Search Engine Optimization or SEO is one of the most confusing and poorly understood subjects for a DIY marketer.
Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, a freelancer, a small business owner, or an artist, I’m here on Saturdays to help you figure out what you need to know, and how to do what you need to do, to improve your business website’s rankings on Google, Bing, Yahoo! and other search engines.
That’s what SEO Saturdays are all about: giving you practical, workable tips that you can then implement the following week.
We’re going to kick things off with some tips on handling and working with images on your website.
Why Use Images
There’s no question that an interesting, visually appealing image will attract more attention than the same text without an accompanying photo or image.
Using images has even more benefits, too. A quality image will enhance the perceived trustworthiness and quality of your site, based on the conclusion most users will form after viewing your site for about 2.5 seconds.
But most relevant for our discussion today (since this is SEO Saturday!), images can also enhance your site’s search engine optimization (SEO), which improves your site’s SERPs (search engine result placement) — the position your site holds for a particular relevant keyword or phrase on Google or some other search engine.
How to Use Images Correctly for Improved SEO
Use these simple tips to help you get the most SEO bang for your image bucks:
Pick the Right Size
The size of your image will affect how quickly your page loads, and the speed (or the lack of speed) in load time can affect your rankings.
If you’re working with a blog, you need to pick a maximum width measurement for each image — wide enough to make it impressive but narrow enough to allow text to wrap around if necessary. If you’re working with a static or commerce site, and the image is used to display goods for sale, you’ll most likely be working with images of a uniform size, so you’ll already have that information.
When you have the right width measurement determined, don’t simply use the WordPress “reduction” tool, or use HTML/CSS to shrink the image. This merely displays a small image after the full-sized image loads in the browser, and doesn’t do a thing to help your load time.
Instead, use Picnik, a free and easy to use web-based app that lets you resize and crop images (among many other common types of editing) while maintaining the proportions of the original file. You can then download the smaller image to your hard drive, and then upload it to your site.
Organization Tip: I’ve learned to keep my images organized over the years. I maintain a separate folder for my stock images that I get from iStockPhoto, SXC.hu, and other sites, with subfolders for subject type: People, Places, Things. You may want to tag your photos for additional ease of location.
Additionally I save all resized and cropped photos with tags added to the name. E.g., if PurpleFlowerXLarge gets cropped and shrunk down to 250 px wide, it would get saved as PurpleFlowerXSmall-Crop. This helps me locate the right version of the image without losing the larger original size, which might come in handy for ebooks or email marketing materials.
Use ALT Text Properly
For each image, make sure you specify the ALT text. WordPress, which I recommend for all my clients (for reasons that exceed the scope of this post), makes this easy. Upload the image and you’ll get a window with space for all the relevant options provided.
In ALT text, you want to describe the image. This is what’s displayed if the image doesn’t properly render in any browser, and it’s also what visually impaired people hear if they have navigating assistance enabled on their computer.
More to the point, search engines want to see good ALT text, and they reward sites who use ALT text appropriately.
For an example, the ALT text for the image accompanying this post is “Woman viewing photographs with magnifying glass.” If you can work in relevant keywords in your ALT text, do so. But don’t fudge here. Don’t put in “SEO,” for instance, if that isn’t actually in the image.
Name Your Image Files Appropriately
When you’re uploading your images, don’t name them something obscure like “IMG0000123456789.jpg.”
Instead, name them according to the contents of the image, again using keywords if appropriate to the image.
This has the additional benefit of making images much easier to work with all the way around, since you can tell from the file name what the image likely contains.
Provide a Good Caption
Think about the newspaper (if you can remember back in time that far, and are old enough — ahem). Where does your eye go on the front page? After the big-type headline, it goes to the image first, right? And then? To the caption underneath.
It’s the same with websites. Provide a good caption underneath the image, and you’ll reward your readers with what they expect to find.
Here’s a place you’re more likely to be able to use keywords, as well.
Where to Find Images
You can find great royalty-free images at many websites. I tend to stick with two primarily: iStockphoto and sxc.hu. The images at SXC.hu are free of charge, while iStockphoto requires the purchase of credits, and prices now range from a few bucks for a small file to many bucks for a big one.
Also, at iStockphoto every week, you’ll find new free files. I always make a habit of downloading the largest version of these free files. You never know what you might find useful later, and you can always resize them to a workable size with Picnik.
A final tip: always make sure to credit your images where required. And never, ever, ever take photos from someone else’s site for use on yours without permission!