Image Search Optimization; Latest SEO Trend

8/23/2011

- Mike Siers, Client Strategist

Search engine optimization has long been about creating and optimizing relevant text content, keywords, links, listings, HTML tags, and site maps in order to rank web pages for search queries. Now, the strategy of SEO seems to be paving way for a new tactic: Image Optimization. Until now, images have not been that much of the optimization process. However, thanks to image recognition software, and Google's adaptation, this is all beginning to change.

Google has long been known to offer image search functions, but has recently introduced a new search feature called Search by Image. This new feature works by allowing users the ability to drag-and-drop images into the search box to find out more about them. Because of this innovative feature, and enhancement of image recognition in general, now is the time to optimize the images on your website for search.

Google Image Search can be especially helpful for driving traffic to your website and improving its click-through-rate (CTR). As our SEO Engineers have covered in past video blogs, Google's Image Search is revolutionizing the way people discover image content, and more importantly, your website. The ranking factors for images are not entirely known yet; however, some areas to focus on are:

(Helpful Hint: It's good practice to store your website's "structural" type graphics in a separate folder from the images you are looking to optimize).

(Helpful Hint: In some cases, you can use the file name to support on-site optimization, by using the page's keyword)

(Helpful Hint The reason images have an  "alt" attribute is that  it helps visitors who do not run their browsers  with images on, as well as visitors with disabilities that utilize screen readers to understand what the web page is about).

(Helpful Hint: With a caption, you can be a little more descriptive about the picture than with the alt attribute, but again, make it flow naturally).  

(Helpful Hint: Again, including a descriptive caption for the image along with the alt attribute will further optimize your image).

  1. Robots.txt file:
    Ensure that the folder storing your images is not blocked by your robots.txt file. Before image search gained popularity, it was common to block the folder where images were stored.
  2. Image File Names:
    Name your images with the keywords that describe your image or the way you are using it. If it's a picture of a yellow ball, name it yellow-ball.jpg, rather than leaving it as what your download or photo editing software wants to name it.
  3. Use the Alt Attribute of the IMG tag:
    Make sure you are using the "alt" attribute of the image tag. Like the image name, use keywords (6-7 words max) that describe your image or the way you are trying to present it to the user. The attribute should describe the image in a short "to the point" way that reads naturally to the viewer.
  4. Use a Caption For Your Image:
    Placing a caption somewhere around the image will help describe to the search engines what the image is about.
  5. Include Images With Articles, & Press Releases:
    If you are sending out an article or a press release, include an image, or a url path to an image that the news outlets can utilize for their version of your news.

From a technological stand-point, Image Search is still in its infancy and most certainly will improve. The future of search will encompass image recognition; however, don't think it is not currently present. Image recognition technology has also produced another Google Search product: Google Goggles.

Google Goggles is a mobile search app that was launched in 2009, and extensively enhanced in May 2011. With Google Goggles, users take pictures of objects with their mobile phone, which are then instantly sent to Google for search results. As of now, the search app recognizes commercial brands, such as logos and business cards. It even allows for text translation, which can be really helpful if you are in a foreign country and need to translate a traffic sign or menu.

(Helpful Hint: Designing your logo with your company name spelled out naturally will allow Google Goggles to read the text and produce search results as if someone typed the words directly in the search box).

As I said previously, image recognition technology is on the rise, and with it, the physical and virtual worlds will further blend together. Optimizing your images for search will not only support your current on-page SEO efforts, it will also improve your site's click-through-rate. In addition, optimizing your images will start to prepare your business for the transition from desktop search to the innovative elements of mobile search.    

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