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Small Business Owners Guide to Image Optimization

Have you ever been to a website or read a blog post, and there were no images? I can’t honestly think of a place, other than some informational forums, that didn’t have pictures all over.


As much as we all try to downplay or admit it, appearance is everything! We are visual, and this influences us and has an undeniable impact on what our brain envisions.

First impressions are formed usually without a word spoken and based solely on what the eyes take in. Most information we consume is through what we see, not what we read or hear.

A Man and Woman talking about SEO
A Man and Woman Talking

The average man speaks 7,000 words and the average woman about 20,000. If we use the higher amount, that means we talk about 222 minutes at a slower than usual pace. Less than four hours every day is spent talking while at least 10 hours a day is spent visually taking in the world.

One could assume that imagery is at least twice as important as the spoken word. Shouldn’t we spend a lot more time optimizing that for success?

We can get the sense of a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Visuals are processed 60,000X faster in mind than text. Forty percent of nerve fibers link to the retina.

Nothing is worse than going to a big image website and waiting for 7 seconds for those images to load. We don’t, 30% of people bounce away after 5 seconds of loading.

Image Optimization, do we really need It?

If images are so important, then why don’t we spend more time optimizing them? A great question that is answered simply by we don’t enjoy doing it and we don’t know how to do it. Hopefully, I have given you enough of a reason and now let’s move to what is image SEO and how to do image SEO.

Image SEO has the same goal as all other factions of SEO, to get the best rankings we can in search engines. Just like blog posts or website pages, search engines try to understand them and how they will help searchers. Google is also using images in actual search pages as well so if you want more real estate on page one read up.

Why should you care?

For me, the main two reasons to care about Image Optimization are driving website traffic and helping webpages rank higher through conversion rate optimization and time on site. You can drive people to your website through images in Google Images and showing up in Google Search. Pages with images are just more enjoyable and help convert visitors into clicks.

Steps of Image Optimization for SEO:

Start by naming images correctly and adding keywords to the names when proper. Your image names should be descriptive and yet as short as possible. Use naming conventions that will help future developers of your website; know what you are trying to accomplish with the picture. Use three to five words and use dashes in between words. I think when appropriate use keywords as well but never stuff the name inappropriately.

All images need the alt attribute (commonly called alt text or alt tag) which is designed to help those that can’t see, understand the picture. It also is a backup if the site can’t be loaded correctly as the alt attribute will be displayed. The key is working in a keyword or synonym while reasonably explaining the photo. The SEO value is low, but for User Experience, it is very important.

The title attribute gives search engines an idea about the context of the picture. The title is also displayed when someone hovers over the image. Sometimes a Call To Action here can drive some extra conversions. The title of the picture should help the alt text in explaining it so make sure they both have the same relevance.

Use image captions when possible in a post or page. Just like natural SEO, Google understands that proximity is important, and those words around your picture better help explain it. If the page is about red corvettes, the image is a red corvette, and your caption is red corvette, Google has a pretty good idea what the picture means.

pictures are used for website SEO
Pictures make a website beautiful and are good for SEO

Choose the proper image dimensions. Don’t upload a 5000px by 5000px image for 250 x 250 picture. It just stands to reason that it will take way too long to load. Make sure you understand what the proper image size is and do it locally before uploading it. While many CMS’s automatically resize the images, I always want to be in control of the size.

Reduce image file size by compressing the image. Generally speaking, you can reduce the size of the picture by 50% without degrading the quality. Compressing images, of course, depends on what your website’s topic is. If you are a photographer selling images, you may not want to reduce or compress anything.

Use the right file type when creating your pictures. Here are some general image optimization SEO guidelines for the file type. Choose JPEG for more substantial files as it gives you decent results with smaller file size.

If you need transparency in the background of a photo, png is the way to go.

Use WebP when possible as it produces higher quality with smaller file size.

SVG’s are best for logos and icons. You can manage SVGs with CSS and JS and resize them without a loss of quality.

Use an image sitemap to help image optimization. By creating and publishing an image sitemap, you are helping Google find all your images in one place. Anytime you make it easier for search engines they generally like to rank you. A sitemap also helps tell Google that you have new images to be crawled along with showing image importance.

Use personal images when possible! While sometimes we need to use stock photos, the likelihood other websites have used them is high. Personal photos add a new touch and a higher level of caring that shows through. I can’t think of a worse trust signal than having stock photos in the meet the team or about me sections. I use quite a few stock images on my posts because I find it hard to get images for SEO posts. I also try to find images I have not seen before and aren’t used everywhere.

Personal Images help Website SEO
Personal Images help SEO

A sneaky way to use image optimization locally is to add the geolocation of the image for local SEO help. If you are taking pictures in the area and you also service the same area, you can geo-locate those pictures which shows local relevance to the search engines. It also really helps people see what the locality is about and can drive traffic.

When you provide information to your audience, they may share it on social media. Open Graph (OG) and Twitter Cards help your audience share the post by automatically having a picture optimized for social media. You also have a little more control over what image is displayed when you fill out these cards and optimize the photos for them.

Google images support Structured Data or Schema Markup through the use of other properties. For instance, recipe schema has features like an image and cook time. Product schema can have reviews, prices, and pictures. That helps Google understand what the picture is about and how to rank it. It is also very important for organic visitors to see these in the search engine pages.

website speed and fast image loading for seo
Website speed and fast image loading are good for SEO

While not directly changing an image, there are three things you can do to speed up images loading in a browser.

First, enable browser caching on static webpages. If you don’t plan on making many changes to the page caching allows the browser to store those images, thus reducing the time to load.

Next use a CDN. CDN’s are located all over the world or even in multiple locations within the United States. Since these servers are closer to you, they will load images much faster. I use Cloudflare and am happy, but there are many more out there.

Finally, use Lazy loading, which is the loading of photos only when your browser needs them. Imagine you have a considerable-sized post and your client has just started reading it. There is no reason to load the image at the bottom of the post, so lazy loading waits until the browser is closer to the image to load. Loading later means your page loads faster at the beginning.

There you have it. An image checklist that will be having you optimizing images like an SEO pro. The goal of putting this together is to help small business owners optimize things within their control. Your time is spent optimizing the business, not images on your website. You could hand this over to a junior or use the checklist to make sure your SEO is doing the job correctly.

David J Forer
Copyright 2020 | David J Forer | Small Business SEO Services