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The Quest For The Golden Shoes: An Adventure In Google Image Search

Laura Phillips

by Laura Phillips on 15th July 2013

Golden shoesGoogle Image Search can be a great tool for eCommerce, allowing users to find highly relevant product images which they can simply click, and buy. Follow one users quest through the highs and lows of attempting to make a purchase via Image Search, and find out what you can do to maximise eCommerce opportunities in this area.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, in a land not far from here, a young man called Ed fell in love with a girl called Jennifer. Ed & Jennifer lived happily together for a number of years and even started a business together. One bright Christmas morning, Ed took Jennifer for a walk in the beautiful countryside where they lived and asked her to marry him. Jennifer said yes and the townsfolk rejoiced!

Plans were made and strategies laid, all with the aim of creating a wedding that would never be forgotten (and a fine job they are doing so far). It is here, dear reader that our story begins. For our heroine needed some help, and this faithful lady-in-waiting was honoured to be asked to be a bridesmaid, and left in charge of finding the bridesmaid’s shoes…

To some, being asked to find a gold pair of heeled sandals to match a dress you have only seen in a photo, for you and another bridesmaid to wear to one of your best friend’s weddings, may sound easy. If this is the case you are probably a boy. The subtle nuances in colour, tone and style could mean the shoes are the final flair, finishing the outfit with impeccable taste and class, or a clumpy disaster, destroying the carefully crafted ensemble and the souls of those wearing them in one fell swoop.

Enter the valiant Image Search to save the day!

I’m a pretty busy person, and I’d like to think I’m quite good at using search. In my opinion shoes are a good candidate for using image search. Google seemed like the obvious steed with which to begin a series of lunchtime crusades to find the mythical ‘Shoes of Perfection’.

I started pretty broad, to try to encompass as many options and ideas as possible…

Optimising Image Search

Not bad Google, not bad. It was always a given that searching for ‘gold sandals’ would bring up a number of garish and unsuitable options, but also some quite tasty ideas. In the very first row I spotted three possibilities, and went to investigate. This led me to a blog post on ShoeWawa comparing Manolo Blahniks to a copy produced by ASOS. Designer style at High Street prices you say? Amen, sister. So I clicked the link…

Image Search Optimisation for eCommerce

Oh. Out of Stock.

Ah well, I thought cheerily, on to the next pair. Click! Hmm, a magazine site…where are the shoes…

Optimise Your Images

Click. Click click. Click click click…frustration mounting…nothing. Ok so I can’t click on the image. So I scroll down the page.

Image Search - Bad Example

Ads, white space, a request for me to say how great the article was, which is pretty frustrating right now…nothing.

Back to the top. Ah! There’s a little carousel! Lets’ try that…

Sell Online Using Image Search

Success! And there’s a link! Click!

Sold Out

Oh. Out of Stock. Again.

Well that’s ok, we have one left, right?!

I Can't Afford Jimmy Choos


This pattern continued over and over, including adding the words ‘buy’, ‘buy online’, ‘for sale’, and so on. As we create more and more content, for strategic purposes, as bloggers, and businesses, and as individuals, the number of dross experiences such as mine will continue to increase.

We need to be educating site owners and optimising Image Search to best effect to prevent these kinds of lost sales and painful searches which really do make you need a lie down sometimes.

Top Tips on Optimising for Google Image Search

  • This may sound silly, but please, use good images! There’s no accounting for taste but at least make sure your user gets a clear and accurate picture of what you are offering.
  • If you own a business you may think it best to optimise for your product code for easy identification. You’re not entirely wrong, but do you think many users are likely to search images for ‘gold sandals SKU 34457-1/48B’? Probably not, so optimise for BOTH. Do your keyword research first and NO commercial keyword stuffing! Right from the start keep your file names, titles, and image alt attributes etc clear and concise, and add the product number to the Alt attribute so Google and other search engines can best determine relevancy to the user query.
  • Add image-specific tags to your sitemap. You can find out more about Image Sitemaps here.
  • Think about the quality of the page the image is on – images on a poor performing page are less likely to show in Image Search than those on a well ranked page. If you want to optimise for the image, optimise for everything else as well, both on-page and off-page.
  • REDIRECT! Clearly the problem I faced trying to use Image Search as a user is a common one which could so easily be rectified by site owners exercising good house-keeping. If the product has gone, use a 301 redirect to the next most relevant page. In my case this might be the ‘sandals’ section. Yes it’s annoying when you are taken to a category rather than a specific product page but trust me, it’s not half as annoying as having those shoes within literally at your fingertips only to see ‘Out of Stock’ plastered right next to them.

You can also find more tips in Lenka’s recent post.

Google Shopping

Now, to those who would tell me I should use Google Shopping to save myself all this trouble, I ask you:

  • How many times have you used Google Shopping?
  • How many people do you know who regularly use Google Shopping?
  • Why do you think that is?

Google Shopping deserves a blog post all of its own so I’ll keep this brief.

It’s horrible and I would really rather not be part of it.

The Paid Inclusion Model recently adopted by Google came after around ten years of free inclusion, with Google stating initially that:

“Most online merchants are also automatically included in Froogle’s [now Google Shopping] index of shopping sites. Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle, our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.”

So that’s good then, because those things don’t matter anymore.

Danny Sullivan wrote a good article about problems with Google Shopping and Paid Inclusion in November 2012, which you can read here. Portent gave a good overview for smaller brands and business on line in this article.

From the user point of view, I personally don’t find Google Shopping that user friendly. Also it does not appear in the black bar on my home screen so I am inclined to forget it exists from time to time. This, predictably given the nature of the Google-beast, insinuates it is not used as widely as those Google products which do appear in the bar such as Translate and Play.

I find its choice of filters odd too; for example my search for ‘gold sandals’ gave me these filter options (I won’t mention the pink shoes in the ‘gold sandals’ search if you don’t):

Google Shopping Results

Options are free shipping, new items, category (shoes/anklets/jewellery sets?!), price, brand and store. On an expedition such as mine the most important considerations are going to be size, heel height, price, and when they will be delivered. I don’t care where they come from, or if they are a new design or not.

At the time of writing my quest continues and I have yet to find the elusive Shoes of Perfection, however I will be utilising alternate methods from now on.

Image search has great potential for retailers if used correctly, but a lack of knowledge around this topic coupled with lazy housekeeping is leading to an increasing amount of lost sales and user frustration. This is partly the fault of Google but also down to poor image optimisation.

If you can be one of the few in your niche to get it right, there is enormous potential for increased sales and brand awareness.

Image Credits

Gold Woman Shoes by BigStock Photo

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips

Laura has experience of SEO, PPC and Social Media both in-house and within an agency environment. Having worked across a variety of industries from travel to law, and retail to education she is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the search and social visibility of her clients across various platforms.

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  • Zan Lawther 15th July 2013

    Great post Laura! It is intensely frustrating to be constantly redirected to Out of Stock items – surely it would make more sense to re-direct you to, like you say, the category or a substitute suggestions with a message along the lines of ‘we’re sorry, that item is no longer in stock, how about these?’ – it’s much more likely to result in an actual sale than the consumer just getting cross and closing the website down.
    And I’ve never heard of Google Shopping. I do 80% of my shopping online so clearly they are doing something wrong!

    Reply to this comment

  • Mike Essex

    Mike Essex 15th July 2013

    Hi Laura, another option is to use Pinterest for these type of image searches. There’s a good writeup here on why Pinterest is (at times) a better search engine than Google http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleym36/pinterest-accidentally-built-a-better-search-engine-that-goo

    Reply to this comment

  • ross 15th July 2013

    Always make sure that any images are fully optimised within your image gallery. Some site only concentrate on making sure they have alt tags on the images. Forgetting that there is also the option to add a title and description (WordPress specific). So fully optimise those images people & make the most of image search. Matt Cutts reckons Google may well be looking at original images as a search signal in the future. Making stock images a thing of the past.

    Reply to this comment

  • Amy Fowler 15th July 2013

    What about the black boots in the ‘gold sandals’ search?!

    Great article though Laura :-)

    Reply to this comment

  • Jen Baillie 15th July 2013

    I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent trying to track down something I can describe very specifically but can’t get to! Liking the Pinterest tip………..

    Reply to this comment

  • Ruth 16th July 2013

    Outstanding blog post Laura – funny, easily understandable, and right on the money!

    Well done for making a potentially dry blog subject into something that even layfolk (like me) would find interesting!

    And you’re so right – Google images could be such a great potential online catalogue but it does require some upkeep from those who feed into the search. Well done! :)

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 22nd July 2013

      Thanks Ruth! Glad you liked it :) I had the same situation again yesterday looking for a white summer dress – so frustrating!

      Reply to this comment

  • SKI USA 16th July 2013

    Great post Laura. Agree with Mike, I find Pinterest a much better tool when it comes to shopping searches. Throws up much more options plus it redirects you to relevant pages on click.

    My tips would include trying to have file name similar to that of the image and plus the context around the images too is important.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 22nd July 2013

      Hi There

      Thanks for your comment, I agree, keeping everything from the file to the image is important, and good housekkeeping generally.

      Pinterest is definitely a good alternative!

      Reply to this comment

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