While it may take some additional time, optimizing images for search engines is not something to be overlooked. Too often content marketers forget this important step in their rush to push the publish button. The result is lost search traffic.
Image SEO is not just for getting your images higher in the image search results, it’s also important from a broader SEO perspective. For a page of your website to appear high in SERPs, several SEO tactics work in sync, one of which is Image SEO.
Therefore, the images you use also have a role in the overall SEO effectiveness of a page.
So why not at least take care of some basic steps to ensure your visual content has the best possible opportunity to succeed in terms of SEO?
Image Size Optimization
The standard resolution for images and web design is 72 dpi. This means that you wouldn’t want to upload a 300 dpi image in most of the cases.
Making sure your images are as small as possible considering your overall design is essential. This is because you want your page to load as fast as possible for both human visitors and search engine bots.
For instance, let’s say you want to embed an image in your blog post and you want it to appear in dimensions 300px X 300px. But the image you have is 800px X 800px.
Now one way is to just upload the image as it is and alter its dimensions through good old HTML/CSS. But that won’t change the file size. It will take as much time to load as it would have at 800px X 800px.
To make sure your images (and hence your page) load fast, you can resize the image using a free tool like JPEG Optimizer. This can convert your 800px image to a 300px image, reducing the file size.
Image File Size Optimization
The previous step was about converting image of any width and height into the exact dimensions that you’re going to use it for. The optimization you do in that step won’t just alter dimensions, but also give you a smaller file size to work with.
However, that’s not the only thing you can do to make your images load fast. You can also compress the image to lower its file size even more, keeping the same dimensions.
Name Images Properly
In general, the best practice is to name an image as a keyword phrase, separating each word with a hyphen. As a rule of thumb, I’d recommend that your image name can have up to 4 words - not more than that.
You can use more if you want, but there’s no point in creating a long name which dilutes the topic of the image and deviates from its core focus.
The name of the image should describe what the image is about, in no more than 4 words.
There are many businesses which use images to support the articles or blog posts they publish. If you write an article, for example, on how to navigate the complex business world, you may use an image of a boat in a stormy sea to convey the message.
But when it comes to naming the image, that’s where things go wrong. You may choose to name the image in not a very descriptive manner, like calling it “boat.”
The name “boat” doesn’t do anything to convey the message or in fact, any message that has to do with the article you wrote. What’s even worse is that many times I see companies and people using names like 3877add2ec91ed.jpg.
It’s important that your images have meaningful names which convey to some extent what the image is about. If the image is related to the keyword you want to rank for, make sure the image name has at least a part of that keyword.
For example, if you’re working with an image about gift wrapping, you shouldn’t settle for names like “gifrap” or “gift” or “wrap.” You can name your image as “gift-wrap” or “gift-wrapping”
However, I understand that for some of you, it may be an obligation to use certain elements in your image names, like dimensions (e.g. 350X450) or abbreviations to denote size (sm for small).
In such cases, my advice is to make such parts concise and combine them to minimize the impact.
You can put them at the end and condense them together. Compact is good for search optimization. As an example, let’s say you have an image name which looks like this:
While the above name does a good job at being descriptive, it’s still not fully optimized. To make it better, we’ll squish the non-essential elements together. Take a look:
Much better! Also keep in mind that I kept the hyphen after the word “software.” This is because I want to make sure the keyword is separate and understandable.
Now you may say that removing the X has made the image less descriptive because it’s unclear that the numbers 350 and 500 are conveying sizes. But remember that we are trying to rank for keywords, not for image dimensions. When it comes to non-essential information, squishing is the name of the game.
Don’t Forget Detailed Alt Attributes
The visually impaired rely on screen readers to understand the content of a page. Alt text started as a way for them to process the context of an image embedded in the content.
Another reason to include alt text was to make some kind of sense in situations when images don’t load properly.
But these days they serve a 3rd purpose too. Search engine bots crawl the information within the alt text to understand better what an image is about and show it in relevant search results. As a result, the alt text is one of the ranking factors.
So make sure you add the appropriate alt text to every image you upload online.
How many words should be there in your alt text? There is no one perfect answer to this question, but it’s safe to opt for about 10 -15 and convey relevant information about the image.
For example, if it’s a scene, describe what is happening in the image. If it’s a product, you can mention some core features.
However, whatever you do, don’t waste this opportunity to include more information by just repeating the same words which you included in the name of the image.
A good example is how CVS Health names its images. They are not perfect, but they’re really close in terms of proper optimization. Here’s an image they use in one of their pages.
When you right click on the image to check its name, here’s what you get:
Of course, the words “photo,” “article” and “and” add little value, but still not bad for an image name.
The alt text isn’t bad either. It’s descriptive and rich in relevant keywords: “CVS Pharmacy features hundreds of your favorite beauty, skincare and makeup products."
Consider Adding Image Titles
Sometimes when you hover over a photo in a webpage as you’re browsing the web, you’ll see a tooltip text. This is referred to as the image title. Here’s a great explanation of difference between alt text and image title.
While it’s not certain how much words used in image titles impact SEO, but there is no harm in using this opportunity to add a simple call to action such as “buy today” or “download now.”
Utilize Memorable Captions
Most of the elements we have discussed so far aren’t directly visible to a user on the website. But a caption text is the exception. As it is clearly visible and crawlable, it’s obvious that it has SEO benefits.
The good news is you have the option of using the same words that you used for the image name and alt attribute. But instead of blind copy and paste, try to mix a little bit, like some words from name and some from alt text.
Every element that you’re optimizing should be supported with unique keywords so your image has likelihood of appearing form multiple search terms.
Optimize Surrounding Content
Not everything that helps a search engine understand the image is directly related to the image. The nature of your content and where you embed the image is also important.
So make sure that you optimize the overall text with your target keywords as you would usually do for search engines.
In fact, it helps when there is relevant text with any kind of non-textual content like a video or a slideshow for search engines to be able to make sense of it.
Tyle’s presentation tool (known as Tyle Cards), for instance, makes sure that each presentation is accompanied by a script which contains the text you included in the presentation.
This makes it easy for search engines to better index and rank your content.
Image Anchor Text
Internal and external linking both are among the most important aspects of effective SEO. And your images (especially infographics) can also be linked to with anchor text like any other content.
While you can’t have 100% control on the anchor text in case of external links, but you can choose them carefully when linking from your own pages.
For example, when pointing your readers to an image on another page of your website, don’t just write something generic as “view the image.” Guide your visitors, as well as search engines, with meaningful descriptions like “take a look at our design portfolio."
While following these best practices won’t guarantee top placement in image SERP for your images, ignoring the rules will definitely hurt the chances that you’d otherwise have.
Even the opposite is true. Some of the time an image can appear near the top despite bad SEO.
Google’s main aim is to show the right information someone’s looking for. If the content on a page is relevant to the search query, the image it contains could show up high even if not search engine optimized.
For example, a quick search for “excavators” would show you that John Deere showed up higher even with a generic image name like:
But that’s a rare occurrence based purely on luck. And you don’t want the discoverability of your images to be left to chance.