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Think about the last time you uploaded an image to your website. Chances are you downloaded it from a stock photography site, uploaded it to the backend of your site, and then inserted it into the page.

This makes a shining example of image optimization, right? Not quite.

You’ve added a giant bowling ball weight to your site, slowing down the page speed. And search engines can’t read your images without alt text.

Let’s change that.

Over 20% of all U.S. web searches happen on Google Images, according to 2018 data from Jumpshot.

SEO amateurs and pros alike know that optimizing images for your website is notoriously worth the time spent.

Dan Morgan at WebSpection got one of his photos to rank #1 in Google Images for “best person in Cardiff” in less than four days by optimizing his image.

And Robbie Richards generated 150,732 visits by adding image alt tags, compressing images, and a few other SEO tricks.

Without proper image optimization, you’re wasting a valuable SEO asset.

It’s like the search engines are giving away Oreos and milk for free. But, you only take the Oreo. When in reality, the Oreo is way better dunked in milk.

Image optimization creates many advantages, such as better user experience, faster page load times, and additional ranking opportunities. And it’s becoming an increasingly more important role.

As Matt Southern pointed out, Gary Illyes’ statement on image search in a recent Reddit chat:

“We simply know that media search is way too ignored for what it’s capable doing for publishers so we’re throwing more engineers at it as well as more outreach.”

But which factors are most important to ensure your images are findable and don’t slow down your site?

Here are 12 crucial image optimization tips you need to know.

1. Choose The Right Format

Decoding all the various image formats can feel like your first time ordering at Taco Bell. But before you can start adding images to your site, you want to make sure you’ve chosen the best file type.

While many image formats exist, PNG and JPEG are the most common for the web.

  • PNG: Produces better quality images but comes with larger file size.
  • JPEG: You may lose image quality, but you can adjust the quality level to find a good balance.
  • WebP: Choose lossless or lossy compression using this, the only image format supported by Chrome and Firefox.

For me, PNG is the unsung hero of image formatting. But, for my daily use, PNG is the way to go, then convert those into WebP.

Just be careful if you’re using .jpg images inside an inline SVG format, as Google’s systems can’t index these.

CheckYourImages

2. Compress Your Images

Yep, hell hath no fury like a bloated web page after uploading an image that’s not compressed.

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Search engines will look at your web page like you might look at a giant vat of Crisco: You can’t seriously be considering putting that on your website, right?

According to HTTP Archive, images comprise, on average, 21% of a total webpage’s weight.

That’s why I highly recommend compressing your images before uploading them to your site. You can do this in Photoshop, or you can use a tool like Imagify.

Imagify also has a WordPress plugin you can use too.

I prefer Imagify as my WordPress plugin. It reduces the image file size without removing the quality.

You need to compress the images externally on their servers. It reduces the load on your site.

Or, take it a step further and use an image CDN that detects the device and optimizes the image before delivery. Try Rocket-CDN.

Increasingly.com improved website speed by 33%/2 seconds by compressing images.

I mean, there’s just something sexy about faster page speed when you compress your images.

If you’re unsure how your images affect your page speed, I recommend using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

3. Create Unique Images

You want your photos to pop up on your site. If you fill your website with stock imagery, you’ll look unoriginal – like thousands of other sites that don’t stand out.

Too many websites are cluttered with the same generic stock photos.

Think about a corporate website, a consulting firm, or a business that prides itself on customer service. All these websites use virtually the same-looking stock image of a businessman smiling.

I’m sure you’ve seen one that looks like this:

ImageCompression

While you may have your stock images perfectly optimized, they won’t have the same impact or potential SEO benefits as an original, high-quality image.

The more original pictures you have, the better experience for the user and the better your odds are of ranking on relevant searches.

Remember that large images are more likely to be featured in Google Discover.

As Google recommends in its Advanced SEO resource,

“Large images need to be at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting, or by using AMP.”

Do not use your logo as an image.

Optimize your images with Imagify

4. Beware Of Copyright

Regardless of the image files, you choose to use, make sure there’s no copyright conflict.

The Postal Service is paying $3.5 million in an image copyright lawsuit. And Skechers got sued for $2.5 million.

If Getty, Shutterstock, DepositFiles, or some other stock photo provider owns an image you use, and you don’t have a license to use it, then you’re risking an expensive lawsuit.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you could be issued a notice if you have violated any copyright issues. If the owner of a piece of content sees their content on your website, they can issue a DMCA Takedown which you must comply with.

Google Images allows you to filter results based on those available for reuse, and Mindy Weinstein shares 41 different websites to find free images.

Related: Social Media Image Sizes Guide

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5. Customize Image File Names

When it comes to SEO, creating descriptive, keyword-rich file names is crucial.

Not customizing your image file name is like getting a burrito with nothing in it. It just plain sucks.

Image file names alert Google and other search engine crawlers to the image’s subject matter.

CustomImageFileNames

Typically, file names will look like “IMG_722019” or something similar. That’s like ordering from a menu in a different language. It doesn’t help Google.

Change the file name from the default to help the search engines understand your image and improve your SEO value.

Depending on how extensive your media library is, this involves a bit of work, but changing the default image name is always a good idea.

Let’s pretend you have an image of chocolate, for example.

I could name it simply “chocolate,” but if you sell chocolate on your website, potentially every image can be named “chocolate-1,” “chocolate-2,” and so on.

I named this image “dark-chocolate-coffee” to let users and search engines understand the image.

6. Write SEO-Friendly Alt Text

Alt tags are a text alternative to images when a browser can’t correctly render them. Similar to the title, the alt attribute is used to describe the contents of an image file.

You’ll get an image box with the alt tag in the top left corner when the image doesn’t load. Make sure they fit with the image and make the picture relevant.

Paying attention to alt tags also benefits the overall on-page SEO strategy. You want to ensure all other optimization areas are in place, but users will see what the image is supposed to be if the image fails to load for any reason.

Plus, adding appropriate alt tags to the images on your website can help your website achieve better rankings in the search engines by associating keywords with images. Even Google has remarked on the value of alt text in images.

It provides Google with valuable information about the subject matter of the image. We use this information to help determine the best image to return for a user’s query.

SEOFriendlyAltText

Alt text is required under the American Disabilities Act for individuals unable to view images themselves. A descriptive alt text can alert users precisely what is in the photo. For example, say you have a picture of chocolate on your website.

The alt text could read:

”chocolate”/

However, a better alternative text that describes the image would read:

”dark

Alt text is viewable in the cached text version of the page, aiding in its benefit to both users and search engines. For additional SEO value, the alt text can act as the anchor text of an internal link when the image links to a different page on the site.

Related: Website Accessibility

7. Think About The Image File Structure

Google updated its Image Guidelines. One of the significant updates they revealed was that they use the file path and file name to rank images.

Repeat: The file path and file name are actual ranking factors.

For example, if you’re an eCommerce brand with multiple products, instead of placing all your product images into a generic /media/ folder, I would recommend structuring your subfolders to more category-related topics like /shorts/ or /denim/.

8. Optimize Your Page Title & Description

Google alsouseds your page title and description as part of its image search algorithm.

The Google support page states:

Check your page title

All of your primary on-page SEO factors like metadata, header tags, copy on the page, structured data, etc., affect how Google ranks your images.

It’s like putting all your toppings on your burrito. It tastes way better with guac. So, make sure to add the guac for improving image rankings.

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9. Define Your Dimensions

If you’re using AMP or PWAs, you must define your image dimensions in the source code.

However, if you’re not using either, it’s still a best practice to define the width and height. It provides a better user experience.

Plus, it allows the browsers to size the image before loading the CSS. This stops the page from jumping when it loads.

Image dimension attributes are also crucial for preventing Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) issues that can interfere with your Core Web Vitals optimization.

Ensure that you include width and height attributes for every image and video element.

This tells the browser how much space to allocate for the resource and prevents that annoying content-shifting that lowers your CLS score. Learn more here.

10. Make Your Images Mobile-Friendly

Oh, mobile SEO. At its worst, it can give you a high bounce rate and low conversions. But, at its best, it can give you more ranking power and better user engagement.

The problem is, how do you optimize your images for the mobile-first index?

Luckily, Google offers guidance on best practices for images.

It adjusts to the size of the device. This means the image will scale with the size of the site, whether the user is using a desktop or mobile. In short, you want to create responsive images.

Mozilla offers a comprehensive guide on using the srcset and sizes attributes to provide the browser with additional source images, enabling the display of identical image content resized for the device.

It is essential to format this with a different part of the attribute value on each line, as demonstrated in this example from their resource:

”Elva

Learn more about using srcset for responsive images here.

11. Add Images To Your Sitemap

Whether you’re adding your images to your sitemap or creating a new sitemap for images, you want images somewhere in your sitemaps.

Having your images in a sitemap greatly increases the chances of search engines crawling and indexing your images. Thus, it results in more site traffic.

If you’re using WordPress, Yoast and RankMath offer a sitemap solution in their plugin.

12. Add Structured Data

You have structured data markup for your content types to guide google and search engines to deliver better visual results. Essentially, if you add structured data, Google could serve your images as a rich result.

For example, if you use schema markup on a product page and label the image as a product, Google could pair this image with a price tag. Search engines skip the algorithm and use the information provided in the structured data to provide the right image.

Image Optimization Key Takeaways

So, before you begin uploading your image to your site, make sure to follow the image optimization rituals from above.

The most important thing is ensuring the image and alternative text are relevant to the page.

Additional Resources:
Blog SEO: 11 Tips to Optimize Your Blog Posts for SEO (like a Pro)
5 Ways To Boost Your Search Engine Ranking and Social Media Conversions
Assistant Editor for Search Engine Journal

Article by Anna Crowe

Anna is the Assistant Editor for Search Engine Journal. Over the last 10+ years, Anna has successfully been running her own SEO and content agency, working with brands like Moz, Kissmetrics, Dollar Thrifty Rental, Hearst Magazine, Mailboat Records, Philip Morris International, Bloomin’ Brands, & many more. She enjoys burritos and puppies (in that order).