How Can Photos Help Your Site’s SEO?

The point of good search engine optimization is to help search engines understand what your site is about. Search engine “bots” crawl sites all day long, collecting whatever information is available and drawing their own conclusions. It’s good practice to give them relevant information in as many formats as you can so that they have a complete picture.

Photos can help boost a website’s search engine rankings, if they’re optimized correctly. This is good news, because you’re probably already using photos on your website. It’s especially good news for businesses who rely heavily on photos to convey their value proposition (architecture firms, photographers, or designers).

In this post, we outline the steps to optimizing your photos for search engines.

Use the Correct Photo Format and Size

It would be great if you could use the same hi-res photo for all of your print, web, and social needs. And you can, but it will destroy your search rankings and frustrate your web visitors. Why? Because size matters.

Large file sizes and formats that were intended primarily for print take longer to load. This makes your site load more slowly, which causes your site to have a low site speed score. The lower the site speed score, the more Google can drop your search engine rankings, effectively punishing you for not having a faster site. People who do find your site will be annoyed that the images are taking so long to load, or using so much of their mobile data plan, and leave your site.

There is an easy fix, which is to save the photos for the web as JPEGs with 72 dpi resolution. You can also check the resulting file size: if it’s 1MB or larger, check your image and compression settings to see how you can reduce it further. One or two large images aren’t going to bring your site down, but if your entire photo library is 9000 px images at 300 dpi uploaded as TIFFs, it’s just a matter of time.

Strip Out Unnecessary File Info

Digital images can carry with them a wide array of file information, including where the photo was taken, the type of camera and settings used, and, especially if you’re using stock photography, pre-populated image titles and keywords. You can see this info by opening the file and viewing “File Info” or similar in your photo editing software. Delete all of the info that isn’t helpful or relevant. If you’re using a stock photograph of a skyline, the original stock photo title will likely be something like “downtown Phoenix at night from a helicopter” and the keywords could include everything from literal descriptions of what’s in the photo (“building,” “lights,” “downtown”) to colors, shapes, and emotions (“homesick,” “peaceful,” etc.). Replace that with information relevant to your use of the photo (explained below).

A note on copyrights: The file may also contain copyright information. If you obtained the photo from a stock company, follow that company’s rules about removing copyright information. If you purchased the photo from a photographer, follow the terms of your contract. Don’t assume you can delete the copyright info because you may end up violating someone’s intellectual property rights or the terms of your licenses. However, some photographers add in their contact information along with the copyright. For example, a photo file description might read “Joe Smith, architecture photography on demand | visit my website | call me at 555-555-5555.” Unless you are required by the contract to include this, delete it. Not only is it bad practice, but it can turn your website into a billboard for a vendor instead of attracting the leads you want.

Use Helpful File Names

Default image names are usually something like “IMG 4567.jpg.” This isn’t enough information for a search engine bot— or a person— to determine what the photo is about. It also doesn’t help you find specific images that have been uploaded to your website.

Instead of using default image file names, rename the image with something that helps search engines understand what it’s about and helps you find the file later. Also consider including your company name so that if someone does an image search online, they know that this image belongs to you. This also helps search engines understand the relationship between your company and the subject of the picture. If it’s a picture of a boat, the file name might be “abc-corp-boat.jpg”. If the image is for “decoration” (a textured background, a blurry image meant only to convey a sense of motion), you can use a file name that incorporates the page the photo will be on: “abc-corp-about.jpg”.

Add Relevant Titles and Descriptions

After deleting the irrelevant file information, add relevant titles, tags and descriptions back to the photo. When you upload an image into the content management system (CMS) of your website, you’ll see some form of data fields for image titles, image alt titles, and image descriptions.

The image title should be a clear and concise description of what the image is and your company name (“ABC Corp Company Boat”). The alt title can be the same as the main title, or it can be a slight variation (“New Company Boat | ABC Corp”). Descriptions should offer a more detailed description without going overboard:

  • “The new ABC Corp boat docking at Pier 20”
  • “Head shot of Joe Smith, ABC Corp CEO”
  • “Graphic explaining ABC Corp organizational structure”

If the photo is purely for decoration, don’t enter a description.

This information helps search engines understand what your site and your business are about.

Following Good SEO Practices Also Helps the Sight-Impaired

Like any SEO tactic, optimizing photos should be done with following best practices. Don’t keyword stuff, don’t add in information that doesn’t need to be there, don’t title your images with sensational titles that don’t have anything to do with your photos. It’s annoying to site visitors, it’s confusing for search engines and can drop your rankings, and it can really frustrate people with impaired vision who use assistive reading devices.

Assistive devices work somewhat similarly to search engine crawlers. They read the title and description information of photos out loud to the site visitor so that someone who can’t see the image can still understand what the photo is about. Adding irrelevant information to images makes this process more cumbersome and unpleasant for the site impaired. Imagine there is a picture of a sunset on a page for a real estate developer. “Sunset on the beach in Tampa” is very different from “High end real estate on the beach | Get views like this all year | multimillion dollar homes | Joe Smith Realtor for the Gulf Coast.” Now, imagine that every image on the site is weighed down with that kind of information bloat. That’s a terrible user experience. Keep it simple and straightforward, to help everyone have a better user experience.