January 25, 2023

Reap the Benefits of Image Optimization

By: Mary Hiers

Image optimization applies principles of SEO to images. It works similarly to how you optimize the text of a web page or blog post to help it rank higher in search results.

Optimizing images boosts your on-page SEO. Potential benefits include more organic traffic, a better user experience, faster page-load times, and better accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Most of the tasks involved with image optimization are simple. Here’s how you can put them to work for you and give your SEO an extra push with minimal effort. 

Don’t Violate Copyright Laws

This one is easy. Don’t use stock images for which you don’t have a license. Don’t use an image someone else created unless you have their permission. 

This type of “image optimization” won’t help your search ranking. However, it will save you from unpleasantries like Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices and copyright infringement lawsuits.

If you don’t subscribe to an image service like Canva, there are free sources like Unsplash and many others. When using one of these free services, follow their guidelines for attribution. 

Give Each Image a Descriptive File Name

This helps Google understand how to classify your image for image search. A file called IMG37274a.png gives Google nothing to work with, but if you rename it to something descriptive, like carpet-cleaner-Berber-before-after.png, it does. You should use hyphens instead of underscores between words, according to Google.

Will this help your search rankings? Perhaps not. It will, however, help Google crawlers “learn” the characteristics of carpet cleaner images. This helps it present users with more relevant images when they do an image search on “carpet cleaner.”

Apply Descriptive Alt Tags

Alt tags deliver information when a browser can’t render the actual image. If someone loads your page and, for whatever reason, the image fails to load, they will see what the image is supposed to be.

Google gains important information about the image’s subject from alt tags and associates keywords from alt tags with images. Additionally, alt tags are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act style guide for the use of screen readers.

Alt tags for image optimization should be as descriptive as possible without being “spammy.” It’s not always easy to strike a balance, but good judgment can ensure you do it right. Keep alt tags to less than 125 characters for the benefit of screen readers for the visually impaired.

For example, if you operate a chiropractic clinic and have a photo of someone undergoing a chiropractic adjustment, be specific in your alt tag. “Chiropractic adjustment” is OK, but “flexion distraction” is better because it is more specific.

What if you have an image for something that can’t be photographed, like “email marketing?” Your alt tag could be something like “email marketing concept” to demonstrate that it’s a photo of a concept, not a person or object.

Choose the Best Image Format and Compress

PNG and JPG images are preferable. With PNG images, you get great image quality, but at the expense of a slightly larger file. With JPG images, you can get away with a smaller file when image quality isn’t critical to your content. 

Compressing images makes them load faster, and page load speed matters to search engine ranking. Open-source tools like guetzli, mozjpeg, and pngquant will compress images. If you use WordPress, a plugin called Smush can do the same from within WordPress.

Scale Images Before Uploading

If your blog post uses 800×800 pixel images, scale your images to 800×800 before you place them on the page. 

You can scale images in Photoshop or in some image services like Canva. WordPress has a plugin, “Resize Image After Upload, ” which does this too. 

Create an Image Sitemap

You went to the trouble of creating an XML sitemap for your website, and now you’re supposed to create another one just for images? What? 

Yes. It requires a bit of effort, but it is worthwhile. It is like an XML sitemap, except it only contains URLs to your images, and it helps Google discover and rank images. 

Your image sitemaps can contain URLs from domains other than yours, so if you use a Content Delivery Network (CDN), you’re fine. 

Google has instructions for creating an image sitemap, and some services will create them for you. Yoast also has a WordPress plugin that will create an image sitemap.

Always Use Responsive Images

When your web developer uses responsive images, it means the images have been specifically sized for the user’s screen. It makes websites load faster on mobile devices — something Google prioritizes.

The faster your website loads in both desktop and mobile environments, the more optimized it is. And with at least half of all web traffic coming from mobile devices, fast mobile loading should be a top priority.

Potential Benefits of Image Optimization

Image optimization may sound “extra” if you’ve already spent time with ordinary SEO activities like keyword research and other on-page optimization techniques. But over time, image optimization gives your overall SEO efforts more oomph. 

Image optimization should eventually result in

In other words, image optimization is worthwhile. Adding images to your website makes pages more attractive, breaks up text chunks, and can clarify concepts. Optimizing them makes them work just a bit harder for you.

You Can Do This

Image optimization doesn’t have to be a daunting task. As long as you make an effort to use helpful techniques like adding proper file names and alt tags, you can help your overall SEO efforts and improve the accessibility of your website. 

With some basic changes and the right tools, images won’t just take up space on the page; they will be a vital part of your overall SEO. Image optimization means that each and every one of your online images has the potential to draw in more visitors. 

Make your pictures work harder with image optimization and give them the chance they deserve to reach more people. And if you need help ensuring your web presence achieves its full potential, don’t hesitate to set up a call with our team. We help companies like yours maximize their web potential every day. 


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