5 Steps to Great Image SEO and Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore it
October 21st 2019 | By Dhanya Nair
In this post, we’re taking a look at the importance of image SEO, a vital component of organic SEO that also cannot be ignored for user accessibility reasons.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court in America upheld a ruling that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies not just to restaurants and stores, but also the websites of businesses. The case revolved around a blind user of the Domino’s Pizza website, who complained after being unable to order a pizza online because the website lacked the screen reader technology that would make the website accessible to him.
Expert commentators are warning that this case is a big deal for every company with a website or app, and that business owners should pay close attention to the ruling. With the frequency of such legal wrangles gaining momentum, and the fact that no industry is immune, the official stance is that it’s vital for website owners to take appropriate steps to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes as Domino’s.
What are screen readers?
Screen readers are used by blind or visually impaired website users. They convert the text that is displayed on the computer screen into speech or Braille to make it accessible to those who are unable to read it naturally. But what about images?
Images are used in web design to capture imagination and attention, as well as to illustrate points and provide useful information. It would be hard to imagine a website without images, especially when you are looking to order something, like a pizza.
When it comes to images and screen readers, the technology will ignore them altogether unless alternative text, otherwise known as an alt-tag, has been set for the image. Alt-tags give you the opportunity to explain what the image is, so that the screen reader can relay that information to the user. Screen readers can also be set to read the file name of an image that has no alt-tag set.
So it’s clear that setting alternative text for images on your website, and giving them a descriptive file name that actually means something, is vital if you are going to provide an accessible experience for your visually impaired users. It’s also one of the most effective steps towards image SEO.
What is image SEO?
Image SEO is the process of optimising your website images so that they can be easily found and read by the search engines. It is important because it helps to boost the visibility and rankings of your website in the search engines.
Last year at Google’s Future of Search Event, the search engine introduced three shifts in how it sees search evolving in the future. These included a shift from text to a more visual way of locating information, making the use of images and the importance of image SEO so much more important.
Image SEO involves a range of tactics, and it’s crucial to include it in your overall organic SEO strategy. Overlook the importance of image SEO and you could see your website struggle to gain links, to push its way up in the rankings and to win that all-important traffic that brings you sales.
So, what exactly does image SEO involve? Here we reveal our top five strategies that will ensure your website images and optimised to the full for search.
1. Optimise image file names
It is vital to create descriptive, keyword rich file names for your images. Not only will these be used to deliver information about the image via a screen reader, they will also inform Google and other search engine crawlers about the subject matter of the image.
So, always change the default file name, and choose something that concisely describes the image. Let’s take this image of a pizza as an example.
We could name the image file ‘pizza A’ to distinguish it from all the other pizzas on your website. But that’s not really going to be all that helpful for someone using a screen reader to choose their dinner. It’s not going to help Google understand precisely what the image is of either.
So instead we’ll call it ‘meat feast barbecue stuffed crust’. The key thing here is to keep the file name simple, short, on-point and keyword relevant.
2. Set SEO-friendly alt-text
We’ve already explored how alt-text is important for users relying on screen readers. It’s also vital to describe the contents of an image file to the search engines. In addition, if a browser fails to load an image, the alt-text will show what it should have been.
Alt-text is a highly beneficial on-page SEO strategy. When creating it, be sure to make it relevant to the image so that the search engines can successfully associate your keywords with the images.
As with your file name, keep it simple. Also, be sure to make it as descriptive as you can. If you are selling products that have different model numbers or types, use those in your alt-text.
For our pizza picture, we could use something like, ‘meat feast barbecue flavour stuffed crust pizza’. For even more search engine benefit, if your image links through to a different page of your website, you can use the alt-text as anchor text for your internal link.
If your image is purely decorative though, in other words, it is not essential to understanding the content and purposes of a page, then don’t set alternative text. Instead, add a null alt-text value (alt=””).
3. Add descriptive captions
An image caption is the text that appears usually below it. The caption is designed to explain what is seen in the picture, or to summarise the content that the image has been chosen to depict.
Web visitors tend to scan through content, and stop at images, more often than not reading any caption that goes with it. Make it compelling enough, and they’ll be more likely to engage with the rest of your content.
Captions add context to an image, as well as providing more for the search engines to go on when combined with your descriptive image title and alt-text. Captions add value to images, providing they are relevant.
4. Reduce image sizes
We’ve discussed previously how slow websites are a silent business killer, to the point where three quarters of your customers could be lost due to slow loading pages.
Site speed is one of the most vital ranking factors when it comes to SEO and it just cannot be overlooked. Google does not look favourably on slow web pages. For this reason, it is essential that part of your image SEO strategy involves making sure your pictures are properly sized. And that includes your image thumbnails – the quick showcase pictures often used on ecommerce sites – so make certain these are optimised size wise too.
Doing this is relatively simple. There are image compression tools designed specifically for the job. WordPress plugins such as Smush will compress images as you upload them into the CMS. Or you can use tools like TinyPNG, PicMonkey and PIXLR to do the job before you load them.
5. Be original with your images
Best practice image SEO dictates that original images are the preference against stock photos. At very least, make your images relevant to your content. Images that do not reflect the subject matter will be less likely to rank for the keyword for which it is optimised. But if you can, do try to either shoot your own original pictures, or at very least personalise stock images to make them unique using tools such as Canva.
If you don’t have any original images, you can avoid the obvious stock choices that every other website is using by making use of licensed image sites like Unsplash and Pixabay. Just be sure to read the instructions for each image as some may require you to credit the photographer.
Image SEO – why it’s NOT to be ignored
Whether for accessibility and user experience, or to boost your search engine rankings, the importance of image SEO simply cannot be ignored.
At Figment we have for many years been helping businesses improve their online visibility using a range of best practice organic SEO tactics, including image SEO.
There is a lot more to image SEO than we have outlined in this post. If you could use some help with your SEO campaign with a view to increasing sales, you are welcome to get in touch!