Hello all! You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here the past few weeks. That’s one of the reasons I have this awesome guest post on how to optimize your product photos for search here for ya. Things have been quiet because our little one made his appearance in our lives two weeks ahead of schedule. I’ve taken some time to settle into life with a newborn and am now ready to get back to work. Oh, photos of the little one are plentiful over on my Instagram if you’re interested.
Today’s post comes from the brilliant mind of e-commerce marketing strategist, Katherine Raz, of Small Craft Advisory. I’ve no doubt that you all will find her advice on how to optimize your product photos for search helpful and valuable. Read on to learn more about how you can increase the visibility of your products in search engines through image optimization.
Let’s start with the basics.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Search engine optimization is the practice of including important keywords in your website copy and formatting the content on your website according to best practices. Doing so will increase your website’s chance of appearing higher in the search engine rankings than your competitors. If done right, search engine optimization (and the subsequent search traffic) can be a big source of free, evergreen traffic to your website.
When optimizing their content for search, people tend to forget that images are content too. If formatted and tagged correctly, images on your website can help boost your search traffic and get your website ranking higher in the search engine results pages.
(The search engine we’re usually referring to in SEO is Google, but other search engines include Etsy, Pinterest, YouTube — any place where you’re working to get your content to rise to the top!)
So, can optimized images really help you outrank competition? You bet!
But let’s take a step back. To understand how images can help with SEO, It’s important to understand a little bit about how SEO works in general.
First, while keywords are extremely important in the practice of SEO, it’s even more important to understand your goals for search. It’s also important to understand the likelihood of achieving those goals based on your competition. If, for example, all you sell on your website are red sweaters, the likelihood of you ranking in Google for the term “red sweater” is pretty nil. You’ll never beat out the heavy hitters like Target, Macy’s, Amazon, Pinterest and Etsy.
However if you sell red sweaters for hairless cats, you’re much more likely to rank for that term because not as many businesses are selling hairless cat sweaters or trying to rank for those keywords.
Once you realize this, your keywords become obvious. What are you trying to rank for? “Red sweater for hairless cat” of course!
The second important thing to remember: each page on your website can only rank for one keyword, so pick the most important keyword or string of keywords for each page. Got that? One page = one keyword or key phrase. This means a single page can’t rank for both “purple rain boots for french bulldog” and “red sweater for hairless cat.” Pick one term for each page.
Now that you know these two things, we can talk about where images come in in the search rankings.
There are 5 places you’re adding keywords to a web page to optimize it for search. These are the places Google looks for keywords that tell it what a page is about.
Headline (also known as H1)
Image alt text
Image alt text is where SEO for images comes in. It appears in the back end code. It is not the image file name, but rather a description you give the image that explains it to a person is using a screen reader. This is where you include important keywords to describe your image.
Alt text is the most important element when optimizing your images for search.
Match the keywords or phrases in the alt text to the keywords or phrases you’re trying to get the page itself to rank for.
While there may be different places to edit the image alt text depending on your CMS, the tag looks like this in the code:
<img src=“sphynx_sweater_red.gif” alt=“hairless cat wearing a red sweater”>
This alt text is being used on a page trying to rank for “hairless cat red sweater.” Why not just use those keywords verbatim? Because of the screen reader element, you’re writing copy for people who are visually impaired. You don’t want to “keyword stuff” your alt text. It should appear as natural language that describes what is in the picture for those who cannot see the pictures themselves. Finding the balance between keywords and natural language in alt text is tricky, but you must do it!
While it’s up for debate whether Google looks at captions or file names for keywords, it’s a good idea to include your important keywords in both file names and captions if it makes sense to do so. It can’t hurt!
Images with alt text that includes important keywords will help you page rank for that important term. It will also help your image rank in the all-important Google Image Search results.
How Images Can Harm Your Search Rankings
Images can hurt your search performance, too. All the optimization in the world won’t help if your page load times are ridiculously slow. One of the main culprits in slow page load times? Image file sizes that are too big! Make sure that your images are saved and uploaded using the proper file sizes for the web. You can test the load time of your website in Google’s Page Speed Test tool: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Here you can find out if you’re using images that are too big and that are slowing down your page load times. Slow page load times result in penalties from Google that lower your results in the search rankings. You’ll want to fix those images right away if you can.
– Image alt tags are 1 of 5 places you can include keywords to help a page rank for a keyword in Google
– Optimizing image alt tags will help your images appear in the Google Image Search results and will help your page rank for a keyword
– Match the keywords in the alt tag to the keyword you’re trying to get the page to rank for overall
– Remember: one page, one keyword
– Go ahead and include your keywords in the file name and captions, too — can’t hurt!
– Make sure your image file sizes are appropriate for the web and that images aren’t slowing down your page load times
There you have it! Now you’re fully equipped to optimize your product photos for search. I can already hear your ranking higher in the search! 😉
You’ve gone through the process of planning and taking your photos – good job! – and now it’s time to edit them. Here’s the thing. Editing is a careful craft. You can easily take a great shot and ruin it with poor editing. Additionally, when editing images for the purpose of selling products, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Below are the top 5 mistakes I see handmade sellers make when editing product photos – and how to fix it.
1. Not bothering to edit.
First of all – you really must edit your product photos. If your skillset of taking photos is pretty solid, you may not have to edit much, but it’s still important to crop, resize, adjust levels, etc. If you’re wondering what on Earth I’m taking about right now, never fear – there are future posts coming up very soon that address the basics of editing product photos in easy, simplified steps. Until then, rest assured – you need to be touching up your photos. If not, you’re going to end up with lackluster and drab images that do nothing to sell your work. If you want to stay tuned for the upcoming post regarding editing basics, sign up for my emails on the side menu.
2. Oversaturated images
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to punch up the colours in your images. However, it’s really important that this is done carefully and tastefully. Oversaturated images look cheesy and cheap. So, NOT the message you want to send about your biz and products. You are better served by using the “vibrance” adjustment tool as opposed to “saturation”, as it will give your colours a punch without overdoing it.
This is one of my pet peeves when it comes to edited images: The overuse of vignetting. What is vignetting, you ask? I have provided an image below of an example of an excessive vignetting that I’ve applied to one of my images for the sake this post. Vignetting is a natural occurrence that happens when photographing images with interchangeable lenses due to lens distortion. A subtle dark vignetting can look cool on an editorial image; S-U-B-T-L-E being the key word in this sentence. A common mistake in editing is overdoing the vignetting, and it is especially inappropriate in product images. Even worse – applying a lightening vignetting (white) around the edges. Cringe-worthy. With product photos, it is best to avoid adding vignettes at all.
4. Adding Watermarks
I understand the desire to add watermarks to your image. Image theft is a real thing. However, when you’re dealing with image of your products, watermarks take away from the goal of your image – to attract customers to your work and sell that product.
Having a small, subtle mark in the bottom corner of your photo is usually acceptable if you feel compelled to mark your image in some way. But keep in mind that images that get the most attention for your biz are often images that become featured – by blogs, on the Etsy front page, on Pinterest, etc. Images with distracting watermarks are not the ones being featured.
It’s also important to keep in mind that as a product-based seller, your business asset is your product, not your images. If you’re a photographer or you design digital prints, you should not be sharing the pure digital version of your image with or without a watermark. I recommend using digital mockups to show what your work will look like framed and on the wall. That way your potential customers have an opportunity to see your work in action, as opposed to sharing the actual image with a huge watermark splashed over it.
5. Adding colour filters.
This one is reeeeally important. When selling products, you need to give your customers a true sense of the colour they can expect from said product. Adding colour filters affects the colour portrayal of your product. Also important to know, colour filters when not done properly (which takes a lot of skill and advanced editing) look really cheesy and cheap. The best way to ensure correct colour balance in a photo is through the use of a grey card (which will be covered in an upcoming post), but you can also use the colour balance option in your editing program to ensure that the whites are actually white, blacks are actually black, and true greys are neutral. Lots more to come on colour balance in a future post, so please stay tuned.
Now that you’re aware of these crucial editing mistakes and how to avoid them, you are well on your way to cranking out beautiful product images.
I hear this all the time from creative entrepreneurs: “Taking photos drives me crazy. I don’t know what I’m doing. Why do my photos look like crap?”
I know your frustration. Honestly, I do. It’s how I feel when I try to DIY my own website. Sometimes I get a little ragey. One day I will have a web designer on staff so I never have to look at code again. But in the meantime, I’m asking the experts how I can do better. And that’s what this blog is all about: To help YOU do better with your product and brand photos.
There are many components to taking a good brand photo. So much content is going to be shared here in this blog (and let’s not forget my upcoming webinars and e-course) so I want to keep the information in simple, broken-down chunks. Streamlined information will make your life easier and will allow you to implement these tools with more ease.
Today we will discuss the ever-popular flat lay and how you can start styling your flat lays like a pro.
What is a flat lay?
A flat lay is an image taken straight down from above. A birds-eye view, if you will. While technically speaking a flat lay can simply be a photo of a single thing laying flat, the real bones of a flat lay comes in the styling. By styling I mean the props and items that you add to the photos to give it a more branded and editorial feel, to provoke more interest. At the bottom of this email you will see a link for a free download that includes a styling planner for your flat lay and a list of over 90 props ideas, so be sure to grab that.
With those suggestions in mind, let’s move on to our top five tips for styling an awesome flat lay.
1. Keep your branding at the forefront of your mind.
Your brand vibe & values are of utmost importance when selecting props and creating your flat lays. If your vibe is very earthy and natural it is unlikely that you will style your image with say, bottles of nail polish. Consider some words that come to mind when you think about your brand – Modern? Comfort? Luxury? Feminine? Alternative? Edgy? Your brand should always guide your prop selection.
2. Use props that make sense.
When styling your flat lay, keep in mind what makes sense. If you’re a blogger having a day at the beach and you want a pretty flat lay to go along with that, consider what makes sense for a beach day. Sunglasses, yes. Towel, yes. Beach bag, yes. Stilettos? Nope. A purse? Naw. No one takes their purse to the beach. That’s what the beach bag is for.
Carefully consider the “genre” or category that your flat lay would fall into and ensure you’re selecting props that would also belong in that category.
3. Carefully select your background.
Your background can add as much to the flat lay as the actual props you use. It can also detract from the image if it’s not a great call. With current trends followers, clients, and customers tend to be most drawn to white, wood, or marble backgrounds. White backgrounds can be created with white bristol board or foam board. Wood backgrounds can be a desktop, a wood floor, or a deck surface. Do be careful of the tone of the wood – some wood, like hardwood floors in older homes, can be very yellowish and does not translate well in a flat lay. The important take away here is that the background should be simple, clean, and allow your products and props to do the muscle work.
4. Carefully arrange your props.
First, consider the dimensions of your image. Is this shot for Instagram and will be square? Perhaps it will be a Facebook cover photo and will be very short and very wide. Or will it be a more standard 4:6 ratio? Planning ahead will help you arrange your props appropriately to ensure you get the most out of your image.
Next, consider the feeling you want your image to give off. Clean, organized perfection? Effortlessly chic and casual? You can either arrange your props in a linear fashion with right angles, or you can arrange them as if they just happened to land in that way and look perfectly fabulous. Both options are great – just depends on how you want the feel of the photo to roll out.
5. Keep it simple.
Perhaps my most valuable tip – keep it simple. Your flat-lay does not need to have 10 different items. Some of the most beautiful flat lays contain just a focal point (ie, a product), and one other styling element. The more you add, the busier it gets, and the more places there are for the eye to go. When it gets too overwhelming to look at, your audience is going to shut off their interest and move on. It’s much more valuable to pick one or two perfect styling pieces that compliment your focal point to keep your audience coming back for more.
Bonus flat lay tip!
Proper lighting is everything.
I won’t delve into too much depth on this subject, because I covered it a bit before in this blog post and will be getting into the more technical aspects of lighting in future posts. But I would be remiss if I didn’t stress it again here. Proper lighting is absolutely instrumental in creating an attractive flat lay. This can be achieved with natural or artificial light, but it must be bright and diffused, meaning the light must not be direct from the source. Some examples of great light sources include next to a bright window (without a direct sunbeam streaming through), a lightbox with lights shining through thin white material, or lights with softboxes. If all this lighting talk feels overwhelming, don’t worry – there are future posts coming your way that will help you master great lighting.
Awesome news! While DSLR cameras are awesome (as per this article here), you can TOTALLY create great DIY product photos with your smartphone. There’s an important key to successfully taking awesome product photos with your smartphone, and I’m going to share it with you right now.
While there are numerous methods with which you can achieve better DIY product photos with your smartphone (I’ll leave the others for future posts), there is none more valuable than this.
The key to better DIY product photos with your smartphone is light.
Really, light is the key to all photos. Quite literally, light is our number tool when capturing images. The reason it’s even more important with smartphones is because with them, we lack the tools to manipulate the light to our advantage.
With DSLR cameras we have the option of changing the cameras setting to allow more light in and those beasts are designed to retain high quality detail in lower light situations; we have three options for allowing in more light (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) but when it comes to smartphone cameras, they adjust their internal settings automatically, mostly by cranking up the ISO to brighten the image.
Unfortunately, smartphones really don’t handle higher ISOs very well. The problem with higher ISO is that it reduces image quality and creates image noise, which is a graininess that is undesirable in just about any situation, except for perhaps in Film Noir.
Bonus tip: While bright light is key, we need to seek out bright diffused light, as opposed to direct light. Direct light creates strong highlights (bright spots) and harsh shadows, both of which will take away from the quality of the product and usually makes it look cheap.
So what can be done?
Get yourself in a brightly lit area, but not direct sunlight. We can’t change the way the cameras in our smartphones function, but we can change our environment.
Below is a photo I took for the purpose of demonstrating my point. Side note, my prop for this lesson today is a pair of earrings I bought at a market in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. They’re made of wood from local trees and Lucite. I highly recommend checking out their Etsy shop.
This first photo is an example of undesirable low lighting. Is it the worst ever? Not quite. But is it the quality that you want to share with your clients or customers? Heck no. The colour is kind of funky, the detail and quality is poor, the image isn’t sharp or crisp. I even threw some greenery to solidify the point that styling it won’t help.
Below is an example of swinging the pendulum far to the opposite side and going for direct light. The direct light from the midday sun creates unwelcome highlights and harsh shadows that detract from the quality of the product. Not cool. Direct light is almost always best to be avoided.
What did I do next? I moved out of the sunlight and into a different room. A room with large windows and bright, indirect light. By the way, the room I used is my office and the wood background in the photo is the surface of my new desk. Love it!
See the difference? It’s huge! This photo is crisp, it shows off the detail in the earrings, and it’s not hard on the eyes. This photo speaks to not only a higher quality image, but a higher quality product.
Add in some greenery for styling and hello there, you’ve got an Instagram ready image to share with your following.
An additional note: While you can definitely take great DIY product photos with your smartphone, there are limits that ultimately will make it tough to do so consistently. I recommend that all serious handmade sellers make it a goal to eventually invest in a DSLR camera for their product photos. Check out my post on choosing the best camera for your DIY product photography for more info.
If you have any questions regarding today’s tip, drop it in the comments!
I am a small-town East Coast girl living and working in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada. Fuelled by coffee and inspiration from other creatives, I’ve been a photographer, educator, and proud member of the creative community since 2010. There’s not much I love more than teaching creative entrepreneurs how to rock their own product photography.