SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a vital part of establishing and maintaining a website that fully delivers on its potential — as such, it demands attention from the earliest planning stages to the very last update rolled out before a website shuts down.
But SEO is a big consideration with a lot of moving parts, and some elements are more pressing than others. For instance, technical SEO ensures that your website can be seen by search engines in the first place, which earns it top place in the list of priorities. Following that, on-page SEO keeps a page performing well enough for engines like Google to rank it highly.
And then there’s image SEO, an area often overlooked entirely. Sometimes this is because people think it doesn’t matter, and other times it’s because they simply don’t understand it — but does it warrant your attention? What does it involve, and is it even relevant to your online business? That’s what we’re about to consider.
The value of optimized imagery
High-quality content suitable for today’s digital world is multi-faceted, multi-platform, and highly varied in its structural elements. Almost every article needs a featured image, for instance, and every step-by-step guide can benefit from the inclusion of appropriate screenshots.
When you search for written content online, you’re unlikely to be presented with images — but it can happen through featured snippets from Google’s Knowledge Graph, a gigantic repository of indexed data that can figure out what you’re looking for and provide you with a relevant chunk of rich data. As you’d expect, the images features invariably meet a solid SEO standard.
And once you reach a search result, the images directly affect what you make of your findings. If you see an image that matches the content you expect, you’ll feel reassured, but if you see a lead image of a frog when you searched for a tutorial on how to repair a window, you’ll assume you’re in the wrong place and back out. You’ll also be reluctant if the image is relevant but poor — if the tutorial creator couldn’t provide a decent image, can you trust them to have produced worthwhile content?
If you see that a particular website consistently includes images of exceptional quality, it will have a knock-on effect on how you perceive the business in general, which will motivate you to spend more time on the site and raise its on-page SEO metrics in the process.
Image elements that factor into SEO
As we’ve seen, images can affect SEO through contributing to user engagement metrics, but they also contribute through being directly accessible to search crawlers. An image SEO strategy should encompass all of the following elements:
- Relevancy. The more clearly an image is considered to be relevant by users and/or search crawlers, the more effective it will be for attracting traffic and improving rankings.
- Quality. This applies both to the technical quality of an image (i.e. how pixelated it is) and the artistic quality (how good the composition is, how well it suits the context, etc.). The more the image stands out, the more appealing it will be to searchers.
- File size. A large file will typically be higher-quality, but will affect page loading speed. The appropriate balance should be determined by considering the priorities of the page.
- Dimensions. Search engines prefer images that fit aspect ratios such as 4:3 or 16:9 because they fit neatly into standard content structures, and prefer higher-resolution images because they look better on high-end screens and smartphones.
- File name. Having an image file called IMG0758.jpg won’t be very informative, so rename it to reflect the nature of the image (the featured image above is named image-seo.png, for instance, but it could be magnifying-glass-on-green-background.png for some added detail).
- Alt text. This text describes what the image contains, and is used when the image cannot be displayed (or when the user is sight-impaired).
If you polish all of these factors to a great standard, you’ll have done essentially everything that can typically be expected from an SEO-focussed standpoint. Any improvements beyond that will be restricted to the quality factor, as it will always be possible to produce better images — the limiting factor there being that top-end photography demands expensive equipment, extraordinary patience, and exceptional skill.
Is image SEO worthwhile in your case?
So with the value and nature of image SEO established, how can you tell if it’s worth pursuing for your business? It’s fairly simple: do you sell products, or offer services that can be illustrated, or use images at all on your business website? If so, then image SEO is very much relevant, and something you should take the time to address.
The reasoning is very simple. If you do lean heavily on images for your content, then it’s clearly an important part of your overall value proposition and thus worth investing some time in. If you don’t lean heavily on images and only include them on occasion, then it won’t take all that much work to make some basic SEO tweaks.
A lot of the basics may already have been covered for you through your CMS. Standardized hosted website builders typically have native systems for ensuring that uploaded images are suitably formatted for SEO best practices (and if you used a simple-setup ecommerce storefront to build an online store, you’ll likely be able to find an add-on to make alt text configuration significantly easier).
Whether you use some automated assistance to tackle a large quantity of product images, or take a manual look at a small number of images for a non-ecommerce business website, a solid image SEO review shouldn’t take longer than a day — and if your business model can’t accommodate one day spent on optimization, then you have much greater problems to address!
Is image SEO relevant to your online business? If you have any images at all, the answer is a definitive ‘yes’. Image SEO is relevant to each and every online business with illustration of some kind, and the more your images factor into your brand identity, the more time you should find to spend on polishing them for search traffic.
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who loves getting stuck into a Photoshop project. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.