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How to Optimise Images for Improved Search Performance

Many websites out there simply use images as a means of breaking up text on-page and making their content more engaging and readable.  While this is definitely a smart thing to be doing, anyone looking to get more bang for their image buck from an optimisation perspective ought to make sure they’re doing everything they can to strengthen what their images offer.

Images on a website could potentially:

  • Generate backlinks if you allow them to be used in return for a link.
  • Improve on-page user metrics such as time on page and bounce rate, both factors Google are looking at closer than ever, and are sure to continue focusing on, and that you can see for yourself in Google Analytics.
  • Gain incremental traffic if they appear in image search.
  • Boost the overall SEO performance of your site if they’re optimised correctly.

Make no mistake, images are much more than something you simply put on your page so you can tick a box.

Here’s what you need to do.

Compress Your Images

Although there is no evidence that the size of an image file on-page influences search results, we do know that page loading time is a ranking factor.  The bigger the file, the longer the page loading time, the poorer the optimisation impact.

How you compress your images will depend on your server and content management system (CMS).  If you use WordPress, for example, there are plenty of tutorials as well as plug-ins that will help you compress your images.  For some servers and website back-ends, the best thing to do might be to use a program like Adobe Photoshop and use the “Save for Web” functionality.

Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool for Developers to understand if your images are having a severely detrimental influence on your rankings, and learn the other options you have for compressing and better optimising your images.

This will also help improve your mobile optimisation, which is increasingly important given the greater percentage of users that are now finding your site on a mobile device.

Use Unique & Custom Images

In much the same way that Google has taken steps to ensure they don’t rank 10 articles that are exactly the same on the front page, if you perform an image search it’s unlikely that you’re going to find free Creative Commons images that have been used on a variety of websites.

Naturally, some of these will rank on certain sites, but the sheer volume of platforms using them means it is futile to think this strategy will have any meaningful impact for you.  At the same time, you might have to accept that you are going to have some images that are the same as on other websites, especially if you’re an ecommerce business in a competitive sector, for example, and sell a lot of the same product as your competitors.

If you want your images to help make you a search superstar, then unique and custom images are the way to go.  Even if you’re a novice photo software user, something different and not 100% perfect is better than something perfect but familiar.  Google aren’t looking for David Bailey quality photos – although obviously the higher quality they are, the better – so as long as they’re clear you have a chance of ranking well.

If you need an image, and a stock image is your only choice, don’t worry – using them won’t have a negative impact on your site, but at the same time, you’ll get no tangible benefit, either.

Image Name & Alt Tag

These will be similar but are different owing to the context in which they’re used.  When you upload an image to your web server, your image keeps the name of the file that was saved onto your computer system.  This is the image name.  So, if you’ve taken a picture of a cashmere sweater to upload to your fashion blog, make sure you name it “cashmere sweater” before you upload it, otherwise Google will look at your site and see an image called something line JL794694.jpg on page, which doesn’t mean a whole lot to anyone.

There has long been a lot of talk about using keywords within alt tags and ensuring these are optimised, but the reality of alt tags is that they’re an “alternative” to the image; they are what the user sees when the image doesn’t load.  In truth, if you write an accurate description in here, they’ll automatically be “optimised” and stand a chance of ranking in image search, as well as lifting your site as a whole.  Yes, this is the image element that Google looks at when assessing images, websites, and creating rankings, but you shouldn’t be obsessing over it to the point of distraction.

Even if you use a stock image, you should still use a good alt tag, so that the user is informed of what image should be there if it doesn’t load.

Keep your alt tags as short as possible, ideally to no more than five or six words, but remember that two or three may suffice.

Title Tag

Your image title is what will appear if a user hovers their cursor over the image on your page.  Google don’t use image titles, but they’re definitely something you ought to use to improve the user experience.

A good tip is to use the same title and alt tag for your images, as a means of testing yourself to see if you’ve written a natural alt tag or an over optimized one.

Make Your Copy Relevant

Like with many things in SEO today, relevancy is the big thing you need to be focused on.  You can tick all of the above boxes in terms of optimising your images, but if you have an image of a cricket bat in a blog about fashion, you aren’t going to get very far.

Okay, admittedly that’s an extreme example, but many a site owner has tried irrelevant images within posts in the past just to try and rank.  You should also be aware of the potential for an image mismatch penalty if you are trying to show Google and users a different image.

Use Schema.org

Schema.org mark-up is probably the biggest SEO must do of 2014, but many have been slow at picking it up, meaning you could easily gain a competitive advantage by including as much detail as possible in your website code.

Optimising Your Images

Do you really need to optimise your images?  It is certainly something you should be doing, but you shouldn’t expect to see your site rocketing onto the first page of Google overnight or have any visions of receiving masses from traffic from image search.

However, having well optimised images will help with your overall user experience measures and give your site a strong foundation and architecture, and over time your images could well find their way into image search and may even become a valuable means of earning backlinks or social shares.

Written by
Posted · Jun 13, 2014
Categories · On-Page Optimisation.
Related Articles · How to Create Content to Win Links. How to Deal With Stolen Content. How to Earn Authoritative Links. How to Produce Shareable Content. What is an Image Mismatch Penalty?. How to Build Links With Content.

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