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Image SEO: Strategies and Best Practices

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Image SEO

Image SEO is the practice of optimizing images to be used in web content. It starts by choosing the right image format, naming it smart, and compressing to minimize in size, and continues on-page level (adding alt tags, description, caption) to make it more understandable, and visible for the search engines.

Most people overlook image optimization in SEO and they just upload images on the pages. However, this can be your edge if you spend your time to make your images talk to Google.

How could you achieve it?

By understanding and consciously implementing the image SEO best practices.

It is very important to rank a page that holds the image, as well as the image by itself. Image searches on Google can drive significant traffic to your website if your image is ranking on Google image search.

If you are in a competitive niche, Google image search can be a backdoor to attract organic traffic to your website easily. Always use unique, entertaining images on your website.

Here a few benefits of doing image SEO:

  • Drives organic traffic from Google image search
  • Improves on-page SEO
  • Improves engagement metrics
  • Builds image links

The most overlooked benefit of doing image SEO is link building. People like using beautiful images on their websites and links to image source.

Yes, sometimes people steal images without even crediting the original owner of the image, but Google still gives credit to the original owner because it knows who has uploaded that image for the first time.

We have to use images to provide the best user experience while implementing web-adaptive image practices. At all times, your images should be easily discoverable, crawlable, and indexable by the search engines.

By February 2018, Google has made an important update to its image search. Google removed the “View Image” button from the image search results. It means one wants to see the full-size image must visit the website image is published.

They announced the update on Twitter.

Google image search update, February 2018.

What it means optimized correctly image search can drive good amounts of traffic to our site.

We will discuss all in detail in further sections of this post.

How does Google handle images?

Search engine spiders have limited ability to understand the image files. Google is good at reading text-based content. The only way Google can interpret an image is by using the directives provided by the image owner.

Some people speculate that Google’s Cloud Vision API (Google’s machine learning image recognition tool) can easily differentiate between different objects. Hence, alt tags no longer important to use for our images. I wouldn’t agree with this claim.

The same people say backlinks are no longer important but only good content. This is a similar type of generalization lacking a broader perspective on the topic.

Even more surprisingly, search engines are better at understanding video content than image content. The reason behind, videos can be transcribed to the text by the algorithm while images cannot be converted to any text.

We also know, search engines have the limited ability to read text on an image to understand its relevance. But this is an insignificant factor that can be omitted for the image SEO best practices.

Although Google cannot understand what an image is about, it can compare to other images in its database to make an educated estimation.

For instance, you grabbed someone else’s image and changed its name, image size, resolution, etc. There are still chances are high Google will find out that your image is not unique.

Google compares the pixels of an image you upload with the other images uploaded earlier to the web. If the mathematical algorithm they use believes that there is good amount pixels are the same, they define your image as is not unique. By using pixel comparison, Google makes an estimation of its relevancy.

Why would you care about improving your image SEO?

If your website takes over 3 seconds to load, users are more likely to leave your website. This will dramatically increase your bounce rate and eventually affect your SEO rankings. Image optimization helps improving page performance by decreasing load times.

But this is not the only reason we want to target improving image SEO.

Website performance is one big factor for good SEO since it enhances user experience and improves search ranking.

However, the other goal we want to achieve establishing relevancy for the search engines. We want our image content to complement our text content at all times. The only way of achieving it, providing descriptive directives to Google. In this way, these directives may be interpreted in a way we want Google to do.

Also, Image search competition is less than regular web search. Properly done, it can bring a significant advantage for you over your competitors.

Use unique images only

Unique images for image SEO

If you want to rank your image on Google, you need to use unique images only. There is no way to rank someone’s image that is used somewhere else earlier.

What I mean with the unique image that Google has not seen it before. It can be an image you have taken with your digital camera, or you edited an existing image you found much enough it formed to a new image.

I will show you later how to understand Google’s opinion about the uniqueness of our image. Simply keep reading!

Unique images not to violate copyright

Also, beware that, you cannot use an image from the web on your site. This is true, even if you give a credit to the original owner by backlinking to their site.

It is best if you can create an entirely unique image. If this is not possible you may consider creating a new image from one or multiple existing images. This will prevent you from having potential copyright issues with the original owner of the image.

Steps to do for using our images on our blog

Let’s say you took a hiking trip to the “Wittenberg Hill.” You brought your camera to take photos. You want to share these photos on your travel blog.

You took incredible looking pictures. Once you’re back, you’ve moved pictures from your digital camera to your computer.

But what to do now with those images?

Let’s discuss the best image SEO practices to achieve optimal Google ranking positions.

Naming your images

naming images
Google’s guidance on naming images: From The Wayback Machine

You’ll start by naming your images relevant to where you want to use them. Search engines can’t read images or have very limited ability. We want to tell Google what about our images are.

Image name relevancy

Most people make the mistake of naming their images with their keywords even if the image is not associated with that keyword. It is a big mistake that Google doesn’t like at all. The goal here is to be as relevant as possible.

For example, if you were eating a snickers bar while resting at the mountain peak, then name the picture as “eating snickers Wittenberg Mountain” or “eating snickers resting.”

Ideal image name length

Don’t use more than 4-5 words to name your images, it’s not natural. Using very long names is nothing but “keyword stuffing.”

Good image naming practice: “golden retriever”

Bad image naming practice: “golden retriever dog puppy canine”

Search engines don’t like it. It can devalue your image ranking or may trigger webspam algorithm flags if you do it repetitively.

Optimizing The Size Of Your Image File

It is necessary to optimize the size of the image file before uploading it to your server. Else, it will take too long your pages to load for your visitors.

An image’s size depends on its dimensions and format.

Try to compress your image as much as possible but without compromising much of the image quality.

What is the right image size then?

There is no one size fits all response to this question. You need to compress your images for the best SEO image size. However, you will still want to keep images to look as visually appealing as possible.

Find the right image size/image quality balance

Bigger is not better when it comes to image size. You need to downsize your images to 100kb or less to make it work for the web. I target 50-60kb of image size for my pages. If I use many images for a longer post I target my images to be less than 50kb.

Here is the list of some image optimization tools you may want to use:
  • Photoshop
  • Paint
  • Canva
  • JPEG Optimizer
  • Optimizilla
  • Kraken.io
  • Caesium
  • ImageRecycle
  • CompressNow
  • Convert Image
  • Trimage
  • GiftOfSpeed
  • Compress.Photos
  • JPEGmini
  • Compressor.io
  • Online Image Optimizer
  • PNG Gauntlet
  • TinyPNG
  • ImageOptim
  • Yahoo Smush-It

Use an image format that suits your needs:

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group): The benefit of JPEG files is better compression and smaller file size without compressing the image quality, which I believe should be the best web image format.

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format): GIF image format supports transparent backgrounds and allows for small file sizes. The downside of the GIF image format only supports 256 colors, which negatively affects image quality.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics): PNG is a good quality image format that supports clear background, and provides great versatility to use multiple background colors. It has the ability to store the image’s short text definition which is helpful for the search engines. The downside of PBN, it has slightly larger file sizes than JPEG. It’s also not as widely supported as JPEG or GIF.

Using Alt tag

Let’s say you’re searching for “felis domesticus”. This search will probably result in a list of felis domesticus photos. Once you click on one of the pictures, you’ll be led to the site where it’s shown.

Matt Cutts talks about alt tags, video is old but still very relevant.

Knowing Google can not understand the meaning of a photo. Then how does it interpret and turn any object into a search result?

We should tell Google the image’s meaning using the “Atl tag”.

What’s the Alt tag?

It is an attribute (HTML code) explicitly added within a tag relating to the image of an HTML page to help Google Images understand images. The key goal is to give the photo an alternative definition and function as an anchor text when used as a page link.

Some users confuse the Alt tag with the Title tag, which is responsible for showing a small window with descriptive text when moving over an image, a function technically known as “hint” or “tooltip.”

Why Use Alt tag?

alt attribute

The Alt tag helps Google to determine image ranking in a search based on words used in the image description.

If an image is not loaded, the alt tag will be shown. If your alt tag is irrelevant to your subject, your visitors won’t get a good impression.

How to write alt tags for SEO?

Here are the best tips to write great alt tags for SEO.

  • Write a descriptive text no more than 4-5 words
  • Use your primary and secondary keywords in image alt tags
  • Sprinkle your LSI keywords
  • Stay relevant to the actual image context
  • Avoid excessive exact match keywords
  • Use stop words (to, from, with, etc.) and partial match keywords

Using Captions

The caption still holds its weight on SEO rankings. Because it helps increase user experience. Captions are read much more often than the other copy on the page hence it helps to make our pages scannable.

Keep in mind, Google’s focus is user experience. If using captions improves user experience, just do it. If it reduces user experience, avoid it.

Write a proper description in the caption

Consider submitting an XML image sitemap

Here what Google thinks about image sitemaps

“Images are an important source of information about the content on your site. You can give Google additional details about your images, and provide the URL of images we might not otherwise discover by adding information to an image sitemap.”

Google collects information about the images on a website through Google Image Sitemaps. This can help Google find images that may not be found by crawling, such as those accessed via JavaScript forms. The website owner must add relevant details to the default Sitemap to provide Google with information about photos on the website. It includes the image form, subject matter, caption, name, place of geography, and license.

Use a CDN Service

Using a Content Distribution Network is a good way to accelerate a website and reduce resource use. The CDN dramatically improves server response time by transmitting your static content (images, Html, JavaScript, videos, etc.) instantly to your visitor’s nearest location.

The Content Delivery Network is primarily for large content-rich websites, but any website can use it to improve performance. Many CDN providers are chargeable, but Cloudflare provides free CDN services while offering DDoS security and other great features.

Secure your images

Although making sure your images are protected from unauthorized or inappropriate use, allowing others to use your images isn’t always a bad thing.

You can register for a Creative Commons license (or equivalent license) that requires attribution.

Important Tip: Make using your images simple for other people. Provide the image with an embeddable HTML snippet including attribution and a link to your website.

Upload images to your site

Using WordPress photo optimization becomes an easy task.

WordPress image optimization

You don’t need any coding experience to find where to place your alt tags, caption, and description.

Take advantage of WordPress image optimization plugins to further improve your image optimization. WP Smush works fine in my experience.

Other Tips

If you are creating a logo or icon use SVG format. For example, you can handle images in SVG format by using CSS or JavaScript without a loss of quality.

Try using WebP format which is better than JPEG and PNG. It will produce high-quality results with smaller file sizes. Using software like Squoosh to convert your image to WebP.

If you want to preserve background transparency use PNG format.

For larger pictures or infographics, stick to JPEG format. It will give you good results by protecting colors and clarity with a relatively small file size.

Exif Data

Matt Cutts talks about Google’s use of EXIF data as a ranking factor

It may be a good idea to keep the EXIF data rather than turning off stripping in the ImageOptim settings.

In fact, if you do a local SEO, this could be another valid reason for keeping EXIF data untouched. But many SEO experts claim that Google has never clearly stated that they have used EXIF data such as GPS coordinates in order to influence local rankings.

The potential benefits of keeping EXIF information unchanged when doing local SEO are probably greater than those of the negative ones.

Does image name affect SEO?

Image name affects SEO because it is one of the few information Google can read about the images. By reading an image, Google can have a better idea of what your image is about. Use image names for your advantage and sprinkle your keywords into the name without keyword stuffing.

Should you use dashes Or underscores naming your images?

Ideally, you should neither use dashes nor underscores naming your images. However, Google is smart enough to understand your phrase even if you place one of those characters in between your keywords.

If you really need to choose in between of them, go with dashes, underscores is not a common practice naming items in SEO.

How to do Image Optimization for WordPress?

If you are using WordPress there are plenty of plugins for image optimization. WordPress by default allows adding alt tag, image description, and caption information when uploading images on the pages.

Image optimization in SEO is an important consideration you need to pay special attention if you truly want to move your SEO to the next step.