Images significantly improve your website’s user experience. They help your visitors to comprehend the page content. And they provide breaks in large chunks of text, making long pages easier to digest.
But can they help with search engine optimization (SEO)? Absolutely. Let’s find out how.
3 ways images improve SEO
1. Indirectly impress Google
When (human) visitors to your page enjoy their experience, they’ll stay on the page longer and are more likely to return. They’re also more likely to refer their friends and followers to the page. They may link to it from their blog or social media. All of this equals a thumbs-up in Google’s algorithm, meaning the page will rank better.
2. Image search
Images can be found in Google searches — in the “Images” search engine results pages (SERPs). Many people focus their searches on that section. So there’s a huge audience to target there.
You don’t have to be selling a product to have your image show up in an image search. As long as your image is relevant to the query, it can show up in the results, perhaps even unintentionally. That’s one way people can find your page.
3. Keyword containment
Your site images can (and should) contain descriptive info — including your keywords — which can help Google get a sense of what your page is about. More details on this below.
Best practices for web images
There are several things to consider when creating and placing images within your page. Following are some of the most important ones.
Hopefully it goes without saying that the images you use should be pertinent to the content of the page. Graphs and charts, for instance, illustrate data better than text in most cases. They’re a great way to add information to the page. Photos and illustrations may not always be “necessary” for explaining an idea, but can complement your text and emphasize its meaning. It’s important to have the image situated near the related text on the page to establish that connection.
Use original images whenever possible. If you have the budget to hire a professional photographer or graphic designer, that’s usually the best option. If not, try taking your own photos or creating your own graphics. If you do utilize stock images, alter them slightly to make them unique — crop, adjust colours, etc. Otherwise, Google will see them as just a duplicate of an image someone else has posted.
Make sure your images are good quality. Although Google might not necessarily penalize you for blurry or pixelated images, poor quality graphics can be a turn-off for (human) viewers. Remember, the better the user experience, the longer your visitors will stay and more likely they will be to come back and refer. Those stats influence Google’s rankings.
Don’t make your images of such high quality or resolution that they take forever to load on the page. Utilize image compression software or a WordPress plugin to reduce the file size, while maintaining optimal quality.
Don’t bother with…
Don’t embed text within the image, unless you don’t want that text to be indexed in Google. At some point Google might be able to read and comprehend that text, but it can’t yet.
Google doesn’t index background images. Sometimes including those in your page design/build is unavoidable; just don’t expect them to help with SEO.
Use descriptive file names. Rather than img_01774891.jpg, use something meaningful, such as red-barn-door.jpg. (Note: In terms of SEO, hyphens generally fare better than underscores in URLs and file names.)
There are a few details you can associate with your images to assist search engines and humans — especially those with visual impairments — to learn what your images entail.
- Include alt attributes for every image. These should be similar to the file name and be even more descriptive. In our above example, a good alt attribute might be something like, “Red cedar door on the front of a barn.” If you can work a keyword or two into your alt text, even better. But don’t overdo it (or worse, lie) or Google will see it as spam.
- Title tags are often useful for images as well. They provide the page visitor with additional information about the image when they mouse over it. Again, this can help to enhance the user experience, which can indirectly help with SEO.
- When appropriate, use captions for your photos. These should be similar to the alt text and title, to help the (human) viewer understand what the photo contains. Captions are particularly useful for pictures of people — single or group — to identify who’s who.
Make sure your images are mobile-friendly. They should automatically scale to fit the device’s viewport (e.g., smartphone). You may want to specify (within your site’s style sheet — CSS) that an image is to be a certain size or percentage of the screen width on desktop and laptop screens (e.g., maximum 50%) and full (100%) screen width on a smartphone. If your image is indecipherable on small screens, you may want to program it so that a second version (perhaps a closer-cropped one) displays on smaller viewports. Your web developer should be able to take care of that for you.
As always, think about the end user when laying out a web page. Are there photos and graphics you can include within the page to improve their experience? If so, add them in. If done well, you just may please Google and improve the page’s rankings. That’s clearly a win-win situation!