10 Things You Can Do To Optimize for Image Search

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Image search is probably one of those very few opportunities that are still somewhat easier to cash on in the search marketing field. While it is true that traffic from image search might not convert as well as traffic coming from web search, for certain industries they work pretty well. Also, with all major search engines offering Universal search a well optimized might just get your website a wild card entry to he Google first page for some highly competitive keyword.

Having said all this let’s take a look at how we can optimize images for the search engines. We all know about the common factors like naming the image and alt attributes, while not leaving them aside, I have also tried to cover a few more points that you might otherwise miss while optimizing for image search.

  1. Image Naming – Use descriptive file names for your images and make sure your keywords are included. For multi-word file names use hyphen as the separator and not underscores. If you have an image of a Red Widget on your ecommerce site it is always better to name it as Red-Widget-For Sale.jpg, rather than using some nonsense name like DSC12345.jpg or even just Widget.jpg
  2. Alt Attributes – Again a known point for most of us, use a suitable descriptive alt attribute with keyword in them. Alt attributes are the prime source of reference for search engines to understand an image. Make sure your alt attribute describes your image properly.
  3. Title for Image – Add a suitable descriptive Title for images. Include your keywords in the Title as well.
  4. Surrounding Text – The text on a page and presence of keyword in it is important for image optimization as well and particularly the text surrounding the image is a key reference for identifying an image and adds relevance to it.
  5. Long Desc Attribute – If the image is extremely important and has got some text in it, you can probably use a Long Desc attribute to explain the image in details
  6. Heading Tags – Surprised? Don’t be. If you badly want to get an image ranked try this. Add a small text caption with your keyword for the image and put both the caption and the image within the heading tag. I would advise using H2 or lower tags and not really a H1. ( Honestly, no logical reasons behind the last line, I just feel that it might be a little overdone with a H1 )
  7. Get Links – Get a few links that points directly to the image itself. Make sure you are using the targeted keyword or some variations of it for these links.
  8. Link Out – If possible use that image to link out to another page about the image. Considering the Red Widget example above, you can probably use that image to link to a page that describes the Red Widget – http://www.domain.com/red-widget.html
  9. Enhanced Image Search – This is specific to Google. Log in to your Google Webmaster Tools account and activate Enhanced Image Search feature.
  10. Ranking of the Page – Google image search also considers the ranking of the parent or the linking page. If the parent or the ranking page does not have enough information or does not rank well, Google might be in doubt whether to show an image from that page or site.

Last but not the least, if not for search engines but for your user optimize the image size. Not all users are on high bandwidth, an optimized image of relatively low file size would be helpful for them.

Also, it is important to check that your images are not filtered out in Google Safe Search Filter. You can check this by using site:domain.com command on Image Search to check the index status and check the safe search status by toggling the link for safe search given below the search box.

Like most other things in SEO here is no hard and fast rule and most things are governed by common sense. Similarly, in this case while there is no concrete proof that all these factors contribute to get your images ranked, this is pretty comprehensive and covers most of the things that someone can do to optimize for image search. If you have any other points to add feel free to put them in comments.

Author Bio: Saptarshi Roy Chaudhury is a SEO Consultant from India. He has 7 years of experience in the Internet marketing industry and works as a SEO consultant for various US and UK based clients. Check his Internet Marketing blog for other interesting posts.

Saptarshi Roy Chaudhury
Saptarshi Roy Chaudhury works as the VP Marketing for PurpleTalk Inc. the mobile product development company. He also works as a SEO consultant for various clients in UK and the USA. Check his Internet Marketing blog for other interesting posts.
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  • http://michaelmoodie.com.au/Articles.html Michael Moodie

    Great Post – Will definitely print out and keep as a checklist for my websites.

  • http://sphinn.com/user/view/profile/ReinierNL Reinier

    Of all the posts about image optimisation I recently read, this one is definitely one of the best. It contains some insights that I have never read before. BTW, are these points ranked in order of SEO effect? Which are the dominant factors to your opinion?

  • http://seo-kolkata.blogspot.com Saptarshi

    In my experience with SEO what I have seen is all these factors add value to your image search optimization as well as overall optimization of the page. They are not really ranked in terms of their effectiveness from SEO stand point. From usability standpoint thought, I would keep Alt attributes and image size towards the top of the list.

  • http://www.kreativemachinez.com Pramod

    Great indights for learners about SEO. Best part about the post is points being so crisp, short & meaningful.

    Cheers man…keep rocking !!!

  • http://sphinn.com/user/view/profile/ReinierNL Reinier

    Saptarshi, good point about the usability!
    I think it would be great if you would get together with Brian Ussery and several other image optimisation experts to write a post about the Google image search ranking factors, similar to the ones that David Mihm and Wiep Knol wrote.
    Perhaps a bit off-topic, but I was just reading Brian Ussery´s recent post about image optimisation (http://www.beussery.com/blog/index.php/2009/03/universal-image-optimization/)
    and comtemplating about the future of image search. Now that the image alt attribute is getting more and more spammed, do you think that we can expect Google to decrease the importance of the image alt attribute in favour of the importance of the EXIF data (particularly the EXIF-title and the EXIF-description; of course, Google would not consider to take the EXIF-keywords into account) in the near future? In that light, websites such as Panoramio and Picasa may become increasingly more important and popular in image search.

  • http://www.SEO-writer.com/blog/ David Leonhardt

    I never heard of “Long Desc Attribute ” before. Otherwise, this all seems sound and in fact is the best image optimization checklist I have seen.

  • http://seo-kolkata.blogspot.com Saptarshi

    Thanks for pointing to that article Reinier, its indeed a good one.
    EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format and is supposed to be used for storing interchange information about images. Using EXIF data for image optimization is definitely a possibility in the near future however, my concern here would be the average webmaster’s ability to edit EXIF data and also awareness about EXIF.Search Engines would not be able to bank on this completely as that would mean they would have to leave a lot of nice images out of their index that comes from amateur websites without proper EXIF data.

    Also, the future of image search is definitely something worth discussing. In January 2008, Google has already filed for a patent in which they claim to be able to get robots to read text from images. In case this works out well, Google might be able to index and rank images without the need for any alt attribute or EXIF data.

    If you would like to read more on LongDesc attribute check this link http://www.w3.org/WAI/wcag-curric/sam3-0.htm

  • http://collegeofpublicspeaking.co.uk vince stevenson

    Really useful article. One of the best I’ve read on images. Many thanks. Vince

  • http://nynjbengali.com Sudipta Bhawmik

    I use WordPress for my blog site, and I don’t think WP image insertion allows this many attributes to be defined. A plugin to do this would be great.
    Thanks for the tips though.

  • Probuddha

    Good post Rishi! Nice coverage of all the key factors of image optimization. However, a bit unsure about how the heading would help – but definitely worth a try.

    My 2 cents on this – while resizing images, try to do them digitally [such as through IrfanView] instead of cropping them through code attributes and reduce the DPI to screen quality of 72

    Thanks and keep ’em coming

    Cheers 🙂

  • http://www.suzukikenichi.com/blog/ Kenichi Suzuki

    This article is the most helpful image search optimization I have ever known.
    Would you let me introduce it to my blog readers in Japanese with some translation?
    Sure, I will mention your article and link to it.

  • http://www.cliffspicer.com Cliff Spicer

    Thanks for the awesome post. As photographer I am noticing more and more photos popping up during a google search and I want to do what I can to make sure I get as much google juice from my work. Your article will gives me some great tips.

    Thanks for the post,


    Cliff Spicer Photography

  • http://tusharvickkie.blogspot.com Tushar


    I was wondering to make the difference between your post and the below stated post


  • http://aweblander.blogspot.com Sumit

    A great, simple and informative post, Saptarshi. Thanks for making it like a checklist, would be really helpful for most.

    I am curious to know something. If an image has a suitable alt attribute, and is good with all the other checklist points you mentioned, how critical would the factors like ranking of the parent page be?

    Also, taking a leaf out of your post as well, //cdn.searchenginejournal.com/wp-content/themes/sej_cp/authors/Saptarshi%20Roy%20Chaudhury.jpg

    it should be: //cdn.searchenginejournal.com/wp-content/themes/sej_cp/authors/Saptarshi-Roy-Chaudhury.jpg


  • http://seo-kolkata.blogspot.com Saptarshi

    Please feel free to post the translation but please retain the links to source and the credit links.

    @ Tushar
    Thanks for pointing to that great article, I just went through it. I think your are missing a basic point here – that article is about how to get traffic from images and this is purely about image search optimization.

    I think the ranking of parent page or atleast teh quality of the page would be a pretty important factor. We have all seen Google has always been very keen on the authority of the source ( thats why a relatively poor article in an authority site might rank better than a good article in a poor site) and the same factor applies here. Also, images are an essential element of a page, as a consequence the way an image is evaluated definitely considers that parent pages standing with Google, atleast for competitive terms.

    In regards to the image name, that’s a nice pick mate.. may be Loren would take care of that henceforth. Btw, %20 actually stands for space so for a search engine these two are just the same its just that we humans are more comfortable to see a Hyphen as a separator than %20

  • http://aweblander.blogspot.com Sumit

    Ok. I thought that the algo prefers a “hyphen” more than a “underscore” or “space”.

    Thanks for the explanation. This really is a very useful post.

  • http://seo-kolkata.blogspot.com Saptarshi

    OK, let me try to explain it a little more in detail. Typically we see Hyphen or underscores as the separator for multiple word file names. Now search engines consider underscores as joiners and hyphens as separators.

    if the file name would have been Saptarshi_Roy_Chaudhury.jpg to a search engine it would be same as SaptarshiRoyChaudhury.jpg but when the file name is Saptarshi-Roy-Chaudhury.jpg it is same as Saptarshi Roy Chaudhury.jpg or in other words Saptarshi%20Roy%20Chaudhury.jpg

  • http://aweblander.blogspot.com Sumit

    Awesome !! thanks mate. I hope all are reading this.

  • http://prune.it Eddie

    There is a downside of course !

    Well SEO’d images are the very first ones to be snagged or copied.

  • http://www.mutuelletarif.com mutuelles

    Thanks for the post, I never really realised that image was of that importance. Have to try it!

  • http://tusharvickkie.blogspot.com Tushar


    Thanks, there’s a point, you do image search optimization to gain traffic for your site.

  • Goutam

    Very impressive, Perfect insight for learner and agreat reminder for online and digital markets. do you have a twitter account

  • http://seo-kolkata.blogspot.com Saptarshi

    Twitter @rishi3211us

  • Jessica

    I work for a company that manages a series of websites. All images are placed in a /images folder that is indicated in the robots.txt file as “no index.” Would you consider this to be a detrminent or a lost opportunity because search engines won’t index our images?

  • http://codesucker.blogspot.com Codesucker

    Nice article – Image search can bring hoards of traffic to a website.

  • http://seo-kolkata.blogspot.com Saptarshi

    If you do not allow your images to be indexed you are definitely missing out on the traffic that you might be getting from Image search results.

    However, some websites prefer to keep there images protected for other reasons. For example, if you are a stock photography website you would definitely not like your original images to be indexed in search engines.

  • http://www.djhenryhall.podomatic.com Henry Hall

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.merrickmgt.com Taryn Merrick

    Great and very useful tips. I will take these to heart and put them to work for me and my Virtual Assistant clients!

  • http://picapp.com Niran

    PicApp serves its images with metadata so that all images can be properly indexed by search engines and help publishers’ SEO efforts. http://tinyurl.com/ceukgj

  • http://www.beussery.com/blog Brian Ussery

    Google doesn’t index images directly they index the page on which images appear.

    Google pretty much ignores the title attribute but if it helps users by all means feel free to throw it in…..

    EXIF is automatically created by various devices including digital cameras. It’s important because it’s automatic and more difficult to spoof. Not sure how Google being able to read text (OCR) in images comes into play unless you’re taking pictures of text with your EXIF supporting dig cam….

    Either way, Google already reads visible text in images and has for months:

  • http://tomduong.com Tom Duong

    Thanks for this very useful post. I didn’t know there so many ways to optimize an image. I’ll look into these tips the next time a post an image on my blog.


  • http://trafficlicious.com Kelvin Chan
  • http://www.abncparties.com ABnCParty

    Thanks for the tips. I learn something new every time.

  • http://www.discoveryvallarta.com/ michaelj72

    very useful, Saptarshi, thanks for the article and also answering questions in the comments section – i’ve learned here and will now apply some of this

  • http://www.internetworkathomesuccess.com Charles Hill

    Saptarshi, thanks for the tips, and great website by the way. You have lots of good info here for online marketing. Fantastic Job!

  • http://www.indiauto.in/ indiauto.in

    thnx!! something different to learn!!

  • http://raven-seo-tools.com/ Raven Matt

    9. Enhanced image search is no longer included in Webmaster Tools. http://kl.am/kSh

  • http://www.kre8iveminds.com Kre8iveminds

    Well explained article. This is something which is going to help us. Thanks for the great tips.

  • http://www.mmotreasury.com/ MMO Treasury

    Nice to see some great seo tips that arent just for the search enigines but will make any website more complete and professional looking overall. Thanks!

  • http://professionalrecognition.com Rod Claar

    Thanks! Great article. If you have a moment, I have a question. website.grader.com says I have too many images on my site.


    IMHO you can’t have too many. What do you think?

  • http://buyitnowfurniture.com wrought iron furniture

    Thanks, I can really use this for my site!

  • http://www.kristofcreative.com Kristof

    Good tips – with exception #2 and #6.

    #2 Keyword stuffing in image alt tags is a huge no-no.
    The purpose of an alt tag is to provide a text description of the image in case the image isn’t displayed (broken link or text readers). So here’s the real rule: If adding a keyword to define the image is appropriate, then include it. Otherwise don’t.

    #6 Heading Tags
    Unless the image caption is defining a section within the post, you should never use heading tags for image descriptions (or for wrapping around the image). Heading tags are meant to define sections and hierarchy of an article – and search engines know this. Using them arbitrarily to help boost SEO is counterproductive. You might see an initial boost, but the final outcome will be one step forward, two steps back.

    Also, for those wondering why you should not use underscores in image naming: Underscores are stop characters. Search engines (specifically Google) won’t read any words past the first underscore.

  • http://optimized-media.com Toronto SEO

    Excellent checklist, I thought I had all my angles covered and then I read your post… Thank you for your insight!