How to Optimize Images to Improve Your Website Visibility and Traffic

By Nina Anthony | August 18, 2011

Since search engine can’t “see” images, there are four key elements for optimizing your images for search:

  1. Image file name
  2. Text immediately surrounding the image
  3. The overall content of the page where the image appears
  4. Image ALT attribute in the image element tag

Optimizing these elements provides important information to the search engines about your images and helps them return the best image results for a related keyword search. And, since all the major search engines include image search listings in regular search results, image optimization can help you improve your rankings for certain keyword searches, increase traffic to your site, and, hopefully, get you more click-throughs and conversions.

In the video below, Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team at Google, explains how image optimization can result in improved traffic:

So, how exactly do you optimize your images to help drive more traffic to your website? Here are a few tips:

1. Use Descriptive Keywords in the Image File Name.

This should be the first step of image SEO. When you upload images from your camera or from the Web to your computer, your files are given numerical names such as “P60843860.jpeg” This doesn’t convey anything about your image to the search engines if you upload your image file to your FTP client or CMS with this name. So, be sure to change the original file name to something descriptive that will help search engines figure out what is in the picture and determine its relevancy for a given search query.

So, if you’re a real estate agent in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and you’re uploading an image of an adobe home, rather than uploading a file with the numerical file name example given above, rename the file to “adobe-home-SantaFe.jpeg.” This contains keywords that potential customers might actually use to find a home in your market.

Google also suggest that you use the appropriate file extension for images, so, make sure you use common image file types such as JPG, GIF, PNG, and BMP (jpeg is the preferred image format for photographic images, while gif is the more common format for graphic images).

2. Write descriptive text for the ALT attribute.

The ALT Attribute is part of the image element tag in HTML code. It was originally designed to specify alternate text for screen readers that help visually-impaired people identify and interpret what is being displayed on a computer. (The text is conveyed via a speech synthesizer.)

Since Googlebot and other search engine spiders cannot see the images directly, they, too, rely on the information provided in the “ALT” attribute to understand what an image is depicting. For both SEO and enhancing user experience, the ALT attribute is very helpful.

So, how do you write an effective ALT attribute – also sometimes referred to as “alternative text” for an image? Let’s start by taking a look at the image element tag with the ALT attribute as it appears in HTML code:

An example of the ALT attribute for optimizing images.

In some cases, the ALT text can act as a replacement for the text in an image, such as a company name and tagline, as in the image below of the WESST logo. The ALT text simply reads: “WESST. The place to start and grow your business.”

WESST. The place to start and grow your business.

Don’t just throw in a quick one or two-word label for an image. Try to make your ALT attributes/alt text read as a descriptive sentence.

If an image is used in navigation (as a link to an internal page on your site), make sure both the image and the ALT attribute/alt text are relevant to what the user will find on the landing page. For example, if you have a image of a horse property on a real estate home page, make sure you link to a relevant page and/or listing of a horse property on your site using keywords. Your ALT attribute/alt text might read something like: “ABC Real Estate offers a variety of horse properties for sale.”

3. Use the title attribute, captions and relevant anchor text or bold-faced keyword phrases in content surrounding an image to reinforce image optimization.

While Internet Explorer displays the ALT attribute when you mouse over an image, FireFox, only displays text contained in the image’s title attribute. So, it’s a good idea to also place descriptive text in a title tag, as well.

If you want to give a strong signal to the search engines that a particular image is important, you can also add a heading containing the keyword phrase you’re targeting above the image or use anchor text or bold tags for relevant text near the image. Adding a caption with the important keywords at the beginning of the caption also helps emphasize an image’s importance to search engines.

4. Choose quality images relevant to the overall content of the page.

Image research by usability expert Jakob Nielson shows that users give more attention to information-rich images that display content related to what they are looking for rather than fluffy decorative images. So, don’t upload an image of a cute fluffy puppy if you’re not promoting a product or service related to dogs or puppies in the content surrounding the image.

Also, make sure the images you choose translate well to thumbnail size. You want images that will look good when they’re reduced to the small file size of the image results that Google includes in its universal search results.

While it’s best to use original photos that relate to your business and photos of real people who work for your organization rather than stock images, that’s not always possible with limited budgets. Using stock photos is inevitable for most site owners – especially if your site includes a blog that requires the use of a lot of images.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you found some of the information I provided useful.

About the Author

Nina Anthony

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