Images are nice, aren't they? I mean, they are pretty to look at and brighten up a post.
But there's more to images than decoration when it comes to attracting business to your content.
In fact, images are absolutely essential for a whole host of reasons – but let’s start with a few facts, some data and the hard science of images effect on SEO.
Image Search and SEO
Whilst the recent hype has been mostly around the potential rise in voice search, what many people have missed is an impressive rise in the number of image searches – driven partly by the changes in the way Google handles images in searches and results.
According to Moz, image searches account for around 27% of all searches (to put that in perspective, Google’s standard search is 59%) – almost a third. So, if you don’t use images in your searchable content you could be missing out on a significant amount of search traffic.
You might think that your customers wouldn’t search for your products or services by image, but there are a ton of reasons why you might have pictures and why they might be searched for; if you have helpful infographics, diagrams from user manuals, or images of the product or service being used – then your audience can, and will search for them.
Google themselves have emphasised how important they see images to the future of search and have made a number of changes over the years that reflect this. Standard Google searches now show images 34% of the time and there has been a 42% increase in image results in just the past few weeks.
These major changes to the way that Google treats images in searches mean that you cannot ignore the power of images in influencing SEO, and if you aren’t fully optimising the images you use for SEO, you should definitely start now.
Use unique images
If you use stock photography – whether out of necessity or style choice – be aware that the image you are using may be used by other companies too which will dilute your search results, so unique images are better. If you can’t obtain original images, then modify the stock photo in some way by adding relevant text or an appropriate creative filter.
What’s also important is that the image is relevant to the text, Google has very sophisticated software that analyses images – if your image doesn’t seem related to the text Google may penalise you.
If you find it hard to believe that Google can analyse an image in this way or just want to see how it works – check out the demo on Google’s Cloud Vision AI page.
Equally important for Google’s analysis, is a good quality image; if it’s out of focus or low resolution, Google may fail to recognise it as an image at all.
Sometimes a small section of an image is featured search results – so images need to be of a good enough quality so that they don’t drastically deteriorate when zoomed in.
Do the standard stuff
The alt text (alt tag) is very important to define properly as it will appear if the image cannot be rendered for any reason. It's vital for accessibility – helping people with a visual impairment, and equally as important, it's part of your legal requirement to provide an accessible web site.
Alt tags are useful to search engines too, so you should define an alt tag that both describes the image and, if you can, includes a keyword or keyword phrase you're hoping to rank for.
If they are pictures of products or services, try and include model numbers, brand names and the like, as your customers may be searching for them.
Although you can define the title tag, opinions differ as to its usefulness, with search guru Yoast advising against it.
File names are also important – they should include, wherever possible, the keyword or search phrase you want to rank for – preferably at the beginning of the name. Omit stop words (a, in, of, the, etc.) and use hyphens to separate words so don’t use the original file name such as IMG-2314.jpg but bristow-machinery-in-use.jpg for example.
Another basic point is to make sure the files are as small as possible. Google uses speed and website responsiveness as a factor in how it ranks – sites that respond quickly to search queries rank higher in results. So minimise file sizes – the JPG format is a good choice for creating small image file sizes.
For the same reason, you need to make sure your hosting and caching of images are as efficient as they can be.
Apart from using images just to boost your search engine rankings, there are many other reasons to use images – not the least of which is to attract and engage the reader once they have landed on your page.
Let's face it, there is nothing more intimidating to a visitor who has just landed on your page, than paragraph after paragraph of unbroken text. You need to look at ways at breaking that up – and images are a great way to provide much-needed relief from too much text.
Telling the story
It’s an old cliché that a picture tells a thousand words, but the fact remains that a single picture can tell a compelling story, often more effectively than telling it in words. Images always seem more real, more truthful than words, and even in this age of Photoshop and fakery, images are still generally believed.
You should use an image to illustrate your story or add to it in some way – showing a detail difficult to describe in words for example or to show real people in real situations.
As well as photos, diagrams, illustrations and infographics also have a great deal of impact and help to engage the visitor. In particular, the powerful popularity of infographics doesn’t seem to be diminishing – perhaps because it packs a lot of facts/tips/information into an easily-digestible, quickly-read format.
With image search becoming ever more important and search engines becoming more sophisticated in their image analysis, you cannot afford to ignore images when it comes to creating content on the web. Using images effectively will increase both your traffic and your engagement.