Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Search Insider: A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

WE YOUTUBE OUR VIDEOS, FLICKR our photos and put both up on Facebook. The proliferation of image-based content meant that it was only a matter of time before images hit our search results pages. Currently, 15% of all searches on Google come from its image tab, and the rise of universal (also known as blended) search sees all the major engines integrating video and image results into their mainstream search results. Search engine results pages are becoming increasingly visual -- and rightly so. After all, search results should all be about the relevance of the information; the format they come in should be inconsequential.

What effects do these changes to the search results page have on brands and businesses? As search results move away from being only text, how can companies ensure they have high rankings?

Identify your assets. The first step is to identify which assets are available. Are there TV spots, product videos, or still images that exist in the company, but which aren't online? And how do you make these assets "work" for you online? Dove and 118118, the UK directory inquiry service, are just two of the brands that are using their video assets online. Both are high-profile brands with strong advertising campaigns in their markets. And both seeded their TV ads online via YouTube. The outcome? Naturally there was the millions of video views associated with YouTube accessibility to good ads. But it didn't stop there. These ads have been parodied by others and if imitation is a form of flattery, hilarious imitation is an ingredient for a viral sensation. Just have a look at the original Dove Evolution ad and compare it to its parody ad, Slob Evolution. Which would you rather watch?

What I found particularly interesting was how these online assets continue to live on, years after the ad is off air. A search for "Dove" on Google brings up the Dove Evolution ad on YouTube -- an ad that was uploaded in October 2006 (!). Conversations about the ad are still taking place on YouTube. Identifying your brand's multimedia assets and making them accessible online via your Web site and video sharing sites not only increases the likelihood of your brand appearing in search results but also allows the conversation about your brand to continue beyond "paid media" time.

Make your assets accessible. Companies with databases of still images face a hard choice: do they publish images online for free, or do they decide to forgo the opportunity of attracting additional traffic and keep them locked away? There's certainly no guarantee that any one image will feature in search results; but equally, if the images can be published online and watermarked with the site URL, it is worth considering -- especially if the images are unique.

The key to attracting traffic for any set of images is search engine optimization. Search engines can't "read" still images and understand what they are about, so you need to ensure that you are tagging and optimizing your images and your video assets appropriately. You also need to take care to submit them to the engines. Google has two separate image feeds - one for universal search and one for its image search -- so remember to submit to both. And uploading images on Flickr helps to rank your images well on Yahoo.

Graphical search results, whether they are static or video, offer an opportunity to distribute existing assets and use them to attract additional traffic. They also allow brands to present their information to Internet users in a far more engaging way. After all, a picture speaks a thousand words -- but only if someone sees it.

Chrysi Philalithes is launch managing director at Steak, a search-inspired communications agency with offices in New York City, London and Melbourne.Contact her at hello@steakmedia.com

Search Insider for Tuesday, July 22, 2008:

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