When a third of all searches performed in Google are for images and 12.5% of SERPs show Image Pack results, you know it’s not a facet of SEO to be trifled with. Today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday is densely packed with all the image SEO tips you could ever want, from the bare basics to ranking factors to important next-steps.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re going to chat all things image SEO, so SEO for photos, for visuals, for graphics, and talk a little bit about how you rank, not just in Google Image Search, but also in Google in the Image Pack.
Image SEO basics:
Look, there are a couple of things that we should discuss before we even get into that. First off, many folks are asking…
1. “Is it still even worthwhile to do Image Search SEO?”
You might recall that in years past, when you clicked on an image in Google Image Search, you would go to the website or the webpage that had that image on it. Now, if you click it, Google opens up a full-sized version of that, tells you the website it’s on. But for many people, that’s enough. They do a bunch of searches and never actually visit your website. Google is just serving up your image unbeknownst to you, and you don’t even get any data on that. So you don’t know how many impressions it gets, all that kind of stuff. So here’s the case for Image Search SEO.
- Visually sold products and services – We’ve talked to many people who are contractors or decorators, remodelers, hotel owners or hoteliers, craft sellers, and they find that image search is something that people do as research before they choose them. In fact, you might see actual searches for “kitchen remodel Seattle,” and then people will base their decision of who to go with based on the images that pop up there, they’ll visit that website.
- Anything that’s designed to earn links and citations – So if you’re producing graphs or data, or you’re taking photos of events or of people, and you’re hoping that those people or other folks will go and use your images and then link back to you, you definitely want to do Image Search SEO. That can get you in front of that right audience. When they use your image in their presentation or their publication or their website, you get the link.
- Visual content licensers – Very obviously, they make their living selling images. Google Image Search is a great way to get in there. So if you’re a photographer or an illustrator or a stock gallery, you certainly would want to be doing that as well.
*A couple of data points:
One comes from Jumpshot, whose U.S. dataset is fairly sizeable, in the millions of searchers. They see that about a third of all the searches performed on Google are performed in Google Image Search, which is just mind-bogglingly crazy, like huge. I never realized how big Google Image Search was until I saw that Jumpshot data. It’s just massive. MozCast shows us that about 12.5% of all Google searches in the web results do show an Image Pack somewhere in there.
2. Do you have to use original visuals?
Or can you, for example, license visual content from other folks? Can you buy a stock image and put that on your site and potentially still rank for it in Google Images? The answer is, actually, yes.
- So unlike web results, duplicates are not viewed as a problem. Google Image Search will generally take one version of an image, and that’ll rank higher than the others. But it’s not always the original. In fact, many times it’s not the original source. It’s a page that does a really good job of Image Search SEO. So this is a great opportunity for SEOs to get some extra traffic.
- Just make sure that you have the right permissions.
3. How do you figure out if image SEO is actually something you should be doing?
Well, for any given keyword, for example, I searched for “Santa Fe architecture” here, and there’s a result, I think at the top. Maybe it’s an ad result. Then there’s the image block with a few photos in there. Google is only going to show that image block if and when the searchers are actually clicking over to images very frequently, or there are lots of searches directly on Google Images for that term. So Google itself can sort of be that indicator for you of whether there’s demand.
What are the rankings elements for Google images + image packs?
Now, if you are curious about doing this image SEO and you’ve decided, “Okay, this probably makes sense. I should try it out. I should do some. I’ve got some uses cases,” my strong suggestion would be that you look at all the ranking factors. They’re actually quite broad, but they’re not nearly as complicated. Or they’re a little more basic than we’re used to with web results. I think that is because, when it comes to images, Google is mostly hyper-concerned with relevance and serving the user’s interest, rather than link popularity. They don’t worry as much nearly about spamming and manipulation in those results. So you can see them using a sort of more old-school style algorithm.
So here’s a page with some pictures of Santa Fe on it, and things that Google might use are:
A. The image file name
B. The alt attribute on the image. Another very important reason to add alt attributes, in addition to accessibility reasons, is for Image Search SEO. It does seem to help a little bit, maybe, with web results SEO too.
C. The image caption. So this is something where we’ve actually seen the caption be more important than the alt attribute when it comes to Image Search. So if you put that little caption down below, underneath your image, that can actually help with the Image Search rankings.
D. Surrounding text content. So Google is going to look at this text above and below and around the images to see if it has relevance.
E. The page title, of course.
F. The page URL that it’s hosted on. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that galleries of images, especially inside stock photo galleries, don’t tend to do very well, because there’s very little sort of relevant content surrounding them. They tend to be in these big, gallery-style layouts. So there are tons of images all in one page, when what Google is looking for is just one or two that are hyper-relevant to the particular topic, which is why most of the images you see doing really well in Google Image Search are the ones that live, not by themselves necessarily, but are the premier image on that particular page.
G. Image engagement and popularity. This is a big one. We have seen results where folks have done tests. They’ve shown that if you do a search on Google Images and you click the 12th image down and a lot of people start doing that, Google will move it up, just like in the web results, but sometimes even more so with images. We think engagement and popularity, what people scroll to, what they click on, what they click through to, matters quite a bit. That’s why you should have a very high-quality, highly interesting, highly relevant image, as well as you also want to serve visitor demand.
H. The image dimensions matter. So if you do a Google Image Search, you will notice that they don’t show, or they rarely show, unusual image dimensions. So an image like this, which is very, very horizontal and not very vertical, probably wouldn’t do well. Just as a very vertical, not very horizontal one. They tend to look for sort of 16 by 9, 4 by 3, square images, and sometimes turned on their side so vertically it can work, as well. But anything much more than that and you get into problems.
I. Image size. So Google is generally not looking for very small images. They also tend not to show gigantic ones, although they sometimes will scale it down. If you do searches for anything plus “wallpaper,” Google knows that the intent is for very large sizes, and so they will show that.
J. Embeds of the image. So if your visual appears on many different websites and pages, and it’s been embedded multiple times, that seems to have a positive impact.
K. Traditional web ranking factors on the existing URL. So if this page, architecture.com/santafe, happened to rank well, in the top five or six or seven for “Santa Fe architecture,” chances are good that images from that page would also rank in the first few images results. The reverse isn’t always true. But if you can get the ranking in web results, you can generally do well in the image results as well. Why wouldn’t you want to? Because you can get traffic from both.
L. Google seems to finally have gotten to the point where they have some sophistication, and they’re doing a little bit of image relevance and visual match in here too. So if you have a picture of a koala, as adorable as that might be, even if you have every other factor in here, they probably won’t show you for “Santa Fe architecture,” at least not for long.
What steps should I take with image SEO?
Well, just a few. I want you to…
1. Determine your SEO goals, and then I want you to compare those SEO goals against your keyword research list.
2. Audit of your keyword research list for image visibility. Keyword Explorer is actually really awesome for this. I think there are probably some other tools that do it, but right now Keyword Explorer is one of the best. You can also do it in Moz Pro. You basically plug in all your keywords, you go to your list page, and you see what number of results actually have image blocks like this in them. That will tell you what kind of opportunity you’ve got.
If you decide that you’re going to do any image SEO at all and it matches with your goals, you’re then going to…
3. Create a set of guidelines for content creators/publishers on your site. I want these guidelines basically to be for anyone who’s creating content on the site, if you are putting an image in, just do these three or four things.
Make sure you’ve got the caption right. Make sure you do the image alt attribute. Make sure that the size and dimensions are right, and you do some image optimization so it loads quickly on mobile, those kinds of things.
4. Create a target list of image SEO opportunities to pursue. So these would be like the 5 or 10, or if you’re bigger, maybe 50 keywords that you know have image blocks in them, or that you know get lots of image searches, and therefore you’re trying to target them. You can then go actually create the priority of, “Hey, we need a visual for this. Hey, we need to put it on a page, and we need to nail these things.”
5. Audit your existing images on your site for SEO and UX optimization (size, speed compression, etc.)
Probably, there’s a bunch of low-hanging fruit that you’re missing out on. My recommendation, check out Ryan Ayres’ “How to Perform an Image Optimization Audit” from last year on Moz’s website. Really good post, walks you through how to use Screaming Frog to do this and how to optimize all those visuals.
Thanks for sticking with me through all this dense information on image SEO. I hope you rock the image rankings, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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