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  • Image SEO Guide: Optimizing Images for Search Engines

    Image SEO Guide: Optimizing Images for Search Engines

    When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), images matter.

    In this post, we will be discussing SEO for images. More specifically:

    • What is image optimization or SEO?
    • Why is image SEO so critical?
    • What can you do to enhance your on-site SEO with images?
    • If I add an image will it add value to the content or detract?
    • Do my responsive images “show” vs. “tell” by enhancing the page or post dialogue? Or, are they just glorified stock images?

    Why Photos & Images Matter for SEO

    Just as video can add to the user experience, so can responsive images. Whether it is a photograph, artwork, graphic design or some sort of chart or graph, an image optimization can provide a great deal of information and greatly enhance the user experience. When a popular photograph or other image is shared on social media channels, Google, Bing and other search engines will rate the originating website or web page much more highly and boost its rankings on search engine and keyword image search results.

    Image searches account for more than 1/4 of all online search.

    Images are much easier to produce than video, although video has become easier to provide in recent years with webcams and handheld cameras. But images often times can be produced very easily and for very low cost when website owners and contributors can provide digital photos, proprietary artwork, graphs and other designs that illustrate information, entertain people and offer unique ways to demonstrate how something works or has an impact within a particular context.

    Your first goal is to optimize your image to maximize user experience. While the experience of your users is qualitative, and does not directly influence your search rankings, Google or many search engines does take user behavior into consideration. If you have better images, you’ll have lower bounce rates, and lower bounce rates means you’ll enjoy a higher authority.

    How to Optimize Your Images for SEO

    Optimizing your images with the appropriate meta data or structured data is important not only for Google Image search, but it will also ensure your blog posts themselves will be properly optimized. While Image SEO search gets less attention than search engines traditional search function, it can be a source of significant organic traffic, but your blog posts with embedded and properly optimized images can help your content to rocket to the top of the SERPs.

    Image Inclusion

    Your first step is to include images wherever you can. That doesn’t mean stuffing images into every nook and cranny of your website or web page, but it does mean having at least one significant image SEO for every major post on your blog. Without images, your site will appear bland, and people will be less willing to read your content or stick around.

    Image Appropriateness

    Next, you’ll have to make sure your Google images are appropriate for your content. It isn’t enough to pair a picture of a hamburger with an article about cat behavior simply because you “needed” an image SEO. Your images should be appropriate to the content they’re intended for, and if possible, they should be original. This will keep users on your page for longer, which can improve your authority.

    Image Captions

    As an added measure, it’s a good idea to include captions with your images. While image optimization captions won’t necessarily help your images rank higher in a search, they will help users understand why you’ve chosen specific images for your posts, which leads to an overall better user experience.

    Appropriate Alt Text

    Various Google updates have seriously cracked down on the overuse of keywords, including one or two keywords in your alt text can still help you rank for target queries. To add alt text, add alt=”example text here” to your image alt tags, where “example text here” stands in for your keyword-optimized description. Just be sure that your description is appropriate to the actual image SEO & content.

    An example of image alt text using WordPress as a CMS.

    Appropriate File Name

    In addition to an alt tag, you’ll want to make sure your image titles are appropriate. For example, if you’re using that hamburger picture from earlier, titling it “Delicious looking hamburger” is much more appropriate than “Broken ukulele.” This image title will clue Google in to the image’s content, and will help it appear in more relevant searches.

    Adding Images to Your XML Sitemap

    As a final tactic, be sure to include all your images in your XML sitemap. Google peruses your sitemap to learn how your site is laid out and to discover new content on your site, so make sure it is updated regularly. Otherwise, your images will be harder to find, which could negate the effectiveness of your other strategies.

    Your Images Should Load Quickly 

    We discuss optimizing image load speed in a separate post.

    Where to Find Public Images

    Where to Find Public Images

    The first question most people ask about public images is “where can I find them?” The prospect of free-to-use images is certainly appealing, but that means nothing to someone who doesn’t know where to look. Finding high quality public images can be challenging, but the extra effort you put into finding perfect specimens is typically worthwhile.

    One of my personal favorite sources for free public images is Photo Pin, a search resource that scours Creative Commons photos from Flickr and similar image hosting sites. If you’re looking for something specific—like a penguin for your post about Google’s Penguin update—one search can give you dozens of options. However, when you find the image you need, make sure to check its licensing. Some images cannot be used commercially.

    Some other sources for free public images include:

    No matter where you find your public images, you’ll also have to give proper attribution to the original owner. Different sources have different requirements for the type of language you need to include, but in general, you’ll need to say something along the lines of “Image courtesy of ____,” calling out the name of the photographer or creator and including a link back to his/her original site. Some sources include a convenient code for you to copy and paste into your document, but if they do not, it’s still important to provide attribution. It is sometimes a legal requirement and always a polite gesture.


    Once all the images on your site are optimized for search, you should start to see far more organic search traffic coming in. With a higher domain authority from decreased site speed, you’ll rank higher for relevant keywords, you’ll gain extra traffic from image-based searches, and your users will be more likely to stick around if you have eye-catching, well-captioned images. The bottom line is that while it isn’t completely necessary, it is incredibly valuable, and you’d be remiss in neglecting the image optimization of your onsite images.







    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) services - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing, assisting in everything from SEO for lawyers to complex technical SEO for Fortune 500 clients like Wiley, Box.com, Qualtrics and HP.

    Tim holds expertise in building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

    When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter