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Building SEO Value with Images

Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since the world started using the acronym in 1997 (that’s pre-Google!). It’s become a powerful and essential marketing tool, ensuring existing and potential customers can find you online. These days, it’s no longer just about optimizing your webpage text. Image SEO is an increasingly important aspect of your content marketing strategy. Not only can it boost your Image Search Rankings, but many search engines now include images within their regular web search results. Having your images featured within the main results page can help you increase your click-through rates, sending more traffic to your site.

Understanding Image SEO

Great image SEO achieves two goals: it improves your website’s overall SEO value and increases user engagement. Following best practices can help search engines understand your content and ensure your images are crawled, indexed, and displayed on search results. Then, the fitting, high-quality, and relevant graphics lead to more traffic and keep visitors on your site longer. Longer and more frequent visits send positive signals to search engines and boost your placement in the results. It’s essential to do what you can to stay at the top of the results for your keywords – the top three Google search results get more than 54% of all clicks!

Let’s take a look at some of the strategies to optimize your Image SEO.

Choosing the Right Image File Format

The file format you choose for your images matters! The correct file type can speed up your webpage loading time, improving your SEO rank. File formats like JPEG, PNG, and WebP affect the size and quality of your pictures, each with pros and cons.

When choosing an image format, consider:

  • JPEG is typically best for photos and complex pictures because it supports 24-bit color and can compress images without losing too much quality. But JPEG compression can cause artifacts, which are visible distortions in the image.
  • PNG is better for simple and transparent images because it supports transparency and doesn’t suffer from the same artifacts as JPEG. However, PNG files are larger than JPEG files.
  • WebP is becoming increasingly popular and balances quality and file size well. Most browsers support it and can compress images even more than JPEG without losing quality.

When choosing a file format, the two most important considerations are the type of image (photo, logo, etc.) and the quality needed. You want to choose the smallest, simplest format without compromising image quality. By selecting the right file format, you can improve the performance of your website and make it more user-friendly.

Image Compression and Resizing

While there are many mysterious parts of the search ranking algorithms, it’s clear that faster page load times lead to higher ranking. Since images make up a significant chunk of a web page’s load time – more than 60% on average – large image files can be a substantial obstacle to a fast website. Sluggish load times don’t just risk your search engine rankings. They can also frustrate visitors enough to leave your site before engaging with your content, impacting your rankings even more. 

Luckily, there are tools for compressing and resizing images to make your website faster and more accessible. Tools like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or online services like TinyPNG can help you compress images without compromising quality. Aim for the smallest file size that maintains good visual quality, and remember that anything larger than a few hundred kilobytes can harm your site speed.  

Using Alt Text Optimization

Alt text, short for “alternative text,” serves multiple functions for images on the web. First, it makes your images accessible to users who rely on screen readers due to visual impairments. These software tools read the alt text aloud, allowing users to understand the content and function of an image they can’t see. 

In cases where an image fails to load due to a poor internet connection or other technical issues, the alt text will be displayed instead. Some browsers also display alt text when users hover their mouse or trackpad over an image. 

Alt text helps with SEO by providing search engines with valuable context about the image. This additional information allows search engines to categorize your image accurately and can contribute to higher web page rankings in search results.

Take advantage of the power of alt text by making it specific and descriptive. If your target keywords align with the image, including them in your alt text is a good idea, but don’t force it. The primary goal is to make the text informative and helpful for human users and search engines.

A close up of someone looking at digital camera settings with a laptop and iPhone in the background

Choosing Image File Names

Image filenames, like alt text, provide additional context for your images. They offer search engines an extra layer of information for understanding what an image represents and contribute to better image SEO. 

While it may feel easier to stick with the default filenames that your camera or phone might generate, such as “DCM10045.jpg,” this doesn’t offer any contextual information. Given that search engines like Google examine filenames as part of their ranking algorithms, having a descriptive filename should be part of your image SEO strategy. Instead of “DCM10045.jpg,” saving your image as something like “sunset-over-pacific-ocean.jpg” would be more effective.

When creating your filenames, use hyphens to separate words instead of using spaces or special characters. For instance, instead of naming an image “BlueSky&Clouds.jpg,” a more SEO-friendly strategy would be “blue-sky-clouds.jpg.”

Incorporating relevant keywords into your filename can also be a smart move. However, as with alt text, it’s important to avoid keyword stuffing – inserting irrelevant or excessive keywords to manipulate rankings. Only use keywords if they fit your image. Even if search engines don’t immediately flag this, it’s considered poor SEO practice and can hurt your rankings in the long run.

Google also gathers data about an image from the surrounding content on the webpage, including captions and image titles. You can take advantage of this by placing your images near relevant text. Doing so can provide a more holistic context for your readers and search engine crawlers.

Submitting Image Sitemaps

Unlike a standard sitemap, which focuses on the different pages of your website, an image sitemap specifically lists all the images that you want search engines to recognize. Since search engines can’t “see” images, they rely on this image map (in the form of an XML file) to understand them.

You can submit your image sitemap using tools like Google Search Console, a platform designed to help you manage your website’s presence in Google search results. Or, if you’re using a content management system like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, you might find built-in tools or plugins that can automatically generate sitemaps for you, including image sitemaps.

Google’s guidelines recommend image site maps and consider it a best practice for publishing images online. If Google can’t find your images, they won’t be displayed in image search results, and you’ll miss out on all the benefits we’ve mentioned so far. 

One example of when an image sitemap would be incredibly beneficial would be for e-commerce websites or any other site that features images within Javascript code or sliding galleries. These images can be challenging for search engines to find naturally, but with an image sitemap, sites like Google can easily access these “hidden” images. 

Embracing Image SEO

Image SEO should be an essential aspect of your overall SEO strategy. By paying attention to file types, image sizes, alt text, file names, and sitemaps, you can significantly improve your website’s search engine ranking and your user experience.

Bringing your website in line with SEO best practices and keeping up with the ever-evolving guidelines while creating new content and running your business is overwhelming, if not impossible, to do on your own. If you want a hand fine-tuning your website for optimal search engine performance or crafting compelling content, contact us today. We’ll handle the marketing so you can handle your business. Let’s chat!

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