Roughly a year ago, I wrote a guide that explored how Google image thumbnails are generated for eCommerce category pages, specifically the ‘multi-image thumbnail’ treatment.

One of the examples used in my article focused on the Australian domain for Foot Locker. I found that the domain was experiencing indexing issues on category pages during my research, preventing product images from being indexed by Google.

More recently, I had Foot Locker reach out to me. Their team had stumbled across my article and had implemented changes to rectify the situation by following my guidance. And to my delight, the issue has now been resolved, resulting in a 228% increase for image thumbnail organic traffic.

Thankfully, my contact at Foot Locker has given approval for me to explain which change in my guide was successful for them by using 3rd party data that is accessible to all.

The results

The result of the changes made by Foot Locker from following the guidance in my article have been quite spectacular, with there being a significant increase in image previews showing for some very important queries on Google.

After making the changes, Foot Locker went from having no image thumbnails appearing for important category pages, to then having the multi-image thumbnail treatment at scale (the ultimate goal).

Here’s what the before and after looks like for the query “jordan 1” which receives ~40K searches p/mo in Australia, with Foot Locker ranking in position #2 just below Nike:

Foot Locker before & after Google image thumbnail comparison

And this is just for one category page. Some of the other important queries where Foot Locker have gone from having no image thumbnails to having the multi-image treatment include the queries “nike tn”, “crocs”, “curry 9”, “vans”, “converse”, and plenty of other high volume queries.

When discussing with the Foot Locker team, they let me know that the changes to the site were launched on July 20th of 2023. When comparing organic traffic against key Australian sites, you can see a clear increase in image thumbnails that coincide with this date.

Foot Locker Google image thumbnail organic traffic vs. competitors (Semrush index)

Now that image thumbnails are appearing much more broadly for Foot Locker, they have gone from having image thumbnails appear for ~60K organic visits p/mo to now being ~195K organic visits p/mo (and steadily increasing). This change represents a 228% increase in estimated organic visits p/mo that now have image thumbnails.

When comparing Foot Locker against JD Sports and Hype DC in Australia, Foot Locker has now overtaken Hype DC by a large margin with image thumbnails, and looks to still have the capacity to surpass JD Sports in the near future based on the trajectory.

How was the issue resolved?

Now for the part that many will be interested in. How did Foot Locker resolve the issue by following the guide I had written? 

To recap, there are various insights from my guide that are important to follow in the lead up to the recommendations themselves. Such as diagnosing the level of severity, areas that shouldn’t influence image thumbnails, along with the recommendations themselves.

The core areas for troubleshooting include:

  • Running a JavaScript test
  • Image relevance
  • Image quality
  • Alt text
  • Product title
  • >8 relevant images
  • Sequence of appearance
  • Transparent backgrounds
  • Product arrangement

To gain an understanding of each of the 9 areas above, I would suggest reading the explanation for each within my guide. But it was only one of the recommendations that resolved the issue for Foot Locker: Image quality.

Within the ‘image quality’ description in my article, it points to the fact that the size of an image (based on the resolution) can lead to “quality” issues which can cause indexing and preview issues. And this is the issue that was being experienced by Foot Locker.

According to Foot Locker, in their server side rendered HTML (pre-JS), they were using images with very small dimensions (67×67). They then increased the minimum dimensions to be 200×200, which was the highest they were prepared to increase without impacting page size.

Foot Locker increased the size of their server side rendered images on category pages

Increasing the size of the images that Google is indexing can make a big difference in a situation like this. While Google previously had the ability to crawl the image content, Google was rarely indexing the image content at scale because of how small the images were (they have no use for them).

And that’s all that Foot Locker did to resolve the issue at scale. It’s often simple fixes like this that can have a high impact with technical SEO, but you need to know where to look and have knowledge of the areas that aren’t influential for different situations.

Impact on SEO

I’m very happy that Foot Locker reached out to me to let me know that their image thumbnail issues were resolved after following guidance on my blog.

There are plenty of benefits to having images indexed and shown as previews for category pages, ranging from having thumbnail previews (the primary focus of this article) to having more important content in Google’s index for core pages (correlating well with improved rankings). 

Using a “site” search operator before (in my guide) vs. now showing many product images

On the back of the image thumbnail changes being integrated into Foot Locker’s SEO strategy, there are two benefits I would be looking out for: an improved CTR from having a more engaging search result, along with pushing the result below further down due to taking up more space with images.

While I wouldn’t expect Foot Locker would want to share any CTR changes or 1st party data in general around the changes (it’s their competitive advantage), I know the SEO community would certainly be interested in seeing a sample of this data if they’re willing to share down the track.

Room for improvement

Based on what I can see for Foot Locker, there has been a considerable uptake on images being indexed on category pages, with thumbnails steadily increasing each day.

One aspect for Foot Locker to keep in mind is how to counteract the black backgrounds that are automatically added to images. This can happen when a transparent background is used for a product image and the image features a product colour that is too light to contrast with white.

Images with transparent backgrounds can sometimes show with a black background

This was one of the items in my image thumbnail checklist and an area to be aware of. Based on my experience, when the black background appears for images, it becomes less likely be used in thumbnails on Google.

The preferred approach for the indexable images on the category pages would be to have the backgrounds filled in with a colour, preferably a light grey so contrasting still works in some capacity with shoes that are white.

Aside from this, Foot Locker looks to have done a great job of rolling out the image size changes across their category pages and are starting to see substantial benefit as a result of these changes.

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