Using images with your content is indisputably important. Imagine being subjected to an hour-long presentation that contains no images. Brutal, right?
Images, photos and infographics all have more of an impact on the viewer when compared with standalone text. In fact, research shows content with compelling images gets, on average, 94 percent more views than your boring counterparts. The images enhance what the text is communicating in a way that can be both informative and entertaining.
As an added bonus, images may even drive more traffic through image search results.
To get the most out of your images however, you need to make sure they are as well-optimized for search engines as they are for living, breathing humans. In this article, we are going to give you a step-by-step guide on how to optimize and obtain your images to give your search engine optimization (SEO) a big boost.
Step 1: Choosing Your Image
When choosing your images, you should consider the user experience (UX). Bad UX leads to high bounce rates, and most search engines use that information as a ranking signal. Choosing the right images for your site can be just as important as how you optimize them for SEO.
Relevance is the key element when choosing your images. To make sure your images are relevant to your content, ask yourself these three questions:
It’s important to strategically place images that are relevant to the copy that surrounds it. This is because search engines routinely look at the content surrounding an image to determine what the image is showing, and Google will use this as a signal to determine relevance to a keyword.
While you might be tempted to use stock photos, resist the urge. Stock photos have the tendency to make your content look like a marketing brochure. Best practice is to use your own images, but that’s not always an option. We’ll get into that a bit later.
Step 2: Legally Obtaining Images to Use
Use your own images whenever possible – that way you have full control matching the images you use with your content. Additionally, you don’t have to deal with the legality of obtaining images if you use your own.
If you can’t create your own quality images, there are several tools and services that can help you.
- Freepik: This is an image search engine that inspects thousands of free images and returns results based on your search terms.
- Google Images: Google Images has a giant selection of pictures, but it will give you every result regardless of copyright status. You can filter results to those you can legally use by selecting “Labeled for reuse” in Usage Rights (under Tools). 3. Creative Commons (CC), Wikimedia Commons:These are collective search engines for copyrighted images that are allowed for distribution. With both of these resources, you have to pay attention to the image licensing agreement as most images on CC will ask for attribution. This generally would include a link to the material, copyright notice, name of the image creator, and so forth.
4. Flickr: This is probably the largest image hosting/sharing site available. Flickr users share their work under the Creative Commons license, which allows for reuse with certain restrictions.
- Reuse licenses can be complicated, like you can use an image if you give credit, or you can use it if you don’t edit it and don’t use it commercially. To get a better idea of the different types of licenses, check out this guide.
Stock Photos vs. Royalty Free
In general, there are two types of images online – stock images and royalty-free images.
As we said earlier, you should always use your own pictures and images if you can. But, if you can’t, stock images are the next best thing.
The pros: stock images are high-quality and you can filter the selection to find something that’s really relevant to your content.
The cons: stock photos can look generic, and even though suppliers limit the amount of times that photo is sold, there’s no guarantee your competitor won’t use the exact same photo.
Stock images have limited usage rights; you need to specify how you plan to use the stock image and use it only for that purpose. For example, if you purchased a stock image for an advertisement, you can’t repurpose and use it on any of your pages.
Other limitations attached to stock photos involve size, duration of use and geographic distribution.
If stock photos really are your only option, here’s a list of resources that aren’t terrible.
Royalty free images are less expensive and you can use them several times on different projects without needing to shell out more money. Royalty free images are also high-quality, but they don’t have the same resale restrictions that stock photos do. This means you will probably find your same image elsewhere on the web.
The most popular places to get royalty-free and stock photos are:
Getty Images has around 35 million images that are free to use for non-commercial purposes. Other sites that offer free content also have a library of images that are up for purchase.
Public Domain Photos
There are two types of no-attribution photos that don’t require a link back to the author:
- Public Domain Photos
- Photos that you, or a photographer you hired took
Public domain photos have no rights reserved and no usage conditions. You can change them, reuse them and place them anywhere without any extra cost or required attribution. Here are some sources to find public domain images (and what makes them great):
- Pixabay: Can filter by category, and no restrictions about sharing images on social media.
- PDPhoto: Section entitled “Tacos I Ate” – which comes in handy for any digital marketer.
- Public-Domain-Photos: These images can be used for any reason, any time. They also have a selection of clip art to use without restrictions.
- PublicPhoto: Really helpful catalogue for designers/bloggers. Logo templates, site design templates, vectors – all free of charge.
- Public Domain Archive: Free images, super high-quality – and they add new content every single week.
- Public-Domain-Image: You can filter your search results by color (which I think is cool) and everything is completely free to use without restriction.
- Photos-Public-Domain: Can find generic or oddly specific photos that are free to use (they had me at the photo of ‘Pouring White Wine’)
- PDPics: All the photos taken on this site were snapped by in-house photographers.
- PicDrome: Huge collection, and they will provide the original quality photo (on request).
- 4FreePhotos: You can filter their giant library by new photos, popular photos or collections.
- PublicDomainFiles: This includes free video clips as well (not a huge selection, but still an advantage).
- Phototeria: Beautiful selection of images (check out the nature section!) and super easy to navigate.
- Clker: Free clip art, if you’re into that sort of thing.
You can use these pics without restriction on blogs, though they might not be high-quality enough to use on a professional website. Your business website is representative of your brand as a whole, and you should be using the highest quality images available.
Your Own Photos
Using your own photos is the best option in legal terms, but it will also help you present your brand more authentically. For instance, your ‘About Us’ page looks better with real photos of your staff rather than stock models.
Custom graphics will also work really well on your blog. Take a look at WooRank’s blog to see a consistent use of images that all follow the same illustration style and color guidelines.
Now that you know how to best obtain an image for your site, it’s time to learn how to optimize your images for SEO!
Step 3: Naming Your Files
Once you have found your image, it’s time to start optimizing! Optimization begins with choosing the right file name.
File names provide a benefit to your SEO and are really important when trying to rank well in image search results.
Just as you would when creating a URL, use your target keyword in the beginning. It’s foolish to use the default file image name, like “RCD00093.jpg.” Only do this if you have no other option. Most content management systems (CMS) use the file name to create the image title, so this is helpful in the long run.
Other SEO best practices for naming your image file include:
- Using hyphens as word separators rather than underscores between words. Search engines can recognize hyphens between words but cannot understand underscores. Meaning, they will see “monkey_wearing_a_suit.jpg” the same as “monkeywearingasuit.jpg”. This is important to distinguish, because human searchers will clearly be using spaces while searching for an image of a monkey wearing a suit.
- Include as many accurate details as you can. This is important because if Google can’t find the right page content, it will use the image’s file name as the page’s search snippet for image search results.
- Use your keywords in a natural way. Don’t use too many keywords or unrelated keywords, because this will look like spam and hurt your SEO efforts.
Step 4: Crafting Your Title and Alternative Attributes
Image titles and alternative attributes (better known as alt attributes, alt text or alt tags) are all attributes that are included in the image tag.
An image tag will look like this:
<img src=”https://www.example.com/example-image.jpg” alt=”This is the alt text”/>
With alt attributes, you can add more details that you weren’t able to include in the file name. Consider it a way to describe the image to someone who can’t see it. The alt text is used by text-only browsers and screen readers for the visually impaired. Additionally, search engines rely on the alt text because they can’t physically see an image….yet.
When the browser can’t load a graphic, it displays the alt text in the image container instead. Take a look as this example:
Alt text is one of the most important aspects of image optimization. You can see Google’s emphasis on this in their image publishing guidelines. Your alt attribute should accurately describe the image and include your target keyword. There is no set character limit, but you should ideally be using about ten words or so.
Check out this guide on optimizing alt text for improved SEO and usability.
Here’s a good example of a well-optimized alt text for a monkey wearing a suit.
<img src=”monkey-wearing-a-suit.jpg” alt=”Monkey wearing a black suit” />
Using just “monkey suit” or “monkey wearing suit” is less specific, but is better than nothing. The keywords should be specific to the image and not an obvious attempt at keyword stuffing. An example of keyword stuffing would look like: alt=”monkey wearing suit monkey in a suit monkey wearing black suit” and this will not help your search rankings.
Image titles are not as important for optimization; they should ideally give additional information that wasn’t in the alt text. Google doesn’t use image titles as a search signal but are sometimes helpful for human users.
Step 5: Optimizing Your Image Size
Page speed is critical to optimize your site both for both UX and SEO purposes. There have been several studies that show users will leave a page if it hasn’t loaded in three seconds or less.
But what does this have to do with your images?
You can actually speed up your loading time by scaling down your images. Ideally, you will create the smallest file size possible without sacrificing quality. If you are using Adobe Photoshop to create your own images, use the option “Save for the Web.” Adobe will automatically minimize your file size while maintaining the image quality.
If you don’t have Photoshop, you can use tools online that will compress your images and get rid of extra things like Exif data:
- ImageOptim: This will compress your images without losing quality and get rid of the invisible junk slowing down your download time.
- PunyPNG: Can dramatically reduce file size for free. Option to upgrade if you need more than generic file reduction.
- JPEGmini: Slogan is “your photos on a diet,” which I think is cute. It will reduce your photos up to 80% without losing any quality.
You can sniff out unoptimized images that are slowing down your page with Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Other options include Tools Console for Internet Explorer, Web Console in Firefox and Developer Console in Chrome.
Here’s a tutorial from WordPress on saving web-optimized images in Photoshop for further learning.
Step 6: Add Images to Your Sitemap
The final step to optimizing your images for SEO is in your XML Sitemap. You can do this by adding <image> attributes to your sitemap after the <loc> tags.
It will look something like this:
There are a few additional attributes that are not mandatory but would help search engines find and understand your images:
- <image:caption> – A brief description of your image.
- <image:geo_location> – The location of your image by city, state, or country
- <image:license> – Your image license URL.
- <image:title> – Your image title.
Note that you can include up to 1,000 <image:image> tags for each URL. If you have that many images, though, you should make an image sitemap and a sitemap index file.
Bonus Benefits – SEO!
Now that you’ve successfully and methodically added images to your already killer content, it’s time to reap the rewards.
As we’ve discussed, using images in content marketing makes your pieces more shareable, more engaging and helps boost conversions. Well, these things will also help you rank higher in Google search results.
Now, using images on a page isn’t a ranking factor. Google doesn’t look at how many image tags are on a page and use that to rank it before or after another. But they will influence a number of things Google looks at when ranking results.
Remember, Google is always on the lookout for pages that delight their users. Your images will show Google that your page is…
- Relevant to the query. Image file name, alt text and sometimes title all help Google figure out how on-topic a page is to a keyword. Relevant image = relevant content and user experience.
- High quality and engaging. Pages with low “pogosticking” and lots of engagement tell Google that it’s good content that people enjoy consuming. Using images the right way can encourage people to stick with your content and even to interact with it. People faced with huge walls of unbroken text will leave. Quickly. And without interacting.
- Important and popular. Images, especially infographics, are really shareable, so they get your content in front of more people. Even better? Links to the image file on your site will pass link juice. Producing and using super shareable infographics is a great way to passively build links to your site.
Once you’ve pushed your content to the first page of Google, you’ll even have the chance at being featured in one of Google’s rich results, which could be a featured snippet, Knowledge Panel or the News carousel.
For example, the article “How to Create an Infographic” shows up as its own featured snippet in Google. Showing up in that coveted “position zero” in the SERPs is super helpful for boosting your click-through rate (CTR) and traffic. Plus there’s a direct relationship between featured snippets and Google’s voice search result. And now that you’ve got your images and content working together to improve conversion, engagement and audience reach? Checkmate.
Using dynamic images for your content marketing is a great strategy to drive conversion and keep your users engaged, but you have to be smart about it.
First and foremost, make sure you have the legal clearance to use the images you have chosen.
Image optimization is critical to your on-page SEO as well. Not only will it increase your user engagement, it will decrease your bounce rate and reinforce the consistent use of your keywords.
There’s even a chance you can use images for link reclamation. Google Images’ reverse search option will find other places on the web your image is being used, and you can email the site owner asking for attribution.