Image SEO: 5 Quick-Win Secrets to Boost Traffic

As a digital content strategist I see the good, the bad, and the ugly as I consult with clients to achieve their marketing objectives. When it comes to website images, I usually see nothing but the ugly.

Invariably most of the audits I conduct return results such as below, with a preponderance of website issues related to image optimization, or more specifically the lack thereof. Image SEO – the tactic of properly optimizing your website images to gain more organic traffic – is either non-existent, an afterthought, or unheard of.



This client, like many, is missing a huge opportunity to grow their organic traffic. But there’s a more timely reason to take a fresh look at your website image SEO.

Searchmetrics, a leading enterprise SEO firm, recently released their much anticipated annual survey, “SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014 – Google US”. Buried deep within this valuable, voluminous report (page 36 to be exact) is this golden nugget:

“Even if one ignores smaller image elements, the data shows that the more pictures there are per page on average, the better the page is ranked.”

Does this mean you need to cram as many images as possible onto your web pages? No! But this specific observation highlights an actionable insight for all web masters: Low hanging fruit in the form of image SEO can provide a new source of organic traffic.  Properly optimized images helps your website rank higher in both the search engine results pages (SERPs) and Google’s image search.

Here are 5 tips to achieve quick wins with image SEO.

1. Use high quality images

Remember that Google and other search engines reward websites committed to providing the best user experience possible. Poor quality, low resolution images do not fit the description of “best user experience.”

In addition, stock images (or images that look “stocky”) rarely do the job. In a perfect world, all images would be unique. This takes the guesswork out of whether or not the image is relevant to the content. But that’s not always possible from time or resource standpoints.

Also keep in mind that if you use stock images, you’ll rarely rank on image search. Obviously Google does not want to rank multiple copies of the same tired image. This is not a user best experience.  Stock images are obvious, usually not well thought out as to their article relevance, and not deserving of high SERP rankings.

But as mentioned, many times stock photos are a necessity. If so, it’s essential to insure they are not only high quality but contextually relevant to the content.  Always ask yourself these two questions when deciding upon a stock photo:

  • Does the image match the intent of the user?
  • Does the image connect with the target user on their path to a conversion?

Canva is a great alternative to using stock images. Canva allows users to easily create enticing graphics and forgo the need for those same tired images everyone else uses.

Finally, remember that context is the key: Keep the image near the relevant text. The content around the image provides search engines information about the subject. Insure the image is placed in close proximity to the content it relates to, and ideally above the fold.

2. Create great image alt tags

A few things to keep in mind before we discuss image alt tags. First, search engine bots cannot read the text content of images. Second, detecting what an image is about is a very difficult task for a searchbot. Don’t count on a search engine’s ability to perform this. Thus, you need to create useful, descriptive and relevant text about your images. This is paramount.

So, what are image alt tags anyway, and why are they important?

Alt tags help search engine understand what’s going on. An alt tag is a text alternative to an image when a browser can’t properly render the image. When the image is rendered by the web page, you can see the descriptive text created for the image if you hover over it with your mouse pointer.  Originally created to insure accessibility for the visually impaired, alt tags were “hijacked” by SEO community as a useful tool to rank higher in the SERPs.

Here’s how to create great alt image tags:

  • Keep the targeted user in mind.
  • Be short and concise. Keep it to 7 words or 140 characters.
  • Use the focus keyword.
  • Don’t keyword stuff. Ever.
  • Describe the image.

Here’s an example: for an article about high school mountain biking in Minnesota, which is a better image alt tag for the photograph?


boy on bike

Alt= “boy on bicycle”
— OR —
Alt= “Minnesota high school mountain biker climbing hill”


The second provides a better description, context, and includes the focus keyword, Minnesota high school mountain biking.

3. Properly name your image files

Do not, I repeat do not let your camera name your image files for you. You are missing a huge SEO opportunity. Let your competitors be the lemmings, not you! Instead, take advantage of this easy SEO win and always, always, name your images with SEO in mind.

Search engines crawl website files, including image files, looking for context and clues to determine the contents of a webpage.

Which of the two file names below provides more clues and context for this image?


— OR —


The second description provides not only a better description but a keyword phrase the villa owner will want to rank for.

You can also create an image title (depending on the CMS) using the same best practices as above (though you’ll only have 55 characters to use).

4. Don’t forget semantic markup language

Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update continues to move Google search closer to the ideal of an answer engine. Semantic markup language (RDFa and JSON-LD are the two most popular types) provide structure to website data, allowing search engines to more accurately classify, curate and return more accurate results in the SERPs.  Hummingbird improved Google’s ability to determine the relationship between entities and connect the dots between them.

The concept of entity extraction is a key factor of the newly refined search engine. This term describes the process of extracting document metadata (of which alt image tags are one form) from unstructured website pages. Schema image markup language classifies website images in a manner more easily read by the search engines. It communicates to the searchbot additional information about elements on a page, like images. Because so few websites still do not understand it and thus do not use it, employing it as a tactic to gain visibility for your images is an easy win.

You can find schema markup language for images here or use this handy tool to generate it for you. You or your webmaster can then easily insert the new code into the HTML of your website.

5. Create an image site map

Google provides many helpful resources for image optimization, including this helpful guidelines page. Overlooked by many webmasters is a page detailing instructions for submitting an image sitemap.  This free tool allows webmasters to submit more information about their images to Google, allowing the search engine to more easily discern what the images are of and rank them more accurately. With the goal of having your images rank higher and thus returning more traffic, this is an easy but seldom used tactic to rank for relevant searches.


Website images reflect the unique identity of your brand or company. But to accomplish this they must be found. Your goal in deploying images is to create a better user experience than your competitors. Implement these five image SEO tips and watch your organic traffic grow.

Need more? Check out these similar blog posts: 2 New Keyword Terms Reinforce the Need for Quality WritingQuality Content is Still King: 6 Insights from SearchMetrics 2014 SEO Study

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