Why Image SEO Needs to Be a Priority (and 9 Ways to Do It Right)

In this age of streaming video and podcasts and truncated social media messaging, your audience has come to expect a certain amount of convenience and speed in which they can consume content. And why shouldn’t they?

If there is technology readily available and web development techniques that help you create content in this manner, there’s no excuse for delivering a sub-par experience online.

This is why Kuno Creative’s infographic calling out the eight digital marketing trends likely to expire in 2018 didn’t seem all too surprising.

Image SEO - Kuno Creative Infographic
Image SEO over text-based SEO? That’s what this Kuno Creative infographic says.

The underlying message behind this infographic is that, in order to do inbound marketing better, there needs to be less of a focus on quantity and size and more on quality. For many visitors, “quality” equates to improved readability, relevance, and convenience. And, per point #8, that means spending less time crafting overdrawn pages or blog posts of text, and more time on integrating highly attractive visuals into your WordPress site that add real value to the visitors’ experience.

Today, I’d like to talk about why an image SEO strategy will make a lot more sense moving into 2018 as well as what you can do to ensure your WordPress site is full of high-quality visuals and how to optimize them for search.

Why Image SEO Needs to Be a Priority in 2018

Obviously, I’m not going to sit here and tell you to put down the SmartCrawl plugin and stop optimizing your page’s written content for search. That would be ridiculous. However, I am suggesting two things that you should start doing as you move your WordPress business into 2018:

  1. Prioritize the inclusion of visual content throughout your web development projects.
  2. Fully optimize all images and video content on your websites in terms of metadata, context, and performance.

The Importance of Image SEO from Google’s POV

It’s interesting to watch marketers wait in anticipation for Google to release its next algorithm update since what makes for a good ranking signal isn’t too much of a mystery anymore. Google’s goal is and has always been to create a search engine that delivers the very best results to its users. And the very best results tend to come in the form of high-quality pages that deliver relevant responses to search queries.

Google does a great job of explaining how exactly this algorithm works:

“As well as matching keywords, algorithms look for clues to measure how well potential search results give users what they are looking for. When you search for ‘dogs’ you likely don’t want a page with the word ‘dogs’ on it hundreds of times. We try to figure out if the page contains an answer to your query and doesn’t just repeat your query. So Search algorithms analyze whether the pages include relevant content — such as pictures of dogs, videos, or even a list of breeds.”

As you can see, it’s no longer about whether or not a web page has a well-composed response to a search query. It’s about whether or not a web page has the right type of content to answer it.

Back in 2012, Google introduced improvements to Google Image Search. At the time, adjustments to the algorithm favored certain conditions under which visual assets interacted with web pages:

  1. Web pages that included very high-quality and relevant images received a boost. Even if the page itself was not well-received, quality image assets could positively affect the page ranking.
  2. High-quality web pages that included image assets also received a boost. In this case, images would get a boost in Image Search so long as there were no issues with resolution or performance.

As you can see, Google treated images and page content as having a sort of symbiotic relationship with one another. In other words, both were needed to build the ideal landing page; when one fell short, the other could pick up the slack.

Since then, Google has tweaked the algorithm further, focusing on high-quality web pages that deliver high-quality visual assets along with them. Neither are allowed to shirk their responsibilities.

With Google now claiming 64.8% of all search market share, it looks like these changes to provide truly relevant and quality results to its users are paying off. While Google Images Search dropped in usage slightly this year (down to 21.8%), it is still one of the most popular types of search people use online–which is why we need to talk about image SEO from your users’ point-of-view.

The Importance of Image SEO from Your Users’ POV

If Google’s inclusion of images and videos as ranking signals isn’t enough to convince you to bolster your image SEO strategy this year, let me share some user research that may:

  • Web pages that include images or videos on them receive 94% more impressions than pages containing only text.
  • Google Image Search isn’t just for browsing. In fact, 63% of people who look up images using that search feature will consequently visit the source web page.
  • Over 75% of marketing professionals and business owners claim that video content has had a positive impact on their business.
  • HubSpot research found that videos are the most thoroughly consumed type of content with 55% of all users watching a video in full and 32% skimming through it.
Image SEO - HubSpot Content Consumption
HubSpot research shows that video content is in high demand (for good reason).

In other words, there is huge user demand for visual content and Google will reward your website in kind when images and videos are used to enhance the user experience. So, that’s where you need to start: by using visual content correctly.

Think about the most common places where you include (or should include) visual content on your WordPress site:

By using visuals where they increase the value of the user experience, then you’re one step ahead. Ideally, they should exist to lessen the work your users have to do to understand the entire page’s content. A well-chosen image or well-composed video can speak volumes to a page’s (and brand’s) overall message and may get the point across or teach your users something they didn’t already know better than a page full of text might.

In addition, using high-quality visuals on your WordPress site provides new backlinking opportunities. Think about all the times you’ve seen someone’s photographs, web graphics, and even tables or charts full of data embedded on other people’s sites. Create that high-quality visual content and make it so undeniably attractive that people not only want to click on it in search, but they want to share it with others too.

The Right Way to Do Image SEO for Your WordPress Site

Now, we get to the SEO piece. Image SEO, video SEO, visual content SEO… whatever you want to call it, you need to cover all your bases. It’s not enough to upload an image or embed a video on your site. Google needs more than that if you expect it to rank.

So, here’s what you need to do to optimize visual content for search:

1. Review for Quality
If you’re going to the trouble of adding new visuals to your WordPress site, make sure it’s worth it. Whether your goal is to rank higher in search or simply appeal more to visitors to consume your content, these visuals need to be done well and add something extra to the experience. This means avoid using images that are blurry, poorly cropped, unclear, offensive, too small, and so on.

2. Optimize for All Screens
You already know to do this, but I’ll reiterate for the sake of being thorough: any image placed on your website needs to be responsive and retina-ready.

3. Check the Dimensions

Image SEO - Google Image Search dimensions
Look at all these happy kitten photos in Google Image Search! Squares and horizontally-aligned rectangles abound!

If you look in Google Image Search results, you’ll find the majority of images there have similar dimensions. They’re almost always wider than they are tall (except in the case of infographics, of course). If I had to take a guess, I’d say the ideal image dimensions Google prefers are those styled as a perfect square or a rectangle with a ratio of about 4:3.

Really, though, so long as they fit the width of the space in which you aim to place them, and they don’t force any unnecessarily large white spaces or odd text breaks, you should be fine.

4. Watch the File Size

Image SEO - Smush Plugin Statistics
If you use the Smush Pro plugin, you won’t have to think about your image file sizes; it’ll do the work for you.

Your image file size shouldn’t be too large, but it shouldn’t be too small either (for the sake of visibility and resolution). Refer to WPMU DEV’s image optimization guide for tips on how to hit that Goldilocks sweet spot.

5. Assess Your Page Rank
Before adding an image or video asset to an already existent web page, review that page’s rank in search.

As I noted earlier, Google has updated its algorithm to reward pages with high-value content and that also contain high-quality images. While placing a relevant image on a lower-ranked page might help give it a boost in rankings, you’d be better off leveraging the power of a page that already ranks well to give your new visual content extra exposure in search.

6. Populate the Metadata

Image SEO - Populate Image Metadata
The WordPress Media uploads module make populating image metadata a breeze.

Once you’ve optimized your content files and determined where the ideal placement for them is on the site, update the metadata with your focus keyword in the following spots:

  • File name
  • Alt tag (this is what users who have accessibility obstacles will use to “read” your images, so this one is especially important)
  • Image description
  • Image caption

For videos, you won’t be able to optimize them on your website unless you upload them directly to your media folder (which isn’t ideal). So, if you’re hosting them off-site on YouTube, remember to optimize the video content there just as you would if it were on the WordPress site.

7. Place in the Right Context
Back in 2010, the Nielsen Norman Group did a study on image content and how users respond to it. One of the most interesting points they made was this:

“The commonality across all of these examples (and thousands more in our other studies) is that users pay attention to information-carrying images that show content that’s relevant to the task at hand. And users ignore purely decorative images that don’t add real content to the page.”

This message still holds true today: don’t waste your users’ time. Give them images that actually contribute to the experience and enhance their understanding of, comfortability with, or emotional connection to your brand.

Also, be sure that the context around the image supports this relevance. This means that surrounding text should reference the related visuals. The page title and slug should also connect to the visual content as well (usually through the use of the shared focus keyword).

8. Add a Transcript

Image SEO - Moz Video Transcription
Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos always come with a handy video transcription down below.

For content like infographics, videos, or podcasts, add a transcript below. This gives users flexibility in how they interact with your content and also improves the search engine’s ability to figure out what the embedded content is really about.

9. Submit a New Site Map
And just to make sure Google knows that you added this highly relevant and high-quality image or video content to your WordPress site, create a separate XML sitemap and send it out for indexing.

Wrapping Up

As Kuno Creative noted in their 2017 infographic, a text-based SEO strategy just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Your visitors want more images and videos readily available on your WordPress site. And this isn’t about them being lazy or not wanting to read your content. They wouldn’t visit your site if that were the case.

No. Instead, images and videos serve to more efficiently and effectively communicate with your visitors. Images are great for entertaining, educating, and eliciting a certain response from visitors when placed in the right context. Videos, on the other hand, can tell visitors what a specific service or product is all about or even how it works much more quickly than five paragraphs full of technical jargon can.

Now is the time to optimize your image SEO strategy for 2018 and get those visuals front-and-center on your WordPress site, right where Google and your users want them.

Suzanne Scacca
Have you ever Googled yourself or one of your client’s businesses and been surprised to find an image or video from the website show up in search?