How to Optimize Images for Search Traffic

Optimize Image for Search

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Optimize Image for Search

The Internet, and how we use it, has changed a lot in just a few years. One of the changes, probably as a result of the increase in overall bandwidth available to users as well as the emphasis on visual content, is that images are now as important as text content.

Unfortunately, a lot of us only know how to apply SEO principles to text, leaving a lot of images with unused potential for driving traffic. Here are a few things you can do to optimize images for search engines:

Ensure that all of your images are saved in formats that Google supports

To optimize images for search, be aware of the file type.  Google only indexes image files that are saved as BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, WEBP, and SVG. Avoid saving images in other formats like TIFF or PSD.

Besides, any image format that isn’t supported by Google would probably be too large for web use, so you’re probably already following this part by default.

Use image filenames that are descriptive and relevant to the content of the image

If you search google for “marketing matrix”, would the search engine show you a file called “marketing matrix.jpg” or will it show the one named “DSC0870.jpg”?

The more descriptive a filename is, the better you can optimize images for search. Google said that they use filenames as the image’s snippet if there’s no relevant text on the page it was found on.

Take advantage of the Image Alt Text for descriptions

Since there is a limit to how long you can name your images on the web (it supports long filenames, but some browsers, and maybe even search engines, tend to truncate the filenames if it’s too long), you can use the image’s ALT tag to describe the image better and optimize images for search.

This also has another important purpose. It lets people who can’t see the image know what the image is about. There are visually impaired people using the Internet everyday. There’s also a minority of surfers who have their browsers’ image loading turned off as a way to save on bandwidth or in order to minimize annoying ads and banners.

Use the content surrounding the image to provide context

Google’s search engine is very comprehensive, to the point that it will also index the content surrounding an image. If you’re trying to ensure that an image is categorized or indexed according to a specific topic or subject, you can take advantage of this by making sure that the content is relevant to what you want the image to represent so you can optimize images for search.

Just make sure you don’t turn the text into spam, as Google dislikes any attempt to manipulate their search engine result pages (SERPs), and you’ll end up hurting your your site.

Submit an Image Sitemap to Google

Much like a sitemap, an image sitemap will help the Google Team learn about your website’s new images as they come, and will also help them better categorize and index your site and all of its contents.

Do not use images for important text

Avoid using image files for important text in your website,  such as the page’s banner titles or a subsection’s categories and names. Google discourages this because there are countries or instances when internet connection is too slow. Images, no matter how small, may appear broken. Also, search engines can’t “read” images. It is better if you use the HTML itself for any important text.

When Linking to Images, Use Descriptive Anchor Text

On the same principle as using descriptive filenames for the image, you need to use anchor text that perfectly describes the image it is linking to so you can optimize images for search. For example, “This picture” being used as an anchor text for a picture of a pink flamingo would be much better if changed to “This picture of a pink flamingo”.

Protect Your Images

It’s true that the internet is designed to allow the users to share content. The sharing of content and information is what keeps it alive.

According to Google, what happens when a piece of content or an image is reposted is, the original source may get get buried in SERP rankings by its copies, especially if the other copies are better optimized using the tips outlined above.

Unfortunately, there is no effective way for you to prevent copying. Utilizing tricks like disabling right click actually hurt legitimate users more.

One way you can protect your images, or at least actually turning copying into an advantage, is by watermarking your site URL to the image.

Consider User Experience

One thing that SEO specialists tend to forget when they try to optimize images for search is the human factor. Don’t forget that even if you succeed in optimizing an image for search, you still need to ensure that the image is actually what the user wants to look at.

For example, make sure you use high quality images, since poor quality ones will fail to encourage users to actually check it out and you’ll lose traffic that you worked so hard to attract.

Additionally, high quality images also encourage other sites to link to it, giving you more referrals. We all know how much google likes sites with lots of backlinks.

What are your tips on optimizing images for search engine traffic? Let us know in the the comment section below.

Image credit: Gustomela

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52 comments

  1. Carolyn Nicander Mohr Reply

    Very helpful article. You didn’t mention .png images as being indexed by Google so I’m thinking I have some converting to do.

    1. Douglas Idugboe Reply

      I actually did Carolyn, under the first sub-headline in the first paragraph as follows:

      “To optimize images for search, be aware of the file type. Google only indexes image files that are saved as BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, WEBP, and SVG. Avoid saving images in other formats like TIFF or PSD.”

      I hope that [email protected]:disqus .

      1. Carolyn Nicander Mohr Reply

        Note to self: no commenting before coffee on Monday mornings.

        Sorry, Doug! My bad.

        1. Douglas Idugboe Reply

          LOL! No harm done Carolyn 🙂

  2. Paul O'Mahony Reply

    Very informative! Found out quite a lot that I wasn’t sure about, especially about using the alternative text on pictures.

  3. Frithjof Reply

    Great post Douglas!
    Wordpress gives me the option to add a description aside from the alt tag. Do you have any insight about the effect of adding this or leaving it out?

    1. Douglas Idugboe Reply

      Anything you can do to ‘teXtify’ your image do it! As mentioned in the [email protected]:disqus , using the image’s alt tag and description optimize images better for search and  it lets people who can’t see the image know what the image is about. 

  4. Mark Harai Reply

    Thanks for these tips Douglas – I will use them : )

  5. Giovanni Villani Reply

    Great post, Douglas! I didn’t know anything about image sitemaps. It could be an interesting tip for search engine optimization.

  6. Kim Reynolds Reply

    Great post Douglas. Do you have any preferred sources for getting more information about image site maps? Thank you for the timely & relevant information.

    1. Douglas Idugboe Reply

      [email protected]:disqus . Let’s go to the big “G” itself. Here’s a simple to understand details from Google: http://smedio.com/eup8 Enjoy! 

  7. Nandkishor Reply

    Great tips. I also recommend to optimize images offsite. Generally we optimize images on site like you add alt tags, title and all that. What’s does it mean offsite? This means when you upload any image to your profile outside, to external blog owned by you, or your guest post, the images you used should be named properly, make sure about tags and titles etc. 

    1. Douglas Idugboe Reply

      Great [email protected]:disqus !

  8. Steve Szettella Reply

    Has anyone seen evidence of Google reading / indexing EXIF information about images?  This seems like another legitimate way to optimize for search.

  9. Pittsburgh SEO Reply

    Definitely good point on not using images for important text. Some people get so focused on optimizing their images that they forget how important certain bits of text are to Google’s spiders.
    Also, do you think there are redundant words to avoid when naming image files? I’ve heard about Google getting really harsh about certain repetitive keywords, and I don’t want to end up doing something similar in the image files.

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