It’s no secret that if you want to drive organic search traffic to your website, your SEO game needs to be on point. However, many people overlook one very critical resource for raking in all of that sweet, sweet organic traffic: Google image search. And in order to get that traffic, you need to know about image optimization.
Users who are searching for images on Google image search will often click on those images, which takes them to the website on which the image is hosted, which translates into organic traffic. So how much potential does Google image search have to drive traffic to your website? Data suggests that on websites with well optimized images the resulting traffic from Google image search can translate into 20% to 60% of all Google traffic. That’s huge!
"Resulting traffic from Google image search can be ~20% to 60% of traffic for well-optimized imgs." - The Content Factory
So how can you optimize images to rank well in Google image search and drive traffic to your website? Here’s everything you need to know:
Image Optimization Step One: Choose The Right Image
Choose Compelling, Relevant Images
Just like when you’re writing content to bring in SEO traffic, the best way to optimize images in a blog post is to make sure that the images that you choose are relevant and compelling. Your images should let the reader know that they’re in the right place and should be appealing enough to make them want to stick around for a while and check out the rest of your content.
When visitors spend more time on your page and click on links and images, all of that sends signals to Google that lets the search engine know that people enjoy your content — which will help to improve your rankings in Google search and in Google image search, as well.
One important thing to note about the images you choose is that, though there are several guides to image optimization floating around the Internet that say that unique images rank better in Google image search than, say, stock images, there is actually no evidence that this is actually the case. While duplicate content can cause your rankings to suffer, Google doesn’t penalize duplicate images the way it penalizes duplicate text.
However, this doesn’t mean that you are totally off the hook when it comes to duplicate images. Google might not directly penalize your duplicate images, but if your images are too generic or are overused, your readers are unlikely to stick around as long. Your best bet for optimizing images on your posts is to choose images that will appeal to your readers — and in many cases, unique images do the best job of this.
"If your images are too generic or are overused, your readers are unlikely to stick around as long." - The Content Factory
Make Sure Your Images Are Properly Sourced
Believe it or not, where you get your image is ultimately even more important than the image that you end up choosing. You need to be sure that the images that you are using have been legally sourced or you could be slapped with an $8,000 lawsuit for copyright infringement. Inadvertently using an image that you don’t have permission to use might seem like an innocent mistake, but the repercussions can be huge — and chances are good that you are going to get caught eventually.
Google image search has a reverse search feature that makes it easy for people to enter a particular image and find the other places that image appears on the web. This isn’t just a great tool for catching catfish, it also provides a way for people to check and see if images that they own are being used elsewhere on the Internet. So if you don’t catch your mistake before you post the image on your website, someone else probably will — and that person has grounds for a lawsuit. Yikes.
So where are the best places to source images? Here are some of our favorites:
Bigstock: This is a great go-to option for stock photos. Their collection is enormous, so you’re likely to find an image that will work for you. The prices are also pretty reasonable, with each image cost somewhere between a few cents and a few dollars, depending on what plan you’re signed up for.
Twenty20: If you’re using stock photos all the time like we are, you’ll quickly run into two problems. First of all, stock photos can sometimes be way too “stock photo-y”, which makes them less engaging to your readers. And secondly, there is a very real problem with diversity in the stock photo world — in that there is not nearly enough of it. Twenty20 addresses both of these issues with gorgeous, high-quality images that represent people of all backgrounds, body types, ethnicities, and orientations in ways that feel genuine and human.
However, there are a couple of drawbacks. Twenty20 doesn’t have nearly the number of images that some of the bigger stock photo sites have, so you might not always find what you’re looking for. Also, while photos on sites like Bigstock will run you a couple of bucks at most, Twenty20 costs about five times that for an image. If you use photos from Twenty20, you’ll want to use them strategically.
Unsplash: Unsplash has some of the most gorgeous stock photos that we’ve ever seen — and the best part is that they are all 100% free to anyone, even for commercial use. However, their limited library and the fact that the artistic nature of their images doesn’t make them a great fit for every project keeps this from being a resource that you can rely on as your one and only.
In reality, if you’re using stock images a lot, you’ll probably settle on some combination of stock photo sites for sourcing your images — that’s certainly been our strategy. Just make sure that before you make a final decision that you check the “terms and services” for the image service that you use so that you can be absolutely certain you’ve got permission to use the images on the website you are sourcing them for. Not all licenses are the same, and some stock photo sites have restrictions about what kinds of businesses and products you can represent with their images — so be sure to double check.
If You're a Brick and Mortar Business, Remember Local Image SEO
Local SEO also benefits from great image SEO. Including beautiful photos of your business location, staff photos that show off your business culture and professional-quality product photos — all optimized with keywords, alt text and optimized file names — will help your company appeal to local customers searching for products and services like yours. You should also include these photos in your Google My Business listing.
Image Optimization Step Two: Uploading Your Image
Use Keywords in Your Image Name
A+ image optimization starts with the name that you give to your images. The keywords that you identify in the keyword research stage of creating your content should be included in the image names. Whenever possible, these keywords should be worked into your images names from the start.
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If you need help getting started with keyword research for SEO, or even if you just want to polish up your skills, click the button below to get your free copy of our Keyword Research Starter Kit with three complete guides to keyword research and our keyword research template.
Use Hyphens Instead of Underscores to Name Images
Many people aren’t aware of this fact, but there is a difference in how Google treats hyphens as opposed to underscores when reading text, alt-text, file names, and even URLs — and if you choose the wrong one it could negatively impact your image SEO. This is because when Google sees words that are separated by hyphens, it assumes the words are separate words. However, when Google comes across words separated by underscores, it assumes that the words are all one word.
"Google treats hyphens & underscores differently when reading text, alt-text, and URLs." - The Content Factory
For examples, Google would read “image-optimization” as “image optimization”, however, it would read “image_optimization” as “imageoptimization.” Obviously, using underscores in this situation could negatively affect your image SEO, especially if “image optimization” is the keyword that you’re hoping to rank for. Though many people love a good underscore, when it comes to optimizing your images for google image search, it’s best to play it safe and stick to hyphens.
Pay Attention to the Image Size
One of the ranking factors that Google uses in its ranking algorithm is page speed, which is basically how long it takes for any particular page on your website to load. Google’s algorithm is all about providing the best experience for Google users, so pages with longer load times are penalized. This applies to images as well. The larger an image is, the longer it will take to load which could negatively impact your image SEO.
Now, this is where image optimization becomes a little bit of a balancing act. For the reason listed above, you want your images to be high-resolution, eye-catching, and well integrated into your copy — which means that in most situations a small image just isn’t going to cut it. However, if your images are too large, all of your other image optimization could be thwarted by a longer load time.
Your best option when it comes to image optimization is to use images that are exactly the size that you need, but not any bigger than that. Many platforms will allow you to upload images of almost any size and will then squeeze larger images down to fit in the space provided.
So before you upload a picture, make sure it’s the right size. For most page layouts, images that are somewhere between 600 and 800 pixels wide should be about right. We recommend ImageKit.io as a real-time image optimization and resizing tool which works with all your existing images as well as new images. ImageKit.io provides many features such as URL based resizing, automatic best image format selection, responsive website images and super-fast delivery.
Use Keywords in Your Alt Text
Your image alt text is basically an accessibility tag. Its function is to provide information about the photo in cases where the image isn’t actually being displayed. This can happen when the image fails to load, and also is the case with screen reading tools that blind people use to surf the web. When you’re thinking about using alt text for image optimization, you want to think of it as a way to give information to people about the image that you’ve posted — because that’s its primary purpose.
However, alt text is also a great place to include keywords to optimize images for Google image search, as well. If you’ve followed the above advice and you’ve chosen images that are relevant to your topic, then working those keywords into the alt text in a way that still accurately describes the pictures shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
"SEO experts: stick to 5 or 6 words in your image alt text for the best results." - The Content Factory
Also, make sure that your alt text is concise. This is not the place to write a novel, so save all of that extra copy for the text of your post. When you’re optimizing images for Google image search, most SEO experts recommend sticking to 5 or 6 words and under 120 characters in your alt text for the best results.
Image Optimization Step 3: Integrating Your Image Into Your Copy
Write Great Content Using SEO Best Practices
Nothing in the world of SEO happens in a vacuum, and that includes image optimization. Google is constantly getting signals back from users who visit your site that tells the search engine about the quality and relevance of your page. That means that no matter how good of a job you do in optimizing images for Google image search, if your content and site specs aren’t on point all of your hard work will be for nothing. (If you need to brush up, you can check out our comprehensive guide How to Write Blogs Posts That Convert — And Bring in SEO Traffic for some pointers.)
Place Your Images Strategically
Images can do more for your post than just convey information and make your content more visually compelling — images can also make your post more readable as well. Think about it: when you’re surfing the web and you come across a giant wall of unbroken text, how likely are you to stick around? If you’re like most people, you’ll bounce out of there without even skimming the content.
Images can help improve your page’s appeal as well as decrease your bounce rate by breaking up text to make it more readable — so make sure that you are placing them accordingly. A good rule of thumb is that as someone is scrolling through your post, they should never reach a point where there is only text and no pictures on the page. You can usually accomplish this by posting at least one image per 500 words.
"Post at least 1 image every 500 words for optimal scrolling pleasure." - The Content Factory
Things That Might Improve Your Image Optimization
The true inner workings of the Google algorithm are largely a mystery, even to the most advanced SEO experts. Sometimes Google will make a statement and confirm that certain ranking factors are indeed part of the algorithm, but for the most part we’re left to figure it out through trial and error and data analysis.
Everything that we’ve listed above we can say with confidence will help you better optimize your images for Google image search — either because Google has explicitly said so, or because the empirical evidence proving its impact is overwhelming. However, there are some other things that have been speculated to help image optimization, but there just isn’t enough evidence to say for certain whether they do or not.
Keyword Optimized Title Tags
We’ve already discussed the enormous importance of alt text when it comes to optimizing your image for Google image search. However, what about title tags? Don’t know what we’re talking about? Let’s look at an html image tag:<img src="image.jpg" alt="image description goes here" title="image tooltip goes here"/>
The title tag comes after the alt text in an image tag, and instead of describing the image as is the case with the alt text, this is where the text for the tooltip goes should you choose to use one. The tooltip is basically extra set of text that will appear when you hover over the image. This can be used to add additional information or even a call to action — or it can be left blank entirely.
Using keywords here might help you with your image optimization, or it might not. There really isn’t any great evidence for that pointing one way or another. That’s why the best move is probably to use title tags when they make sense and will help improve the experience for the reader, but otherwise you’re probably fine skipping them.
Using Keywords in Image Metadata
Unlike alt text, which is added to an image after it’s been uploaded for use, metadata is information about the image that is carried with the image itself. The metadata can contain information about things like who created the image, a description of the image, and even copyright information. This seems like a pretty good place to include some keywords, however, does Google include metadata in its ranking factors?
The short and frustrating answer is that the best answer that anyone at Google has given on this topic is that Google“can read” and “reserves the right” to use metadata as a ranking factor. That’s not exactly satisfying, however, at this point it’s all that we have to go on. Which is why, as with title tags, if it makes sense to use metadata then go ahead, but it’s probably not necessary — at least for now.
Learn More About SEO Best Practices
We hope this guide has given you a better sense of how to optimize images for Google image search. If you’re looking for more resources to help you get the most out of your SEO strategy, including three comprehensive guides to keyword research and a keyword research template.
For even more SEO tips, check out our free webinar on fixing 9 common SEO mistakes. It gives you a taste of what we offer in our SEO 101 Training Series: a comprehensive online course that turns you into your company's SEO go-to. See our SEO syllabus and contact us to sign up!
If you have any other tips you’d like to add, please let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ContentFac.
Great in depth article. Thanks for all tips!
I always use Canva for creating my images, and for both optimization and compression images I work with ShortPixel Image Optimizer.
Glad you found our guide to image optimization helpful – and thanks for sharing the tip re: ShortPixel Image Optimizer!
Good Read! Thanks for the Info!
Great article, thank you. My blog is actually about my nature photos so my question is once I ensure my image tags are seo ready how much or how less do I have to write about the image not to get hurt in google rankings? I’ve read that a minimum is 300 words, I sometimes have a hard time writing 300 words to describe a picture. What are your thoughts on minimum blog word count when the post is mainly for displaying the photo? Thank you for your help.
Optimized images are necessary to rank a blog/website high in SERPs. Apart from the explained ways in the article, you can also use plugins such as PB SEO Friendly Images, Smush Image Compression and Optimization Plugin etc. These plugins produce great outcome.
But, yeah I must say the problem arises if the builder you are using doesn’t support these plugins. To combat this you can use TemplateToaster which also provides additional settings for SEO optimizations.
informative article on Image Optimization
I would be very careful with Unsplash myself. Have little respect for the project for making money off other’s naivety, and because of the fact most of the images with recognizable people in them do not have model releases. Which means the user can be sued on very solid grounds, along with the idiot photographer. Just thought I’d let you know.
Great guide. Thanks for sharing.
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