Optimising For Google Image Search - why bother?
“A picture is worth a thousand words”; an old English adage that reminds us how images can convey complex information and multiple ideas simply and effectively. We have already looked at how infographics are becoming essential to your content marketing strategy because of their simplicity, and a well-taken image can be just as effective.
We know the strategies we need to implement to make sure our written content is optimised for search engines, but what about images? We tend to think about SEO in terms of keywords and text, and of course, a lot of it is about this. However, images have a huge role to play and are often under utilised.
How do we make sure that our images are been seen on Google? How do we make sure that our images appear above those of a competitor? Here, we look at why you should be optimising for Google image search and how to go about it.
Why you should always be using images
Before it even gets to considering optimising for Google search, there are a whole host of reasons why you should be using images in your copy.
Think about it; if you visited a website and it was just a page of text with no images to break it up, would it hold your interest? Probably not. There is also a good chance that you wouldn’t trust it, either. Research has shown that 80 per cent of people are more likely to read content that has at least one image, and 64 per cent are more likely to remember it afterwards.
Google algorithms are clever. They pay attention to visitor behaviour, using metrics such as the bounce rate and time spent on a page. If the bounce rate is high and the time spent is low, they are going to be pushed further down the page.
So, an image adds to the user experience, and we always need to remember that we are creating content for readers, not for search engines. As is often the case though, getting things right for the reader sees a reward from the search engines anyway. In the case of images, a lower bounce rate sees your content being seen as relevant and so given a boost in the rankings.
How does Google rank images
No doubt you will have carried out a fair few Google searches yourself. When you do, you are presented with a few options when it comes to the results that you want to see. One of these is images. Have you ever stopped to wonder how Google decides which images to display? Sure, you understand the importance of SEO in terms of keywords, but how are people getting their images ranked?
As you probably already know, Google sends its crawlers out into the web. Often referred to as bots, these visit websites and gather information from them. This information is then organised and placed into Google’s database. This is known as indexing. Some of these crawlers pay special attention to the images that are present.
Google’s image search determines the ranking of any content that it finds in a similar way as it does to normal text. It then shows us images that are appended to the text as well as other images that are similar. These similar images are chosen by Google via machine learning: it gets to recognise images that look the same.
Why should you be optimising for Google image search?
According to Google itself, there has been a 60% increase in searches for images on mobile devices over recent years. Searches as a whole have also seen a significant increase. Is your business in a position where it can decide to ignore this search behaviour? Of course, we are all wanting to get the very best results that we can from Google.
If you take steps to optimise your images for Google searches you are ultimately giving your SEO a helping hand As well as already ranking for your outstanding written content, you are given a second shot at appearing in the search results with your images.
How do you optimise your images for Google image search?
With a little more understanding about how Google selects the images that it displays, and with the knowledge that getting it right can give your SEO a healthy boost, perhaps you’d like to know how to get your images found.
Fortunately, optimising your images can be pretty straightforward. Here are some tips to give you a helping hand:
Use good quality images – and make sure that they are relevant
Blurry and poor quality images are a huge turn off to readers, which is going to affect your behavioural metrics. It also doesn’t give people the best impression of your business. Make sure you use high-quality images that show in the best possible way.
One of the major factors to consider when selecting your image is its relevance to the text. Readers are going to be less than impressed with random images that bring little or nothing to the content that they are reading.
It could be that your piece uses serval images in an attempt to break up huge blocks of text. This is perfectly acceptable and effective. By ensuring that your images are relevant, you can ensure that the alt-text and filename are too. These are what will help you rank.
Only use images where you have permission to do so
It may sound obvious, but make sure that the images that you choose to add to your written content can be used for that purpose. The internet is full of amazing images and no doubt many of these seem the perfect fit for your article. It can be tempting to download and use one from almost anywhere. After all, who’s going to know?
The problem is that when someone does know it is going to potentially cause you a few issues. For one, if your readers realise you are going to lose credibility. Secondly, you may find the owner of the image either seeking payment from you or just insisting that you take it down.
The best way to avoid this is to use your own, original, images. If this isn’t possible then there are plenty of sites such as Pixabay and Unsplash that provide royalty-free images. Just be sure to read the usage rights before you publish!
Customise the filename
Before you add an image to your site, spend some time organising it and renaming the file. Make sure the filename is relevant to the page that you are putting it on and includes one of your keywords. Visitors generally won’t see the filename, but it tells the search engines a little more about what your page is about.
It could be that your image has several keywords that are relevant to it. When this is the case you need to ensure that these are separated by hyphens and not underscores: Google reads these differently. While your readers are unlikely to care overly much that you have your filename right, Google will soon reward you as you start to appear in the image search results.
Use Alt Tags
Again, something that visitors don’t always see but crawlers do. This shows up in place of the image if there is a problem loading it. Make sure that you include your primary keyword. However, the primary benefit for this isn’t to help SEO, but to make your website more accessible to visually impaired users. Screen readers will read the alt tags out so that they can understand what the picture is of – which is why a highly descriptive tag is essential.
Use a sitemap
Have you already submitted your sitemap to Google? It is something that we are all told to do with our sites as it helps with ranking in search results. The sitemap allows Google to understand a little more what your site is about and how all of the pages are indexed. How about a sitemap for images though?
Submitting a sitemap for your images is just as important. If you have a website that contains a great number of images, a sitemap will help Google to understand these better. It will allow Google to see where the images belong and how they should be indexed.
Take care not to slow your site down
Including images is great for your reader and for your SEO. For your reader, there is something to break up the text and to interact with a separate part of the brain. For Google, there is something else showing how your site is relevant. However, if you make the most common mistake with your images, you will soon lose both of these benefits.
Images that are too big load slowly. In fact, not only do they load slowly themselves, but they’ll actually slow down your entire page, if not your site. If images are taking too long to load Google is less than impressed and readers become impatient and go elsewhere.
Make sure that your files are compressed and at the optimum size for your site. This will see them loading quickly and add to the reader experience.
Think about your image placement
While we are of course aiming to use our images to help our sites rank, the primary concern is always that of the reader. The overarching aim has always got to be that they are given the best experience possible. Take care of this and usually, the SEO practises will fall into place.
With this in mind, where you place your images matters. Google will read your sitemap regardless, but if your pictures interrupt a sentence or the flow of a paragraph, you’re ultimately going to cause your readers frustration. Place your images where it makes sense to do so and not just for the sake of it.
Images and local SEO
Local SEO is big business for agencies who try and take care of the rankings of small to medium-sized local businesses. It is often the case that rankings can be effective by targeting obvious keywords and simply adding the locality to them. This can be a great way of increasing exposure for your local business. The thing is, the same applies to your images too.
If you have images that are relevant to your local area then you should be mentioning this. This can appear in the alt-text and title tags. Of course, as well as the text being right, you need to ensure that these images are of the very best quality and give potential customers a real insight into what they can expect from your business.
Don’t get left behind
Optimising for Google image searches isn’t the next big thing. It is not something that you should be getting ready for in the hope that you can ride the early wave. It is something that matters now. It is something that is highly relevant and it is something that can bring a whole host of benefits to your business.
If you have yet to leverage these benefits, you have to assume that your competitors have already done this. With this assumption, now is the time to take steps to ensure that you bring your content up to speed. Yes, content will always be king, but content isn’t solely about the reams of text that we often create. We hope that you can now see just how much images matter too.
If you’re still wondering if you need to be taking action, here’s a refresher:
- Google image searches are the fastest growing search type
- Images keep your readers engaged and keep them on your site
- Properly formatted and optimised images reduce your bounce rate
- Google is a fan of a low bounce rate!
- Optimised images boost your site up
As you can see, while it is important to incorporate SEO into your written content, it is equally as important to optimise your images too. Properly optimised images can do wonders for your SEO and give you a welcome boost in the search engines.