The Takeaway: While images are undoubtedly an integral part of selling products online, it's critical that brands and retailers don't underestimate the importance of text.
Is it possible to feature too many images in your online store?
Judging from the current state of ecommerce, it seems like, for a lot of brands, the answer is a resounding 'no'. These businesses have packed their online stores with pictures of their products - photos of the items in use, on white backgrounds, on shelves, in gift baskets, and so on.
That might seem to be well and good, but there's a big, big caveat: Images, as valuable as they are, are not enough when it comes to your product content strategy. They need to be supplemented with other forms of rich product content - especially rich text descriptions or even romance copy. When online retailers overlook that basic fact, they end up with underperforming ecommerce efforts.
One of the main reasons why an overreliance on product images can be so damaging is the risk of underperforming on search engines, as Multichannel Merchant contributor Keelin McDonell recently highlighted. By this point, just about every retailer and brand understands that search engine optimization is critical for online success. But while they understand the concept, they often don't recognize what SEO means in practice.
"Product descriptions can have a huge impact on SEO."
More specifically, they don't recognize that product descriptions can have a huge impact on SEO.
"Without a text description of the product, you are reducing the chances your page will show up in the top 10 of a search engine query, even in the case of low-frequency queries," McDonell explained. "Search engine algorithms cannot gain context from images. They need actual text in order to interpret what is important on the page, so it's important to include a description, no matter how brief."
An image-heavy product page may be great for grabbing site visitors' attention, but consumers won't be able to find the site in the first place if the online store isn't ranking on Google and other search engines.
This isn't just idle speculation, according to McDonell. A lack of text descriptions will have a real, tangible impact on ecommerce performance. He pointed out that online store owners will often spend a tremendous amount of time considering every visual component of their websites, from color palettes to photo arrangements and beyond, but they barely bother with product text descriptions, if at all. The results are often very underwhelming website traffic metrics.
Product text descriptions aren't just an SEO issue, either. When shopping online, consumers don't have the ability to actually see and feel whatever products they're considering. That means there's a lot more ambiguity and uncertainty inherent to the online shopping experience. Product images can go a long way toward conveying the nature of an item to a potential customer, but there will always be a lot of unknowns remaining. That uncertainty can turn a likely sale into a non-purchase.
Text-based product descriptions can help chip away at this uncertainty. When a shopper can not only see the product, but can also read about its dimensions, the materials it's made of, the way to use it and so on, that consumer will be a lot more confident about what she'll be getting. That means a happier buyer and decreased return rates for you.
Of course, none of this should be seen as an argument against including product images on an online store. On the contrary, product images are key.
Critically, brands and retailers need to prioritize both quantity and quality when developing their imagery. A single product image, even if it's great, isn't enough - firms should aim to feature a variety of images for each item. Merchants should also consider going further by embracing richer content options, such as 360-degree views or even animated modeling. That's the way the ecommerce sector is moving, and the sooner brands and merchants get on board, the better.
When you combine detailed product descriptions with varied, high-quality images, you can deliver a content-rich experience to your consumers that maximizes SEO and conversions. And that's what it takes to thrive in ecommerce today.