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How Visuals Help SEO and Boost Your Rank: Quality Content Series Part 8

If you want to tell a good digital story and truly connect with your audience, visual elements are a necessity.

Visuals increase people’s willingness to read your content by 80 percent and can help communicate your message in a more memorable way. Most importantly, visuals can increase the time a user spends on your site and reduce the bounce rate.

According to Backlinko, “Multimedia helps you boost those user-interaction signals that Google has been paying more attention to. And it increases the perceived value of your content — which means that people are more likely to link to it.”

Overall, strong visuals boost the quality of your content, which both search engines and your audience will notice and appreciate. In this post, we’ll show you what types of visuals to use, when to use them and how to optimize images for a better chance at ranking.

Types of visuals for content marketing

What exactly do we mean when we say visuals?

In the world of content marketing, visuals encompass any asset that is not text. The visual may include text, but it’s usually captured in some form of a photo, graphic, media or interactive element.

In some cases, the visual may be the focus of a piece of content. For example, you may want to host an infographic on a blog page and only include a short introduction of copy with a couple of important keywords. Or you may upload a video to your Facebook page.

Popular types of visual formats include:

  • Header images for blogs
  • Images highlighting key quotes from copy
  • Original photography
  • Screenshots (often used when providing instructions)
  • Graphs, charts and other images that highlight data and stats
  • Infographics (used for a variety of purposes, but especially helpful for communicating complex information)
  • GIFs and memes
  • Audio and videos (including live, recorded, motion graphic and animated videos)
  • Interactive elements such as a quiz, game, calculator, map, etc.

Check out this great post from Content Marketing Institute with more ideas for incorporating visuals into your content marketing.

The benefit of original visuals

You may have noticed that I did not include stock photography on the list above. Understandably, many businesses rely on stock photography when resources are limited. Yes, it’s better than nothing and you can still optimize stock photos to appear in search results. (Just make sure the photo has the proper rights.) But photos and images original to your brand set you apart from your competitors.

Custom images will enhance your brand’s unique personality and make your content more readable. Using images to break up copy helps draw users in to read more of your content and boosts time spent on the page. And when you use visuals to educate users about a topic in your industry, your brand becomes a stronger authority on that subject. You’ll also have a greater variety of content to use in email campaigns and paid promotions.

When to use visuals in your content marketing

It’s safe to say that the answer is: Always.

There’s been so much research done about the power of visuals in content marketing, it almost seems silly if you do any marketing without visuals.

Video, especially, is a content type creating a massive impact on the digital world. In 2016, digital advertising spend surpassed that of TV for the first time, and Cisco projects that global internet traffic from videos will make up 80 percent of all internet traffic by 2019.

But take care: Just because visuals are powerful doesn’t mean you’ll see better results by tacking on a stock photo to a blog post.

Every visual should have a purpose.

Whether it’s a video with instructions on how to use a product, an image highlighting a key quote or a chart displaying information from a brand-sponsored survey, your visuals should be useful and enhance your communication with readers.

Start with a visual content marketing strategy:

1. Outline your resources. Do you have a graphic designer? A video editor? A front-end developer? Is there an opportunity to outsource or hire internally? Or do you have access to tools such as Venngage or Canva that can help you get the job done?

2. Identify and list visual content that has performed well in the past. How can you improve or emulate those assets? Is there content you can repurpose into something new, such as turning your latest webinar into an infographic? If you haven’t ventured into using certain visual formats, think about what formats would resonate with your audience and make sense for your brand.

3. Define a purpose for each visual format. This ensures all your visuals are used for a reason. For instance, this year you may decide to use videos to explain the origin of some of your products. Or you might create a series of charts to highlight data from a recent study you conducted.

4. Create a timeline. Once you’ve determined your resources and the visuals you want to create, set realistic deadlines to complete and publish these projects.

5. Determine your KPIs. How do you want to determine the success of your visual content? Maybe you want more social media engagement (likes, shares, comments), or perhaps you want more web traffic or a higher conversion rate. Record these KPIs to analyze the performance for future visual content planning.

Having a strategy in place will ensure you’re using visuals that are meaningful to your brand and that will deliver the results you’re looking for.

How to optimize images for SEO

SEO isn’t just a text game. If your image ranks in Google’s image search, you’ll have an even higher chance of getting users to click through to your web page.

It’s especially worth optimizing those images for search if your business sells a highly visual product or service, or if you have original images that are better than your competitors’. Images that demonstrate data and could be linked to or cited are also worth optimizing.

Depending on the search query, an “image pack” may appear near the top of the page. MozCast shows that 12.5 percent of web searches on Google contain an image pack like this:

Google-image-pack-example-wall-stenciling

If you sold wall stencils and users conduct a web search for the product, this would be a great place to have your images appear. One third of all searches on Google occur on Google image search, so this is an important opportunity for your content to rank! Next we’ll cover some of the basic photo optimization best practices.

Note: While ranking in image search is awesome, you’ll have a better chance if your webpage already ranks high on the SERP.

Image file name

Do not leave a photo’s original file name (like IMG-205.jpg). Depending on what you want to rank for, you should either place the keyword or the main subject of the photo first. That way, Google is able to identify what the photo is about.

Instead, include a simple but informative description to set this image apart from others. If you sell wall stencils and label all your images as stencil-1, stencil-2, etc., then it’s less helpful to search engines. Rather, add differentiating terms. For example, wall-stencil-floral-nature.jpg.

By the way, there’s no rhyme or reason why you should use dashes, but Google’s Matt Cutts once explained that there’s a minor improvement if you use dashes in file names. Even if the improvement is minor, by golly, we’ll use them.

ALT attribute tags

Think of the ALT tag as the text that would replace your image in search results. This text appears when hovering over an image, when there are issues rendering the image and for the seeing- and hearing-impaired.

The ALT tag is also helpful for SEO. Search engines can’t see your photo, so they use the ALT tag text to understand what your image is and how to rank it.

The text is generally fewer than 125 characters, but should be descriptive and include your target keywords. However, similar to on-page SEO, you’ll want to avoid keyword stuffing in your ALT tag. Write the description as if helping your audience understand your image.

Image placement

Once you have images to include in your content, upload them into your CMP and place them in the appropriate places on your page.

A Blogpros study looked at 100 high-ranking posts and found that the posts averaged one image every 350 words. But take this with a grain of salt.

What it comes down to, and what it always comes down to, is the user experience. Do the images enhance your message and help readers, or are you including visuals for the sake of having visuals?

Google partnered with SOASTA, a performance and analytics company, to predict conversions and bounce rates using machine learning. Their research provided insight into the number of visuals to use in a piece of content:

“In our research, we found that the number of images on a page was the second greatest predictor of conversions. Consider this: On a typical retail page, graphic elements such as favicons, logos, and product images can easily comprise up to two-thirds (in other words, hundreds of kilobytes) of a page’s total weight. The result: cumulatively slow page loads throughout a session. In fact, we found sessions that converted users had 38% fewer images than sessions that didn’t convert.”

Images have the potential to become distracting and useless. Especially because images can slow load time, use visuals carefully and meaningfully.

Image size and page load speed

Images are a common culprit for slow page loading times. It’s a big deal! So it’s helpful to understand best practices for image sizing and compression to help page speed.

According to Google, 40 percent of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And 79 percent of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they’re less likely to purchase from the same site again. If a user has to wait too long to get to your page, you’ll see a much higher bounce rate, which could affect your page rank.

The key for images is to find an optimal size without losing quality, according to Search Engine Journal. You can change the size of an image by resizing and/or compressing it, but make sure the image doesn’t lose pixels and become distorted.

Adobe Photoshop’s “Save for Web” functionality is a helpful tool. “Within Photoshop, you can resize the image before saving it, making the file size more appropriate for user experience,” explains Search Engine Journal. “Photoshop has presets for you to choose image quality, ranging from 1.38MB to 86k. Generally, somewhere in the middle will not affect resolution or increase page load speed.”

You can also use free online tools to resize and compress images.

Worth 1,000 words

Incorporating visuals and properly optimizing them for Google image search will give your content an SEO boost and create a better experience for your audience. Expertly created, original visuals may also be valuable enough to earn backlinks and increase your website’s overall authority.

Brands are getting more and more creative with the use of non-text visual elements to share messages with their audiences. Whether you have a strong stash of visuals or are just beginning, it will be well worth the effort.


This post is part of the Brandpoint Quality Content Series, which analyzes how Google assesses quality content and how you can get your pages to appear higher in search results.

Part 1: What is High-Quality Content?
Part 2: Google Search Quality Guidelines: What is E-A-T?
Part 3: Are High-Quality Links Important for SEO?
Part 4: How to Create Readable Content
Part 5: How to Create Comprehensive Content
Part 6: Duplicate vs. Original Content
Part 7: Latent Semantic Indexing and Long-tail Keywords
Part 8: How to Optimize Images and Visuals for SEO
Part 9: Content Freshness and Generating New Topics
Part 10: SEO Success Stories

January 9, 2018

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