In the pursuit of new inbound links, people don’t always seek out new image links. We’ve been so conditioned to go after good editorial links that image links may be the last things on our minds as we reach out and try to increase traffic (and, let’s be honest, rankings) for our sites. However, there are several reasons why you should start paying more attention to image links.
They’re part of a natural link profile. Chances are that if you’ve never pursued image links but you check your external backlinks, you’ll find that you have more image links than you thought. Actually, I tried very hard to find websites that did not have any image links, and it was quite a chore. For more information on how to optimize your images for SEO, see Ann Smarty’s article.
They’re good for traffic because they’re more noticeable. On certain web pages, I’d argue that an image link might be better than a text link, actually. Based on user eyetracking patterns, an image in the F-shaped reading pattern is going to have a much better shot at generating traffic than a text link at the end of the content.
They can pass link juice. It might not be as much as a text link passes (and it probably shouldn’t, considering its origins and intended uses), but it’s still something.
They give off a warm, fuzzy vibe. Try and find a few image links that are used to link to something that the site owner hates. It’s tough to do. Almost everyone uses text links to funnel their negativity.
They can be optimized through keywords. Just as a hyperlink has anchor text, an image link has an alt (alternate text) attribute. If you used a screen reader, your browser did not load the image, or you were using a text-only browser, this would give the user a description of the image. Although it’s a great way to get your keywords in, it’s also ripe for abuse, unfortunately. While a long description may make more sense to a visually impaired user using a screen reader, if that tactic is overdone, it can definitely seem spammy.
They show up in image search results. Many site owners report that a great deal of their traffic comes from Google images, so it’s nothing to scoff at, if you’re the scoffing type.
They can be fantastic ways to build even more links. Images, especially really funny ones, have the potential to go viral. Remember the squirrel crasher that popped up all over the place? That wouldn’t have been such a success if it had been a piece of text. Reading about a squirrel husting into a wedding photo is slightly funny, but seeing it is freaking hysterical! Even though not everyone who created and posted their own squirrelized photos linked to the original site through their own new images, tons of them linked to it through text and pimped it using social media.
Naturally there are downsides to image links, and images in general. They take more time to load than text does, which can annoy users enough to simply leave the site and never return. They may be confused for the more spammy ads that appear all over the web, causing users to ignore them or discount them. However, most people wouldn’t intentionally seek out a “Click here” link either, but it’s part of a typical organic link profile, just like image links are.
Julie Joyce owns the link development agency Link Fish Media, is one of SEO Chicks, and contributes to Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Gurus.