Why Isn’t Google Indexing My Images?
Lessons from submitting 1 million+ images from Shopify stores to Google for indexing
Since launching Image Sitemap for Shopify in December 2017, we have submitted over 1 million images to Google Search Console on behalf of our customers. I‘d like to share the most recent learnings from our data that can help merchants optimize their image indexing strategy.
To give some quick background, our app does the following:
- builds a deep, content-loaded image sitemap for all of a shop’s images
- submits that sitemap to Google Search Console
- updates and re-submits to Google on every catalog change
- provides 100% transparency on image indexing performance (*this is the big black hole for Shopify merchants, sometimes attributed to Shopify’s images served from their CDN)
- We recently added support for all Blog Article images and Page images, so we now offer 100% image coverage
- Our largest customer has over 200,000 images in their product catalog.
- In aggregate, our customers have seen an average increase of over 700% in indexed images.
- The highest indexing percentage for a single customer is 93% of total images indexed by Google.
Why Isn’t Google Indexing My Images?
Let’s start by acknowledging that working with Google Search feels like two parts mysterious black hole, and one part predictable partner. Optimizing for Google Search really is a ‘matrix’ type of problem that might be simplified as:
- Constantly submit to Google your most recent data (in the form of valid sitemaps)
- Generate truly unique content and imagery
- Clearly understand and define your important keywords and keyphrases
- Generate high-quality traffic and backlinks from authoritative sources, with a very healthy quantity of traffic compared to competitors in your segment
Only through holistic optimization can we give ourselves the best chance for success with Google.
1) Image uniqueness is very important.
It’s clear that Google is maturing in the way they process images. We see this with their popular “Search by image” feature — where we can find images that are similar to a specific image.
When we say similar, we mean mathematically similar. If you’re reasonably technical, think TensorFlow or neurally similar; mathematically similar. Math is super efficient; and when used it to generate the DNA of an image, it creates a fast and easy way to classify and compare images. While this is a pretty technical concept, we say this to emphasize that processing an image and getting its unique DNA is completely possible and it’s happening, so we need to keep this in mind with our product images.
If Google sees two images with the same DNA from two different sources, it will always try to show only a single image from the most authoritative source. This makes complete sense and is consistent with their promise as a company — which is to provide the most efficient and relevant search results.
A great example of unique product imagery would be Kith, who sell many brands and were one of the first to emphasize truly unique product photography with their footwear.
Your images must be unique! Google will reward this behavior. This is very important for brands that sell multiple retail brands on their site. Do not re-use images on multiple sites. Show the visitor (and Google) something different, not just the same photography provided by the brand.
This is also an important consideration for brands that run two different shops in two countries that both use the same product imagery. For example, foobar-shop.com and foobar-shop.co.uk. It would be ideal for each shop to offer unique product imagery. This is not always possible due to resource constraints.
2) Be patient.
SEO with Google takes time! Improvements to your SEO strategy often take weeks and months to be realized, not hours.
Be patient and work towards your goal. Sometimes your site will start with terrible image indexing, like 1-5% indexed. That’s just the way it goes. Keep moving forward and work hard to optimize the Google matrix. Optimizing your ALT tags is not enough.
3) High-quality traffic really matters.
If your site can be considered authoritative in its segment, you will index more images.
- Do you have many backlinks from other authoritative sources?
- Do you have truly unique products (in terms of shape, size, color, graphics, etc) in which people have shown a genuine interest?
- Are people talking about your brand, your important keyphrases and your products?
- Are you directing a substantial percentage of your budget to online advertising? Your competitors are! Keep that in mind.
In the end, if you are in a popular segment, your traffic definitely matters—both in terms of quality and quantity.
4) Don’t panic, Google adjusts their indexes frequently.
Optimizing with Google is a marathon, not a sprint. Google is on the 10-year plan to make their results the best. They adjust their indexes frequently. Don’t panic if your results change day-to-day or week-to-week. Try to focus on the big picture and chart your optimizations over a larger time period if needed. Don’t panic!
Below are some recent graphs that show our customers’ indexing performance over time. Notice the large dips in indexed images, yet very nice improvements can be seen over time.
5) Language specification can be important
If your text content is in a specific language, add the appropriate <html lang=> tag. This is a simple addition that can make a big difference, particularly in the case where your shop has multiple currencies and languages supported.
5) Be honest about where your site fits into the competitive landscape.
The Internet is a very competitive place. Be honest about your unique position on the Internet.
- How much traffic do you get? For example, if you’re getting 20 unique visitors per day, Google might not take you seriously compared to your competitors.
- Do you have truly unique products?
- Don’t compare your performance to the segment leaders! Compare your performance to your closest competitors, then work to improve from there. Comparing your performance to companies like Allbirds, Indochino, or J.Crew could be a very unfair proposition. They could be spending millions in online advertising — which undeniably helps them due to the increase in all types of organic traffic and backlinks. Even paid blog posts and influencer can be considered by Google to be authentic, it all depends on the source.
Hopefully these tips can help the way you approach your Google SEO strategy. Check out Image Sitemap for Shopify today. We offer a 21-day free trial, with plans starting at $4/month.