*The following tip was Christine Laubenstein of WordStream*
A good way to get an edge over your industry competitors is to optimize your website for image search. Many companies focus their search engine optimization (SEO) efforts on their website copy, with little regard for the pictures. Take advantage of their inaction in this area by boosting the search engine visibility of your images, and therefore your website.
Why should you care about image search?
There are several reasons why you should want your site to rank high in image search results for your keywords.
- First off, a large chunk of people are using image search to find content. According to Alexa Internet, about 10 percent of Google’s visitors go to the site’s image search page. Bing and Yahoo also have their own images searches. Image searchers might be interested in photography, seeking free photos for their blog, or wondering what a particular product looks like. If your photos and surrounding content are relevant, you want these people to find your site. And if your site is useful and captivating, they may become customers or loyal readers.
- A second reason you should care about image search is that universal searches typically incorporate images into their results. For example, when you type “Beyonce” into Yahoo’s universal search engine, the first page of search results includes Yahoo Image Search results about halfway down the page. The displayed photos are also the first ones that appear in a Yahoo Image Search. Universal search is the default mode for Google and many queries return image results.
- A third benefit of optimizing your site for image search is it forces you to improve your site’s consistency. In other words, it pushes you to evaluate your niche; adjust your photos, content and keyword so they align with your niche; and get rid of items that lack relevance. This will also boost your overall position in search engine rankings. Search engines like sites with a targeted message.
What first steps should you take to optimize your site for image search?
- As mentioned above, you want to go through your site and get rid of photos that don’t fit with the overall theme of your website. It might be hard to part with certain pictures, especially if you took them and are proud, but do it anyway. As they say, you must “kill your darlings” for the greater good. In SEO-speak, the greater good is better search engine rankings. If you choose, you can replace the photos you removed with ones that are relevant.
- Next you should make sure that your photos are relatively large, have high resolutions and contrasts, and have good aspect ratios. Search engines look for quality photos that will look decent in thumbnail form, since that’s the form the photos take on in search results.
- Next you should make sure that your photo file names sufficiently describe the photos and contain your keywords. Because search engines can’t yet “read” images themselves, you must use other methods to associate your keywords with the images. The file name is one way to do this. Say you sell nonstick Madeleine pans and your keyword phrase is “nonstick Madeleine pans.” It doesn’t take a genius to determine you should label a photo of nonstick Madeleine pans “nonstick-madeleine-pans.jpg.”
- You can also insert your keywords into the alternative text (alt txt) attribute. If you can, insert the same description you used for the file name, minus the hyphens. So in the case of the nonstick Madeleine pans photo, your alt text would read alt=“nonstick Madeleine pans.” If your site uses the WordPress publishing platform you can download a free plug-in (“SEO Friendly Images”) that automatically updates your images with appropriate alt text attributes. You may also want to put your keywords in the title attribute of your different images, though from a search point of view that matters less than the alt text attribute.
- Once you’ve optimized the code within your images, consider what’s immediately surrounding your photos. You want to at least see some text that either describes or highly relates to the picture. The text could be a caption, adjacent article or small blurb of information. Feel free to add some text if none exists. Just make sure it contains your keyword phrase. The content’s proximity to your photo will help the search engines identify your photo. It also doesn’t hurt to have your images close to a page headline or subhead containing your keywords.
What additional steps can you take to optimize a site for image search?
- Make sure that the directory holding your images can be accessed by search engine crawlers. Some webmasters have barred access to this directory so other sites can’t publish their images. The problem with this move is it keeps the images from appearing in image search results. It’s ultimately up to you to decide whether keeping the directory open is worth it, but at least be aware of how keeping it closed can limit your traffic.
- Re-upload your photos on a regular basis. Search engines prefer photos that have recently been published to photos that have sat around for a while. While technically you may be uploading files that have sat around for a while, the timelier publishing date treats them as fresh.
- Post your images to photo sharing sites like Flickr. This is a great way to boost traffic to your site. Since Flickr has a lot of search engine authority, its pages tend to rank high in image searches. Pair that with your ability to link your Flickr pages to your website, and your potential for new visitors increases.
- Let other websites publish your photos. If other websites are interested in publishing your photos to their sites, let them. Just require something in return. You could, for example, request that they promote your site in captions under the photos. The text could state that the photos came from your site, explain your site, and include a link to your site. The more your site is promoted and linked to, the better your search engine rankings will be.
- Encourage other websites to link to your photos. If you are not comfortable with other websites publishing your photos you can at least encourage them to link to your photos. See if they will include your keywords in their anchor text, another rankings booster.
If you employ these steps, or at least some of them, you will see both your image search and universal search rankings improve. Then you will want to focus on updating your site with highly relevant copy and photos that keep people coming back.