Ecommerce growth: optimise your product photos for business success

Product photos are one of the most important features of an ecommerce website. Your customers can’t physically interact with your products so photos allow your customers to explore them in a way that can’t be achieved through a description alone.

ecommerceI recently spoke with several ecommerce managers who unanimously agreed that product photos are fundamental – no surprise there. But when tasked with improving conversion rates, most considered optimising product photos to be a lower priority than optimising website design, copy, structure and marketing.

But did you know that optimising product photos can directly influence conversion rate? What’s more, photo optimisation is fairly easy to achieve in-house, you’re not relying on external forces like search engine algorithms, design agencies or the success of marketing campaigns.

I’ve therefore put together some ideas and examples to help you review your use of product photos and explore new ways to improve your conversion rates.

Provide high resolution images:

A case study published on Econsultancy last year suggested that larger images could lead to a higher conversion rate. However, a usability study from 2010 found that users disliked images that were so big they got in the way. The solution is to find a balance!

Ecommerce websites should provide images that fit well within the context of the page and offer a level of detail required to keep customers interested. There should be an obvious ability to view a larger version of the image, whether as a pop-up lightbox or zoom, giving customers the opportunity to properly inspect your products.

Provide different views and variations:

If you don’t provide enough information for your customers, they may look for it elsewhere, and that could lead them towards a competitor! Providing photos that feature different views, angles and any variation is a great way to inform customers researching a particular product. If you sell a lamp in different colours then your photos should show the colour variations. If the lamp has a special switch, include a close-up. Providing different views can also allow you to highlight extra detail and features.

Cover the angles with 360 degree images:

Taking my previous point one step further, why not introduce 360 degree product views? They allow customers to explore a product by navigating around it, adding a level of interactivity that goes beyond simply providing a selection of static images. This case study explains how improved their conversion rate by 27% by implementing 360 degree views, and Google Shopping has also expanded support for 360 degree images which suggests a growing demand for this type of interface in ecommerce.

Use high quality images:

You may have the detail, size and angles covered, but if your photos don’t look good they may put off potential customers. Hiring a photographer can be a worthwhile investment to ensure top quality imagery, although this isn’t always practical.

For those of you who produce your own product photos, it’s always important to keep quality in mind. Using a good camera, correct lighting and a backdrop can make a huge difference. Remember, photos are supposed to inform so make sure each has a specific purpose and is not displayed for the sake of it. There’s nothing wrong with producing your own photos, but you cannot sacrifice quality when you’re optimising conversion rates. Wikihow has a good selection of tips on how to improve your own product photography.

Allow social sharing:

Many ecommerce managers rightly have concerns over the copyright of their images and often take steps to prevent sharing. Yet social media has the potential to deliver leads and improve conversion rates. Rather than keeping product photos hidden away, it may be worthwhile considering them as a marketing investment and encourage customers to share them.

Social sharing brings numerous advantages. For starters, this eMarketer study suggests that people are more likely to act on the recommendation of someone they know. Social media facilitates recommendations and can therefore assist in convincing someone to purchase. Coupled with the results of a Socialbakers study which found that 93% of the most engaging Facebook posts were photos, and that Pinterest (an image based network) drives more traffic than the other social networks, it’s clear that facilitating the sharing of product photos can be hugely beneficial.

Consider format and file size:

As with all website optimisation, speed is important. In fact, Google considers speed in its ranking algorithm and research suggests that slower websites have lower conversion rates. The problem is that you’re again faced with a trade-off: you want speed, but you don’t want to sacrifice image quality. Every photo is going to be different, which makes offering advice difficult, but as a general rule, it’s worth comparing different file formats and levels of compression until you find an appropriate balance.

Test, retest and test again:

Every situation is different and circumstances are constantly changing. Some products, in particular expensive luxury products, may require more images with more detail to encourage customers to purchase. Other products may need very little extra information. It is up to you to assess how much effort is required to produce an appropriate selection of images. Conducting A/B testing will help you refine your offering to improve conversion.

Why stop at product photos?

The pursuit of improved conversion rates is ongoing and all of your imagery has the potential to influence customers.  You should seriously think about optimising all of your imagery, whether your product photos or even the images used across your website, blog, social media and wider branding activities.

Taking the photos yourself could again be the best option for your situation, but unlike product photos, which are very specific in nature, you may be able to source your other images from elsewhere.

There are plenty of websites offering free images, but it is worth noting that free doesn’t always mean free. Some images may require a credit, some may only be free for a period of time and there may be other restrictions. As an alternative you could consider buying royalty free photos which would give you the benefits of access to high quality images.

Whether you take your own photos or source them from elsewhere, remember to keep them relevant and make sure they are adding value. Adding unnecessary visual clutter for the sake of it is, well, unnecessary, and can damage your optimisation efforts.

Finally, what about video? This article was specifically about product photos, but I wanted to mention video because it is an incredibly powerful visual tool for ecommerce, great for showing customers how products work and giving them some real-life context. Video can, in short, provide a visual expansion beyond the product description.

Whilst I feel that product photos and video serve different purposes, both are visual tools capable of informing customers and encouraging purchase. It is therefore well worth exploring how you can improve all your visual tools to deliver ecommerce success.

Have you tried optimising your product photos? What worked and what didn’t? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

Alex Jordan

CEO of Hyperlink Media

Alex is a digital entrepreneur and business consultant specialising in start-ups and digital media. He is the CEO of Hyperlink Media, a digital agency based in London, and having previously worked at Durham University’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning Alex also spends much of his time mentoring students, helping them develop their ideas and grow their start-ups.