When we talk about SEO and optimizing a site, we’re normally talking about text-based optimization and the use of content in the form of the written word to increase positions and visibility in search engine results pages. However, if you’re a website owner or publisher with a particularly visual product (such as an art gallery, an architecture firm, or a clothes designer), this approach can leave you with the feeling that you’re selling yourself a little short. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Getting your images indexed and ranked in the image search results is a fantastic way to increase your overall online visibility. While your focus to date may have been on text based rankings, adding an image search presence to your Internet repertoire opens up the site to a whole new audience.
Interestingly enough, the behavior of searchers using the image search tab differs from that of traditional web search usage. With a much more visual medium, surfers checking out image search tend to consume more search results and click beyond the first page. This relieves the pressure to be at the top of page one.
Because images are presented in groups of around 20, they can be quickly scanned by the user and receive equal amounts of attention. Image search is also subjective. People tend to browse more and consume more search results, so if you have great images or really distinctive visuals on your site, it is possible to stand out from the crowd while still being listed on page 2 or 3.
People trawling through images are often looking for something a little different from their search – be it inspiration, research information, or simply a fun way to pass a coffee break. If your images tap into this niche, you can quickly direct more relevant traffic to your site than through web search alone.
If your site is struggling to make a dent in the natural listings or if you’re just embarking on an SEO campaign with highly competitive key terms, consider image optimization as a short-term solution. By optimizing your site for image search, you’re potentially getting a free pass on to the main web search pages at the highest level with images often used to populate universal search.
One of the great things about image search is that you can put all of your text-based search optimization experience to work straight away. As with text optimization, the emphasis is on relevance and enhancing the user experience, so time already spent tweaking titles, page names, and file names will stand you in good stead.
Giving a presentation earlier this year, Peter Linsley (Product Manager of Image Search at Google) revealed that the way the search engine processes images is not dissimilar to the way it deals with text content. When Google accesses your website, the HTML is downloaded as normal by the web bot. It will then parse through the page and if images are discovered, classify them according to a number of criteria. For example, is it a photo or piece of art? Is it black and white? Should the image be classified for an adult audience? Does the image show people? When all of this data has been gathered, the image is indexed.
Keep this in mind when optimizing your site for image search inclusion. Before beginning your image optimization work, you can check which images Google is already seeing by using the site: parameter at images.google.com. Armed with confirmation that the search engine is viewing the pictures on your site, start your project by considering size and quality first. You will want to present your best face to the end user and confirm they made the right choice in clicking on your image to arrive at your site through image search.
Adopt a traditional SEO mindset and make ‘focus on the user’ your mantra. This will enable you to carry out the necessary work and identify problems that may be preventing image classification.
Your landing page is crucial if you’re to win over the visitor and discourage them from bouncing back to the search results page. Consider adding descriptive text below each image. A good chunk of text will detail when the image was taken, by whom, and what or who is depicted in the picture. You may also want to include some history or additional context. If the image is of a product or piece of art you’re trying to sell, why not consider adding testimonials or reviews? When creating this text, consider your primary keywords and work them in if possible. Not only will this help the search engines classify your image, it will also help with your optimization campaign in general.
If you’re struggling to add appropriate titles and tags, the Google Image Labeler will help. It is designed to improve the indexing of your site-based images and can be accessed by selecting ‘Enhanced Image Search’ when logged in to the Webmaster Center. This is intended to improve the relevance of images searched and if switched on, may be used by the search engine to associate images on site with appropriate labels.
Image inclusion within the image search tab is not just dependent on titles, alt tags, and file names. Good-practice guides should be observed. Google advises that image rankings take into account the ranking of the parent or linking page. If that page does not provide sufficient information or itself suffers from poor rankings, the images may be left out of the results until the situation improves.