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Search engine optimization, typically called SEO, can make or break your site. SEO is the process of increasing your website’s visibility to search engines Demystify SEO: 5 Search Engine Optimization Guides That Help You Begin Demystify SEO: 5 Search Engine Optimization Guides That Help You Begin Search engine mastery takes knowledge, experience, and lots of trial and error. You can begin learning the fundamentals and avoid common SEO mistakes easily with the help of many SEO guides available on the Web. Read More . It’s a popular topic but there’s one SEO-related issue that tends to be overlooked: image optimization. How much traffic are you losing due to poor image SEO?

Yes, it’s true. Image searches can drive a lot of traffic to your website if you know what you’re doing. The trick is to understand how search engines work How Do Search Engines Work? How Do Search Engines Work? To many people, Google IS the internet. It's arguably the most important invention since the Internet itself. And while search engines have changed a lot since, the underlying principles are still the same. Read More and format your images accordingly. Here are a few fundamental tips that will get you started.

Image SEO Tip #1: Alt Text

image-seo-alt-text

“Make sure you set your image alt tags” is one of the most common pieces of advice when it comes to image SEO and for good reason. Technically, IMG is the tag, and ALT is the attribute. What is the attribute? It’s a short text description of your image and it’s used to give context to search engines regarding the said image.

Have you ever wondered how Google knows how to bring up the right pictures when you run an image search for “dandelion”? There are a lot of factors but alt text is one of the most important. Without it, Google wouldn’t know the difference between dandelions and tulips.

Fortunately, alt attributes are easy to implement. Just insert a bit of HTML into your <img> tags:

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image-seo-alt-html

But keep in mind that alt text won’t help you much if you don’t use them correctly. Here are some tips for making the most of them.

  • Use keywords. General SEO tactics apply to alt texts too, which means keywords are still extremely important.  Remember to be descriptive and contextual!
  • Short and sweet. Keep your alt attribute length below 125 characters and don’t stuff in too many keywords. Bad case scenario — some search engines may skip alt texts that are too long. Worst case scenario — some search engines may ignore your images entirely.
  • Not always needed. Alt attributes should only be used for images that you want indexed by search engines. Other images, like website backgrounds and theme elements, can be ignored.

Image SEO Tip #2: File Names

Image SEO Optimization With Filenames

Like alt texts, file names are important because they provide further description of your image for search engines. If your image file name is nondescript gibberish, Google won’t know what it’s supposed to represent.

For example, your smartphone camera might produce an image with a file name like IMG_20140318_152680.jpg. Is that a picture of an apple? A car? The Eiffel Tower? It would be much more helpful to call it red-panda-eating-carrots.jpg. Suddenly, the image has context.

Fortunately, file names are easy to change. It requires very little effort for you to rename your images and the results are more than worth it. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Use keywords. No surprise here. The reasoning is two-fold: keywords help Google to contextualize your image (just like alt tags), but image file names are also used in URLs.
  • Hyphens are best. SEO experts consider it best practice to separate file name keywords using hyphens (-). Rejected alternatives include plus signs (+), underscores (_), and whitespace ( ).
  • Short and unique. Include no more than 4 keywords in the file name, though I personally prefer to cap out at 3. Be descriptive and unique without being ambiguous or confusing.

Image SEO Tip #3: File Size

image-seo-filesize

A few years ago, Google announced that page loading speeds would become a factor in search rankings. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense. Between two sites of equal value, the faster one will always be preferred. The takeaway is that faster-loading images will tend to rank higher in search results.

The best way to improve image speeds is to reduce file size and the easiest way to reduce file size is to use an image format that’s optimized for the web:

Don’t resize dynamically. If you upload a 400×300 image and display it at 800×600, it will look ugly. On the other hand, if you upload an 800×600 image and display it at 400×300, you’re wasting a lot of bandwidth. Always size the image to the correct resolution BEFORE you upload it.

If you want to know more about image compression, read the page where Google Developers head to — PageSpeed Insights (Optimize Images)

Image SEO Tip #4: Page Context

image-seo-page-context

What if you run a website that’s nothing but photos? Let’s say you have a portfolio of photographs, web designs, game screenshots, etc. How will search engines know what those photos are about? More importantly, how can you make sure that your portfolio ranks well?

The answer lies in page context.

Computer scientists haven’t yet engineered a way to look at an arbitrary photo and determine what it is without contextual hints, which means you need to provide said context. Do this by surrounding your images with relevant text, keywords, etc.

There are many ways to influence the context around an image. Alt text, as explained in Tip #1, is one example. Image titles and captions are another example. Paragraph text can be useful, website titles can be useful, and even comments can be useful. Search engines will utilize as much information as they can find on the page.

For more information, check out this video on gaining PageRank with images.

Conclusion

There are a handful of other image SEO tips out there, but they’re quite nuanced and don’t provide as much bang-for-the-buck as the four tips outlined above. In fact, as long as you employ proper use of alt texts, file names, and file sizes, you should start to see an increase in the amount of search traffic brought in by your images.

Know any other image SEO tips that can prove helpful? Please share them with us in the comments!

Image Credit: Forest Light via Flickr

  1. Carole
    January 17, 2015 at 4:22 am

    Great info! I have to comment on one of the suggestions, though: opening up comments might work for some websites, but that isn't appropriate for all sites. Yes, it works well on Flickr—a photography COMMUNITY—but can you imagine a photography BUSINESS page with comments below the photos in the sample galleries?

    Bots might love it, but how unattractive for clients! We want them to focus on our images, NOT what other people have to say about them.

  2. Patrick J
    August 19, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I think alt tag and image title are the main factor to optimize the images in search engine.. The size and quality of the images also matters.

  3. Pictogrram
    April 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Thanks for the information! There can be a problem when images are contain on pages that are not indexed by Google due to some reasons.
    That's why I'd recommend to create an image sitemap also in addition to your recommendations.

    • Joel L
      April 22, 2014 at 2:01 am

      Image sitemap is a good tip, yeah. Thanks for sharing!

  4. alex
    April 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Like the post as it helps many trying to rank better with SEO. However there are a few other attributes for images that are available to be used and they provide even more optimization. Lastly the character limit is low for the alt attribute. Basically the alt attribute on an image is the very same as the description in the head tag. Go back in time with Google webmaster to 2002 to 2004 and you will find these answers.

  5. RW
    April 2, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    This is an awesome post and reaffirms everything I've advised my clients of over the years. You didn't mention captions or descriptions. What do you think about them?

    • Joel L
      April 7, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      As far as I know, they can be useful for increased SEO if you use them in the same way as the text that surrounds an image. Basically, they give context to the image and context is always better than no context. Just don't go overboard and cram keywords keywords keywords in there. :)

  6. Daniele Gennaioli
    April 1, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Great content in this post. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Tom W
    March 29, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Alt tags aren't just for search engines. Some screen readers will read the alt tag, so it's important to use them on important images even if you don't want the image seen by search engines.

    There are some programs that can read / describe images. This is the only link I could find, but I remember reading about one a lot more recently.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/software-recognizes-and-describes-images-in-words-1.605644

    • Joel L
      April 7, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      That's a really good point that I should've mentioned. Thanks for bringing it up.

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