The use of images, along with other media elements, has always been a way to engage your visitors and hold their attention. Many websites have too much text that visitors will never read. Why not integrate more contextual images into your content? Not to mention they are more important since the rise of blended or universal search. Remember blended search is the method search engines use to combine different types of listings in the search results. Things like images, video, news articles, local listings, etc.
So not only do images help engage your visitors but you can also achieve high rankings within the search engines for images and pictures you have on your site. So how do you optimize images for SEO?
Step 1 - Make Sure Images Are Contextual and Relevant
When selecting pictures for your web page you should try and use images that support the text content you have written. They should also be closely related to the keywords you are optimizing for. When a user lands on your page they will make a quick judgment to see if they landed on a page that is relevant to their search. If they see a picture or two on the page, this will quickly help them understand what the page is about. If images and text content match their search then they are likely to stick around longer on your site. The old adage is true, "A picture is worth a thousand words."
Step 2 - Name Your Image Files Correctly
The first thing you should do is to have your targeted keywords handy. If not, then stop and get your keyword research done before you go on. Once you have your keywords ready, you will need to use them as file names. For instance, if your image is about white water rafting in California you might name the image "california-white-water-rafting.jpg."
Notice I used dashes to separate each word in the phrase, not underscores (underscores are seen as an alpha character, rather than as punctuation). Search engines can see the dashes as a space. Now, you can even take this a step further by putting your images into a folder that includes descriptive keywords like "white-water-rafting." This will further help the search engines know what keywords your images are related to.
If you happen to be using image names like "_DSC368.jpg" on your website, you really can't expect search engines or visitors to easily identify what the image is about. So try to avoid this and use more descriptive filenames.
Step 3 - Consider Actual Size of Your Image
Images can be very engaging, especially if they are larger. You should consider the actual size of each image and how prominent it needs to be. For example, if your site is selling vacation destinations or white water rafting then you should use images that are large enough for visitors to make an emotional connection. Smaller images just don't get the job done.
Step 4 - Optimize Image File Size for Faster Load Times
From a usability perspective, you want to make sure your images are optimized for the web. Even though we live in a world with plenty of bandwidth, I have seen web pages slowly build because the images on the site were too large. One of the main culprits is using images formatted for print, usually 300 dpi. You can fix this by reducing from 300 dpi to 72 dpi using a program like Adobe Photoshop (see below). You can also adjust your quality settings when you save your image. Usually the highest quality setting isn't necessary, but somewhere between medium to medium high is about right. Remember, the higher the setting, the larger the file size.
Step 5 - Use Descriptive ALT Attributes
Another way to help search engines learn what your images are about is to use descriptive ALT and TITLE attributes. You do this in the html code that "tags" the image with a description about the image. The important part is to make sure you use a description about the image, not just random keywords. The key is to be descriptive in nature, like alt="California White Water Rafting - Middle Fork River."
Each image should be unique and should not use more than a dozen words for your description. For instance, instead of using alt="White Water Rafting" you should use a little more detail like alt="California White Water Rafting - Middle Fork River," which is better. Additionally, you will want to place your images as close to any text content that is contextual and relevant to the images. This helps to associate the image with descriptive text to help the search engines and visitors have a better understanding of what your image and web page are all about.
Step 6: Use Descriptive Anchor Text
Let's take it a step further. If you are linking to or from your images using text, you should also use descriptive anchor text that includes keywords and helps to describe the image. As with the ALT attribute, use good anchor text that describes the contents of the image. This may be similar to descriptive text you have used in image file names and ALT attributes.
Using these steps will help you make the most of the images you use on your website and optimize their value to both the search engines and your visitors. Not to mention that the use of ALT attributes is helpful to those visitors with disabilities.
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Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.
Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.
Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.