The ultimate guide to image SEO



It’s well-known that a firm grasp of SEO best practices can play a significant part in growing your business and getting your brand’s name out there.

A combination of careful research, a strong social media presence, and strategic use of keywords throughout your copy can dramatically increase the visibility of your brand, making it more familiar, more searchable and, with any luck, more successful.

Of course, visual media is an important part of any marketing campaign. Yet while many brands create eye-catching, impactful visual content, they all too often fail to capitalize on its full potential.

From enhancing blog posts with visual content to boosting sales with optimized ecommerce images, SEO is a powerful tool. As such, it is essential not to overlook this element of your marketing strategy if you hope to stay ahead of your competitors. To bring you up to speed, here’s a rundown of the hows and whys of image SEO, and some tips on how to implement it successfully in your content.

Image SEO – What’s it all about?

As with any other form of SEO, the overarching aim is to improve your site’s ranking on search engines. This occurs not only because you’ve structured your content around some carefully researched keywords, but also due to a combination of other factors.

One of these is the ease with which crawlers are able to navigate and index your site. Broken links and poorly structured or irrelevant content can bring down your rankings. Meanwhile, carefully chosen imagery with smart use of captions and alt text serve to make your content more accessible, more useful, and easier to interpret in searches. As a result, thoughtful image optimization can give your onsite SEO a major boost.

Everything from the file name to the dimensions of the image can play a part in this process. After all, great design is not just about searchability, but usability too. And image SEO takes these principles on board.

Avoid stock photography

One of the reasons images can impact the visibility of your website is that search engines can perform image searches. By extension, it is also possible for search engines to recognize unique visual content in comparison to stock images.

Of course, stock photography has its uses, and it is not always viable to source your own imagery. However, using unique, high-quality images throughout your website – and particularly on your landing pages – will help your content to stand out, both to your customers and to search engines.

If you’re running an online store, image optimization becomes even more important. After all, if you only have stock imagery instead of your own product photos, your website will be less authoritative, and you are less likely to win the trust of your audience. In addition, if a user searches for that product, your page is less likely to stand out in search results if it uses the same images as competitors.

Services like Canva are great for creating your own infographics and hero images, while photo editors like Pixlr are useful if you need to sharpen up your images, but don’t have access to Photoshop.

Use responsive images

Responsive web design is the foundation of flexible UI for many business websites today. The ability to seamlessly adapt to the type and size screen being used means websites can always look their best, without compromising on their chosen aesthetic.

The part responsive images play in this is that rather than having set dimensions, they are defined in terms of their size relative to other elements on the page. This means images will be displayed at a scale suitable for the type of display on which they are being viewed.

Alternatively, you can use multiple resolutions of each image, enabling the browser to select the most appropriate one in any given case. Whichever option you choose, this is far more user-friendly than allowing oversized images to dwarf your content and make your site cumbersome to navigate.


Test loading times

Slow-loading websites can frustrate visitors and don’t do well in search engine rankings. Naturally, images can have a significant impact on the speed at which a web page loads, so another factor of image SEO is smart image compression.

Depending on the file type, compressing images can be a tricky matter as it may result in a loss of quality. As such, it is important to strike a balance between compression and quality. Be aware of how the file type used affects your options.

For ecommerce sites, which may have a large number of product images that need to be clear and sharp, this becomes particularly important. Customers want to be able to see what they are buying, but if this means an extended wait for the images to load, then they may decide to shop elsewhere.

Make smart use of Alt text

Depending on the browser used, when a site visitor hovers their cursor over an image, it may display the alt or title text for that image. As such, it is important to think carefully about what to include in each case. That said, many people choose to leave the title text blank, as it is generally less likely to be seen and does not play the SEO role that alt text does.

The role that alt text, sometimes referred to as an alt tag, plays is to provide users with a description of the visual content, in case they cannot load or see the image. The more critical the image is to your message, the more important it is to accurately and intuitively structure your wording to ensure that no part of your message is lost.

It is also important to keep in mind that your alt text not only serves as a placeholder, but may be read aloud by screen readers, and can even show up in searches. As such, it should be concise, informative, and if possible, ‘keyworded’.

Below you can see how Walmart used the alt text on one of their product photos.

Example of alt tag use on walmart

Top tip: if you’re using Shopify to run your website, the SEO image optimizer app will really help to speed up this process for you, applying alt text to all product images in one go using a formula of your choice, for example: ‘brand-product-color-size’.

Know When To Add Captions

Captions are extremely useful to many web users. On video content, they can stand in for audio, and on images, they serve to offer a helpful alternative for individuals with visual impairments, or who are unable to load the image itself for one reason or another.

While alt text is generally sufficient for identifying the contents of an image, captions still have their place. For example, infographics or visual content that contains a lot of text can be problematic for people who use a device that reads for them.

Captions form an alternative means of reading text-components of visual content. Or they may be used to pass commentary or add additional insights to an image. However, it is important that you do not simply repeat the associated alt text.

Repeated text can not only seem lazy, and potentially be frustrating for anyone using a device to read text on their behalf, but can also be harmful to your SEO. This is because it creates redundancy, and if overdone with the same few phrases even risks appearing to crawlers as an attempt at keyword stuffing.

As with every design element on your website, consider whether captions can add any utility or value. If so, then include them, but if all they do is cause unnecessary clutter and repetition, then they’re best omitted.

Nailing the finer points of image SEO will take time and practice, but it is absolutely worth the effort. As your understanding and experience increases, the process will quickly become intuitive. Then you will see progressively better returns for your efforts.

Of course, the SEO landscape is forever changing, as are the needs of your audience. So don’t get complacent once you’ve mastered these tips, because like every other part of your web design strategy, image SEO requires continuous optimization.

Nevertheless, by maximizing the potential of the images used throughout your website and content, you can significantly increase the ROI of your creations, provide greater ease of use to your audience, and add a professional flair to your web design that will boost the credibility and authority of your brand as it goes from strength to strength.

Guest author: Victoria Greene, Victoria Ecommerce
Victoria is a branding and growth expert who runs a blog called Victoria Ecommerce. Here she shares tips with growth hackers and business owners looking to boost engagement and sales.


Some extra tips from the Rebrandly team:

  • Add your keyword to the image file name:
    This can be an easy step to miss, but image SEO really starts with your file name before you’ve even uploaded the picture. So don’t leave your image with a generic file name like DSC2016, rename it so that it describes what’s in the photo – make sure to use your keyword too. This will help with the ranking of your web page, as well as the ranking of the image itself in Google image search.
  • Include your logo on your images:
    This is a good idea because it is another promotion of your brand even if the image is seen out of the context of your web page, for example in Google image search results.
  • Include text on your image:
    Rebrandly includes text on its blog post images to give context to the article it goes alongside. This way it’s easier to include a keyword in the image’s detail that is relevant to both the content of the photo and the blog post. Tools like Pablo make it extremely easy to add text to your images.
  • Include a branded link on your image:
    If you sell a product that people might search for in an image search, or if you think your image might end up taken out of the context of your web page, it can be useful to include a branded link on your image to drive traffic back to your page. You can see an example of this in this post’s image.
  • Be conscious of your image’s size in terms of kilobytes:
    A large image can slow down your page’s load time, so it’s best to keep your images under 500KB. If you find you use a lot of images, you can opt to use a content delivery network. Content owners, like media companies or ecommerce platforms, can pay CDN operators to host their images and other media and then deliver this content to their end users. But check out this article before deciding.

Further reading:

This article is about:

  • Image SEO
  • Image optimization
  • Search engine optimization for pictures

Photo in main image by Evan Kirby via Unsplash

This post has been written by a guest author who will be the best source for any questions you may have about the content. If you're interested in writing a guest post for Rebrandly please email angelo[@]Rebrandlydotcom with a description of your background and for a copy of our guest-posting guidelines.