If you’re a photographer, artist, graphic or web designer, stylist, interior designer, or anybody with a visual brand, you probably have a boatload of graphics to share your work.

But aside from Instagram — what’s the best way to make sure that your images are working for you? Specifically, what SEO tactics can you use to get your images to show up in Google Image search results?

5 factors to consider when optimizing your photos & images for search:

How to save and name images for SEO

The first thing to consider when you’re thinking about image SEO: what’s the file name that you’re using to upload your images?

Often when we get our pictures from our camera over to our what our computers it ends up being IMG 2789.jpg, or if you’re creating images and sharing them with clients, the version is like final-final-FINAL.v2.9.jpg (no shame, we’ve all been there!)

We don’t want to actually upload those file names to our websites. Instead, we want to make it clear to Google what’s in the pic. So rename your file before you upload it to your website and make it something like fall-wedding-Portland-main.jpg. And that way by using the dashes, Google knows each one of those as a separate word, instead of seeing fallweddingPortlandMaine as one word.

If you have more than one picture, for example if you photographed a wedding and you have 20 different pictures from that wedding, you can actually just create fall-wedding-Portland-01, -02, etc. or you can say this is fall-wedding-Portland-ring fall-wedding-Portland-couple. Find some different ways to still make sure that Google knows exactly what’s happening in that image. Differentiate your file names in a way that makes sense to you and makes it clear to Google what they’re going to see in that image.

2. Image file type (jpg, png or gif) for SEO

Another thing to think about before you upload any images to your website is what type of file they are. Here are some quick rules:

  • JPG/JPEG: complex images with no text; best for a photograph
  • PNG: best for digital design project or anything with transparent backgrounds, images with text, and anything that has a logo on it
  • GIF: animations (these load faster than PNGs but have max 256 colors)

So if you’re a photographer, and you want to have really high resolution pictures on your website, they should probably be JPEGs. Or if you’re an interior designer, and you have renderings that show a lot of crisp detail, those should also probably be JPEGs.

f you’ve created something in Photoshop, or if you are working with line drawings or sketches, you probably want to upload those files as PNGs. They’ll load quicker on the website, they’re easier for people to look at quickly.

The other file type that I often see people using and maybe not using it quite correctly, are GIFs, which are best for animations. So if you’re putting it in a Facebook thread to respond to somebody, use a GIF. Otherwise, when you’re uploading to your website, you should probably be uploading as a JPEG or a PNG.

3. Image file size impacts load time (a huge SEO factor)

The most important SEO factor for your images is load time, so you need to balance image resolution vs. file size.

Consider how wide the theme of your website is, and then make that the maximum width. Or if you’re not sure you can go look up what’s the maximum width for Shopify sites. And that will also give you that information my site; for example, the maximum width is 1080 pixels. And often when I’m exporting things from Photoshop, the maximum size is 2560 pixels. And so it’s twice as big as it needs to be for it to look good on my website! And when things are twice as big as they need to be every pixel takes a little bit longer to load. So it could decrease the load time of my website, and make people less likely to stay on that website make Google less likely to share that image.

So you want to make sure that the file size of your image is the exact file size maximum that you need. You don’t need to upload the giant 20MB files, the smaller they are, the better they are if you have a ton of images that you’ve already uploaded to your website, and you’re concerned that they might be slowing down your page. But you don’t want to have to go through and re upload all of your images. T

If you’re uploading to Shopify or to Squarespace, it will automatically compress those files for you (maybe not as small as you would have done yourself as you were uploading but still better than nothing).

If you’re on WordPress, here are some image compression plugins that you can use that will go through your existing website, all of the images and start to compress them for you:

Everything I’ve discussed so far has been about how to get your images ready for uploading. But once they get onto your website, once you finally get those into the media library, you have to think about how to explain to Google what is in those images. And the two ways that you can do that is your alt text and your captions:

4. Alt text: your SEO image description

Alt text is short for alternative text; it’s the text that shows up when the image doesn’t load. So if you have something that breaks on your site, it will kind of just have that little pixel right there that says there supposed to be an image here. And it will show the alt text as the alternative to the image.

When you’re thinking about your alt text think: “How would I describe this to somebody who can’t see it?” And part of that is that Google’s robots can’t actually see the image, they do have some machine learning technology to help them figure it out. But for the most part, they’re relying on you to say, this is a picture of a dog or this is a picture of a cat, it might be able to figure it out.

There are people who are in your audience who may have visual impairments, they may be using screen readers. So you can use your alt text to show them this is what you would see in this image. It’s really great for accessibility, and it helps people who are in your audience to understand the entire story that you’re trying to tell.

Your alt text should be written almost like a sentence like a conversation, we don’t need to put in the dashes of fall-wedding-Portland the way that we do for our filenames. This can be sort of an explanation. You can say “photo of wedding in October 2019, of a couple looking out at the sunrise,” tell a story in the alt text and explain what’s happening in your own words.

Try to fit some of your keywords in your alt text. If that was a picture from a fall wedding, in Portland, then you can still include that information. You can also include things like this is where this photo was taken this is you can even do the type of lens that you’re using. If you’re an artist, you can say, you know, this is oil on canvas, and the the canvas size is 18 by 24.

The alt text is really what’s going to get your image into Google image search, so a good exercise would be to Google your target keyword, look through the Google Images and see what’s showing up. And that might give you a good idea of the types of things that other people are using for their alt text.

5. Image captions for SEO

Unlike alt text (which is only visible in code), our captions are actually visible to the users on your website, usually they show up right below your image. So think of it almost like the tag that’s next to a piece of art in a gallery., which artists use this for their credit line and material selection.

Same with a website portfolio! You can include tons of details in the alt text (client name, year, project scope). But then when people are actually scrolling through the portfolio, you may want to simplify the caption to something brief like “WordPress website for nutritionist,” something that kind of gives the context for what’s going on in the picture. But you don’t have to go into as much detail there.

Social media benefits of Image SEO

In addition to the accessibility benefits of filling out your alt text and your captions, the alt text is the default text used for social sharing. So when a user shares an image from your site to Pinterest, the default text will be your alt text.

If possible, make sure that your alt texts and your captions are unique for every image. Sometimes this is a little hard if you’re showing a series of images of the same project or product; for example, if you’re a stylist & your image gallery is showing an outfit that you’re wearing; you want to show it from the front and the back, close up on the jewelry, boot details, etc.

If you’re showing the similar images in slideshow or a carousel, this can be a little bit stressful to try to get something a little bit different in each of those. Even though you can have a string of keywords that’s similar through them — like “spring outfit for corporate woman” — each of the images in the carousel are there for a reason. Each of those detail shots could get a little bit more information about what specifically is in that image for the alt text and caption of that image (“feather earrings for spring work outfit”) within the entire carousel portfolio.

Do I have to optimize every image on my site?

If this feels like a lot of extra work, especially if you’re in a highly visual field where you’re uploading tons and tons of images all the time, I want to give you a little bit of peace of mind here: You don’t have to optimize every single image on the site, only the things that are your brand.

If you have a blog post and you want to include a stock image, you don’t have to write an alt text caption for stock images! If you don’t want it to show up in Google search, don’t bother with alt text.

But any piece of visual content that is unique to your brand, your photos, your case studies your portfolio, you want to make sure that it is something that people can look for and find from your website.

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