Images and SEO
Changes to the way that search engines evaluate pages mean this is an outdated attitude. Today's search algorithms, especially Google's, place much more emphasis on multimedia content than in the past. Good image content, properly tagged and titled, can really boost a site's profile. The value of image searches in driving traffic can't be overstated — especially since Google serves a block of image results at the top of its regular search results page. These naturally draw the eye and encourage searchers to click on the associated links.
The vital role of social media in determining a page ranking has also increased the importance of deploying high-value images. Illustrations, photographs, infographics, slide shows: all these make a site more interesting and thus more likely to receive positive attention through social media. Images which are themselves attractive and sharable can improve a site's ranking, since visitors are more likely to distribute them.
Yet too many sites are still burdened with stale, limited image content — or great pictures that just aren't working as hard as they could thanks to poor meta data and positioning. By keeping a few key rules in mind, site owners and SEOs can turn images into high-octane page ranking fuel.
The number one rule is that you should actually own usage rights to any pictures deployed on your website. Far too many website owners and designers still think it's acceptable to purloin content from image searches, stock photo libraries or competitors' websites. The result is a haphazard collection of scraped photos, frequently of poor quality and often already overused. A watermarked, low-resolution image of generic models posing in a hackneyed setting does your site absolutely no favors, especially if it's already been stolen and uploaded by a hundred other sites. Webmasters who steal content risk the ire of the copyright owner, who may take legal action if the images aren't removed.
Using new photographs or graphics is always a good idea from an SEO perspective. Even if you pay for the rights to a stock photo and use it legitimately, you're unlikely to be the only person who's used that particular image. The ideal scenario would be to commission a professional photographer or graphic designer to create high-quality material for you. That said, taking your own non-professional photographs can still be preferable to buying stock images. They'll be more individual, you won't have to deal with copyright disputes and it's a good opportunity to showcase the things that make your business different. Any kind of website content will do more for SEO if it's unique, since freshness and a lack of duplication are things that Google and its competitors look for when ranking sites.
Most people with even a slight knowledge of SEO will have come across the concept of using a site's metadata to improve searchability and page ranking. Not all metadata is helpful, however. For example, Google now largely ignores meta keyword tags, except to check for signs of black hat SEO practices such as keyword-stuffing. On the other hand, search engines do use metadata from images — especially when serving image search results. Images provide webmasters with a great opportunity to add plenty of helpful, relevant metadata to their sites.
Your images should have accurate and meaningful filenames that contain appropriate keywords: a filename like IMG017832.jpg is significantly less SEO-friendly than orange_blossom_soap.jpg. Remember to add alt text to your images — this should tell visitors something helpful about the subject of the picture as well as containing relevant keywords. "Soap orange handsoap orange blossom soap orange fragrance" would be bad alt text; a better example might be "Our orange blossom fragranced hand soap uses all-natural ingredients." The specific URL for every image on your site is another opportunity to deploy keywords, as are any links leading to or from your image.
As well as metadata, pay attention to the wording of any text located near your images. Placing captions next to your pictures makes them more informative and can include SEO friendly keywords. As long as they can be inserted naturally, other text content can also contain keywords associated with your image. Just don't use them in a way that makes your text seem stilted or awkward — and don't stuff your page with keywords, as this will do more harm than good.
Note that local information is increasingly important to Google and other engines. Adding images of your bricks-and-mortar premises or local landmarks to your page and tagging them with metadata that includes geographic information can help people in your area find your site more easily. Don't forget maps, aerial views and other images that can help users locate you in real life. All of these make your site more helpful and represent an opportunity to add searchable metadata.
You should already have a standard site map. This makes your site easier for users to navigate and is basic SEO good practice. Not every webmaster knows that you can also include an image site map, indicating the location of important images on your site. Google recommends this, especially if you have images on your site that might not get picked up by the Googlebot.
Don't forget to encourage social sharing by placing a Pinterst "Pin this" button and other social media buttons near key images. Include images that people will want to pass along — instructions and ideas for using your products, for instance, or infographics showing the benefits of using services like those you provide. Online flyers and coupons that reward sharing can also encourage people to spread the word, as well as generating goodwill towards your brand.
Image credit: © mopsgrafik - Fotolia.com