Take the title seriously. If you’re reading this because you expressed a vague interest in the Google rankings of your company’s website and your supervisor immediately added “SEO” to your job description, this guide might be for you. If your boss recently complained that the company website can’t be found under “[odd and unrelated keywords] near me” and then looked to you for an answer, this guide might be for you.
On the other hand, if you check Search Console weekly and track a variety of metrics through some tool like Data Studio, this guide is probably not for you. I’d recommend the more advanced guide at Content King to build your knowledge base in Image SEO.
Image SEO: What & Why
What does it mean to optimize images for search engines? It means we take steps to help search engine bots, which crawl and process billions of websites, understand what the images are showing to the human user. The basic and admittedly oversimplified version is: If the search engine can understand your site, it can rank your site more accurately and hopefully higher in the search results to get you traffic that turns into real business. Helping search engines understand your site images is no exception to this.
Why would we want to optimize images for search?
- Because Google Image Search amounts to just over 21% of all internet search traffic. People discover new things in all different ways and Image Search is a significant portion of that traffic.
- Because many or most industries have some kind of visual aspect to them so establishing your business by capturing those relevant Image Searches is a unique opportunity to be discovered by new customers.
- Because Google expects Image Search to become even more popular and are investing their own resources to further developing Image Search. This is the right time to take action on this platform that’s just starting to get more attention than ever before.
1. Choose images that will benefit you
Not all the images on your site need to be optimized. That stock photo on your “About Us” page of a woman laughing with a salad won’t do you any good when it comes to standing out in the sea of Image Search results. Choose pictures that are distinctive to your brand or industry. Anything that catches your eye (in a good way) or visually communicates helpful information.
2. Check the image file format
Four basic file formats are recognized by just about all web browsers: JPG, PNG, GIF, and SVG. There are more formats than that but the others may or may not appear as reliably or predictably as the four basic formats. Each of those formats have characteristics that make them ideal for different kinds of images:
- JPG or JPEG is best for photographs
- PNG is best for line drawings and images with text
- GIF is best for small animated images
- SVG is best for images with simple geometric shapes.
Just about any decent image software will be able to change the file format between PNG and JPG. (GIF and SVG creation is best done with tools for the job rather than converting from a JPG or PNG) If your site is on WordPress, there’s several plugins that can help optimize the images to ensure the right size is available for the right screen. At JM Web Designs, we often use the Smush It plugin. This plugin can also make advanced tactics easier to implement, such as responsive image sizes and lazy loading. Take advantage of those because they help with faster loading speed on all user platforms.
3. Image optimization starts with – Text!
You need to have already determined what topics and keywords could actually bring you traffic that converts into real business. If you need help with this, Rand Fishkin did a great video series called the One Hour Guide to SEO. If you’re new to SEO, and I’m assuming you are, that’s a great place to start.
4. Moar text!
Here’s the thing about Image Search: Currently, the software which processes websites and images for Image Search is still heavily text-based. Our first steps in optimizing images are to use all available text elements to describe the image and incorporate our selected keywords.
Some of this text isn’t visible to the majority of site visitors but they are visible to search engine bots and so they matter to your rankings:
- The filename of the image – This is exactly what it sounds like. “IMG001.JPG” But that’s a terrible filename, if you’re trying to help anyone (or bots) understand what’s in the image. Instead, use 3 to 5 words, hyphenated. For example, “boy-on-skateboard.jpg.” 1 or 2 of those words should be a keyword that’s important to you.
- The alt attribute – If the image is broken or for visitors who use screen readers, the alt attribute will be used so it’s important for a good quality user experience. Use 3 to 5 words to describe the image. This isn’t a hard limit but be as brief as possible.
- The title attribute – This attribute is what appears in a small text box when you leave the mouse pointer over an image. Similar to the alt attribute, use about 3 to 5 words, be brief but descriptive with keywords.
For text that’s visible to all users seeing a fully-loaded page, these are the elements to optimize:
- Image caption – If this “attribute” is set up on your site, this is user-visible text that is clearly related to the image so it’s another opportunity to describe the image and use keywords. Use as many words as necessary but, as always, keep it brief and incorporate keywords naturally.
- Text around the image – Presumably the image is at that specific location on the page in order to enrich that section of the text content. As a result, the text immediately surrounding the image is taken into account when Google is attempting to learn more about the image. It’s another opportunity to include keywords you’re hoping your image will rank for.
That’s a good start
Once you’ve taken these steps, congratulations! You’re no longer an “absolute beginner.” As you worked through this process, you’ve probably noticed some content issues that need attention:
- A need for higher quality images
- Opportunities for new images to support the text content
- Inconsistent branding
- Broken or missing images
Here’s my last recommendation: Fix those problems first! Improving the content, even in images, should always get a high priority.
After solving those problems, your site will get much more benefit from the technical SEO work. To study advanced Image SEO, I recommend Ahrefs’ blog post , the ContentKing guide I referenced above, and of course Google has a lot of documentation to study.