Picture This, Part 1: Get the Most From Universal Search

Google universal search can include results from blog search, book search, Google Base and product search, code search, the Google directory (DMOZ), Google Images, Google Local and Maps, Google News, Google Video, and of course, good old-fashioned Google Web search results.

To control your brand messaging and online reputation in Google and other search engines that now provide blended results, you must leverage vertical venues and prioritize optimization of those elements most applicable to your online business.

Let’s examine optimizing images, an area that can benefit just about any business. We’ll talk more about optimizing news and blog results, local search results, and the role video can play in promoting your online business in the next column.

The Basics

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but to optimize an image you need just a few targeted keywords and a short list of fundamental SEO (define) tactics. It’s relatively easy to begin optimizing images because most well-designed sites incorporate original images. Start small. Optimize key images on your Web site first, then apply lessons to a broader strategy. Items to focus on include, but aren’t limited to:

  • File names. Use keywords in image file names. Doing so will help search engines understand what the images are about. It’s the difference between being found for “1234567-89.gif” and “puppy-chew-toys.jpg.” Not too many folks search for “123457-89,” but “puppy chew toys” can send some serious traffic your way, especially if you’re selling dog- or pet-related goods and services. As a general rule, balance brevity with descriptiveness when naming image files.
  • File structures. Underscores, dashes, phrases without spaces, and numbers don’t really matter if image naming conventions are complemented by keywords. Take a brief tour of Google Images, and you’ll see all sorts of file name constructs in the top listings. For example, “/photos/chew-toys.gif” ranks nearly as highly as “/images/chew_toy67.jpg,” as does “/product-images/000007chewtoy.jpg.” While it’s important to incorporate keywords in the file structure, do so in a tenable manner that doesn’t send your CMS (define) or Webmaster into convulsive fits.
  • Proximity. Words near or around images matter. If possible, place a brief caption just below the image reiterating critical keywords used in the file names. For example, “Cute puppies love to play and chew and gnaw on [product brand]. Share a picture of your adorable pup enjoying a [product brand] and register to win a one-month supply of [product brand].” Remember, this must be visible text, not text within an image, for annotations to help establish keyword themes.
  • Tags. You should already be including brief, keyword-targeted alt tags as part of the overall site design’s general usability. Due to past abuse of alt tags, however, search engines rarely use them as critical signal to determine relevancy. All the same, they can help establish overall keyword themes. Just remember that descriptiveness and brevity are important qualities inherent to alt tags.
  • Locations. Geotargeting applies to all the above. If you’re going to spend time and money optimizing images, don’t forget locality can play an important role in not just image search but also local search. This is particularly important when optimizing physical store locations. “Store #37” is far less important than “Burnsville, MN,” along with a street address and Zip Code. Don’t fall into the trap of labeling localities with internal, company-related terms rather than searchable destinations.
  • Links. Getting links to pages with optimized images is just as important as growing inbound links to critical pages within your site. At this point, image optimization really becomes an adjunct of a broader link building strategy. Sometimes, it’s as simple as posting pages with images on them to del.icio.us. Other times, it’s more important to share images via Flickr, MySpace, or another online community to send targeted search referral traffic your way.
  • Next Steps

    Look at your Web analytics to strategically select topics that drive traffic your way and determine which images might be best optimized.

    Then complete perfunctory keyword research to help define the direction your image optimization efforts should take. Review file names and site structure, figure out what it takes to intelligently add annotations to your images, and consider your alt tags and opportunities for image optimization. Doing so will help you tap into an entirely different stream of picture-perfect search referrals. It all starts when you picture this.

    Next up: Links are the currency of the search engine visibility. How to promote image optimization efforts.

    Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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