Are Your Website Images Worth A Thousand Words?

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When is a picture not worth a thousand words?  When it isn’t visible on Google Images. Although it is certainly true that content is king for the most part, particularly post Panda and Penguin, the reality is that images are often a much more powerful sales tool than a tract of text. For businesses selling products rather than services, highly visible images are an immensely important part of the sales process as they can be used to encourage a much more emotional reaction in a potential customer than a few paragraphs of text.

Almost all modern CMS systems, even the most basic ones, make it easy to optimize images for better search placement. For its part, Google has recently revealed a few secrets about its image indexing algorithms. In doing so, the search engine has made it easier to understand just what is required to rank better in Google Image search.

From the smallest site to the largest online store, image optimization can make a huge difference to the way that visitors interact with the brand and how they make their purchase decisions. Great quality images can also act as a call to action by encouraging visitors to click through – but for this to work, they first need to provide Google with all of the information they need to decipher just what the picture is actually showing. Only by helping with this enlightenment can you expect your site images to rank strongly on Image search.

Unlike most forms of SEO there is no need to overhaul the entire site when working out how to get better image visibility. You simply need to work through any pages containing images and check that the following ranking signals are in place and being broadcast loud and clear…

1.      Check image format

A basic tip but the best place to start, particularly if images have been uploaded by others. To be eligible for indexing, pictures must be saved either as a BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, WebP or SVG.

2.      Is the image embedded on a page?

For Google to index the image correctly and in order for you to see your images ranking well for related terms, the picture must be embedded on a HTML page. A search engine spider is nothing more than a computer program. This means it doesn’t look at an image as a human does to decipher what it is showing. Instead, it gets its sense of meaning from the context of the page within which the image sits.

Each image on the page should be textually represented and related to the content of the page body and importantly, the page title. The presence of a common theme helps the search engine to reach a concrete decision about the image, leading to a stronger search placement. For extra oomph, the text immediately closest to the image on the page should be related to the topic of the picture.

3.      What does the file name say?

Very often, images will be uploaded with a meaningless filename, particularly if they have been downloaded straight from a camera and then uploaded to a web page. An image called “DM00067” means nothing to a search engine but “vanilla candle” does.

4.      Is there an alt tag?

It may seem like overkill but even if you described the image in the text, used the picture on a very relevant page, added a keyword relevant to the picture in the page title and given the picture a filename which is keyword rich, it is still important to add an ALT tag to the image. You can check very easily if the picture has an ALT tag simply by hovering over it. If a box with a description doesn’t appear by the cursor, one needs to be added. Many CMS systems will include an ALT tag field but, if one hasn’t been provided it can be entered directly in the source code using the alt=”description” attribute.

5.      Do you have an image sitemap?

Like an XML sitemap, an Image sitemap is a crucial part of your website architecture if your page is picture-rich.  It passes lots of valuable information to Google about the importance and content of images on your site. It can also help the search engine spiders to discover images that it wouldn’t otherwise find. For sites built in template format, an image sitemap can be used to assign importance to images on a page so elements that are repeated on every page such as the business logo and the icons of any associations the business is a member of do not drown out the presence of other important pictures such as visual representations of products.

If you have lots of images, it’s worth creating a separate image sitemap in order to be able to keep track of them all. If you have just a few, they can be incorporated into your existing sitemap and then the file re-submitted to Google.

Image sitemaps allow you to specify lots of information about the picture including its location – something which can be useful if you rent holiday accommodation or similar where location will be an important part of the search parameter.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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