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March 12, 2014

Image Optimization is Still Important to Your Site’s Traffic

Let’s be honest, there are a lot sexier forms of search engine optimization than image optimization. Content marketing, long-form posts, author rank and other newer, broader SEO tactics have captured the fancy of marketers and business owners. Even link building remains regarded as an effective, if often time-consuming, strategy.

Amidst all that, it’s easy to overlook image optimization. But that is a big mistake. Image pageviews are a huge but sometimes overlooked factor. In 2010, daily pageviews on Google Images topped 1 billion.

Image optimization is fairly easy to do, as long as you follow the right steps. Here’s how you can make it work for your company.

What is Image Optimization?

Image optimization is essentially coding your images so that they bring in the greatest possible amount of traffic. Search engines offer separate image searches, which is a great way to drive people to your site. But the Google and Bing bots can also crawl the tags on your images for regular searches, and so it pays to use lots of photos with descriptive text in every post.

There are three main best practices to keep in mind when optimizing your images. We’ll examine each one in detail, but for reference, they are:

  • Picking a good file name
  • Using alt text
  • Reducing file size

If you pay close attention to all three things, your images should boost traffic to your blog. Now we’ll walk through each step to ensure you’re getting the picture.

Find the Right File Name

You might think of the file name as a simple descriptor you use to designate a file. But search engines consider it so much more. File names help clue them in to relevant pictures in a search. That’s why the worst thing you can do when you’re uploading a picture to your web site is to keep the random numbers or letters assigned to the picture on your phone (i.e., KM20413_003) as the file name. That tells the search engine nothing about what’s in the photo.

Instead, think about what keywords you’re targeting for the page and make one of them the name of your picture file. For instance, if you are selling a product for killing mosquitoes, your file name might be “bug zapper.” Before you decide on the name, you may want to do a search on the keyword you are targeting to see what images come up and what their file names are.

The greater the detail in your file name, the better, as you’ll show up in more specific searches. But don’t overwhelm one photo with five keywords. One detailed keyword is enough.

Use Alt Text Properly

Every image that you upload includes an alternative text attribute. This is separate from the file name, and it essentially identifies what the picture is. It’s the text that shows up on screen when a picture doesn’t load properly. In a guide on image optimization, WebpageFX gives some good background on alt text, which can be confusing if you’re not a technical web person.

Most content management systems have a place to add the alt text. When all is said and done, the HTML version will look like this: alt=”[your alt text here]”. This is where you become Google’s eyes. The search engine can’t recognize what an image looks like unless you tell it. So if you want your photo of a red bird to show up when someone searches “red bird,” you probably want your alt text to read alt=”red bird”.

Cut Down on File Size

Load time remains a major concern on the web. As sites have gotten faster, surfers’ attention span has simultaneously gotten shorter. Three seconds is about the maximum they are willing to wait for something to load. Plus, page load time is one of the factors Google considers in its algorithm. Don’t make your images part of the problem.

You will need to compress the size of your image before you load it to your site in order to keep your load time down and thus optimize the photo. While there is no set limit to aim for, keep common sense in mind – don’t fill your website with tons of 1mb photos, or loading will be a slow journey. Edit the image in photo editing software in order to downsize it; do not rely on your CMS’s reduction tool. Your photos will be crisper and load faster. Some photo editing tools you may want to consider:

Going the Extra Mile

So you’ve taken care of the three essential tips for image optimization. That should start bringing in more traffic. But if you really want to reap the benefits of image optimization, you’d be wise to take even further steps.

This might include:

Writing a caption: Captions are another great place to gain some extra traffic by using smart, descriptive keywords.

Playing with file types: As mentioned above, GIF, JPG and PNG are optimal file types to use on your site. If you find you’re accidentally employing a different sort of image, it may be affecting your traffic.

Staying consistent: Don’t try to cram an optimized photo onto a page that has nothing to do with the picture. Above all things, Google values high-quality, logical content. If you put inconsistent surrounding content around your image, all the optimization techniques in the world won’t help you.

Employing site maps: If your site employs JavaScript galleries or image pop-ups, you will want to use a Google Image Sitemap, which will ensure that the images are listed on your site even if they’re not in the webpage source code.

Using specific CMS tactics: It’s always helpful to tailor your strategy to your CMS. Different ones have different options for image optimization.

Making Image Optimization Work for You

Even with all the other new SEO tactics gaining traction every day, image optimization is still a very smart, proven way to boost traffic to your site. Don’t abandon it just because some other techniques have risen to prominence.


Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about marketing strategies that benefit businesses like Patio Furniture Covers. She loves to see brands succeeding on the web. To get in touch, follow @adrienneerin on Twitter.