Proper search engine optimization is one of the most important aspects of your digital marketing strategy. However, website owners often forget that this means optimizing for image search as well, probably unaware of how important it can be. A very significant portion of total online searches consists of Google image searches. Just to get a picture (no pun intended!) of how large this portion is, it should be said that they’re 10 times more frequent than all searches on two other major engines – Yahoo and Bing. Hence not optimizing your images means that you’re missing out on an opportunity to gain a substantial amount of organic traffic.
Basically, good SEO comes down to good user experience (UX). Thus proper optimization doesn’t just help you climb the rankings, but also creates a genuinely pleasant experience for your visitors, which is obviously a benefit in itself. So when it comes to images, what counts as good user experience? Which steps should you take in order to improve your website’s reputation? Here are a few key aspects of image SEO that you should definitely take care of.
If you tend to leave the image file name unchanged and upload it as IMG_7664 – well, it’s just lazy and it’s surely not going to help your SEO efforts. Search engines crawl file names of your images as well and a string of random numbers is not going to make your image relevant for related search queries.
Thus make sure to name the files in a plain, simple and descriptive way, so that someone who actually searches for whatever is on the image can find it. The name should be informative and relevant. Using the keywords that you optimize your pages for is also a good idea. In any event, whatever you do, change the names given by a camera or a phone and help your images become visible for search engines.
Alternative text has multiple purposes and they all basically come down to giving a hint of what’s on the image to people or software that can’t see or recognize it. This can be search engine crawlers, screen readers for visually impaired or text-only browsers. Just like in the case of file names, alt text should also be informative and descriptive.
Have in mind that, unlike file names, alt text is designed for those who actually can’t see the picture, so providing a proper explanation of what’s going on in the image is crucial. Hence you shouldn’t explain it in a way you’d do to a person who’s looking at it. A description is inserted in the code and should be thorough and detailed, although not too long as well, since most screen readers cut the alt text off after 125 characters.
Using a word or two is not bad, or is at least better than nothing. But ideally, you should use as many words as you need to include all the important details. For instance, if there’s a picture of a woman driving a car, alt text that just reads “car” is not too descriptive. What color is it? What brand? Who’s driving? Where? An alt text reading “a young woman driving a white Mercedes on a highway” is much better. Of course, if there’s a chance to use some of the keywords you target, go for it. Just don’t over-stuff the alt description with keywords and make it as natural and relevant as possible. This can do some very good things for your image SEO.
Normally, when we talk about sitemaps we usually focus on files that list all the pages on your website. But doing the same for all the images you uploaded is almost as important. These maps are included in the robots.txt file that Googlebots use to crawl their way around your website.
Creating an image sitemap gives Google more info about the images on your site and makes it more likely that they will get indexed. Basically, this way you’re just providing additional info about images for every URL included in the sitemap. Creating an image sitemap is not at all complicated – here’s a short explanation by Google on how to do it.
Dealing with image sizes appropriately can be a big SEO booster. The size of an image itself may not be of huge importance for UX, as long as it’s clear, visible and well-formatted. But the trick here is that images that are too large can seriously hurt your website’s performance. And page loading speed is a huge UX factor, for human users and search engines alike. Namely, when it comes to humans, 40 percent of users won’t wait longer than three seconds for a page to load, and when it comes to search rankings, Google has rolled out its new speed update, starting from July 9 this year.
Thus images that are too “heavy” may severely damage your SEO. There’s all sorts of very simple software that can help you resize them. Try to find a balance – make your photos small enough, but avoid ruining the image quality too badly. A recommended optimal image size for ecommerce websites is below 70 kb, so try sticking to that number.
Another speed killer (and thus SEO killer as well) can be a wrong file type. Most common file formats you can use are JPEG, GIF and PNG. JPEG is the most widespread one, since it has the ability to keep the relatively high quality despite being rather small in size.
GIFs and PNGs support transparency, but fail to provide the level of quality that JPEG is able to. In addition, GIF supports only 256 colors so it should definitely not be used for large and high-quality images. However, they’re the ones that enable animations on your website and are handy for decorative images and thumbnails. All in all, if you’re not too knowledgeable in this area, going for JPEG is the safest bet.
You can add bonus points to your SEO performance by integrating social media. An image that is shared many times on social networks will naturally have better chances for a higher search engine ranking. Thus integrating some social media buttons that would encourage people to share them can also play an important role in this context. It’s a rather simple thing to do, so don’t miss this opportunity.
There’s a lot more factors that can influence your image SEO and it’s very important to cover as many of them as you can. Apart from those already mentioned, you should think about optimizing your thumbnails, consider reducing decorative images as well as think twice about hosting them on some of the content delivery networks. All these factors, if not dealt with the right way, can cause serious SEO and UX problems. If there was a general piece of advice you can use, it would be something like this: keep your code clean, your images simple, your descriptions informative and try everything you can to not hurt your website’s performance while maintaining the quality of images at a decent level.
Author: Meaghan Yorke is a content writer for DesignRush – a new digital destination to offer an overview of the current design and technology trends. These days she is all about researching various IT related topics. When she is not working she enjoys dancing classical ballet.