How to Optimize Images for Search Engines

Jillean Kearney
Jillean Kearney
Nov 13, 2014

Optimizing images for search engines is easy to do, and it can help give your organic rankings a boost. Correctly describing images – and using proper keyword placement – in file names and alternative text fields, are easy ways to improve on-page search engine optimization. This also helps improve rankings in Google's image search, a popular search tool.

Choosing and Using the Right Images

Google rewards and ranks pages that have the most relevant and useful content. Images should be used to improve the user's experience and to enhance content. This is the very first step in using images to help out your search rankings. Once you've figured out which images to use, follow the best practices laid out below to optimize images for search. 

Naming Conventions and Format

Renaming image file names to make them easy for Google to read and understand is the first step in optimizing images for search. If Google comes across a file named "Image_02435681675," it won't know what it is or what to do with it.

A Google-friendly image file name is relevant to what the image contains. As an example – for this blog post, a search engine optimized file name would look like this: Optimizing-Images-For-Google.png.

As a best practice, keep file names between two and five words. Don't get too over zealous will long names or stuffing too many keywords into one file. Use hyphens or underscores so that Google can easily recognize distinct words.

Describing Images Using Alternative Texts

Like file names, Google uses Alternative Text, a description of the image, to understand the file's context. An Alt Text that accurately describes an image is also a best practice, in terms of user-experience, as it helps users with visual or cognitive disabilities also understand what images are used and why.

Alt texts provide another place to use keywords that you're targeting. When writing alt tags, there are some best practices to follow.

1. If an image includes text in it, the same text should appear in the Alt Text.

2. Keep it short and sweet. Alt Texts should be no shorter than five words, and no longer than fifteen words.

3. Avoid keyword stuffing. Only use a keyword once per Alt Text.

Most content management systems make it really easy to include Alt Texts, like the example below that shows a pop-up of configurable Image Properties.

You can also add Alt Text directly into your HTML by adding: alt="this is where your alt text goes" to an image tag.

Keep File Size to a Minimum

Large image files will impact how quickly a page loads. Google will penalize pages that are slow to load, as slowness reflects a less-than satisfactory user-experience. If an image file is too large, you can easily reduce the size in Photoshop or other image editing programs.

When to Utilize Photo Captions

Captions, like Alt Texts, describe an image. Also like Alt Texts, it's best to keep them short and sweet. Unlike Alt Texts, you don't really need captions.

Captions are helpful if Google can't pull content from an image file name. If Google encounters a file name like "Image_02435681675," it will take the text surrounding the image to try to learn the image's context, and sometimes Google will pull in text that's not related to the image at all.

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