How to SEO Images – SEO Image Optimization Best Practices

February 24, 2011 SEO How to


This post is meant to be helpful for those new to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and looking to learn more about fundamental best practices that will help your Website generate more qualified traffic from search engines. (By the way, if you’re interested in improving your site’s SEO, local optimization, or social media optimization, consider using our SEO website report tool or subscribing to our daily SEO and inbound marketing newsletter.)

Most of the time, discussions about how to best achieve SEO results for site content is focused on optimizing text (and rightly so).

But in search engines like Google, optimized images are also important – both because they can drive traffic from Google image search (where people are looking for images) and because they can help your page show up higher in Google’s organic search result listings so that you can get more traffic from search engines.

SEO Image Optimization: What Are You Optimizing For?

You can optimize an image for either of two things:

  1. To help the Web page it is embedded in rank higher in Google’s organic search
  2. To help the image itself be more likely rank in Google’s image search and Google’s “Universal Search”

Luckily, there’s a lot of overlap in the techniques for accomplishing either of these ends, so the advice below will help boost not only your image’s rankings but also those of the page you’re putting it on.

Ranking for Google Image Search – Adding Context

One key component for ranking in Google image search results is the text around your image. One great way to make sure that you’re controlling the text around your image (and that it targets the proper keywords) is to use captions. So for instance if your target keyword were “Boston steakhouse” you would consider using those terms in the photo caption if there were a natural way to include them. Assuming the photo is of our Boston steak house, the caption might read:

Join us at Boston’s best steakhouse!

Note that we’ve tried to create a natural-sounding sentence that makes sense within the context of the page, so as not to look spammy to visitors to our site.

Use Descriptive Names for Photo Files

It is fairly easy to upload images that are named based on something that is solely relevant to the person creating the web page. This, however, does nothing to guarantee that a search engine will find that image based on a person’s logical search phrasing. It also does not guarantee that a surfer who retrieves that image will understand why it is relevant to their own search. Sometimes, it is convenient for a person creating content to simply upload photos that retain the numbered labeling done by most digital cameras, i.e. “IMG000284.” This does nothing to help improve ranking.

If you understand how to SEO images, then you know that the name of the uploaded image should bear the keywords for the page where that image lands. It is best not to run the words in an image name together without a break between words – or use an underscore to separate in an image name. Pictures are harder to find this way. Separate words with a hyphen, instead, since this makes more logic to web bots. So for our Boston steakhouse example we might name the image file something like:

Use Descriptive Alt Text (Alt Attribute)

Alt (or Alternative) text is the wording that appears when a user hovers over an image or that appears in results to describe the image (developers also call this text an alt attribute as it’s an attribute within a tag in HTML code; it’s also incorrectly referred to as an “alt tag” frequently. You can learn more about other important SEO elements in HTML in our HTML cheat sheet for SEO). Your alt attribute or alt text should contain very similar keywords to those you’re targeting on your page.

Getting Your Images Clicked: Use Large, High-Quality Fast Loading Images

Nothing turns away traffic like poor-quality blurred images. Most Internet users will not even click on an image that is not crisp and presented well. The preferred universal image format for photos on the web is jpg, and larger images work best for the web for getting a clean view. Stay away from abstract images and choose images that clearly show things like faces. This will help to make your images more clickable when they do show up in search results, which will help you to realize your ultimate goal: getting more qualified visitors to your site.

By also ensuring that your image files are compressed properly you’re able to ensure that you have images that load quickly and look attractive: this way when you get those images to show up in Google image search or the universal search results they’ll be seen quickly and they’ll be an attractive option for searchers.