Image SEO Best Practices: The Ultimate How-To Guide
SEO involves a lot of different parts, so it can be easy for businesses to overlook some of the smaller steps to practicing good on-site SEO, but every little thing you can do to strengthen your website’s SEO makes a difference – especially if it’s something other sites may be overlooking.
Taking time to optimize your images for SEO is a simple and important step to making your website more competitive in the search engines.
It’s the kind of little thing many businesses let slip through the cracks, which makes it that much more worthwhile for you to do.
Why Images Are Important for SEO
So much of how we understand SEO is all about text and keywords, but images have a role to play as well. For one thing, they’re extremely important for user experience.
Think about it: if you found yourself on a webpage that looked like a Word doc with nothing but text on a white background, you wouldn’t feel like the website was trustworthy or memorable. In fact, research verifies that people are 80% more likely to read content that includes an image and 64% more likely to remember it afterward.
Images are a big part of how we experience a web page. That matters for SEO because Google’s algorithm pays attention to behavior metrics that reflect user experience, like bounce rates and the amount of time visitors spend on a web page.
But images can also be optimized to more directly help with SEO as well. Where the average visitor to your page will only see the image itself, search engine crawlers see text behind the image that you can fill in to tell them what you want them to see.
7 Tips to Improve Your SEO for Images
For every image you use on your website, follow these tips to optimize them for the search engines.
1. Use relevant, high-quality images.
This is crucial for the user experience side of SEO. An image that’s unrelated to the content on the page will be confusing for the user, and one that’s blurry or badly cropped will just make your page look bad and unprofessional. Make sure every image you use has a clear relationship to what’s on the page and looks good.
You have to be careful not to use any images that you don’t have the rights to, but you can find lots of resources online that provide free images businesses can use. Commit some time for each page you create and blog post you publish to finding at least one good image to include – bonus points if you can find a few.
2. Customize the filename.
This is one of those steps that’s so easy it’s amazing everyone doesn’t do it.
Before you add an image to your website, take time to customize the filename. Change it to something that’s relevant to the page and includes one of your target keywords for the page. If your web page is about a backpack product you sell, the image could be named something like brandname-backpack.jpg.
Most visitors will never see the filename, but it gives you a way to provide the search engines a little more information about what’s on the page and the best keywords to associate with it.
3. Use alt tags.
This is another part of the webpage that most visitors won’t see, but search engine crawlers do. You can provide alt text for every image you add to your website that will show up in place of your image if a browser has trouble loading it. This text is one more part of the page that you can use to signal to search engines what the page is about.
Always update the alt text for your images. Include your primary keyword for the page and something descriptive of the image itself. If you use WordPress, there’s an alt text field you can fill in to do this.
If you prefer to use html, you can add alt=”your alt text” to your image tag.
4. Find the right quality-to-size ratio.
This part’s a little tricky, because you want your images to look really good (see: the “high quality” part of #1), but you don’t want them to be big enough to slow down your website. Site speed is an SEO ranking factor, so if your visitors have to wait a while for a page on your site to load, it’s bad for the user experience and your SEO.
Often the file size of an image is much larger than it needs to be for the size it will show up on your website. If you use a CMS like WordPress, resizing how an image appears on your website after you load it to the CMS is super easy – but it means that you still have the large file size that slows things down on the backend.
You can make your website faster while still displaying images at a high resolution by resizing your image files before you load them to your website. Often this is easy to do with programs that come standard on most computers, like Mac’s Preview program or Microsoft Paint. Or if you have Adobe Photoshop, you can use the “Save for Web” command to help you find the smallest file size that still provides a good resolution.
5. Choose the right file type.
You’ve probably noticed that there are three main types of image files, but you may not really understand the difference between each. Understanding the different file types can help you choose the best one for your needs:
- JPG is one of the most common file formats because it uses small file sizes and is widely supported. But the image quality isn’t always as good as with PNG files and the format doesn’t support transparent backgrounds, so there are some cases where JPG won’t work.
- PNG is a file format for images that provides a high resolution and can support a text description of the image that’s good for SEO. The main downside of PNG is that it tends to require larger file sizes than JPG and GIF. It’s often best for complex images and those that include text.
- GIF doesn’t support as wide of a color range as the other two, but it can be a good choice for simpler images. It supports small file sizes and transparent backgrounds.
For photos, JPG often works well. For designed graphics, GIF and PNG are more common and if you need a higher quality version, the PNG is the way to go.
6. Add images to your sitemap.
Google encourages website owners to submit a sitemap to them to help them better crawl your pages and get them added to the index. They also allow you to include images in your sitemap or alternately, create a separate image sitemap to submit.
If you use WordPress, there are plugins you can use to generate an image sitemap for you, such as Google XML Sitemap for Images and Undira All Image Sitemap. If you prefer to do it yourself, Google provides information on creating an image sitemap here.
By giving Google clear information about the images on your website, you increase the likelihood of them showing up in Google Image Search, which increases your website’s overall findability.
7. Host images on your own site.
While it may be tempting to host your image on a third-party website like Imgur to save space, doing so involves a real risk. Anytime those sites are overloaded with traffic, your images could fail to load, creating a confusing experience on your website and making your brand look bad.
You’ll be better served by hosting the images on your own website and using the advice provided above to make your image file size smaller so they don’t slow down your web pages any more than necessary. And when you go with a reliable hosting provider, you’ll always know your images (and the rest of your website) will show up as they should for your visitors.
Make the Time for Image SEO
Image SEO is relatively easy, as far as SEO goes. By committing a little extra time to find the right images and optimize them for search every time you add a page to your website, you can give your pages an extra edge in the search engines.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.