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7 Tips to Optimize Your Website’s Images For Improved SEO

It may be true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Certainly, images greatly improve the story-telling and visual appeal of any website, and most business owners know that they should be using lots of images on their sites. These images can be elements such as your logo, product shots, headshots of people or other images that help to communicate and connect with users.

However, images can seriously degrade a website’s performance if they are used improperly. On the flip side, they can also be powerful tools in the search engine optimization (SEO) tool chest.

I spoke with a web expert from the Bell Web Design team, and identified seven important image optimization tips you should follow to get the most out of the images you use on your site:

1. Rename your image files using descriptive keywords

Most picture files start out with generic, non-descriptive filenames. Changing the filename to something that describes the image will give search engines useful information that will improve the rankings of that image. Even better is to include keywords that you know people use when searching for whatever it is your image depicts. However, avoid stuffing your filename with dozens of keywords; this will not be well received by search engines.

2. Always include alternative text with your images

An ‘alt tag’ or ‘alt attribute’ is an HTML attribute that specifies alternative text to be displayed on a web page when the image itself cannot be displayed. One of its main functions is for website accessibility, because it describes the image to visually impaired people who may be using a screen reader to listen to the content of a page. Search engines also read alt tags, so embedding keywords in an image’s alt attribute will greatly improve the search results of that image. As with image filenames, though, don’t go overboard.

3. Stock photography: Yes or no?

Commissioning original photography is very expensive, so many website owners routinely turn to stock images. This can be a good option for professional-looking photos, but you need to be careful. High-quality stock photography is also relatively expensive, and popular stock images may also be used by other websites. Using such regularly duplicated imagery may harm your SEO, because Google penalizes duplicate content, including images. A good option is to alter or combine your purchased stock photos in some way to ensure they are unique. Use it as an opportunity to ensure they better suit your brand.

Cheaper options include looking at sites like Flickr for quality images (whose owners will let you use them for free under a Creative Commons license), or browsing Google Images (with the ‘Usage rights’ filter set to ‘Labeled for reuse’ or ‘Labeled for reuse with modification’).

4. Use small file sizes

Not only will visitors to your website appreciate a page that loads quickly, but so, too, will search engines. So reduce your image files to the smallest size possible without compromising quality – a good rule of thumb is 70 kb or less. A quick way to do so without losing any essential information is to use the “Save for Web” command in an image-processing application. If you do want to provide your users with a larger image so they can appreciate its detail, do so as a popup or link to the larger image on a separate page.

5. Use captions

Captions can make your images more interesting to visitors. According to Ogilvy, captions are among the most well-read content elements on a web page. So writing good captions will tend to increase the amount of time visitors spend on your site – and time on site is a critical variable in the SEO equation.

6. Show products in actual use

In a similar vein to tip No. 5, using more than a single image to portray a product will also help improve SEO by encouraging visitors to spend more time on your site. If yours is an e-commerce site, it’s also good business. So if you’re selling clothing or jewellery, for example, include pictures that show the products being worn. If you’re selling kitchen appliances, show them being used in addition to the standard product-focused images. Don’t lose sight of tip No. 4, though, and make sure that you have not overloaded your page and increased its load time.

7. Consolidate your image directories and use an image sitemap

Okay, we’re getting a little technical with this last one, but it’s important. First, rather than having image files reside in many different directories and subdirectories on your website, consolidate them all into a single directory. Name it something obvious, like mywebsite/images/ so that search engines can find it easily. Then, create a sitemap file listing your images or update your main sitemap.xml file to include image-specific tags, and submit it through a search engine’s webmaster tools. (Read this Google article for more details.) Ultimately, this allows your site to be even more visible in image web searches by giving search engines metadata about your images.

The bottom line

Images can do much more for your website than simply help visualize its content, your brand and your products. Do it well, and people will find your website based on its images as well as its content. If you want to dig in deeper, Google has a wealth of resources available about image optimization.

How do use images on your website? Share your tips and experiences with us in the comments below.

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