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Image SEO 101
Optimizing images for search is an often overlooked part of on-page optimization. In this issue we share tips and best practices for image SEO.
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Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, fresh off a week that included a top-tier collage night, a bicycle tune up and next-level vegan pizza in Hamilton.
This week: A revisit to our beginner guide to image SEO for news. Editorially, we know that images can help sell a story, convey key details in reporting and make news real for readers. But optimizing images for search is sometimes overlooked. In this issue, we share tips and best practices for image SEO.
Let’s get it.
In this issue:
Why optimize images on a news site?
Image optimization tips.
Why should you optimize images on your site?
Image optimization falls within the on-page SEO category.
While on-page SEO is largely about the text on your page — headlines, URLs, internal links, meta descriptions, subheadings and the body of a story — images play an important optimization role for articles. Image SEO is often overlooked — and undervalued.
Images are meant to enhance the experience. Correct optimization of images is an underused tactic that creates a better user experience, faster page load times, improved accessibility and additional opportunities for ranking.
THE KNOW HOW
Image SEO optimization tips
Choose a high-quality, unique images
Images should relate directly to the content of the story. Ideally, producing custom art your publication has commissioned or using an original photo are preferred, but stock images work when you don’t have the resources or are in a hurry.
Larger outlets may have access to wire services and stock image sites, while small publications might rely on free (or free-ish) providers (like Unsplash or Pixabay). A paid Canva account also comes pre-loaded with images and illustrations that could potentially work as featured images.
It’s best to use quality, unique images instead of stock photos whenever possible. These will rank better as search engines can determine originality. Avoid rerunning the same photo on multiple stories, especially articles of the same storyline (easier said than done, we know!). Sometimes, there’s only one photo available of a person, and that’s fine!
Choose the correct file type for images.
Google Images supports images in the following formats: BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, WebP, and SVG. But when it comes to the type, try to be consistent. Only images that need transparent backgrounds should be PNGs. Everything else should be a JPG (when possible). Using WebP for high-resolution images over JPGs or PNGs to preserve the quality.
PNG (Portable Network Graphics): High-quality images with transparent backgrounds. Best for logos or other images where you need a transparent background. Bigger file sizes.
JPG (or JPEG): Good to great quality images that are less heavy file sizes. JPG and JPEG are interchangeable. Most images on the internet are JPGs.
SVG (scalable vector graphics): Created by using lines, points, and polygons, these images don’t pixelate when you zoom in or resize. They can be used for logos or other graphics.
The majority of images on publisher websites will be JPG files.
Consider file names for images
Include keywords in the file name of the image. For example, for the photo attached to a story about Canada’s prime minister at the Global Citizen Summit:
Try to include descriptive, SEO-considered keywords near the front of the file name. Use hyphens
(-) not camelCase, to separate words in the file name. This way, search engines can more easily identify the keywords and entities included.
At scale, this might be tricky. If your site pulls images from the Canadian Press, the Associated Press, Getty Images or another wire service directly into your CMS, you might not have the ability to rename files. Consult with the engineering team for a technical solution. If your photo desk manually uploads photos (and they can easily edit the file), establish a workflow to implement SEO-informed naming conventions.
Always use alternative text for images
Alt text is non-negotiable. It’s how screen readers determine and then convey the subject matter of the image. Alt text describes the content of an image. This text is used by search engines to rank your images, but also by people who use screen readers or other assistive technology. It is also shown when slow internet connections prevent images from loading.
The alt text for images should be descriptive, outlining exactly what is happening in an image.
Alt text ensures the full content of a photo is articulated and that no information for the story of the page is lost because the image is missing.
For example, alt text for a photo of Justin Trudeau in New York City for Global Citizen:
Try this: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets off a plane in New York ahead of his arrival at the Global Citizen summit on April 24, 2023.
Avoid this: justin trudeau on a plane.
Good alt text should describe what’s in the image so people — and search engines — can make sense of it.
Tips for effective alt text:
Provide semantic meaning to an image, be specific and succinct (around 125 characters). Tell readers the type of image to help understand context (if it’s a headshot, illustration, chart, screenshot, etc., those details are useful).
If a screenshot includes text, transcribe it in the alt text.
Avoid phrases like “image of” or “photo of.” When screen readers pick up alt text, readers will know it’s an image.
Pro tip: Populate the title tag of the image. For every image used in a story, write a title tag with supportive text. Avoid a copy/paste from the alt text.
Add captions for all images
Captions help readers understand the importance and context of images in news stories. Since images, pull quotes, subheads, videos and other non-text elements help break up text, readers often jump to and pause on these elements. Write engaging captions that provide context for the image.
Try this: Avoid repeating what’s in the image; instead, provide context and use relevant keywords where it contextually makes sense. If the photo is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau getting off a plane, but the story is about the global summit, add context to why Trudeau's appearance is important.
Avoid this: Copy and pasting what’s in the alt text or title tag.
While captions do not have a direct SEO impact, they can improve overall reader experience on your site.
Check your website’s file structure
Google takes the file path and file name into consideration when ranking images in search results. Instead of a generic
/media/ folder, if possible, structure subfolders into categories.
Image URLs must be crawlable and indexable. More on this below.
Optimize image files
Smaller file sizes result in faster load times, which creates a better user experience — especially for mobile readers. Those readers want mobile pages that load the complete story (with photos) quickly.
Images are often the most significant contributor to overall page size, which can result in slower load times. Since speed is important, here are some tips for image size optimization:
Reduce file sizes without losing image quality to help reduce page load times to the goal time of two seconds. Logos and smaller images should be sized down.
Large images are more likely to be featured in Google Discover (the recommendation is 1,200 pixels wide and enabled by the
Check the HTML container for an image — your code should define the image dimensions. Image dimension attributes are also important for preventing Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) issues that can interfere with Core Web Vitals.
Try responsive images: The
srcsetattribute on image HTML tags can be set to display different size images based on different screen sizes.
There are multiple plugins, including Yoast SEO and WP Smush for WordPress, that can help optimize image sizes. Or, you can use an image CDN (content delivery network) that checks the user’s device and optimizes the image before it’s rendered on the page.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to find images slowing down your site. The optimal page load time is around two seconds — don’t let images be a resource hog.
Structured data for images
Structured data helps search engines better understand your website and its contents. It can also be used to boost the odds your images will appear in results. Structured data for images can improve your visibility in image search.
For images, structured data should be relevant to the page that it's on — if it's an image defined in NewsArticle schema, it must be related to the story (i.e., a story about Justin Trudeau should have an image of Canada’s prime minister in the schema). If the page is about a recipe, the image should show the completed food item.
Image URLs must be crawlable and indexable; use Google’s inspection tool to confirm.
Read more: Consult Google’s guidelines for using structured data with images for more information.
Images can generate links
The images you publish — including charts, infographics, maps and other visualizations — can generate backlinks to your site. Consider Ahrefs’ guide to building links with images for tips on link building using the work you already have. A stunning photo or compelling infographic that’s embedded on another (reputable) publication is an opportunity for a backlink — just reach out and politely ask.
The bottom line: SEO is a team effort — everyone (and every HTML element) needs to work together. Audit your image SEO while considering other on-page factors like the headline, sub-title or meta description, URL, body copy of a story and structured data on your pages.
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🖥️ Google news and updates:
Also new: Google’s Bard can now help you code?
Soon to be retired: GSC’s page experience report, the mobile usability report and the mobile-friendly testing tool will be deprecated.
Also going away: Page experience, mobile-friendly, page speed and secure sites ranking systems are being retired (John Mueller indicated page experience signals are now considered by Google as more of a "concept" vs a ranking signal).
Coming soon: Google is working on a search engine to incorporate more AI while also developing Project Magi.
🔍 Ahrefs: How SEOs can comply with accessibility rules (ADA & WCAG).
🤖 Daniel Smullen for Search Engine Journal: Using ChatpGPT for keyword research.
Elsewhere, Steve Toth shared examples of prompts he used to create SEO bookmarklets.
📖 Olaf Kopp for Search Engine Land: How Google may identify and evaluate authors through E.E.A.T.
🏆 SEO QUIZ 🏆
What percent of Google searches click on a link from the second page of search results?1 (Click to vote; answer at the bottom of the email.)
What did you think of this week's newsletter?
The answer: Less than one percent — just 0.78% — of people using Google search click on page two results.