8 tips to make sure your Google profile images boost your local search results

Your local business profile image has a significant impact on the impression prospective customers have of your business. Columnist Wesley Young of the Local Search Association covers ways to make sure that impression is a positive one.

Images have become ever more important in online presence and marketing.  It seems rare that an article, email, ad or social media post isn’t led by a hero image or graphic.

There’s no question that images boost visibility, engagement and click-through rates. A study on Google+ concluded that posts with images were shared three times more than those without images. Likewise, Socialbakers reported that of the top 10 percent most engaging Facebook posts (likes, shares, comments), 93 percent of them were photos. And a study by BrightLocal found that 60 percent of consumers agreed that local results with images grab their attention and influence decision-making.

The opposite is also true: A lack of images hurts. Indeed, Expedia has used the threat of pulling images to gain leverage in business deals with hotel chains. It’s a practice called “dimming” that reduces a property’s visibility and marketability in hotel listings served to users of the online site.

Expedia is trying to stop hotel chains from offering lower rates on their own branded websites than they give to the online booking services. Pulling images from listings makes those hotels less attractive to a consumer and more likely that he or she will select a different hotel. Huffington Post quotes Christine Compo-Martin, a retired teacher, as saying, “Honestly, if there aren’t pictures, I don’t even begin to consider it.” If enough consumers pass over the dimmed listings, Expedia hopes the hotels will be pressured to accommodate their pricing demands.

With such importance placed on images, it is somewhat surprising that search has lagged in adoption of images as part of the search result. The major US search engines, Google and Bing, generally return text-based results. Many directory listings like the BBB are traditionally NAP+ information-based (with NAP standing for name, address, phone number) or require a premium before images may be included, like the print Yellow Pages.

That appears to be changing as Google and Bing are challenged by newer or vertical specific search platforms. Yelp has profile pictures for virtually all of its listings. In response, Google started using logos or images in its local search “snack pack” results last year.

Currently, images are included in listings or search results in a variety of ways and without any real consistency across different platforms. Below is a summary of how and when images appear based on my personal search results over this past week:

Google local search snack pack — desktop and mobile: Images are displayed in search results only for certain categories such as food and beverage, ballet schools, hotels and entertainment (not a complete list). Examples of listings with no images: dance studios, plumbers, clothing/fashion, pool supplies, attorneys.
Google Maps — desktop: All listings contain images.
Google Maps — mobile: Images are included only for those categories with images in snack pack results.
Google mobile app — Android: Knowledge graph with image when location intent expressed (e.g., “Twisted Root, Plano”).
Google mobile app — iOS: Thumbnail pic with listing for very specific searches with single result matches (e.g., “Stanley Cleaners Frisco”). Search for “Twisted Root, Plano” resulted in multiple listings without pics, even though there was only one location in Plano.

Of course, pictures always appear when your business is selected from search results and the business profile or knowledge graph is displayed.

But as you can see, it’s not easy to understand the reasoning behind why some images are displayed in local search listings. For instance, why do images display in search results for ballet schools and not dance studios? Nevertheless, we’re likely in the middle of a transition process, and chances are, images will only be used more frequently, not less.

Even with the unpredictability of Google’s image selection, there are some good practices you can adapt to make sure you get the most out of your images in local search listings. The following eight tips will pay off in the long term and even make a difference in the near term.
1. Don’t default to Google’s image selection

Even if you don’t claim your Google My Business profile or upload a photo, Google can still assign a picture to your business’s listing. It might be something as simple as a Google Street View image of the outside of your business, which can be something of a crapshoot. Sometimes, those images include an identifying store sign or a picture of your storefront. Other times, the picture may be of a brick wall next to your property or an unflattering angle of the strip mall where your store is located.

Google also has “local guides,” registered users incentivized to take pictures of stores, venues and places by a points-based rewards system. These local guides snap photos, upload them and tag businesses to them.

The general public can also post pictures directly to a business’s Google listing with just a few clicks on their phone. Often times, these are pictures of favorite dishes or fancy drinks or a great band playing at your venue. But they can also upload undesirable images.

Advice Local first spotted the prank photo below, taken inside a store and uploaded by a user to the business’s Google listing. Google bots selected the photo as the profile image. Not exactly what you want your customers to see.
Google Profile Image Fail

Google Profile Image Fail

Take control of your own destiny, and don’t let a Google bot decide what works best for your business.
2. Set your profile image in Google My Business

Google allows you to select a profile photo, logo and cover photo, as well as additional interior and exterior shots of your business, your team, work in action and others when logged into your Google My Business account.

Note that Google reserves the right to determine which photo is shown first, despite your selection. Google doesn’t disclose the algorithm it uses to select photos for you, but it does give a few tips as to some factors it considers. Google will determine how well the photo represents your business’s service or product and uses pictures of food as an example of what works well for restaurants. Other factors include the format, size, resolution and quality of the picture.

Uploading photos you believe are the best representation of your business (and your products and services) lays the foundation for an attractive and compelling profile image that appears in search results.

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