Image SEO: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Image SEO, the importance of

A picture is worth a thousand words.

In fact, by 2020, voice and image search will dominate and dictate half of search engine rankings, and 32 percent of marketers believe that visual content is the most important content of all.

Optimising your images for search engines, then, should be a big priority for your business as we enter into 2020.

For your social media strategy, images are a sure-fire way of engaging an audience and driving click-through rate; for your written blog posts, they help provide more information to Google (and other search engines) about what the blog topic is about; for your website, images have a large impact to your site speed.

Without further ado, then, here’s everything you need to know about SEO for images.

So, What is Image SEO?

When we use the word ‘image SEO’, it means on-page optimisation of images. This isn’t just about image alt text.

While alt text is a vital component to optimising your images, there’s a lot more to it than that. For example:

All of these factors influence the indexation of a web page, and one wrong factor could see your web page underperform in search results as a consequence.

For example, if you upload an image file that is larger than 1mb, it will impact how quickly your web page loads for a user, which affects how ‘accessible’ the information becomes. This has a direct effect on rankings.

Given that humans now have an attention span shorter than a Goldfish, a slow-loading image (and thus, a slow-loading web page) will do damage to your website.

Why is Image SEO Important?

Image SEO matters because the search intent of an image matters a lot. According to Moz, 27 percent of searches on Google are image searches.

Think about it for a second.

If you’re looking to buy a new pair of black trainers, you might search for ‘black trainers’ in Google. What likely determines your decision to click-through to a web page selling black trainers (besides great brand awareness) is a high-ranking image of black trainers.

If you want to go on holiday to Canada, you might Google top holiday destinations in Canada. Chances are, most users will click on a pretty picture of a mountain or lake in Google images.

If, say, you’re a travel itinerary website servicing holidays to Canada, your images will be vital to the success of your website visitor rate.

In short, image SEO is another leverage point for many businesses to get their web pages ranking highly in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

If you graciously fail in the battle for getting your written content on page one of Google, you stand another chance with images.

It’s just a matter of knowing how to optimise them.

The Qualities of SEO-Friendly Images

What are the qualities of SEO-friendly images?

There are steps you can take to get your images up there in the SERPs. All you need to do is make sure that your image SEO checks all of these boxes:

Choose Image Titles Smartly

If your image is about basketball shoes for men, make sure that your image’s title is descriptive and based on the relevant keyword e.g. ‘mens basketball shoes’.

Always label the image file before uploading. Don’t be spammy, but use descriptive keyword-rich file names. For example “Mens_Black_basketball_shoes.jpg.”

Make Your Images Lighter

Use a JPG, or better yet, an SVG format so that you have a smaller file size. PNG files should be avoided.

Big images delay your page’s load time and thus severely affect the ranking.

Image compression plugins on WordPress like Smush to reduce the file size are ok. However, it’s always best to manually resize and optimise your image before upload.

While there’s no optimal size for images. Lighter is always better. Aim for JPGs to be less than 150KB.

This isn’t always possible, a header image, for example, is usually larger. But always aim for the smallest and lightest image possible.

Use Descriptive Alt Text

Alt text (or alt tag) is a piece of meta information that categorises the nature of an image. Make sure that it is clear and based on your main keyword.

Alt text also helps Google provide relevant images to people who are visually impaired and can’t see the image, for example.

By making this as accurate to the image as possible (and keyword-optimising it), you’re providing ‘accessible’, ‘relevant’ and ‘useful’ content, all of which will help you when ranking.

Write an Intelligent Caption

A caption can be used either for keywords or, in a much better way, it can be used to provide important context for your post.

Write a Master Description

Image description can be used in many possible ways. The best way is to use it to describe the image, while subtly employing important keywords. 

Create an Image Sitemap

Images are an important source of information about your website’s content. They provide more information to Google about what niche your overall website is targeting, so make sure that you give additional details to Google about images and their respective URLs.

Don’t underestimate images and social sharing

Use something like the Open Graph Protocol to make sure that your highly optimised images are included in social sharing on sites like Facebook and Pinterest.  

You can optimise images for social sharing, for example, by adding this tag to your <head> file in HTML, which will ensure that the image in question must accompany each and every Facebook share.

<meta property=”og:image” content=”” />

Many such codes like this are available on the Open Graph website.

How to Source and Compress Images

Here’s a quick how-to for finding and compressing images that you can upload.

This the process I follow:

  1. Source a relevant *but licensable* image from somewhere like Pexels, Pikwizard, Unsplash or Pixabay.
  2. Download a free image editor like GIMP and resize images manually.
  3. Export the file into a JPG format and name it appropriately.
  4. Upload it to something like TinyJPG and compress it.
  5. Download the compressed and optimised image. Check the file name and image attributes are correct.
  6. Upload it to your blog and keyword-optimise your alt text, title tag, caption, and any other descriptive text.

The Future of Image SEO

In the end, image SEO is becoming an increasingly more prevalent factor in SEO, especially as we begin to introduce more multimedia formats of content onto our websites. Opportunities for image SEO in the future, then, look promising. 

In fact, we can predict that:

  • Special markup on images. Google will allow a special markup through which you’d be able to feed Google a higher resolution image. This image will be used in image search, Google Discover and AMP (accelerated mobile pages).
  • ‘Swipe up for details’ images. Google rolled out this feature previously for smartphones, and it will soon be introducing it across more platforms. With AMP, you’ll be able to read the article associated with the post by just swiping up the image.
  • Post-Florida 2 update: Back in March 2019, the Google algorithms were subject to a major change. Consequently, many images began appearing more frequently in the SERPs, and were, in fact, appearing higher up.
  • Shoppable ad’ images. Around the same time period as the Florida 2 update, Google began to test shoppable ads on Google Images. By hovering over a sponsored image, you can see the price, brand and have the option to buy from the merchant store. All through images.

    This update is subject to further testing but shows where we’re heading and the importance of images in today’s search.

I hope you found this guide useful for your business. For more information about what I do and about SEO in general, be sure to read my blog here.

About John Kramer

My name is John Kramer, and I am a Malaga-based SEO fanatic. Marketing is my passion. With over 15 years of experience in digital, I am constantly energised by the ever-changing landscape of search. A seasoned marketer with a passion for helping small and mid-sized businesses succeed in the digital age. Proud father, husband, and outdoor enthusiast.