The use of images for SEO and organic search results is commonly overlooked. Images can drive traffic to websites through a Google image search and images can also be highly effective for increasing site traffic when included as part of universal search results.
Image optimization has a number of dimensions that can improve search results placement, enhance user experiences and in some instances, allow for greater convenience in sharing images via the social web.
When it comes to image optimization, it is often a good idea to think of this process as optimizing a small web page within a page. Factors such as anchor text, descriptive tagging and URL structure are all things that you will have to consider when attempting to optimize images, much like you do when optimizing typical web pages.
The tips that follow will help you with the image optimization process so that you can improve the performance of your images in Google image search results.
1. Find the best images
Getting the right type of image is essential. Amazing images can enhance pages and articles by adding new dimensions that inspire viewers to share pages and create strong backlinks. Studies have shown that although text continues to be the first thing that people see when viewing a page, images are what actually sell pages.
Here are a few of the top places to find quality images:
Flickr – Likely the best service for getting free images. You can also find a very helpful Creative Commons search. There is a great article on Skellie that will tell you how to find great Flickr images.
Stock.xchng – Although the name is a bit weird, you’ll find a wealth of royalty-free stock photos here.
iStockPhoto – Impressive selection of stock photos for sale.
It is also possible to use Google images to locate images for your website, as long as you use the right licensing when searching. (They let you browse public licenses such as Creative Commons.) When using these images, however, you have to be careful because if you aren’t given permission to use images before you post them, websites and companies can and often will take legal action.
One easy rule to live by is this: if it isn’t a Creative Commons licensed image and if you haven’t paid for it or created it on your own, you should not publish it.
2. Make sure the keyword or words are present in the file name
Much like it is important to have keywords present in post URLs for web pages, you should also have keywords present in file names for images as this is vital for helping search engines establish relevancy. For instance, the above image was once called « iStock_000004221245XSmall.jpg » which does not provide any real information about the web page. It is now called « image-optimization.jpg ». Obviously, many images that are not merely decorative like this one are literal in context and somehow connected to the page content, like a picture of an actual product. If the image above was placed in an article that talked about eye colors, the file name would have to reflect this in some way.
According to Google, your images should be placed in one folder on your site (yourdomain.com/images), rather than having these in random and separate folders across the site. When it comes to image URLs or file names, Google also suggests using common image file types like BMP, PNG, GIF or JPEG.
3. Create alt text that’s descriptive
Alt tags or text are additional features that are used by Google and other major search engines to learn more about the image subject. Images are a bit different from traditional content given that search engines are unable to determine their text content. (Although search spiders are fairly smart, they still have yet to develop eyes.) Thus, search engines are reliant upon the captions that surround images, file names, alt text and any other text that is posted around them. By using the alt text to add descriptive text, you will be helping search engines determine the image content.
When images are used for navigation purposes, such as a link to another page, always use alt text that is relevant to the page that you are linking the image to.
4. Choose the proper anchor text
When it comes to image optimization, anchor text is also a vital factor. If you choose to link images with text, the anchor text will help determine how your image ranks for keywords. The anchor text should be descriptive and it should detail the image you are using. For instance, linking to an image with a generic term like « photo » or « image » does not provide search engines with any helpful information concerning the image content. Using keywords when linking to an image can be helpful for both search engines and site visitors.
5. Check to ensure that the content and the image match
All of the content that surrounds the image should be connected to each of the things that you have optimized already: alt tags, image URL, anchor tags. Once everything is aligned, this will help search engines verify that you are not spamming and that the image is relevant and high in quality.
6. Avoid stuffing
This is true for every type of SEO, but it doesn’t hurt to say it once more for the sake of clarity: avoid stuffing keywords when creating image alt text and the like. Your file names, captions and alt text need to be descriptive but brief, not simply a lengthy list of keywords. Remember that image optimization is important for those visiting your site. Image SEO has a significant impact on user experience just as it can improve your SEO overall.