Taking the time to optimize your images for SEO is a simple and important step in making your website more competitive in search engines. It’s the kind of little thing a lot of businesses miss out on, and that’s precisely why doing so can give you a competitive edge in trapping your target keywords in SERPs (search engine results pages).
And as with many SEO best practices, most of the steps involved in image SEO best practices will also improve the user’s experience of your site. So the work you put into it will not only increase the chances of your site getting found, but it will also make your visitors enjoy the experience.
Why are images important for SEO
Much of the way we understand SEO is about text and keywords, but images have a role to play too. For one thing, they’re a huge part of the user experience.
Think about it: if you were on a webpage that looked like a Word document with nothing but text on a white background, you wouldn’t feel like the website was trustworthy or memorable.
Over the years, researchers have conducted studies confirming that images help people process information faster and remember it more effectively. This means that images can make your website content more powerful and engaging.
Images are an important part of the way we experience a web page. This is important for SEO because Google’s algorithm pays attention to behavioral metrics that reflect user experiences, such as bounce rates and the amount of time visitors spend on a webpage.
Also, images can also be optimized to boost SEO as well. Where most visitors to your page will only see the image itself, search engine crawlers see the text behind the image that you can fill out to tell them what you want them to see.
12 tips for image SEO best practices
Follow these tips to optimize the images on your website for search engines.
1. Use relevant, high-quality images.
This is crucial for the user experience side of SEO. An image unrelated to the page content will create confusion for the user, and a blurry or incorrectly cropped image will make your page look ugly and unprofessional. Make sure each image you use has a clear relationship to the page content and looks good.
You have to be careful not to use images that you don’t have the right to display on your site. However, there exist online resources that provide free images such as pexels.com. And DIY design tools like Canva now make creating original graphics convenient, fast and easy, even for non-designers.
Spend some time on each page you create and blog posts you publish to find at least one good image to include – bonus points if you can find some.
2. Customize the file name.
This is one of those steps people often neglect.
Before adding an image to your website, take some time to customize the filename. Change it to something relevant to the image and, if possible, include one of your landing keywords for the page. For example, if your webpage is about a backpack product you sell, the image might have a name similar to brand-name-backpack.jpg.
Most visitors will never see the filename, but it gives you a way to give search engines a little more information about what’s on the page and the best keywords to associate with it.
3. Use alt text.
This is another part of the webpage that most visitors won’t see, but search engine crawlers do. You can provide alt text for each image you add to your website that will be displayed in place of your image if a browser has trouble loading it or if a visitor uses a screen reader.
This text is another part of the page that you can use to tell search engines what the page is about. Always update alt text for your images. Include your main keyword for the page and something descriptive of the image itself. If you use WordPress, there is an alternate text field that you can fill in to do this.
If you prefer to use HTML, you can add alt = “your alt text” to the image tag.
Alt-text is useful for SEO but, just as important, it is a good way to improve the accessibility of your website. So those few minutes you take to boost your SEO are definitely worth it.
4. Add captions to images.
Captions are yet another text field that you have the option to include for every image on your website, but this time around, that’s what your visitors can see. When it makes sense, use the caption field to add an explanation of the image or to provide additional information about it to the viewer.
Image captions can potentially be an additional opportunity to include your target keyword on the page, but don’t force it. Include a caption only if there is a natural way to do it that doesn’t detract from the visitor’s experience.
Adding captions is a good idea in general, but there is no clear rule on how best to use them. In some cases, captions can be a good opportunity to add some personality or insert a joke. If that improves the user experience more than adding your keyword would improve your SEO, then it’s the best option. Use your best judgment here.
5. Reduce the size of the image file.
You do the hard work of finding or creating an image, the next step is to upload it to your site, right? Not yet.
Oftentimes, the file size of an image is much larger than it needs to be for the size that will be displayed on your website. By taking a few seconds before uploading to reduce the file size, you can make sure it doesn’t slow down your website.
Site speed is an SEO ranking factor, so if your visitors have to wait a while for a page to load on your site, it’s bad for the user experience and your SEO.
If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, resizing the look of an image on your website after uploading it to the CMS is super easy, but it means you still have a large file size which slows things down on the backend.
You can make your website faster while viewing high resolution images by resizing your image files before uploading them to your website. Often this is easy to do with the programs that come standard on most computers, such as the Mac Preview program or Microsoft Paint. Or, if you have Adobe Photoshop, you can use the “Save for Web” command to find the smallest file size that still provides a good resolution.
After resizing, you can still reduce the size of your image file without sacrificing quality by compressing them. Check out tools like WP-optimize if you’re on WordPress.
6. Find the right quality-size ratio.
This part is a bit tricky because you want your images to look good (see: the “high quality” part of # 1), but you don’t want them big enough to slow down your website.
So as you go through the steps above, keep your eyes peeled to make sure your image doesn’t suddenly become blurry or start showing itself so small that you can’t tell what it is.
Test each image on your website across multiple device types and screen sizes to make sure it’s still okay even after you’ve reduced the size. Sometimes it comes down to finding the middle ground between file size and visual quality.
7. Choose the correct 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 files 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 doesn’t work.
- PNG is an image file format that provides high resolution and can support a textual description of the image useful for SEO. The main drawback of PNG is that it tends to require larger file sizes than JPG and GIF. It is often best for complex images and those that include text.
- GIF doesn’t support a wide range of colors like the other two, but it can be a good choice for simpler images. It supports small files and transparent backgrounds.
For photos, JPG often works well. For designed graphics, GIFs and PNGs are more common, and if you need a higher quality version, PNG is the way to go.
8. Add images to your sitemap.
Google encourages website owners to send them a sitemap to help them crawl their pages and add them to the index. They also allow you to include images in your sitemap or, alternatively, 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 Rank Math and SEOPress. If you’d rather do it yourself, Google provides information on creating an image sitemap here.
By providing Google with clear information about the images on your website, you increase the likelihood of them appearing in Google Image Search, which increases the overall findability of your website.
9. Use Responsive Images.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about responsive websites.
Getting responsive is the best way to make sure your website looks good on all types of devices, regardless of screen size, by making sure all users see the same information. Using responsive images is part of that.
When you add an image to your website, you can make it responsive using the HTML srcset. This lets browsers select the image file size that makes the most sense for the screen size the user is on automatically and load it. It’s a super affordable tool that takes care of responsive sizing for you, so you don’t have to worry.
If your website runs on WordPress, the CMS takes care of this for you. As long as you’re using WordPress 4.4 or later (which you definitely should be using by now), your images will automatically have srcset code applied without you having to do anything.
10. Use lazy loading.
Being lazy isn’t always a bad thing, and definitely not when it comes to lazy loading.
Slow loading is a technique that can increase the loading speed of your website by making your website wait to load the images further down the page last. Visitors will not be stuck waiting to see any content while their browser tries to load everything on the whole page, instead, they can start seeing the most important elements of the page and trust that the rest will load by the time they get there.
This tactic can be especially useful for websites with long pages. If viewing the full page on your site requires a lot of scrolling, why would visitors wait for the images at the bottom of the page to load before they can read the text at the top?
If you’re using WordPress, the easiest way to implement slow loading is with a plugin. Lazy loading is one of the many features included in the wp-optimize plugin if you want to go that route.
11. Use the product and recipe template, if applicable.
Schema markup is one more tool you can use to tell Google what’s on a page. For some types of content, it provides search engines with data that helps them provide useful information to users directly on the SERP.
When you search for a recipe or product and see star ratings, calories, prices, or inventory information next to the result in Google, it’s because the website uses the schema markup.
Schema markup is only relevant to certain types of content, but if your website includes these types of content, then it’s a smart way to further optimize your site.
Using relevant schema markup can potentially make some of your pages more prominent in search results by including your image next to the result.
And within image search, Google will often use a pattern to display a badge in the results that tells users the type of content for the image.
12. Host images on your site.
While it may be tempting to host your image on a third-party website like Imgur to save space, this carries real risk. Whenever those sites are overloaded with traffic, your images may not load, creating a confusing experience on your website and making your brand look ugly.
You will be better served by hosting images on your website and using the advice provided above to reduce the size of your image file so that it doesn’t slow down your web pages any more than necessary.
And when you go to a reputable hosting provider, you’ll always know that your images (and the rest of your website) will display as they should to your visitors.
Make time for image SEO
Image SEO best practices are relatively easy, as far as SEO is concerned.
By taking 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 search engines.
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