“A picture is worth a thousand words” – and that’s as true when it comes to SEO as it is with descriptions.
Images play a huge role in website development, as their visual appeal is a powerful way to attract and retain reader attention. However, the way that you incorporate images into your site can also influence the way your website is handled by the search engines. To get the best SEO bang for your image buck, consider taking all of the following steps to optimize images for your website:
Step #1 – Check your licenses
First – before we even get into the meat of modifying your images to make them more appealing to the search engines – take a few moments to be sure you hold the appropriate licenses to the images you plan to use.
Smart webmasters know that you can’t simply right click and copy an image from anywhere on the web to use on your site. Instead, you’ll need to download royalty free stock imagery, find images that have been licensed for commercial use under the Creative Commons license or purchase images from stock photo websites.
Making sure that your image licenses are in order won’t improve your SEO, but it will prevent you from receiving DMCA notices from angry photographers who have the power to otherwise disrupt your business.
Step #2 – Resize your images
Once you’ve appropriately sourced your images, take the time to resize to the exact dimensions at which they’ll be displayed on your website. Photoshop and SnagIt are two popular image editing programs that you can use for this purpose, although the PicMonkey website represents a great free alternative for beginning webmasters.
The reason that it’s important to do this before you upload your images is your site’s speed. Forcing your website to reload images on the fly (because you’ve uploaded large images and told your site to display smaller versions) consumes digital resources, which can slow down your site’s operations. And because site speed is becoming a major factor in your SEO performance, anything you can do to minimize the number of resources used is to your benefit.
Step #3 – Compress your images
At the same time, don’t just resize your images – compress them as well!
Both the size of your picture and the amount of information it contains (as in, whether it’s a high resolution image or low resolution picture) determine the number of resources required to load it to your site. And since most websites don’t require the same level of photographic detail needed for art prints or printed pictures, you can safely compress your images without compromising their display value.
To compress your images for free, check out Yahoo’s smush.it tool. With just a few clicks of the mouse, this service will remove unnecessary bits from your image without changing its overall appearance – speeding up your site and improving its SEO performance.
Step #4 – Add target keywords to your image file names
Once the size and compression rate of your images have been optimized, it’s time to start integrating your target SEO keywords. One place in particular to do this is your image file names.
As an example, if you run a website that sells fine jewelry and are in the process of uploading a picture of a gold watch, don’t leave your files names in their original photographer formats (for example, “IMG_023490.jpg”). Instead, replace it with a keyword-optimized version – for example, “fine-jewelry-gold-watch.jpg.” Doing so will help the search engines to better understand the content of your images, as well as how they should be treated from an SEO perspective.
Step #5 – Add title and ALT tags to your images
In addition to optimizing your file names, you can integrate keywords into both the image title tag and ALT tag fields. But that said, don’t treat these two areas as repositories for all the different keyword variations you can stuff into them.
Think about the original purposes of these fields, which were to assist both the search engines and website visitors using adaptive technologies to better understand what they were seeing. For this reason, any optimized tags you add should be descriptive in nature. Don’t stuff your keywords into these fields – instead, create natural-sounding image descriptions that include mentions of your target keywords when it’s appropriate to do so.
When it comes to image optimization, approach the process from a holistic standpoint. Take as many actions as you can to improve your page load times and the ability of the search engines to parse your content, but don’t go overboard. Including too many keyword repetitions or optimizing every single image on your site perfectly could set you up to experience an over-optimization penalty down the road.