A MediaPost article by Laurie Sullivan reported on some of the comments from reps of search engines Google and Bing at the recent SES conference in San Jose. According to them, consumers rely on images in search results more than previously thought, and, knowing this can help SEO professionals to better optimize sites.
The representative from Microsoft Bing stated that after regular web search, Image Search was their next most-popular feature. This also reflects the same user behavior that Google and Yahoo! have reported in the past (at least until Google purchased YouTube – before that acquisition, Image Search was Google’s second most popular feature).
Microsoft sees increasing importance of images to searchers - and their search engine's homepage design reflects this
With the advent of “blended search” or “Universal Search”, where images and other vertical search content are mixed into the traditional keyword search results listings, the usage picture becomes a bit more blurred. Users are now able to find image content in the regular search results, and they don’t always have to click into the specific image search pages to be finding and clicking through to that content. As such, marketers desiring to dominate keyword search page “real estate” must seriously consider targeting some image content to be able to exploit this channel.
If you’re familiar with me, you’ll know that I was one of the earliest SEO experts to write articles on optimizing images for search, and particularly a pioneer in optimizing images via Flickr and optimizing images through other image sharing services. (See also my Comparison Chart for SEO Value of Image Sharing Sites.) I’ve also spoken numerous times at marketing conferences on the value of Image SEO and how to go about optimizing images for search. It’s safe to say that I’m a proponent of it!
Google is also promoting image content in regards to search presence. At SES, Google’s representative, R.J. Pittman stated, “Images are no longer a ‘nice to have, but a must-have’ piece to promote businesses online.”
Google is also continuing to aggressively develope innovations in their image search engine sophistication. Google is no longer merely focusing upon the contextual text keyword content surrounding images in order to interpret their subject matter, they are now using a number of strategies for actually analyzing the graphic content of images and their relative quality compared with other similar images.
One of the biggest issues that I see facing internet retailer sites, travel portals, and other online commerce sites is the fact that they’re often incorporating thousands of product images supplied by their providers. Those manufacturer or content provider supplied photos are replicated across many competitor websites, and the search engines like Google expend great effort at detecting duplicate content such as this so that they can offer up a variety of images when their users conduct searches (trying to avoid offering up a page of search results where all thumbnails reflect the same identical image).
I know a number of ways around the duplicate content filtering in addition to how to optimize for contemporary image ranking factors. If there’s sufficient interest, I might soon provide a list of tips on how to optimize for these paradigms, so leave a comment below if you’d be interested!