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eBay’s New Image Search Makes Listing Photos More Important than Ever

By Aron Hsiao  on October 30, 2017

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Online sellers have long been encouraged to make high-quality images one focus of their listing activity.

Early in the e-commerce era, this was simply because shoppers are more likely to actually act on a listing when its photos are great—a fact that remains true today. Then came more intelligent search ranking ecosystems like Cassini and Google search that resulted in a closer relationship between image quality and listing traffic.

Image Search Raises the Stakes

eBay has now released its new image search for mobile devices—a feature that enables shoppers to find things they'd like to purchase by snapping photos with their phone and tablet cameras.

See that innocuous little button? It's going to change the way mobile shopping happens by enabling shoppers to point their camera at anything they'd like to buy online.

Image search raises the stakes for listing images even higher, for several reasons:

  • Mobile commerce is growing. Mobile e-commerce exploded in recent years and is likely to be the dominant driver of online sales this holiday season.

  • With image search, images alone are make-or-break. In an image-based search, your images become the leading identifier of your listing—overtaking keywords, text, and even prices in importance.

  • People are likely to use it. Because of its incredible convenience and power, strong adoption of image-based searching in e-commerce is likely.

If your product images are still playing second-fiddle to other listing strategies, now may be the time to pick up your game and invest in better product images.

The Makings of a Great Product Image

Taking good photos isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you keep a few basic concepts in mind, you'll be ahead of the game. Product images should:

  • Show only the product(s) being sold. Have other items in the frame? You risk confusing search algorithms and ending up behind other sellers in the rankings or missing out entirely.

  • Have good technical quality. Very small or very noisy images provide information of a lower quality—and less of it—to the algorithms that shoppers will increasingly depend on to find what they want to buy. Using technically poor images is like positioning your product on the back of lowest shelf in the darkest corner of the store.

  • Have conventionally good photographic quality. To avoid misidentification or plain old search misses, your product should fill the frame, be shot from a dead-on angle rather than using eccentric or "artistic" perspectives, and be well-illuminated. Remember, you're not targeting art critics here—you're targeting algorithms that are trying to visually match common products together.

  • Be carefully ordered. If you do choose to include multiple angles or scenes of your product, order them so that the most basic and direct image(s) occupy the first position(s) in your listing.


Clean, well-focused, well-lit, and direct is the name of the game. (Image: Sfpedia / CC-BY-SA-4.0)

How to Achieve the Best Results

The devil is in the details, particularly if you're not photographically inclined, but keeping a few basic points in mind can make the road to high-ranking images much smoother:

  • Get a better camera and learn how to use it. The latest smartphones make pretty good images, and a dedicated late-model DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera is even better. Either way, the point is that if you're still making due with a "good enough" years-old camera or phone, your images are not going to be competitive. Invest in your business by upgrading and practicing.

  • Build a lightbox or a dedicated photo area. Using an inexpensively-built lightbox leads to the best results, but barring that, establish a studio area somewhere in your workspace. An ad-hoc photography space should have a large, clean surface of neutral color, a clean backdrop such as a white wall, and soft but generous amounts of window light, preferably from several directions.

  • Save images at high resolution and quality. A decent number of sellers still reduce the size of their images significantly before uploading for some reason, or save at very low quality settings that lead to blocky or fuzzy images. Don't do this. Set your camera for maximum resolution and a reasonable (not the lowest) final image size.

  • Use Terapeak to monitor winning images. Start using Terapeak now to track the best performing listings in your niche and note how they represent the products you're selling. Learn from them over time as image search ramps up in importance.

  • Consider images, too, as you track and optimize. As you track your sales performance in MySales, start to keep images in mind as another potential dimension for improvement when listings are underperforming.

The introduction of image search is an exciting development for many sellers, particularly in niches that are difficult to keyword—but the increased opportunity also introduces a new avenue for competitors to get the upper hand if you're not proactive about targeting image searchers.

Make the improvements outlined above and enjoy the increases in shopper engagement and traffic that are likely to result over the coming months and years.


Research a full year of online sales in detail for any product or keyword—average prices, competition levels, top listings, and more. Try Terapeak Research today!

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