Image Search Optimization 101

Preparing images for SEO (define) has become more important with the emergence of image search, blended and universal search. Let’s cover the basics of increasing visibility of your images and helping to create better relevancy with other content on your site.

Let’s start with the basic principles:

  • Use your targeted keywords in the image file names and folder names
  • Separate each word in keyword phrase with dashes, not underscores
  • Include targeted keywords in the html image ALT and TITLE attributes
  • Place the image near other relevant keyword-related content

Use Descriptive Image Names and Folder Names

First, perform your keyword research and determine your target keywords. Then, try to use those keywords in the image file name such as bicycle-helmet-red.jpg.

Notice I used dashes to separate each word in the phrase, not underscores. Search engines can make better sense of file names separated by dashes. Take this a step further by putting images into a folder that include descriptive keywords like “bike-helmets.” This help to further describe to search engines what your image is about.

If you use image names like 00368.jpg on your site, don’t expect search engines to easily identify what the image is about. This can be a challenge if you use an e-commerce system or content management platform. They have a tendency to give uploaded images useless names. Consult your Web developers to see if you can modify the software to achieve better naming and folder structures.

Use Descriptive ALT and TITLE Attributes

Another way to help search engines learn what your images are about is to use descriptive ALT and TITLE attributes (define). You do this in the HTML code that “tags” the image with a description about the image. Your Web developer will understand how to use this attribute properly. Make sure you use a description about the image not just a bunch of keywords, which is keyword stuffing. This is not a good thing. Ensure that your description makes sense to a real person while using your targeted keywords.

Each image should be unique and should not use more than a dozen words for your description. For instance, instead of using “Red Bicycle Helmet” as your ALT attribute, “This red bicycle helmet is from our 2010 collection” is better. 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 have a better overall picture what your page is all about. It also provides your visitors with a better user experience.

Use Descriptive Anchor Text

Let’s take it a step further. If you link to your images using text, you should also use descriptive anchor text (define) that includes keywords and helps to describe the image. As with ALT text, if you’re linking to your images using text, 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.

Image Optimization

From a usability perspective, ensure that 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 image file size was too large. One of the main culprits is using images formatted for print, usually 300dpi. You can fix this by reducing this from 300 dpi to 72dpi. This isn’t necessarily going to get you to be ranked better but it will make your images load quicker and provide a better user experience.

Images and Social Media

Social media has opened up new channels to market our products and services. Many sites that let you upload images like Facebook and Flickr let you “tag” images with keywords and descriptions. Take advantage of this. When you post images to these sites, use the target keywords you used in your titles, attributes, and descriptions. Then make sure you link to targeted, relevant pages on your Web site. If your images are properly tagged, you will likely find new visitors from these social sites.

Image search optimization provides you with new ways to market yourself and be found. That’s of course what SEO is all about. Add these principles to your SEO best practices. If you know of other successful tips, please share them in the comment section below.

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