What are the Essentials of Image Optimization for SEO?

You’re a great writer. You can produce killer content that people connect with. What about pictures? Do you have them on your site, or blog? Are your images optimized for SEO? Or do you just throw up whatever you have on hand at the time?

Believe it or not, there is a technique to posting images that can affect your Search Engine Optimization strategy. Done improperly, it can be a detriment to how Google and other search engines view your website. Part science and part art form, correct image optimization is ultimately about two things:

  • Making the user experience a good one
  • Appeasing the SEO gods

Achieving the second item depends largely upon achieving the first item.

Man with scruff holding a photo of a rocky shored lake, and viewing nature images on a comoputer screen.

The quality of royalty free images has vastly improved over the years.

 

Whether you’re a seasoned blogger, or just wrote your first post, the following essentials in regard to image optimization for SEO will help your content rank better with search engines.

Do I Even Need an Image?

Um…yes. Always!

Some people would consider posting anything without at least one image. But why? Humans are innately visual creatures. In fact, for those of us who do not have severe visual impairment, sight isn’t just our primary sense involved with assimilating information from the world around us. It is used at a far greater rate than all the other senses combined. And pictures have been shown to be just as, if not more effective in relaying information in certain circumstances.

Including pictorial content with a post achieves several items for the user:

Provides visual appeal: opening a page that is a sheer wall of text causes a brain to immediately tune out. Many people won’t get past the first paragraph, and your websites bounce rate will increase. Spice up your post and break up the monotony with an image.

Visuals can help clarify a topic. There’s nothing like a graph, chart, or even an on-point meme to get a point across.

Besides the obvious visual appeal for readers, search engines not only like to see that you are providing pictures, but that your images are optimized for maximum effectiveness. The metadata and descriptions associated with your picture can help increase your chances of being found in an organic search.

Where Can I Find Images?

It is considered best practice to use your own, original photos. Decent cameras are reasonably priced. Heck, some people have gotten proficient enough with their smartphone’s camera that they use this as their primary picture taking device. The biggest obstacle many people find in providing their own pictures is time. It may take too long to gather the right objects and get the lighting just right, or to go out into the wild to locate that ideal scene.

If you need to gather your visuals more quickly there are online venues designed specifically for this purpose. They come in two flavours – free and paid.

Some of the free sites like pixabay have pictures that are truly free. What’s the difference between free, and truly free? Some “free” sites offer photos at no charge, but they have a watermark on them. You have to pay a subscription, or membership fee to use the photo without the watermark. Might be okay if the mark is generic, but they usually aren’t, which makes the pic kind of useless for posting on a blog.

Some have a two-tier system. There is a small selection of free (and sometimes lower resolution) pictures without watermarks, and then if you pay a membership/subscription fee, there is a greater selection of photos which include better resolution.

Then there is truly free. There are no watermarks. There are no membership fees, or tiers. Pictures are offered at varying resolutions. The selection may not be as wide or deep as some of the pay sites, however if you are creative you can find the free sites may be more than enough to supply your needs.

Off-Page Changes

After locating the perfect picture to go with your content, there are a couple of things you will need to do with the image.

  • Change it up. When allowed to alter a pic, do it. Chances are you aren’t the only one using this picture, so by adding an effect, or overlaying some text, or cropping the image, you make it different from any other site where users may happen upon this visual. Canva is a great online tool that can help with basic alterations. If you want something a little more robust, gimp is a great picture manipulation program loaded with tons of options – and it is free! (truly free)
  • Remove unnecessary metadata. This is the part of the image that the users won’t normally see; things like the title, tags, authors, date taken, etc. In all, there are about 25 attributes that should be removed whenever possible, to help with overall page performance and not get search engines bogged down with irrelevant information.

Off-Page Information

Image optimization for SEO isn’t just about removing irrelevant items. It is also about ensuring the correct attributes are present and correctly formatted. The following items won’t usually be seen by the user but make a big difference for image optimization.

  1. File name: Never leave an image or photo file name with the default that was set by the camera or program (ie. DSC44553.png or img33224.jpg). Always change the file name to something that is relevant to the content, preferably the focus keyword. This not only helps indicate to search engines the relevance of the image to the text but can help with placing in organic searches.
  2. File format: There are several file formats that will serve for a content image, with the two main types being .jpg (this has its small size going for it), and .png (which allows for background transparency). On occasion a .gif may even be desired for animations. Remember to keep the file sizes as low as possible; use compression if necessary.
  3. Alt text: Most CMS’s media libraries will offer an extra field called alt text when uploading an image. Do not treat it as optional and leave it blank. Do not treat it as an extra field for more keywords. Instead, fill it in with a short description of what is in the picture. This field is used by programs for those who are sight impaired to give a verbal description of what the rest of us see when looking at the image. It can also help when a browser runs into problems downloading the image, by placing the alt text directly on the screen, allowing everyone to get some idea of what is supposed to be there, rather than just a blank image or file not found error.

On-Page Information

  • Give credit where credit is due. Read the terms and conditions of each site where you procure your visuals. They all have varying rules and degrees to which a picture may be used, and the way credit should be given. This not only lets search engines know you have authorization to use a picture, it can also save your hide legally in case a photographer or graphic designer sees their image on your site and challenges your rights of usage.
  • Picture size: as a general rule-of-thumb, ensure the picture is no wider than your content, and it does not fill the entire screen from top to bottom.
  • Captions: people scan titles headings and image captions (no not words imposed over the text, but words underneath a pic – relevant to the article), so a short line of relevant text under the picture can help the reader understand something if it is unclear.

Bottom Line

The biggest thing to keep in mind when setting up a picture for your content is the user experience. Is it original? Is it relevant to the content? Is it clearly, and properly labeled? Is it correctly sized on the page? Does its file size allow for rapid loading? With proper image optimization your visuals will be useful for both the reader and for search engines.

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How Google Search Rankings for Local Businesses are Different in 2019

Google search rankings – page one. The online Holy Grail.

Every business wants to be at the top of the list of search results, or at the very least, on the first page. After all, most people don’t look beyond the first page of results.

Depending on which report you read and how the data is presented, the number of people who can’t be bothered to even have a look at page two results can range anywhere from 71% to as high as 95%. Regardless of who is right with the exact percentage, it is clear that page one is prime real estate when it comes to search results.

“Content is king” was the mantra for quite some time.

Others placed large amounts of energy into link building.

SEO and Local Businesses

So, what is the 2019 roadmap for local businesses looking to secure their place with Google search rankings?

Unified Effort

Throughout the years, various single metrics have become the focus of local businesses. After all, there’s only so much time one can allocate to managing their online presence. In order to move up in Google search rankings some – especially the smaller businesses – had to pick and choose which ones would give the biggest bang for their efforts.

Google currently looks at over 200 indicators as part of their algorithm, when calculating rankings. Focusing on just one particular indicator is no longer a viable option. Fortunately for the smaller businesses there are some broad-brush strokes that can be utilized to help with their rankings, while still leaving them time to focus on their actual business.

If your business doesn’t have a lot of time or resources to devote to SEO, make sure you at least give attention to the following basic items:

  1. “Local” online presence
  2. Content
  3. Social media
  4. User experience

Local Online Presence

What makes a local business “local”? The location of course.

Don’t just place your address in the footer of your webpages and hope Google will find it when crawling your site (assuming you’ve set things up properly). Directly tell Google your address by creating a Google My Business account. This is even more important now that Google is phasing out Google+, previously a favourite among smaller local businesses.

When it comes to info the search engine giant can never get too much. Whether you are signing up for an account for the first time or have had your GMB account for years, be sure to fill in as many of the available fields as possible.

Content

While we do not recommend relying solely on content for online efforts, it is also foolish to abandon it altogether. Those who rise in Google search rankings are generally seen by their algorithm to be an expert in that particular field.

This is indicated, in part, by presenting content. Do it like you know what you’re talking about, even if you’re just starting out. Do it as often as time will allow but be consistent. It is better to post one blog a month, than to post 3 in one month, then nothing for the following two or three months.

Ensure the quality of the content is high!

This not only means being knowledgeable in your subject, it also means presenting the information in an easy-to-read format. Google will look at your spelling, grammar and syntax. Even professional writers have their work proofread. Have someone look over your content before publishing and make recommendations regarding corrections or changes. If you just don’t have the manpower, at least use an app built for this purpose. Grammarly is one of the better-known offerings around.

Social Media

Content doesn’t always have to be in the form of blogs. It can be helpful tips on social media, a recipe, a quote, even a picture. Anything that adds value to the user experience is good, and can pique interest leading to increased traffic to your site via links in your posts.

This is part of a process called backlinking – basically any link on another website that links back to your site. An increase in traffic from social media linking through to your website is an indicator that people are interested in what you have to say and see you as an authority on whatever your specialty is.

A word to the wise: as a general rule, do not use your personal social media account as your business social media account. You may wish to keep your family photos and personal info private.

For a business social media account to be most effective it should be as transparent as possible to google. Most will have the option of making it visible to the public, or even specify that you wish it to be discoverable by search engines.

User Experience

In case you haven’t noticed by now, securing a place within Google search rankings has become about the overall user experience.

While a goofy viral video can get a person or business their 15 minutes of fame, Google looks at the complete unified picture. Their main goal when presenting search results is to ensure that the user receives the information which is most relevant to their search. This not only means the quality of the information, but the way in which it is presented. You want to rank with Google because ultimately you want traffic coming to your website to buy your product, secure your services, or consider visiting you in real life.

Is your website slow to load? How is your bounce rate? Is your site optimized for mobile devices? Are pages on your site buried (more than 3 clicks away from the home page)? Is your site overloaded with industry specific jargon, or is it easy to read? Are the backlinks which drive traffic to your site from quality sites? Are the links leading out of your site relevant to the information being presented?

If you are a brand-new startup, and are familiar with these metrics, then you may want to be adventurous and create your own website with a website builder such as Wix.

If on the other hand you are not tech savvy, or a small to medium business, we recommend you secure a web designer. Having a professional build your site can make a world of difference to your search engine optimization, which directly impacts your Google search rankings. Great SEO can also improve your bottom line.

The Bottom Line

Any local business’s online efforts for 2019 should be unified across various platforms and outlets. Don’t place too much value on any one single metric or indicator. Google likes to see quality and relevance in all aspects of an online presence.

The bottom line of all this? In everything you do, keep in mind the user experience is paramount.

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What We Know About Ranking in Google’s Featured Snippets in 2019

Featured snippets. Instant answers. Position zero. Whatever you call it, it’s prime real estate in the search engine results.

But how do you get there?

Like most things in search engine optimization, there’s no magic formula that applies to featured snippets. The algorithmic scheme that selects snippets is opaque and ever-changing.

search engine optimization

But thanks to the efforts of data geeks like Rob Bucci (of STAT) and Eric Enge (of Stone Temple), we do know a thing or two about what it takes to propel part of a page into the featured snippet position.

Here’s a top-level summary of what featured snippets are, how they work, and what are considered best practices for snippet optimization in 2019.

Featured Snippets: What They Are

The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of featured snippets all comes back to Google’s bottom line.

Google wants to give searchers the best possible results, meaning the most relevant and useful content on the user’s search query. That’s what keeps people coming back to Google when there are plenty of alternative search engines – the quality of its results. Google’s army of engineers are constantly tweaking and fine-tuning search to deliver better results.

In a world where more and more people are searching on-the-go (and increasingly through voice assistants), better results means results that are instant and concise.

Enter rich answers: quick, precise results highlighted in a box at the top of the SERP below the paid listings.

Rich answers come in several different forms, including:

  • The knowledge panel, which provides detailed answers to localized product and service-based searches;
  • Direct answers, which draw information from Google’s personal data files; and
  • Featured snippets, which display relevant bits of information from third-party sources, along with a link back to the page.

Recently, featured snippets on mobile search have links that jump to the exact spot on the page the snippet came from, making it easier to see where that information came from.

Featured snippets often appear in queries that Google takes as questions: searches that open with who, what, where, why and so on. But the snippet algorithm can also catch on to queries that imply a question. It’s getting better and better at guessing the unspoken question behind the search.

If I search, “when is E3 in 2019?” for example, that’s obviously a question-based query; if I instead search, “E3 2019 date” the algorithm knows enough deliver the same answer.

Vox has a video on featured snippets that summarizes this well (and humorously).

Why Do Featured Snippets Matter in Marketing?

Put simply, featured snippets get clicks. Lots of clicks.

When a page holds the featured snippet for a high-value search query, it can lead to a sharp increase in traffic, conversion and clickthrough.

In one case, a featured snippet led to a 516% increase in organic search sessions and a 4% higher clickthrough rate for a lucrative keyword. Others have noticed a similar boost for pages on their sites that secure snippets for search terms that matter to their sales funnel.

The continual rise of voice search is another reason to give snippets a second look. Rich answers are Google’s go-to result for voice queries, where results are spoken out loud to the user in reply. Optimizing a page for snippets also serves it well in voice.

Optimizing for Featured Snippets: What We Know

Featured snippets are not an exact science, but there are clear trends to and themes as which pages are likely to rank for featured snippets.

  1. Google favours questions with multiple answers rather than one. When there’s a single clear-cut answer to a user’s search query, the algorithm can just pull from Google’s own Direct Answers database; when the answer’s more complex, it’s more likely to pull a relevant snippet from a third-party site.
  2. A good answer is a comprehensive one. Stone Temple’s data confirms that, although only 100 or so words will appear in the snippet itself, the algorithm likes to pull snippets from pages with detailed, comprehensive information. Sub-topics and tangents are a good thing, so long as they’re relevant to the page’s core topic.
  3. The fresher, the better. Snippets need to accurate and up-to-date. It’s important to keep your content current have a chance of being featured.
  4. There are patterns that lend well to snippets. It’s no trick or formula, but there are ways of structuring content to make for good snippets:
    • In the headline, tell readers they question you’re going to answer.
    • Write a brief paragraph that provides context to the content that will follow.
    • Give a point-by-point breakdown of the possible answers to the query, or, if there’s only one answer, expand on it. Depending on what best fits this specific query, this information can come in the form of subheadings and paragraphs (one subheading per point), a numbered or bullet list (one number/bullet per point) or a table (one point per row).

How to Track Featured Snippets

Long ago, in the bygone year of 2015, Google’s own Gary Illyes said there’s a chance you might someday be able to  monitor featured snippets in the Search Console. But as of 2017, he’s denied it’s something Google is working on yet. So, it isn’t currently possible to keep track of a site’s snippets using Google’s proprietary tools.

But there are several third-party sites that document how many pages on your site have featured snippets (if any) and to which search terms they apply. And the good news is, if you’re an SEO nerd, you’re probably using one or more of these tools already:

  • SEMRush
  • Ahrefs
  • Moz’s rank tracker
  • Searchmetrics
  • Advanced Web Ranking
  • SEO PowerSuite
  • Linkdex

Is It Worth Chasing After Featured Snippets?

The pages that tend to rank for featured snippets have a lot of good things going for them: they’re current, relevant, comprehensive, and structured in a way that makes it easy for readers to scan and digest the info.

In other words, they’re doing all the things great content should do.

Featured snippets come and go. You could spend weeks working on reaching that coveted spot and be dethroned by a competitor through a shrug of the algorithm days later. But in general, the steps you can take to optimize your content for snippets are things you should be trying to do anyhow – so at worse, you’ve improved your site and added value regardless.

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