What is Image Optimization and Why is it Important to Your Online Store?

So you own an online store or are planning to open one shortly in 2021?

Congratulations. You are the newest member of a club that is close to 24 million strong.

There is a lot of competition in the market, but if you are an unbeatable optimist like us, there is a lot of opportunity too.

If you look at the global online shopping population, then a staggering 2.14 billion people have made a purchase from an online store by this point. This means more and more customers are coming online to make a purchase, and your eCommerce store better be up to the mark if you plan to take a piece of this pie.

With an online store, you don’t have the luxury of a display cabinet, to show your wares, not a salesman, who will convince shoppers that their purchasing decision is right. That just leaves one way for you to show your product to the masses – catchy product images.

Images are the only way your customers know what they are buying, and having images optimized is a key part of making a sale.

Now that we know how important image optimization is to your online store, let us get into the nitty-gritty details of what exactly is image optimization.

What is image optimization?

Just like Search Engine Optimization is optimizing your web pages so that they are easily discoverable by a search engine, image optimization refers to optimizing your images so that search engines can easily crawl them. 

Using image optimization, your images become more discoverable on Google and other search engines.

Image optimization usually includes focussing on elements such as image type, size, ALT text, file format, keywords used in the image description, etc. Using the right image size, setting up images to lazy loading, optimizing images for social media and the ability to view them on a smartphone, adding structured data and creating an image sitemap are some of the techniques used in image optimization.

Sounds all too overwhelming? Let us tell you why it’s so important. 

Why is image optimization important?

When taking stock of what needs to be improved on your website, your images shouldn’t be left as an afterthought. Images affect user experience, and if you offer a subpar experience to users on your website, your ranking will take a hit.

Here are three other reasons why image optimization is important: 

1. Impacts your page speed

It is now clear that your page speed affects Google rankings, and bulky images are known to slow down page speed. Users are used to lightning-fast page loads, and if you are not optimizing images so that they load faster, rest assured that your competition is.

An eCommerce website, Caravan Cover, cut 3 seconds of their load time with image optimization. This led to them achieving a 90 score on SEO and an increase in conversion rate. 

This means compressing images and optimizing them to load faster is of paramount importance if you want your online store to taste success.

2. Improves user experience

Image optimization not just affects your page speed, it enhances the user experience as a whole. Imagine yourself landing on an online store site wanting to discover product details of an item you liked.

And then, the product images just don’t load or the images are broken. You’re obviously going to abandon the site and search for the product on another.

But imagine the opposite. You are able to zoom in and out of product images without them breaking up – it enhances the shopping experience because you’re able to gauge the product better. 

3. Enhances your SEO efforts for organic traffic

The right combination of title, alt text and text means that the images also have a possibility of images being able to appear on the image carousels of search engines.

With 60% of online shopping journeys starting from the search engine and visuals being a core part of digital experiences, image optimization can help you drive relevant organic traffic to your store. 

Tips to optimize your images for search engine

By this point, you know how important image optimization is to increase visitors to your website. You might be running paid campaigns to drive consumers to your store, but getting organic traffic from high-intent shoppers is a bonus you cannot refuse! 

So here are some tips for you: 

1. Create unique images

Imagine scrolling through your Instagram feed. Do you stop and look at all the images that you see? Or do you follow the process of swiping up after scanning an image for less than a second? If your answer is the latter, then you will also have an idea of where we are going with this.

Using unique images to supplement your products is a sure-shot way of attracting more visitors to your website from the search engine results. Get creative while adding images to your store, like tying them to a theme or using a unique template. 

2. Ensure mobile-friendliness 

By the end of 2021, the percentage of purchases made through a mobile phone is expected to cross a whopping 72.9%.

Make sure that the images you upload on your site will adjust automatically to all screen sizes, be it mobile, tab, laptop or desktop computer. You can do this in two ways – you can either make your images responsive or you can upload images in different dimensions based on the screen sizes you see most traffic from.  

3. Use the right image format

Different image formats contribute differently to page load times. For instance, a JPEG image will load faster than a PNG image, since they use different compression techniques.

As a rule of thumb, use a JPEG image when presented with a choice between JPEG and a large photo/ illustration. Try to select an image that offers maximum compression, without compromising on the quality of the image. Try to avoid the SVG format or use them only for logos and icons.

WebP images tend to do better on search engines. 

4. Reduce image size

The larger an image, the more time it will take to load on your customer’s screen. And no one likes to wait all too long when shopping online. This results in a high bounce rate for stores, leading to your search rankings taking a hit.

As a starting point to optimizing image sizes, we recommend you to use a tool such as Pagespeed insights. Just enter your website’s URL and the site will tell you if the image is “too big.”

If image size is your issue, make sure you use an image compression tool such as TinyIMG. The tool will help you reduce image sizes up to a third of the original size, while also suggesting auto-generated ALT tags and titles for better image optimization. 

5. Lazy loading

Lazy loading means the browser is instructed to load an image only when it needs to be shown on the screen. Lazy loading has been shown to decrease page load times, especially if the webpage is too long with lots of images.

To do lazy loading, you may need to learn a bit of Javascript code or outsource it to a coder. So make sure you get it right, by going through this guide on lazy loading here.

6. Add appropriate alt text and captions

Search engines get limited information from the images on your webpage, and the crawling bots usually tend to scan the written content on your page before deciding if it is worth ranking the page higher.

Use the following three characteristics to describe what your image is all about so that the search engines can easily crawl them too: 

  1. Alt text – A short description of the image, useful when the full image does not load on the page.
  2. Image title – Make it as descriptive as possible using minimum words.
  3. Captions – Makes search engines easier to crawl the page and place them near relevant texts.

As an eCommerce store, there are always way too many images being used on the website. Some to promote your ongoing deals, new collections and others to promote your products from different perspectives. To do this faster, you can use an app like TinyIMG that generates ALT texts and file names in just a few minutes by making use of variables selected by you. 

7. Use structured data 

A recent addition to the factors determining the ranking of images on Google is structured data. Structured data helps search engines display your images as rich results with a prominent badge. Google currently supports three types of structured data – recipe, product and video.

Structured data can help you improve your click through rate by upto 30%, while helping social media sites synthesize your posts with ease. 

8. Image sitemaps 

Image sitemaps help Google sort through images that are otherwise hard to find (for instance, images your store site is using with Javascript code), and helps you specify images that you want Google to index and crawl.

If you want to learn more about image sitemaps, we found this neat tutorial from Google that we are sure will help you. It essentially includes how to create a sitemap that includes information about your images and the keywords you want them to rank for. 

9. Factor in social media

When optimizing images on your online store, make sure you also account for an important ally to all your marketing efforts – social media. Making sure images can be easily shared using share buttons is just one of the steps you can take as a website owner to complement your other marketing efforts.

Ensure you have OG images in place with proper image optimization so that the preview of your page URLs is as enticing as what you’re promoting on-site, when viewed on social media platforms. 

This also helps improve your SMO (social media optimization) efforts, that add to your SEO ones, boosting the overall reach and ranking of your store. 

10. Browser caching

When a user visits your website for the first time, all the images on your site are stored on the user’s browser. The next time they visit your website, the site loads faster because the images are already stored on the cache and do not have to be loaded from 0. This is called browser caching.

It is easy to enable browser caching on your online store. You can use a plugin such as the W3 Total Cache. You can specify a time limit for which the images will be stored on your browser, and if there is a repeat visitor to your website, then they can experience a huge drop in loading time.

This goes back to improving that shopper’s on-site experience and your search engine ranking. 

Parting words

Image search optimization takes time and a lot of concerted effort. But it is an aspect of optimization that you just can’t miss.

If done right, you can expect to rank for the right keywords on the search engines, driving relevant traffic to your online store. The more relevant traffic you drive, the higher are your conversion rates and the lower are your customer acquisition costs when running social media and search ad campaigns.

It’s a win-win for you from every aspect! 


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FAQ

What is image optimization?

Image optimization is the process of minimizing the file size of your images as much as possible without losing quality in order to keep page load times as short as possible. It helps getting the product images to appear in image search results on Google and other image search engines.

Why image optimization is important?

Image optimization increases page load time, improves SEO rankings, and enhances user experience. The time it takes for a web page to fully load is referred as page load speed.

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