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January 27, 2010

How Google Image Search helps SEO

What is Google Image Search?

Google has a dedicated version of its search engine called Image Search which helps find images. Claiming to be the most comprehensive image search facility on the web, it has billions of images from websites already within its index. When searching for images, you can tailor the search for various sizes and choose a specific type of image you’re looking for, such as a photo, clipart or head shot.

When clicking on a image, the image will load as a preview in one frame, whilst showing the website the image is from in a frame below. This gives you the option of visiting the website or enlarging the image to full size. Google Image Search is popular. It actually gets more traffic than Yahoo, Window Live Search and Ask Jeeves.

Why is Google Image Search Important To Me? As mentioned, Google Image Search gets more traffic than supposed major search engines in the UK, typically getting more visits than websites such as Amazon and MySpace (Source: Hitwise). This means Google Image Search is a potential source for traffic to your site, and although perhaps not as targeted as conventional search, implies that people are actively searching for what you offer.

The biggest reason to start optimizing for Google Image Search is that it is not as competitive as normal search, despite the great amount of traffic it can provide. Although ranking well in Google Image Search itself does not help your conventional search engine rankings, a byproduct of ranking well in Google Image Search could mean this will happen eventually because of the viral potential.

How Do I Get My Images onto Google Image Search?

You cannot submit images in the same way you can submit your website or sitemap to Google. Results are entirely shown by Google’s algorithm after indexing all websites it finds. Google’s imaging spider is called Google Image Bot. It crawls the web and indexes all of the pages it can find. Being a program, it cannot ‘see’ images, so it has other ways of determining an image’s relevancy. These factors are:

1. Descriptive Image Name

When optimizing a website, we have talked about relevancy in other articles. It sounds obvious, but you have to talk about what you do. Integrating keyword phrases into this content is essential and makes a genuine difference to rankings. In a simplified way, this is no different for images.

Your images should be named after their subject. For example, if you want to come up in Google Image Search for David Beckham you should call it something along the lines of ‘david-beckham.jpg’ as opposed to something generic such as ‘photo1234.jpg.’ Likewise, if you have a folder full of David Beckham images, name the folder descriptively too.

2. Compliant Images

Creating accessibility compliant images works in hand with being descriptive and relevant. There are a number of criteria you have to meet to have an officially compliant image. These criteria are:

  • A ‘src’ attribute specifying the URL of the image
  • A width and height declaration of the image in pixels
  • An ‘alt’ attribute that describes the content of the image
  • A ‘title’ attribute that contains a text description when hovering over the image

The ‘alt’ and ‘title’ tag are specifically important for optimization as they are way of building in keyword phrases, e.g. David Beckham. Below is an example of how the code and image should look for the David Beckham image:

<img title=”David Beckham” src=”images/david-beckham/photo-david-beckham.jpg” alt=”David Beckham” width=”209″ height=”314″ />

3. On Page Optimization

If you’re reading this far, you probably know a fair amount about Search Engine Optimization. In order to get your images ranking well in Google Image Search, you’ll need to have the whole page optimized towards that image. Therefore, try not to be optimizing the page for more than one subject, such as mixing David Beckham with Kevin Pietersen (he’s a cricketer for the Yanks reading this!).

You should concentrate on being descriptive for the Title and Meta tags. One of the more important factors specific to Image Search optimization is not only concentrating on relevant content, but specifically the content in close proximity to the image. Bear this in mind when setting the layout of the page!

4. PageRank and Backlinks

Another factor shared with general Search Engine Optimization is that Google will rank an image higher if it is on an authority page. This means a page that has backlinks and consequently, a relatively good Google PageRank. Try to generate backlinks to the specific page by visiting forums, blogs and other websites related to the subject matter. Also be sure to internal link to the page so it is indexed quickly and gains some PageRank from your established pages. For both inbound and internal links, make sure they have descriptive anchor text.

5. Website Relevancy

Although important, PageRank isn’t as important with Image Search as with ranking on Google’s main search engine. Website relevancy counts for more, so if you had a whole website dedicated to David Beckham, this would be better than having a single page. If this isn’t possible, try to create a ‘theme’ within your website where you create more than one page about the subject matter. You should then inter-link these pages.

Website Relevancy is considered of growing importance within the SEO world and should be factored into your website wide optimization planning.

6. Image Storage

Related to relevancy, Google’s Image Guidelines suggest saving all related images in the same folder. If Google can see you concentrate on this subject, this could potentially boost your ranking within Google Images. Likewise, if you talk a lot about the chosen subject across many pages, you may want keep them under a well titled sub-folder.

Avoid Duplication

When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, duplicate content is a bad thing. Copying your own content across many websites, or worse still, stealing someone else’s content, is something you should avoid. The Google algorithm is clever enough to know which came first, and it is no different with images. You can see this mentioned by Peter Linsley (Google’s Product Manager) on YouTube.

How do you avoid duplication with an image? Of course, because search engines can’t actually see images, you can use the same ones as repeated elsewhere. Just ensure they are named differently and are a different size. Having a variation of sizes could help traffic as users can specify to only view small, medium and large images.

My Page is Well Optimized, Why am I not Showing on Google Image Search?

The Google Image Bot does not crawl as often as Google’s search engine bot “GoogleBot.” This is why having a high PageRank is important, because it demonstrates you have plenty of backlinks. The more roads that lead to you, the bigger the chances of the Google Image Bot visiting your website and the page in question.

The Viral Effect

People often use Google Image Search so they can share an image or use it themselves. If certain pages on your website are getting a lot of traffic, consider watermarking the images with your website address, as this could be free advertising for you. You can check your website logs by using a program such as Google Analytics which will reveal what websites are using your images directly (known as hot linking).

When watermarking images, do not make your website address or logo too obtrusive. People simply won’t use your image which will render your hard work pointless. Here is an example of our David Beckham photo with a Webtacular watermark.

Alternative Revenue Stream

Some images you have on your website may not have a direct link to something you provide or sell. The truth is, views from Google Image Search generally don’t convert into sales any where near as well as conventional search. This doesn’t mean you can’t make money from an image that ranks well in Google Image search however!

A percentage of people using Image Search are actively seeking more information on the subject matter. By installing Google AdSense on your website, you can earn revenue by having Sponsored Links on your page. Google’s AdSense automatically tailors adverts to the content on your page, delivering highly targeted links that should generate clicks (and therefore money) to you.

By showing adverts related to the page’s content, Google AdSense also works as a useful diagnostic tool to see how well optimized your pages are for Image Search.

Google Image Labeler

In August 2006, Google launched the Image Labeler ( service as a beta. Three years later, it’s still under beta. This may be because they rely on the public to use it. It is marketed as a ‘game’ where two users race against each other to label images. Clever ploy to get people to categorise millions of images without paying them? You decide…

Effectively, the Image Labeler tells Google what keyword phrases an image should come up for in the Image Search results. The ‘game’ is random so there is no way of finding your own images, but with thousands of users, someone else could be doing you a favor.

In order to have your images show up in Google Image Labeler you will need to authorise it first. To do this, log in or setup a Google Webmaster account. Under ‘Settings’ there is a checkbox to choose to be included.

Rob Fenn is an SEO specialist, working within the Webtacular ( department of the website design firm Sixth Sense ESP (, which focuses on Internet Marketing for SMEs. Outside of SEO, Rob is also a Google AdWords Qualified Professional.