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How to Optimize Images on Your Site for Natural Search Strategies

by Jesse Laffen

Does your website have images? Of course it does!

Images make content more lively and attractive, helping to keep a visitor’s attention focused on your message.

Too often, however, we see we websites ignoring the few easy guidelines Google has published regarding optimization of your images. Following these rules takes little effort, helps a search engine better understand your page, and can vastly improve your visitor’s experience.

There are very few things a search engine can understand about an image, since (as far as we know) the search engines can’t really understand images by “looking” at them. Therefore, the text-based elements associated with your images are pretty important. The good news (for your calender) is that there are really only two text elements to the images on your site and Google is explicit in how to handle them.

The first is the file name of the image itself. This may sound pretty obvious, but you’re going to want to use words that describe what appears in the image. For example, let’s say you’ve crafted a beautiful illustration for your visitors that demonstrates the return on investment your product can offer. You save the file as “chart-1.jpg”. Google and other search engines can actually understand what is in the image just a little bit better if, instead, you had saved the file as “green-widget-roi.jpg”

In addition to helping a search engine understand the image, this is creating a better user experience for anyone who may want to save an image from your site. Downloading “green-widget-roi.jpg” gives the user a much better reference point than “00012486.jpg” or “chart-1.jpg”

The other way an image communicates to a search engine is through alternative text tags within the source code of the image, often informally called “alt-text.”

Alt-text helps users in a couple of ways. First, and most importantly, it is the text that is used by text-only web browsers that are used by visually impaired web users; so having good alt-text tags helps your site reach more users and stay compliant with accessibility standards. It also appears over the image when a user hovers their mouse cursor over the image.

So, if search engines can’t really tell anything about an image except for a few factors that you can dictate, it seems like it may be a pretty sweet way to serve up some content for the search engines that I couldn’t get into the rest of my page. It isn’t.

It’s a reasonable assumption that Google does recognize imagery to a certain extent, and is getting better at it all the time. Even if these technologies aren’t being applied, the filters and facial recognition used in Google image search are certainly automated image recognition tools already being used. Therefore, it’s a considerable risk to try to serve content that differs between users and spiders.

Surveys and correlation studies by SEOMoz, including keywords in the alt-text of the image has shown to have a slightly positive effect on your page’s ranking. Additionally, it is always a good idea to use images that represent the content on the page to reassure visitors and help lower bounce rates.

This is the second of a nine-part series aimed at helping you spend 10 minutes improving your site every week. If there is a particular part of on-page optimization you want to hear, please email me: jesse [at] slingshotseo.com.

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