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A guide to image SEO for small businesses

4 minute read

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They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but did you know that the images on your site could be helping to bring you more customers? Today we’re introducing you to image SEO, the art of making the images on your site work harder at growing your business…

What is image SEO?

Image SEO is the practice of optimising your images for image search with a view to driving more traffic to your site, and therefore generating more business. Just as the main Google search results (and those of other search engines) drive traffic to your site, so too does Google Images. Someone searching Google for “sleeveless red dress” might therefore arrive at your site via a link in the main search results, or via a photo that caught their eye when searching for images.

With search traffic a vital source of visitors for any website, it makes sense to use image search as an extra means of bringing in new business. While they can analyse text, search engines can’t see what’s in an image. That means you need to tell them what’s in each of your images so that they know what searches your images should rank for.

How to optimise your images for SEO

There are numerous elements of each image that you can optimise for search engines. The starting point, just as with the rest of your site, is conducting keyword research and identifying your target keywords. We’ve previously covered this process here, so if the concept is new to you then have a read of that before you continue. Once you’ve drawn up a list of your designated keywords, you can get to work on including them in the various attributes of each image when viewing the image in your CMS.

File size

Page load speeds are a ranking factor in search engine algorithms, so it’s wise to compress your images to ensure they don’t take too long to load. The image only needs to be as big as it will be displayed on the page, and if you don’t resize it, you’ll have the full size image loading even if it’s only shown as a small one on the page. There are plenty of free online tools to help you reduce file sizes without affecting image quality; try Bulk Resize Photos, for example.

A side note: your images should automatically resize themselves when they’re displayed on mobile devices. If you’re using WordPress, images are responsive by default, but the attribute to look for in other content management systems is “srcset”.

File name

If you’re using original images from your own camera, your images probably have generic file names such as “IMG_001”. This gives search engines no clues as to what the image is of, and therefore what searches it’s relevant to. Instead, use a descriptive file name and use hyphens to separate words: “sleeveless-dress.jpg”, for example.

Caption

Not all your images will have captions – they’re not always appropriate for website content or product pages – so don’t add one just for the sake of SEO. However, if you’re including images in a blog post or news article and captions make sense, they’ll help readers scan through the article as well as helping search engines understand what’s in the image. As they’re seen on the page rather than hidden away in the file information, making sure they read well for visitors is more of a priority than including keywords.

Alt tag

Also known as alt text, the alt tag is the snippet of text that appears when someone scrolls over an image. It’s there to tell search engines what’s in the image, as well as providing context for the surrounding copy. It’s also used by reading aids for the visually impaired, and it’s displayed if the image can’t be loaded for some reason. Without being too wordy, use the alt tag to describe the image for readers, and use a keyword if you can. Use a keyword variant, different from and perhaps more detailed than the one you used for the filename – “sleeveless red maxi dress with plunging neckline”, for example.

XML sitemap inclusion

Make sure your images are included in your XML sitemap so that search engine algorithms know where to find them all. This makes it more likely that your images will be included in image search results.

Which images should you optimise?

Now that you know how to optimise your images, which ones should you optimise? The simple answer is all of them, but if you have a large number of images to optimise and you’re not sure where to begin, we’d argue that your product pages are a great starting point.

Your product pages are the most important on your site, and since many people use image search to look for products they like the look of, making sure your product images get indexed makes sense. These images are a great place to include variants of relevant keywords; using our sleeveless dress example, image optimisation could help the product page rank for a range of relevant terms, such as “red dress”, “red maxi dress”, “sleeveless red dress” and so on.

Of course, your images are only one aspect of your on-site optimisation that can help bring in more search engine traffic. If you’re new to SEO and you’d like to read more about optimising the rest of your website, take a look at our other posts about SEO.

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Rachel Ingram is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.

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