5 Steps to Great Image SEO

Images are very helpful in supporting your website content and making your site interesting to visitors. Images can also be a great tool for SEO, but only when they are used correctly. Below are five important considerations when adding images to your web site and blog posts. I actually learned a few things myself in researching for this and will be using some of the tips below to step up my own image SEO game!

This is the second part of my SEO series. In the first post of my SEO series, I explain how to identify keywords that you want to use in your web site content. You will use those keywords when adding images to your site, so make sure you’ve identified your keywords first. But remember, as I discussed in the previous article, you should always work your keywords naturally into your content (and your image SEO strategy) so that your web site doesn’t come off looking spammy or unreadable.

1. File Names

One of the ways search engines like Google can identify your images is by their file name. It’s much more effective if your page has images with a descriptive names. You should rename your photos to a description using 3-5 words, separated by hyphens. Include at least one targeted keyword for your post. The file name is primarily for Google, but it is visible to web site visitors if they look at your web page’s source code, or if they right-click and save the image or open the image in a new tab (if you allow that on your site).

Your file name is something that you should set when initially saving/exporting the image for the web, or at least before uploading to your web site.

2. Image Alt Tags

The other important method that Google and other search engines can identify what is in your photo is by using the alt tag, also referred to as the alt text or alt attribute. The main purpose of the alt attribute on an image is to visible in text-based browsers or read out loud by screen readers and other accessibility tools for the visually impaired. This tag should provide a clear description of the image and should be written without hyphens as you would normally write text. It should not just be a list of keywords, but should be an accurate representation of the image in natural language. You can use several words, possibly as many as 16, although that many words is typically not necessary.

If you use WordPress, alt text can easily be added from the Media Library when uploading/inserting an image. It can also be added after the fact if you hover over the image and select the Edit icon (it looks like a pencil). If you use Squarespace, it’s a little more confusing, but there is a Squarespace guide for adding alt text that you may find helpful.

3. Image Titles

Another way to add text to your image content is to use the image title tag (attribute). This is the text that appears in your browser when you hover over an image. While it might be indexed by Google, experts do not believe it plays an important role in SEO. It’s not necessary to add for every image, but good title text can enhance the user experience when browsing your site, so consider adding it where appropriate. It can be especially helpful when the image is hyperlinked as a call to action or to tell your site visitors what will happen if they click on the image. For example, a message like, “Contact me for more information!” when you hover over an image that links to your Contact page.

Note that when adding an image in the WordPress Media Library, there is no field to add the Title attribute. Although the first field is labeled Title, that is simply the title that WordPress will use for the image in the Media Library. By default, it is populated with the image file name. The WordPress title is only for your use, and will not appear to search engines or web site visitors.

To add a Title Attribute in WordPress, you must click the Edit (pencil) icon after adding the image to your web page, and then add the Image Title Attribute in the appropriate field under Advanced Options.

4. Relevant Context

Another important consideration when adding images to your site is that the image is surrounded by relevant content. You want your images to fit with the rest of your page, and be surrounded by words that pertain to the image. Some people choose to add captions directly below the image, others use relevant text in body text before/after the image.

If you use WordPress, you can easily add an image caption when uploading/inserting an image using the Media Library. I don’t always love the look of captions, but they are a great way to add specific information about an image that is visible to web site visitors, and closely tied with the image itself (not buried in the text nearby). I may start using them more to add further textual clues about my images, both to improve the user experience and for the SEO benefits.

5. Image File Sizes

The final consideration when adding images to your web site is to ensure the images are sized appropriately so that they do not slow down your web site’s load times. Slow web sites are frustrating for web site visitors, and Google and other search engines may take load time into account in search result rankings. Additionally, if your site is too slow, users will leave quickly after clicking on your site in search results, and that will definitely hurt your search engine ranking. I recommend keeping images under 400-500 KB.

Sizing images for the web is a complicated topic, but my quick recommendation is to first resize your image to the exact pixel dimensions you want to display. That is, don’t upload a 4000 pixel wide image to your web site if you are only displaying the image at 1000 pixels wide. Second, use JPG compression to reduce the file size of images that you post online.  You can typically control the amount of JPG compression when saving from graphics programs (this is referred to as “quality” in Adobe Photoshop and some other programs). The lower the quality setting, the smaller the file size, but if you go too low, you will see visible image degradation.

Thanks for reading the second part of my SEO series. Hopefully it has given you some direction to help improve your SEO strategy.