers even easier access.

For shoppers, bear the following five points in mind:

  • Keep the background of your images neat and consistent. For most cases, a pure white background works well.
  • Take pictures from as many angles as possible to provide a better “feel” of the product.
  • Upload high-resolution images with the smallest possible file size to allow the zoom feature and decrease load time.
  • Include lifestyle images to help shoppers visualize what it would be like to own your product.
  • Optimize your thumbnails and use them to upsell your customers.
  • A/B test to improve conversions and customer retention.

Your e-commerce business relies heavily on product images for conversions. Rest assured; all these optimization efforts will certainly pay dividends for years to come. Onward and upward!

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