Is It Still Important to Optimize Images for SEO?
Images are a big part of your website, and optimizing them for SEO has long been an important strategy. In the old days, stuffing your image tags with keywords was a cheap, black hat way to increase your site’s ranking for those keywords, but now that Google has far stricter quality control, is there anything you can do to increase your domain authority or search traffic using images?
The short answer is yes; optimizing your images for SEO is still an important element of any search marketing strategy. But the most effective tactics and the target end results have changed. In the modern world, you’ll be optimizing your images for three reasons; to improve user experience, to get your images found using Google Image Search, and to decrease your page loading times.
Optimizing Images for User Experience
Your first goal is to optimize your images to maximize user experience. While the experience of your users is qualitative, and does not directly influence your search rankings, Google does take user behavior into consideration. If you have better images, you’ll have lower bounce rates, and lower bounce rates means you’ll enjoy a higher authority.
Your first step is to include images wherever you can. That doesn’t mean stuffing images into every nook and cranny of your website, but it does mean having at least one significant image for every major post on your blog. Without images, your site will appear bland, and people will be less willing to read your content or stick around.
Next, you’ll have to make sure your images are appropriate for your content. It isn’t enough to pair a picture of a hamburger with an article about cat behavior simply because you “needed” an image. Your images should be appropriate to the content they’re intended for, and if possible, they should be original. This will keep users on your page for longer, which can improve your authority.
As an added measure, it’s a good idea to include captions with your images. While image captions won’t necessarily help your images rank higher in a search, they will help users understand why you’ve chosen specific images for your posts, which leads to an overall better user experience.
Optimizing Images for Image Search
Next, you’ll have to take some measures to optimize your images so that they appear higher up in Google Image Search results. While Image search gets less attention than Google’s traditional search function, it can be a source of significant organic traffic.
Appropriate Alt Text
While the Panda update seriously cracked down on the overuse of keywords, including one or two keywords in your alt text can still help you rank for target queries. To add alt text, add alt=”example text here” to your image’s tag, where “example text here” stands in for your keyword-optimized description. Just be sure that your description is appropriate to the actual image content.
Appropriate File Name
In addition to an alt tag, you’ll want to make sure your image is titled appropriately. For example, if you’re using that hamburger picture from earlier, titling it “Delicious looking hamburger” is much more appropriate than “Broken ukulele.” This title will clue Google in to the image’s content, and will help it appear in more relevant searches.
Adding Images to Your XML Sitemap
As a final tactic, be sure to include all your images in your XML sitemap. Google peruses your sitemap to learn how your site is laid out and to discover new content on your site, so make sure it is updated regularly. Otherwise, your images will be harder to find, which could negate the effectiveness of your other strategies.
Optimizing Images for Site Speed
Finally, you’ll want to optimize your images for speed. The loading time of your site plays a pivotal role in your search rankings, especially in mobile searches, and your images are one of the biggest factors in how fast your site loads. Keeping your images loading quickly will increase your domain authority, and therefore increase your ranks.
Appropriate File Type
Choosing the right file type is easy, and can help make sure your images load quickly on user devices. JPG format is the modern standby, and should give you no issues, with PNG format being a close runner-up. Any other file types for your images should probably be converted, unless you have an animated GIF.
Reducing File Size
Next, you’ll want to reduce the file size of your images. While super high-resolution files might look nicer when printed out, it isn’t going to make much of a difference on a small digital screen. Shrink your images as much as you can while retaining high quality to reduce the file size, which collectively can drastically decrease your page loading times.
Stripping Meta Data
As a secondary means of reducing the time it takes to load images, you can strip your photos of meta data. Most images have information like the date it was created stored in the image file, but you can delete this by heading to image Properties > Details, and clicking “Remove Properties and Personal Information.” This will make the file smaller with no changes to the image itself.
Once all the images on your site are optimized for search, you should start to see far more organic search traffic coming in. With a higher domain authority from decreased site speed, you’ll rank higher for relevant keywords, you’ll gain extra traffic from image-based searches, and your users will be more likely to stick around if you have eye-catching, well-captioned images. The bottom line is that while it isn’t completely necessary, it is incredibly valuable, and you’d be remiss in neglecting the optimization of your onsite images.
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