It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and for companies hoping to market themselves online, it might also be of growing importance to ranking well on Google.

That’s because according to SEO platform provider seoClarity, Google has significantly increased the number of images from Google Images that are displayed in its SERPs. The company’s data shows that prior to April 12, 24% of the keywords it tracked contained images in the top 10 search results. Starting
on April 12, that figure jumped to 34%. What’s more, seoClarity found that when images are present in the top 10 results, nearly half the time they occupy one of the top three positions.

Digging deeper, the firm found that there have been three jumps in the prevalence of images in the top three results — on February 20, April 13 and April 19. This seems to be confirmed by data from another firm, Moz.

seoClarity’s Mitul Gandhi explained:

“Starting March 19, there was a MAJOR change to Google’s algorithm for ranking the image carousel. [Our charts] clearly show that not only are images more frequently appearing in the Top 10, they are showing up HIGHER in the SERPs than ever before. The result is a significant increase in the visibility for images and, consequently, a decline in the visibility for everyone that was previously in one of those Top 3 positions.”

Gandhi speculates that the newfound prominence of Google Images in the search giant’s SERPs could be attributable “to Google’s Rank Brain and various tests telling it that users prefer images over standard web results” but it might also have something to do with Google’s efforts to monetize image searches.

Last month, just a couple weeks before images in the SERPs appear to have taken their first jump, Google announced shoppable ads on Google Images, a new ad product that allows marketers “to highlight multiple products available for sale within [their] sponsored ad[s] among Google Images results.”

In the company’s announcement, Surojit Chatterjee, Google’s VP of Product Management for Shopping, stated, “A recent study shows that Google is the first place US shoppers go to discover or find a new brand or product. But shoppers aren’t just doing their searches on Google.com. We’ve seen that 50 percent of online shoppers said images of the product inspired them to purchase, and increasingly, they’re turning to Google Images.”

Reading between the lines, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that as part of its efforts to better monetize product and image searches, Google would decide to increase the number of SERPs that contain highranking image results.

Google’s timing is especially interesting in light of the Pinterest initial public offering, which took place this month. Pinterest is a visual platform and the company, which reaches more than 250m users each month, is not surprisingly betting on ad offerings related to visual product search.

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Facebook-owned Instagram is also increasingly aiming to facilitate commerce through its visual platform. See: Instagram Checkout.

As The Motley Fool’s Adam Levy recently argued, while all of these companies are technically battling each other for a new slice of the growing digital ad pie, their efforts to monetize product-related images are really about competition with online retail giant Amazon.

In this battle, the stakes would seem to be highest for Google. After all, contrary to Google’s claim that it is the first place consumers go to search for products, numerous studies have found that Amazon is now responsible for over half of initial product searches, which is the basis for Amazon’s rapidly growing, multi-billion dollar advertising business.

The good news for marketers, especially those in the retail industry, is that there are more ways than ever to take advantage of visual content to reach consumers. The imperative: develop marketing strategies that take into account the growing importance of image-based search and discovery.

The even better news is that an image marketing strategy clearly has the potential to produce gains across multiple digital channels, including, if seoClarity’s data is accurate, search.

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