Using Images to Improve SEO

Although Search Engine Optimisation is largely about creating authoritative and unique text content, Google, Bing and Yahoo also have image search features that specifically deal with imagery. Images are largely under-optimised by webmasters, but they have the potential to drive high quality traffic. Just like you would for a webpage, you should optimise your images in order for them to rank well for relevant search queries.

Photographs on a mantelpiece

Image Credit: Leonard Pine / Image Source – IE244-053

How to get Your Images Found by Search Engines

When it comes to interpreting images, search engines have only a few factors to go by. They don’t read the IPTC Meta Data and can’t interpret image detail by reading the raw image file. Instead they use several key indicators to determine what an image is about. Here are three simple things you can do to give search engines more information about your images:

Use a Descriptive Filename

By default, most cameras will name an image something like ‘IMG00347.jpg’. This tells you nothing about the image. By renaming the image to something like ‘dog-chasing-rabbit.jpg’ there is instantly some context and search engines will use these keywords.

Changing the filename may seem like a simple process, but it is one that really could make a difference. Of the billions of images on the internet, most have unfriendly file names. By making your images stand out, search engines are more likely to interpret them more effectively and rank them for relevant search queries.

Use a Descriptive Alt Tag

Alt tags (or Alternate Text Attributes) allow you to create a search engine-friendly description of your image. The alt tag is most commonly seen when an image fails to load or does not exist because it defines the ‘alternate text’ to be displayed in place of the image.

Father and daughter on swing seat

Image Credit: Christopher Robbins / Image Source – IS098U5YG

Search engines use the alternate text to understand what an image is about. Best practice is to briefly summarise the image’s key features. For example, “father and daughter on swing seat” is an appropriate summary of the above image and informs search engines about what the key features of the image are.

Google’s Matt Cutts explains the importance of using Alt tags:

Submit an Image XML Sitemap to Google

Google have now introduced Image Sitemaps. Image Sitemaps are a way of adding image-specific tags to your XML Sitemap that include details about the image including caption, description, geographical location and license.

Assuming that you already have an XML Sitemap (which you definitely should!), adding the image tags is fairly easy and most WordPress Sitemap Plugins now do this automatically. Not only do Image Sitemaps add content to images, they are a great way to show Google exactly where all your images are on your server. This is especially important for dynamic websites that may call images via JavaScript, and hence are not necessarily crawlable by Google.

Where can I Find Images to use on my Website?

For many, taking and retouching photos is not an option because they don’t have the time, experience or equipment. It is not uncommon for people to instead go straight to Google Images and copy photos from there. Unfortunately this probably means that they are beaching copyright which can result in litigation.

The images in Google are plucked from all over the web. They are not free images and the copyright holder is well within their right to charge for use, or refuse use altogether. Where copyright is breached the copyright holder may enforce their rights and this can result in hefty fines.

There is, however, one easy solution. Many webmasters are now turning to stock photography and buying royalty free photos. ‘Royalty Free’ means that, for a small fee, you are licensed to use a particular image. This usually means that images can be used as many times as you wish, so long as you don’t give or sell them on to other people.

With millions of stock photos available, stock photography is increasingly becoming one of the most popular sources of imagery on the web. Given the SEO benefits of using photos on your websites, the low cost of stock photography and the range and quality available, webmasters have no excuses when it comes to optimising their sites for image search.

Have you had any positive (or negative) experiences ranking your images? Have you used stock photography? Feel free to comment below and share your experiences.

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