The Internet is a visual hub. With a quick Google search alone you’re able to pull up hundreds of thousands of images that relate to a few keywords. But on your site, are you optimizing your images for just the search results page?

The way we search is changing. Google’s algorithms are starting to rely on more than just keywords and links to decide where you fall in the search results. These new algorithms are looking for whether or not you’re answering your consumer’s questions. It’s becoming more about the user experience. When you start thinking about how your site’s visitors are searching – what problem they’re looking to solve – you can begin to offer them solutions with how you design, market, and publish your site and blogs.

When you start doing that, expect to see better search results AND better conversions. Start your optimization by focusing on your website’s images, which you can break down into three easy steps:

  • Thinking like a user
  • Properly using tags and sources
  • Uploading high quality images that are the right size and format

Let’s get started!

Be the User, Ask Questions

Getting into a user’s mindset starts with a mini-self evaluation. Ask yourself, “What service do I provide?” or, “What problem would I be solving for a customer?” Now think about the answer to those questions in more general terms. If you weren’t familiar with your company and services, but you were looking for a solution to your problem, what questions would you ask?

This is how a potential customer will most likely search for you, by using the question they’re trying to answer. The idea of these searches is not a new one. Search engine queries are not as Boolean-esque as they once were. They’re now more semantic.

These phrases can help you create strong image tags, while this user-centric mindset can play into other parts of your posts. Let’s use an example.

Create An Experience

Say you’re selling a house in a historic neighborhood and you want to upload pictures of the house on your site. (We’re going to list the house in the fictional neighborhood of West Oz). One of the first things you should do is think about what images customers want to see of the house. You’re going to want to highlight the granite countertops in the kitchen, the luxurious claw-foot tub in the master bath, and the beautifully manicured backyard and patio space.

Historic West Oz HomesMultiple shots like this provide value. You’ve just painted a picture of what this home is like before your site’s visitors have even stepped inside. That is image optimization in terms of user experience.

Labeling Your Images

Now, let’s talk search engine optimization. All of those images of the house in West Oz should be labeled. Using the generalized name given to your photo by your camera won’t do squat for your image’s search engine potential. Instead of having the name “IMAGE20.jpg,” use descriptors of what’s in the image to label it, like “West-Oz-House-Kitchen.” You could even go more generalized to cast a wider net, with a label like “Historic-West-Oz-Homes.”

It might not be a bad idea to try using some different keywords and search on your own, just to see what will come up. If you decide to search some of your top picks of favorite phrases, search using an Incognito Tab. That way, you’ve got a clean-search-slate, as your old searches will not influence your new searches by using your past viewing history.

Courtesy of GuidingTech

Courtesy of GuidingTech

Use Alt Tags

Right up there with strong labels comes the strategic use of Alt Tags. If an image doesn’t load properly, an alt tag acts as a text alternative. You can see an image’s alt tag when you left click on it and choose “Inspect” in your browser.

Courtesy of Shopify

Courtesy of Shopify

When a search engine like Google crawls through your website’s pages, it will pick up these source tags and will classify the image and index it. Using that information, Google will analyze if the image is a duplicate, therefore deciding based on these factors how it will be ranked in the image search results.

Translation? You should always label your image’s alt tags. Every. Single. Image. (Minus decorative images that are non-product related). Those descriptors shouldn’t be flowery or fluffed up. This is not the time or place for keywording. If you’re selling a product, throw in the serial numbers or model numbers. For the house in West Oz, something like alt=”Historic West Oz House Kitchen” will suffice.

Image Quality, File Format, and Size Matter

One of the biggest killers of your website’s performance is load time. One in four people will give up on a webpage if it takes more than four seconds to load. It gets worse when we look at mobile. If a mobile shopping site takes more than 3 seconds to load, 40% of American shoppers will say “sayonara.” Ouch.

Not surprisingly, the size of your website’s images can affect your site’s load speed. And load speed (which is another factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, FYI) is a big deal. You can help your images load faster by simply resizing them. The suggested image size is to stay below 70kb.

If you don’t have Photoshop, here is some other online photo editing tools to look into:

Choosing Between JPEGs, GIFs, & PNGs

One of the last things to consider with your images is what file format to upload them in. If you’re trying to keep the file size low, JPEG images are the universal Internet standard. They maintain their overall quality even when compressed, making resizing not as much of an issue. The JPEG format is commonly used for real-life photographs and still images, but since it uses a lossy compression, you will lose a small amount of information each time you open or save it.

GIFs, in comparison, are not as fancy. They do a great job for simple images, small icons and animations, but once an image’s colors and pixels get more complicated, GIFs start to fall flat.

PNGs are starting to become the Web’s unsung hero, as more and more images are saved in this format. Unlike GIFs, PNGs support a wide range of colors. When compared to JPEGs, PNGs perform better when being re-saved. They are great for flat images or logos, and web graphics that need to maintain transparency. But a word to the wise; there are two file formats for PNGs: PNG-8 and PNG-24. Just be aware that the PNG-24 is a whopping 3 times larger than the PNG-8.

Here’s a simple way to deduce what file format you should be using, courtesy of Google:

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google

Now What?

Once you’ve gotten image optimization down, the next step is to take a good hard look at how your site’s doing in other areas of SEO and user experience. Take a look at our 2016 SEO Checklist to find other ways to make your site work harder for you. If you’re looking to optimize your user experience potential even further, let’s talk.

2016 SEO checklist