How to Use Image #SEO to Build an Unexpected Advantage

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Image SEO

The web is filled with some absolutely stellar SEO advice and industry sites have written numerous tips, hacks and how-to guides around on-site optimization. From SEJ’s own “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” to Neil Patel’s infographic “How to Structure a Perfect SEO Optimized Page,” everything you need to know about optimization is a click away. No matter the industry however, there’s always a blind spot – a particular part of a subject that is overlooked or underutilized.

In SEO, that blind spot is often the use of imagery.

Even top class SEOs don’t give imagery for SEO its fair share of column space. It’s not examined enough, and often underutilized, which means it’s a powerful opportunity to give your website the advantage it needs and you want.

How Images Affect SERPs

You’re probably wondering – how do images impact search results and how do they increase the probability of people finding your site?

1. Universal Search Concept

In recent times, thanks to the universal search concept, Google is far more inclined to add imagery to its main results page. In fact, in a lot of cases, images are shown at the very top of the page, which of course is where any website wants to be. In addition, unlike traditional text-based results, images stand out and as such are more likely to catch the eye.

Cat and kittens Google Search

2. Human Level

Humans use Google’s SERPs and images make an impact at that level. To some extent, searching is about user experience and Kasy Allen on Moz summed the relationship between imagery and SEO well, when she discussed the way she and her husband search. People eat with their eyes as well as their stomachs. So, when looking for a recipe, she validly points out that she’d want to find the tastiest looking dish. In turn, she mentions when she does a search, she scans the images to find one she likes the look of and then clicks through to that particular recipe. She also uses an example of how her husband uses Google images when looking for instructions, claiming he prefers the visual option over the text-based alternatives.

Neither Kasy nor her husband would have found the particular results they did if they hadn’t been optimized with images.

Images and Social Media

Images also have an immense impact on social media and are known to greatly increase click-through rates among users. According to a study by Kissmetrics, using images on Twitter resulted in a 19 percent higher CTR and 150 percent more retweets. Appealing, high quality images also have a positive impact on Facebook Ad CTRs too. So, it could be said that high-quality, well-optimized images tend to have an encouraging impact on a variety of channels.

There’s plenty of science to suggest that searchers and readers are almost hardwired to prefer content with images rather than without. Dual-coding theory suggests that human memory can retain both verbal and image-based information, but that images are encoded in memory in a more concrete way and so have a longer-lasting impact on us as consumers.

So, taking all this into account, how do you go about optimizing your images for search results?

There are three areas to consider when making improvements to images for SEO.

  • On-picture
  • On-page
  • Off-page

On-Picture Ranking Factors

These are things that need to be done to the image before it’s uploaded. Needless to say, always ensure your images are top quality, attractive, and eye-catching. Aside from this, you should also ensure the following:

  • Images should be between 320 and 1280 pixels in size.
  • Normal formatting sizes are best – so ensure you keep between 4:3 and 16:10 in size.
  • Add a suitable file name to the image; i.e. red-car.jpg. Generally the file name should be no more than 4-6 words and a description of the image.
  • Include a copyright notice – this doesn’t impact SEO, but is a good practice.
  • Compress images to around 60-80 percent of the original size and keep file sizes below 400kb. The JPEG compression format is suitable here.

On-Page Factors

These are the on-page factors that improve an image in the HTML code:

  • Ideally the text of the file name should appear as a keyword in the content before and after the image. By combining the keyword file name/keyword surround text and ensuring there is about a sentence between these factors, you greatly enhance the chance of the image being ranked.
  • Add alt tags in the alt tag attribute within the image.
  • Surrounding the image with quality content doesn’t explicitly help, but it can’t harm an image’s chances of ranking well.

Off-Page Factors

These are factors outside of the image page that contribute to its search position:

  • Good internal linking structure will help the Google bot to reach the page and index the image.
  • Quality external links to the page help too.
  • The more copies of the image Google sees, the more important it deems the image to be. Obviously, copyright issues come into play if people use images without permission.

Finding Images

There are a number of different ways to find images and here are some favorites below:

Databases – Searchable sites are ideal if you’re looking for images on a certain topic. In some cases these will require you to set up an account or to credit the owner:

  • Free Images
  • Free Digital Photos
  • Free Photos Bank
  • Morguefile

Photo Search Tools – These don’t provide free images but a means to search sites such as Flickr within certain parameters to find photos that you can then use:

  • Can We Image
  • Creative Commons Search
  • Compfight

Create your Own Images – Why not use these tools to create your own images?

  • Canva
  • 14 more tools

Even better, instead of searching for free images or purchasing them, why not get paid for the images you use? Imonomy “in-image monetization” offers that. The service offers content-specific images. The plug n’ play platform allows customers to create monetized offers for themselves or their clients, built right into the pictures.

Overall, images drive traffic, backlinks, and a whole lot more. Concentrating on this angle can be particularly beneficial because image optimization is such an overlooked and underutilized SEO strategy. Even small adjustments can make a difference over time, so take advantage of images and SEO. It’ll be a game changer for your strategy in 2015 and beyond.


Screenshot taken February 2015, featured image created by author.

John Boitnott

John Boitnott

Digital Media Consultant
John is a writer and digital media consultant who has worked at FastCompany, Venturebeat, Village Voice Media, NBC as well as several startups in the San Francisco Bay Area. He advises entrepreneurs on growing their businesses and increasing community engagement.
John Boitnott
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  • Umapathy

    Hi John,

    Images are important for SEO. There are several people out there who use the image of others which result in copyright issue.

    You have explained clearly how images affect SEO. The tools which you have mentioned to get free images will be very helpful.


    • John Boitnott

      Thanks Umpathy for your kind words!

  • Kimberly Esparza

    Very good post. In terms of image compression, it would be a good idea to turn to JPEGmini for compression as it keeps the quality of pics while reducing their size dramatically.

    • John Boitnott

      Thanks Kimberly for your recommendation!

  • Sumit Dass

    Great John 🙂

    Great tips thanks for sharing! We are currently exploring the relationships between link building.

    Sumit 🙂

    • John Boitnott

      Thanks Sumit for the kind words!

  • Chuck Reynolds

    “Add alt tags in the alt tag attribute within the image”… really… nope. nope. nope.
    Perhaps try… “Add descriptive text in the alt attribute within the image tag”… that could work.

    • John Boitnott

      Thanks for the advice here Chuck!

  • Michael Smith

    Actually Image SEO can play a vital role. I am agree with your points that many SEOs neglecting this point and because of that, they loose some benefits.

    • John Boitnott

      Glad to hear the post resonated with you Michael!

  • Shanaya Robert

    Pictures are imperative for SEO. There are a few individuals out there who utilize the picture of others which bring about copyright issue.

    You have clarified obviously how pictures influence SEO. The instruments which you have said to get free pictures will be exceptionally useful.

    • John Boitnott

      I’m glad to hear the post was useful for you Shanaya!

  • Ganesh Paul

    Thanks John for discussing such an important topic! I totally agree with you Image is really very effective to increase the search traffic. Specially It has an immense impact on social media and are known to greatly increase click-through rates among users. Looking forward to hear from you soon.

    • John Boitnott

      Glad to hear it was helpful Ganesh!

  • rahul choudhary

    Great post. Regarding picture pressure, it would be a smart thought to turn to JPEGmini for pressure as it keeps the nature of pics while decreasing their size drastically.

    • John Boitnott

      Thanks for the advice here Rahul!