You have to maintain your image online. In 2021, what people see in your Google results functions as your first impression – so you may want to ask your friends to untag that one picture of you from the Christmas party.
When it comes to your online reputation, images can play a major role. Often overlooked, images can be a valuable tool in creating your overall SEO strategy and improving your online presence. Creating and executing an image SEO strategy can not only improve how you appear in Google Image results, but can strengthen your website, grow engagement on social media, and increase organic traffic to your published content.
In this guide, we’ll define image SEO, why it’s important, and give you our top ten tips on how to get the most out of your images online – to improve your online image.
What is image SEO?
SEO generally refers to strategies that impact visibility in results, or where your website, social profiles, or other online properties rank for particular search queries.
Image SEO refers to optimizing owned images for search, to both help the image rank well in image search results and to strengthen the content, page, or website where the image is posted.
Why is image SEO important?
In 2021, images – and knowing how to use them online – are more important than ever. While videos currently occupy the #1 media spot online, images are not to be forgotten – Google Images accounts for over 20% of search queries, and images are returned for nearly 30% of search queries on Google. The increasing significance of image results may be due in part to younger users – over 60% of Gen Z and Millennials prefer visual searching over other new technologies.
Images play a vital role in your overall SEO strategy as well – a defined image SEO strategy can not only help you rank higher in image search results, but can help:
- Improve your website’s chances of ranking well in search results. Images create a more dynamic experience for users visiting your website, and can impact how they interact with your products – roughly 70% of consumers report that the quality of a product image factors into whether or not they will purchase that product. What’s more, understanding image SEO can help you address issues that may be harming your site’s ranking. Images often contribute to site problems like slow pages or poor formatting for mobile users, which can not only deter users but result in penalties from Google.
- Your posts perform better on social media platforms. Obviously, images are a must on platforms like Instagram or Pinterest. After all, Instagram currently has roughly 1 billion active users and Pinterest reports over 600 million searches on the site every single month. But images on any platform can help give you a boost – tweets with images have been reported to receive 150% more retweets than tweets without.
- Get more eyes on your content, increasing traffic and engagement. Similarly to social media posts, images included in written content can reach more people. Content with optimized images can increase user engagement by up to 90%, and updating old posts with new images can increase organic traffic by over 105%. When you include images, people are also more likely to remember what they read – content with a relevant featured image can increase recall up to 65%.
How to Improve Your Image SEO
In 2021, strong image SEO strategy goes far beyond alt text. We’ve compiled our ten best tips to get the most out of your images and improve your presence online.
- Pick the Right Image
Whether it’s for a blog post, a landing page on your site, or your next tweet, make sure to pick the right image. The “right” image is relevant to the content and helps the user understand what the content is about, regarding both topic and tone, and adds value to the piece in some way.
While (nearly) any image is better than none, custom images do much better than stock images. Use custom images whenever you can; custom images can be photographs you’ve taken yourself or had taken, or commissioned infographics and illustrations. If custom images aren’t in the cards, do what you can to choose dynamic and unique images for your topic. Look at what else is ranking for your keyword and try to use an image that will stand out.
- Use High-Quality Photos
Google has reported that higher quality images do more for your results than lower quality images. This is likely due to the user-first approach that guides Google’s algorithm updates, and the fact that users tend to avoid or steer clear of low-quality images.
Steer clear from blurry images, unclear images, or images that are too large or small and don’t fit the page. While you don’t want to use the largest images you can (we’ll explain why in just a minute), don’t forsake quality when it comes to the images you use.
Higher quality images also tend to look better in thumbnails or in rich snippets in search results, which can increase the likelihood of your site getting organic traffic.
- But Remember Loading Time
Page speed is a major factor when it comes to where your site ranks in results. Slow websites risk high bounce rates from users, as well as penalties from Google, which can harm your site’s overall ranking. In fact, Google’s Page Experience update, rolled out earlier this year, prioritized page speed as a fundamental factor when determining which sites rank where.
Images can have a huge impact on site loading time, as they are often the largest contributor to the size of your page. And this isn’t just about the image size, but the file size as well.
To check if your site is being slowed down by images, you can: 1) go to your site and see how it loads on your own device, and 2) utilize the Google PageSpeed Insights tool.
If you do think your images are impacting your page or website’s load time, mess with the quality settings of your images to find the best quality you need without sacrificing too much size (or skip ahead to the next tip). Google also has a lot of information about how to optimize your website for speed.
- Pay Attention to File Type
Not all file types are created equal. While it may not be easy to tell when you’re on a page, file type can have a significant impact on the size and quality of your image, as well as the loading time of your site.
Here are the file types you should use online, as well as when to use them:
- JPEG (or JPG): best for higher quality images, JPEG is the most common image format online. JPEG images often look good (regarding color, clarity, etc.) with a smaller file size. To get the most out of a JPEG image, do not forget to compress it – this will reduce the file size without sacrificing quality.
- PNG: generally recommended for images that require transparency, PNG can be helpful for graphics, icons, or smaller images. PNG is not recommended for photos, as the quality to size ratio isn’t as desirable as with JPEGs.
- WebP: considered the best file type for SEO, WebP images produce high-quality images with smaller file sizes than JPEG or PNG, decreasing loading times with no hit to the quality of the images you post.
- GIF: though generally used for short animations, GIF files can also be used for simple, color-blocked images. GIF files are generally not recommended for SEO purposes, but the animations can appeal to users and improve overall user experience on your site.
- SVG: or scalable vector graphics, SVG is best used for plain illustrations, logos, interactive charts and infographics, and some animations. Unlike JPEG, PNG, and GIF, SVG images are coded, and will load immediately on your site.
- Optimize Your File Name
Before you upload, make sure to include your target phrase in the file name of your image. An image’s file name gives Google a clue about the subject of the image, which can have a positive impact on where it ranks for relevant queries.
For example, if I told you the file name of the image below was IMG0934.jpg, you probably couldn’t tell me what it was. If I told you it was palm-tree.jpg, you’d have an easier time. And so will Google.
That said, avoid keyword stuffing in file names (and alt text, titles, and captions for that matter). Google has cracked down on keyword stuffing, and doing so can actually harm your SEO efforts.
- Utilize Alt Text, Title Text, and Captions
Similar to file name, you should optimize the alt text, title text, and caption of your image for your target keyword. All three provide you with the opportunity to tell both users and search engines what your image is about.
Alt text (or the alt tag) is text added to an image that is meant to describe the image if it doesn’t load or cannot be displayed, and helps to improve accessibility for visually impaired or blind users. For SEO, alt text can help search engines understand what is being displayed in the image, providing context for the image and the page on which the image is displayed.
When choosing your alt text, ensure that the text is descriptive, informative, and contains your target keyword whenever possible. You also want to keep your alt text relatively short, according to Google’s Matt Cutts. Avoid keyword stuffing, as this can negatively impact user experience, which can lead to Google penalizing your page as spam.
Title text is the text displayed when a user hovers their mouse over an image. Similar to alt text, title text can provide users and search engines with more context about your image. Title text is generally considered to be less impactful to SEO than file names or alt text, but including a short, relevant title on your images is still recommended, as Google does consider title text when learning about an image.
While not all images warrant it, captions can provide a valuable opportunity to provide users and search engines with more context about your image. Although the impact on SEO is not as significant as alt text, users tend to read captions more than other text on the page, which means captions give you a unique opportunity to highlight important information that you want users to read. Similarly to title text, Google will use captions to further understand an image.
- Add Structured Data to Your Website
Structured data refers to implementing certain markups on a webpage in order to provide search engines with additional context for the page’s content.
While Google has confirmed that structured data does not impact ranking, including structured data on your site can change how your results are displayed in search. According to Google, including structured data can “display your images as rich results, including a prominent badge, which give users relevant information about your page and can drive better targeted traffic to your site.”
Regarding Google Images, structured data supports: 1) product, 2) video, 3) recipes. To learn more about structured data, and if it makes sense for your site, follow Google’s guidelines on structured data to improve your listing in search results.
- Don’t Forget Mobile Users
According to Google, mobile users search on Google Images more than desktop users. With 3.8 billion unique smartphone users worldwide as of 2021, and mobile search accounting for 55% of organic search, considering mobile users isn’t just recommended, but necessary. What’s more, Google has responded to the increase in mobile users – anticipated to grow to 7.5 billion unique users by 2026 – with algorithm updates (such as the Mobilegeddon updates and the more recent Mobile-First update) penalizing sites that are not mobile-friendly.
Although there are several factors to consider when it comes to mobile SEO, images are one of the most important. Images affect load times (with slow loading times resulting in a higher bounce rate for mobile users), formatting, and usability for mobile users.
To get a feel for mobile user experience on your site – and find where you need to make changes – check out your site on your own mobile device. Additionally, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, which will tell you if Google considers your website mobile-friendly or not.
- Consider Responsive Formatting
Responsive formatting refers to designing your site such that it resizes depending on the size of the screen of the device that is accessing your site. Responsive images can cut file size, reduce load time, and fix formatting issues for users on all devices, and can help ensure that mobile, tablet, and desktop users have a positive experience on your site.
This requires the srcset HTML attribute, which tells browsers to load different versions of an image depending on the screen resolution. To learn more about implementing this on your site, check out Google’s guide here.
- Use Images Wherever You Can
Images can not only have a significant impact on your SEO efforts, but can also improve your overall online presence. From your website to social media posts to published content, images can help orient users and search engines alike to help you reach your target audience. The more context you add to the images you include, the more likely you are to drive high quality, organic traffic to your website.
To learn more about how to improve your online presence, check out some of our other posts, or reach out to Status Labs for a free consultation to see if we can help you achieve your SEO goals.