Content & SEO

Image SEO: Your Step-by-Step Guide for Increased Traffic

By alexandra-cote ·  March 5, 2021

Did you know that an article or landing page can be heavily dragged down by improper photos?

Image SEO to the rescue!

This year, visual search is expected to account for 30% of ecommerce revenue as web users have been choosing visuals over text for years now. When optimized correctly, images are returned for 27.8% of Google queries—a number that’s growing steadily every single year.

Large file sizes or missing ALT tags can lower the speed or SEO performance of your website. Most marketers or business owners realize that their images aren’t exactly SEO-friendly once they start creating long-form content that’s still not performing up to par.

If your content isn’t ranking well or your loading speed performance is lower than 90 [as per PageSpeed Insights], it’s time to rethink your SEO strategy.

Let’s see exactly how you can do that.

  1. What is image SEO?
  2. Create the right images
  3. Properly name your image files
  4. Resize and compress images
  5. Host images on a CDN
  6. Always add ALT tags
  7. Put together a sitemap for your images
  8. Browser caching and lazy loading
  9. Make sure your past images are optimized too
  10. Get your social sharing options in check

What is image SEO?

Image SEO defines the process of choosing, optimizing, and maintaining the photos on a website in order to get your images [and their respective articles] to rank higher.

On one hand, proper attribution and tagging tell Google’s bots what an image is about and what main keywords can be tied to the post.

In other words, telling Google exactly what an image describes helps its robots understand the overall meaning of your article too. This is why correctly editing and optimizing your images lends a solid helping hand to the overall ranking efforts of a page.

And we’re not done yet. Adding ALT tags aids user accessibility and breaks up the text of an article so it’s easier to read—especially for people who prefer images over text. Unique images like infographics, checklists, or report summaries can also get you quite a few backlinks so you can increase your overall domain authority just by having top-notch visuals.

In fact, Google image SEO’s real importance is its ability to place your brand in new places.

From higher visibility on the actual search results page:

image search result

To a top 10 position within the classic image search:

remote work bingo

As for me, I tend to have a bold prediction that visual content will dethrone written posts at some point. My beliefs are backed up by 65% of people who are visual learners and studies showing that images perform better on social networks like Twitter or Facebook.

In a B2B setting, Google’s image search has slowly turned into a huge ecommerce store. So when users look for keywords like “red shoes”, “smart mirror”, or “phone cases”, they almost always receive results of products they can purchase with just a couple of clicks.

phone cases search

Back to a B2B content strategy, using the Images search provides a secondary SERP focused on visuals this time.

Every single image you see above is part of a full-fledged article or guide that nails white-hat SEO.

What do they all have in common?

They stick to common Google image SEO best practices.

Next, we’re having an up-close analysis of all the tips on how to make images SEO friendly.

Create the right images to kick-start your image SEO efforts

Yes, image SEO starts with having unique images—preferably illustrations or one-of-a-kind pics that will make people want to share that image.

Think about it, would you rather share an image like this:

Or like this one:

infographic example

Even adding text on top of an image with a more creative structure than a simple bullet list is an extra step towards highly-shareable pics. Infographics, tables, charts, lots of illustrations, or fun comics and fonts can all contribute to turning your boring content into something that’s worth distributing around.

Does this mean stock photos are dead for good?

Kind of. You can always use them creatively within other images, illustrations, and screenshots.

Need help with solving what’s hurting your SEO?


Properly name your image files

Did you know that the actual name of the file you save on your computer and later upload into your CMS plays its SEO part?

While not as vital as the ALT tag, you want to include your main and secondary keywords in the name of the file as well. Stick to the regular best practices of one keyword per file and avoid overstuffing your files with keywords.

For some inspiration, look at the file names ranking at the top of the image search for a keyword you want to target. Here are some of the file names for the “marketing funnel” keyword:

  • Marketing-funnel-diagram-copy.png
  • Mofu.png
  • Digital-marketing-funnel-DM2.jpg [branded example]
  • Single-Grain-Marketing-Funnel.png [another branded example
  • Marketingandsalesfunnel2.jpg
  • Marketing-funnel.jpg
  • marketing-sales-funnel-1-1024×521.png

Resize and compress images

I see a mix of JPGs and PNGs so what are the best image formats for the web?

While the PNG format is responsible for high-quality images, JPEGs load faster and provide better compression. What matters above all formats though is the actual size of the images. Nothing too complicated to worry about here. 

Generally, there are three aspects that could significantly slow down your website:

  1. Unclean code and other errors like JavaScript issues
  2. Unnecessary pop-ups and interstitial ads
  3. Images that are too big

How to reduce the size of your image files

Besides getting the right dimensions for the design of your website/blog, use a tool like Photoshop, GIMP, Canva, or Pngyu [I use this as it’s the fastest option for batch images] to reduce the size of your images.

Image and website speed is almost always connected. On a quick note, here’s what super bad speed and image SEO performance look like:

image seo bad performance

Notice the first “Serve images in next-gen formats” suggestion?

These refer to JPEG 2000, WebP, and JPEG XR. The idea behind this suggestion is that there’s a possibility for traditional formats to become obsolete in the future. So uploading images in next-gen formats helps future-proof your visuals way ahead of time.

Host images on a CDN

Instead of having all images on a single server, using a CDN [Content Delivery Network] to host them will make images load faster no matter where a user is in the world. This is because the CDN automatically decides which server to use based on its proximity to the user’s location. This way, a user in Asia won’t have to wait for the response of a US server in order to view the images.

Even if you’re not a techie, you’ve probably heard of solutions like Fastly, Cloudflare, or the Amazon CloudFront—all CDNs you can opt for.

Always add ALT tags

What are ALT tags?

As Google’s bots crawl your website, they will also read what you’ve added under the ALT tag—a text snippet that describes your photo’s content. In a code editor, ALT tags look like this:

<img src=”content-funnel.png” alt=”content marketing funnel diagram”/>

Most people though will be tempted to leave this space blank as they don’t understand its real SEO value. 

As I’ve already mentioned, ALT attributes help both the robots and human users from an accessibility point of view. If an image doesn’t load, the ALT text will be displayed on top of the missing image so readers can still get an idea of what the image represents.

How to write your ALT tags

All CMS tools let you add in an ALT tag as you’re uploading new images so no coding is required. 

Yet, there are four core SEO best practices to use when writing your ALT tags:

  1. Always include one keyword you’re targeting.
  2. Keep them short.
  3. Make sure the text is grammatically correct. File names, on the other hand, don’t have to follow this rule as long as the words aren’t misspelt.
  4. Don’t repeat the same ALT text across multiple images.

Note: At this point, you want to also provide a descriptive image caption to give even more context to your users and bots alike. The principle behind the importance of captions is that text that’s close to an image helps define it from an SEO perspective.

Put together a sitemap for your images

If you want to increase your chances of ranking with your images and making it easier for bots to crawl them in the right order, consider creating a separate sitemap for images. You can use these to add in extra image information like licensing or geographical location.

Here’s an official image sitemap example:

image sitemap

Browser caching and lazy loading

Browser caching allows files to be stored on a user’s browser. Upon their second visit, everything will load faster since it’s already there to begin with so the images don’t have to be uploaded again.

Ecommerce stores, product pages, guides, ebooks, or any other articles visitors bookmark to read later can all benefit from browser caching.

Another aspect of how fast your images get downloaded is lazy loading. Once this method is in place, a user will access a page where the images will only load above the fold. This allows for the “top” of the content to be immediately visible while the rest will gradually load as users scroll down and need to see that image.

Make sure your past images are optimized too

Don’t just leave past content as it is. Everything can be changed from the file names, size, ALT text, captions, and more. Ideally, you want to change your stock photos and turn them into interactive images. Having a single infographic is better than adding 5 stock photos.

A free tool you can use to check the performance of your images is Google’s very own Search Console. Go to your Performance report and change the Search Type to Image:

google search console performance

The results will provide insights on queries, pages, devices, dates, countries, and search appearance. Pay attention in particular to images that need just a bit of optimization in order to perform better. Sometimes all these need is a better ALT tag or a descriptive image caption. For those images that don’t get any traffic and clicks, consider updating the entire article or recreating more engaging images.

With paid plans, Ahrefs and SEMrush also provide site audits and opportunities to find missing images or ALT tags.

Get your social sharing options in check

Finally, the image optimization loop wouldn’t be complete if you hadn’t made it extra easy for people to share the images.

Social networks like Pinterest already let you add a Save button on top of the image so anyone can pin the image to their own boards:

pinterest example image

The Sumo Image Sharer allows you to add all of your preferred social media sharing options right on top of an image. Plus, you can choose to display them only on the desktop or mobile version respectively.

For large-scale images like infographics or reports, you can also add in calls-to-action and tell people to share the post or feature it in their own content. Some websites even give you the code snippet of the image so you can directly embed it:

embedded snippet

Will you need all of these Google image search SEO tricks?

Most often, yes. There’s no wrong direction to go in if you implement all of the image SEO tips above. And it’s not super time consuming either. All you have to do is update your past images and make sure the new ones are compliant with Google’s image requirements.

Not only will this make articles more appealing to your users but it’s also going to take the search engine’s crawlers through the right information related to an image. Better keyword attribution and higher rankings will soon follow.

About the author

Alexandra Cote Alexandra Cote is a SaaS content writer and strategist with a passion for content marketing, social media marketing wonders, and artificial intelligence. She’s a strong supporter of staying happy at work and choosing a career path that’s healthy for people’s wellness.
Alexandra Cote