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How important are optimized images to SEO? I’ll show you:
Put on a blindfold, grab the person next to you, and have them describe a photo-any photo—until you think you have a good picture of it in your mind. Describe it back to them.
Next, still with your blindfold on, ask them to choose a second photo and just hold it up without saying anything.
Now, go ahead and try to describe the second image. You can’t, can you?
You’ve just experienced how search crawlers understand images—because they can’t see the image, they rely on additional information in order to determine what the image is of and how it relates to the content of a web page. While machine learning has come quite a long way, cracking the code of making crawlers “see” and understand images on their own is still far off in the future.
How Search Crawlers “See” Images: Alt Tags, Title Tags, and File Names
Search crawlers rely on a few key bits of data embedded in the image in order to “see” it: the file name, the image alt-tag, the title tag, and in some cases, the anchor text and the caption.
What Is the Image File Name?
The image file name is the name you save it as on your computer before uploading it to your website. Once uploaded, it becomes part of the image’s URL:
Google, Bing, and other search engines use the image’s file name for clues about the image’s subject matter.
Make your file name have a good description. For example, “awesome-robot-head.jpg” is more useful—and better for SEO purposes—than “IMG890654.jpg”
What Is the Image Alt-Tag?
The image alt-tag is quite possibly the more important attribute to add to your photos. Remember that experiment you did at the beginning of this post? The image alt-tag, in this case, would be your friend’s description of the first photo she held up. However, alt-tags weren’t specifically created for SEO—I can’t put it any better than Wikipedia:
“Alternative text is text associated with an image that serves the same purpose and conveys the same essential information as the image. In situations where the image is not available to the reader, perhaps because they have turned off images in their web browser or are using a screen reader due to a visual impairment, the alternative text ensures that no information or functionality is lost. Absent or unhelpful alternative text can be a source of frustration for visually impaired users of the Web.” – Wikipedia
It’s a good idea to use keyword-rich alt-tags, but avoid keyword stuffing. Here’s the alt-tag example Google gives:
Not so good:
<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=””/>
<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=”puppy”/>
<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=”Dalmatian puppy playing fetch”>
To be avoided:
<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=”puppy dog baby dog pup pups puppies doggies pups litter puppies dog retriever labrador wolfhound setter pointer puppy jack russell terrier puppies dog food cheap dogfood puppy food”/>
What Is the Image Title Tag?
The title tag is the title of the image. If you hover over it, it’s the text that will appear. If you want provide detail without providing captions, this is where you do it.
What’s The Difference Between an Image Alt-Tag and an Image Title Tag?
An alt-tag is what will show up if your image does not, For example, if it takes too long to render, or if HTML or graphics are disabled, like in an email. An alt-tag is also the main point of reference for search crawlers to help them determine what your page is about.
The title tag is what shows up when someone hovers over the photos, and doesn’t show at all if the photo doesn’t render.
The Caption and Anchor Text
Nielsen actually wrote back in 1997: “Elements that enhance scanning include headings, large type, bold text, highlighted text, bulleted lists, graphics, captions, topic sentences, and tables of contents.” In 2012, KissMetric even stated that “Captions under images are read on average 300% more than the body copy itself, so not using them, or not using them correctly, means missing out on an opportunity to engage a huge number of potential readers.”
The anchor text is the bit of text that an image is linked to. Really, it’s the text that any link is attached to. Anchor text that is descriptive is best.
How Image Alt Tags and Meta Data Help SEO
So, how exactly do images affect SEO?
Optimizing your images for SEO helps crawlers better index your web pages, which in turn can give you a rankings boost because it can make the page more relevant to users. I’ll give you an example:
Let’s say a searcher needs plumber repairs for a clogged bathroom drain. Google has to choose between two web pages from different companies, both of which have equal ranking factors.
As the crawler reads through the first page, it doesn’t identify any image alt-tags, therefore, it assumes the images (if there are any) do not add page-specific value. On the second page, however, the crawler locates five images, each one with a full description of what the image is showing. All five images’ alt tags supplement the rest of the text on the page.
Since Google is all about spitting out the results you’ll most likely jive with, it’s going to go with the article that it thinks is more relevant.
Where to actually optimize your photos
If you are using WordPress or a similar platform, you should be able to add image data right after you upload your photo. It should look like this:
Optimizing Images: The Technicalities
You don’t just need to optimize the meta data of an image, you need to make sure it’s technically optimized. That includes:
- Choosing the right file format: You have three options for images, .PNG, .JPG, and .GIF. PNGs produce higher-quality photos, but have a larger file size. JPGs are lower-quality, but are generally smaller in size. GIFs are used for animated images and looping videos.
- Compressing your images: It’s generally a good idea to keep your images no larger than 100KB to keep loading time as fast as possible. But if the image is still distorted and the quality isn’t good, keep increasing little by little so you have an image at the smallest size possible at the best quality possible.
Final Word on Images SEO
In 2000, the average human attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013, a Microsoft study concluded it had fallen to eight seconds. After the study, Satya Nadella, the chief executive officer of Microsoft, said that “The true scarce commodity” of the near future will be “human attention.”
Images help convert customers. Period. according to marketing industry influencer Krista Neher, the human brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than words, and people are impatient. However, in order for your images—all of your images, from website banners to background images—to be found, you need to have them optimized. If you need help with yours, give us a call.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
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