Images increasingly important to search yet few sites are optimised to take advantage

By Richard Yeo, CEO and founder, Elasticera.

In the early days of the web images were typically small and of low quality. We all remember the little animated men at work icons that littered the web in its infancy.

However, as users have moved from dial-up to broadband connections, the number, size and quality of images on the web has increased significantly.

Richard Yeo Graph

Some facts about images

  • 100 billion images are captured and made available online each year
  • 750 million camera equipped mobile phones are sold each year
  • 100 million digital cameras ate sold each year

Images are important to search. Increasingly important. Don't just take our word for it though.

"Image search makes up about 5.7% of all Google Searches and 5% of all search is image related"

R.J Pittman, Google Director of Product Management, Feb 2009

However, very few websites are optimised to take advantage. A recent study we conducted on the top 20 websites in a particular industry (thought to have fairly advanced SEO), highlighted that their optimisation in this area was poor, at best.

So what can be done to capitalise on this free traffic?

Host / Domain

Images should be hosted under the relevant domain. We often see websites hosting images under a different domain. The relevance can be lost in these cases.

For the website www.site.com the following should be avoided:

  • site.thirdpartyproduct.com
  • anything.site.net
  • 74.56.128.50

Images should either be hosted within www.site.com or under it, e.g. images.site.com.

Image Filename

Images should have meaningful filenames. Using an ID, e.g. SKU, is simply not good enough and does nothing to inform search engines about the contents of the image.

Filenames, like the following, are common examples of what should be avoided:

  • 112354_main.jpg
  • Method-01-2011-med.jpg
  • e9b8fb52-6c02-11e0-b36e-00144feab49a.img

Images should have meaningful filenames without overly long paths, e.g.

  • http://images.site.com/department/brand/sportswear-fashion-jacket.jpg

Don't forget to include location information, if that is relevant too.

If a website is translated into multiple languages, then image filenames should be too. However, this can prove a challenge for some systems and will often require images to be duplicated, unless a sophisticated dynamic imaging system is used.

Ideally you want to be able to change the image filename, without having to re-upload the image. However, make sure that your image URLs are not tampered with, e.g.

  • http://images.site.com/insert-brand-damaging-text.jpg

Sitemaps

Google has extended its Sitemap capabilities to include support for images. You are now able to provide a caption, title, geo location and license for each image. It makes sense to use this new capability although Google does not guarantee that it will include your images.

Googlebot

Google uses a special crawler to crawl the web for images. To prevent Googlebot from indexing small images (e.g. search results images), as opposed to the large images you want them to index, you could sniff the UserAgent string and serve it the large image URL. That way Googlebot won't accidentally include any small images that are less valuable.

Site Speed

In April 2010, Google announced that it was adding site speed as a signal in their search ranking algorithms. Amazon has released research showing that every 100 ms increase in page load time decreased sales by 1%. These are both compelling reasons to improve site speed.

As images typically represent the vast majority of page weight they can have a significant impact on site speed. (Example taken from online shoe store and by no means worst case!)

Richard Yeo Image 2

Richard Yeo Image 3

There are several techniques to mitigate this

  • File size reduction
  • Intelligent caching
  • Delivery acceleration

It is not good enough to implement one or two of these techniques - all should be implemented!

International

Websites with international users are often providing a poor user experience because they are not optimised to cope with the distance.

The distance problem

  • 40 to 80 ms from Europe to UK
  • 80 to 180 ms from USA to UK
  • 250 to 300 ms from Japan to UK
  • 300 to 350 ms from Australia to UK
  • 500 to 600 ms from China to UK

As stated above, Amazon research shows that every 100 ms increase in page load time decreases sales by 1%.

We tested the loading time of a designer shoe website from London and Sao Paulo. It took eight seconds for the site to load from London and just over 20 seconds from Sao Paulo. The situation is worse with China.

If you have any doubt, as to the purchasing power of these countries, see the table below. At its current growth rate, India would easily have more HNWIs than the UK by 2018.

High Net Worth Individuals

> $1 million 2010

Growth rate

Rank

Country

Number

%

-

World

10,900,000

9.0

1

USA

3,104,000

8.3

2

Japan

1,739,000

5.4

3

Germany

924,000

7.2

4

China

535,000

12.0

5

United Kingdom

454,000

1.4

...

...

...

...

9

Australia

193,000

11.1

10

Italy

179,000

 −4.7

11

Brazil

155,000

5.9

12

India

153,000

20.8

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millionaire#Number_of_millionaires_by_country

Endless Aisle

Prior to the Internet, retailers were restricted by the location and floor space of their shops. This not only restricted who they could sell to, but which products they could sell.

With the advent of the Internet, these physical restrictions have largely been removed. Retailers may stock the top products in their stores, but are able to offer the long tail of products online. Retailers are also able to offer categories of products that are complimentary to their brand that they wouldn't ordinarily sell in their physical stores, or wish to stock in their warehouses.

Increasingly people are using search engines to find products rather than visiting sites directly. Long tail products increase your content and the likelihood that people using search engines will find your site.

Discontinued Products

Products that have been discontinued should not be removed from websites as there will likely be residual links and hence traffic to them. Visitors should be shown the discontinued product and offered one or more of the following:

  • A replacement product
  • Products from the same category
  • Products from the same brand

Multichannel

Using a Dynamic Imaging product you are able to optimise images (dimensions and/or file size) for different device models, e.g. PCs, smartphones, tablets, kiosks, ePoS, connected TVs, etc.

For example you may serve a picture at 85% quality for a PC, but serve it at 60% quality for smartphones. Whilst 60% may be unacceptable on a PC, smartphones user will not notice and often will appreciate the quicker download.

Search engines such as Google are now crawling websites with different mobile user agents to see if they find different content or mobile optimised content.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows users to organize and share things they find on the web. Users can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share their interests.

Pinterest's Pin It Button can be easily added to your website.

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