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Proper Image Optimization For SEO

Google’s recent algorithm changes have made Image Search Optimization more important to overall SEO campaign efforts now more than ever. Google is now including more images on the 1st page of organic search results. This is a perfect opportunity for marketers to put their images in front of users’ eyes. 

The Basics of Image Search:

In order for your images to rank more highly in image search, there are several important steps that should be implemented.

Pay attention to your File Names – It’s extremely important to use a file name that describes what the photo captures. Make the file name as descriptive as you possibly can. Also, the file name should utilize hyphens between words. For example: 

Utilize Alt Text – Originally ALT text was designed for screen readers or visually impaired people to know what the photo on their screen was showing. The goal is to use it to satisfy screen readers while being keyword focused enough for the search engines and without keyword stuffing. For Example:

Optimize Headings & Bold Text – It is best to optimize the image with bold or a heading tag of an important term right above the image. This also aids in telling search engines about your image.

Use Image Captions – Image captions are another way to tell the search engines about your image. It is best to use the keyword you are trying to rank for at the beginning of the caption.

Consider Image Size – Images that are a sensible size rank better. That’s not to say that really big or really small images won’t rank, just that images that are larger than 100×100 and smaller than 1000×1000 pixels work best.

Taking Your Image Optimization Skills to the Next Level:

Once you’ve implemented the basics to the images on your site, it’s time to step your game up. How can you do this?

Utilize Your Photos as Link Bait – Right about now you must be asking yourself, how do I use my photos as link bait? Well for starters, you have to have a great photo or image. The more unique, amazing, shocking, funny or unexpected the image, the better it will perform.

So once you have your amazing image available, it’s time to create an embed code so that other site owners can easily post your photo and you gain a link in the process. At this point in time you will also probably want to use some code to prohibit right-clicking (and copying the image URL) and instead put a “share” code underneath each pic on your site with a proper link all nice and pre-formatted. (That way, hotlinkers will probably use your code and put an actual link to your site when posting one of your images on a site, in a forum, etc.)

Use Mark-up – What is Mark-up? is a collaboration between Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to improve the web by creating a structured data markup format. Page markup of images helps search engines understand the information on webpages and provide richer results. A shared markup vocabulary makes it much easier for search engines to interpret websites and thereby increases crawl-ability and indexing. So you should definitely be using this for your images.

Add an Image Sitemap – You can use Google’s image extensions for Sitemaps to give search engines additional information about the images on your site. Doing this can help Google discover images it might not otherwise find, and also enables you to identify the most important images on a page. To give Google information about images on your site, you’ll need to add image-specific tags to your Sitemap.

Time to Address the Don’ts of Image Optimization:

Do Not Use Flash – Plain and simple search engines have a hard time reading Flash. Flash content is fundamentally different from HTML on webpages, and being able to crawl links in the Flash code and text snippets does not make Flash search-engine friendly. So with that being said, do not include images in a Flash image gallery. In order for images to be indexed individually, they need to be embedded on the site without flash.

Do Not Use Some Sort of Frame-Busting Code – Frame busting is a waste of time. When a user does a search on Google Image search and selects a result, Google displays the image in a larger view with more details. The user can then click through to the image to see more. However, many webmasters do not like that Google shows the image in a frame on their site thereby not allowing the traffic to pass to the site. They want the traffic, so they deploy code to bust the frame and take the viewer to their site. Google has disabled many frame-buster scripts so that the searcher stays on Google’s search results preview page. There is also talk about a penalty being assessed to sites that utilize frame-busters, so just to be on the safe side, don’t use these.

Following this set of guidelines will help your images rank well in image search.

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How To Get More Traffic By Optimizing Your Images for Organic Search

Let me start this post with a disclaimer: Organic image search can work well for many web sites, but isn’t necessarily perfect for every business. It might be great for online retailers, hotels, and travel agencies, but not so much for the local plumber.

Why Pay Attention Now?

On July 20th, Google announced their revamped and oh-so-nicer version of Google Images. The new layout now includes a more slick grid format, thumbnail previews when you hover over an image and up to 1,000 images per page. Let me repeat that last one, up to 1,000 images on each page. As you scroll down on an image search results page, the page continues to populate itself with new image content. For the average user, after two minutes of browsing, they may feel like they are still on page 1 when in fact they are much deeper in Google’s image index (which now comes in at over 10 billion images). If anything this is a big win for the little guys as newer web sites that did not rank on the first or second page of image search now have many more chances to wow and impress potential visitors even when ranking 30-100 images down. Think of a mall that just expanded from 20 shops to 40, an art gallery that now features 10 artists instead of 5. Location and placement isn’t so much of an issue now, but quality of content really comes into play.


This is Google’s image results pages back in the day. Notice the larger white space between images, text descriptions, image dimensions, file sizes and website info. When arriving at the end of a results page, to browse to the next page users would have to click on Google’s infamous Goooooooooogle link at the bottom.

And this is the Google image results page of today. They’ve removed all of that information and closed up the white space between images. You’ll also notice that depending on your browser size and resolution, the image results automatically realign themselves to add or remove images per row. If users don’t find what they are looking for, continuous browsing is much easier and one-click less now.


This is Bing’s image search results page, also very similar and fairly user friendly.

So how do you get your images to rank here?

Let’s run a test, below is an image of the Monte De Oro Winery in Temecula, CA.

Monte De Oro Winery in Temecula
Monte De Oro Winery in Temecula

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Accurately use keywords in your image name. What keyword would you want this image to rank for? What value does this add to the user? Chances are this image will never rank for “winery” or “american flag,” but it has a much better chance of ranking for “Monte De Oro” or “Temecula Winery.” For this specific image, I chose to name it “monte-de-oro-winery-temecula.JPG” (the file extension doesn’t really matter, but you generally want to stay with .jpg, .gif or .png files).
  2. Alt Tags – The benefit of WordPress is that when you add an image to a post, it asks you if you’d like to add alternate text. For this image I chose “Monte De Oro Winery in Temecula.” If you are not using WordPress, adding an alt tag is fairly simple to any image. You will be appending alt=”YOURTEXTHERE” to a portion of the existing image code.
  3. Title Tags – Title tags are not as important nowadays, but if you do add it, this can be the same as the alt tag. You will want to avoid over-optimization and risk raising red flags.
  4. Content around your image – What else is on the page where your image is included? Is your image of a cat, but the rest of the page about the iPhone? Relevant content helps with rankings. If the entire web page is not about the image, consider adding a caption to your image or a description about the photo when possible.
  5. Host your images – Unless you’re expecting a significant amount of traffic and potential bandwidth issues, host your images on your own domain! Why host it on a CDN, Flickr or a sub-domain? Pull these images onto your domain and make your web site that much more relevant.
  6. Age & Lifetime – An image that has been online longer, has received more clicks from Google image search and is useful to users is likely to rank higher than a brand new image. Consider the longevity of your images as well. Ranking #1 for “Black Friday Coupons” might seem good, but when you image is of Black Friday deals from 2001, it likely won’t be as useful to users as it could. Ranking #1 for “Election statistics” might be huge traffic driver in 2008, but this information is irrelevant for visitor’s searching for this year’s primary election results. You need to ask yourself the questions of will your image still be useful to users 6 months from now, 12 months from now? If not, make sure to optimize your image pages to provide users with options on how they can get to more updated images & information such as this year’s election results, this year’s deals, etc.

And lastly, forget everything written above and simply think of the user. Regardless of if you do everything above correctly, put the users’ needs in front of the search engine and put visual content out there that appeals to them. You now have more screen real estate to rank in, but ultimately it comes down to impressing users and enticing them to click on your image.

Best of luck! (We’ll be following the image tagging on this post to see how long it takes for Google to start ranking the image.)

If you really do like the older layout of the Google images results, here’s how you can get it back.