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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