Dec 07, 2011

Photo SEO: Use Photos to Multiply Your Search Effectiveness

Images related to search terms are included in search results, and are visually appealing to searchers.

We know that multimedia content drives better press release results and in this post, we’re going to tackle photo optimization, and explain how photos can help you multiply your opportunity of getting your content displayed in Google search results.

Photos find their way into four of Google’s properties: universal search, news search, image search, and even Google Maps.

Images, search & buying behaviors

While most people rarely go to the second or third page of results when they do a text search on Google, the behavior is markedly different for image search.  Eight ‘pages’ worth of photos are displayed on the first page of results enabling searchers to go deeper and see significantly more results for their query.   Each ‘page’ has an average of 20 photos resulting in over 160 photos served up in the first set of results.  With a single click, 24 more ‘pages’ of search results are displayed.  If you follow some simple photo SEO tricks, you can easily increase the visibility of your photos.

Most users are browsing photos with intent; some are intending to buy a product, some are browsing for entertainment purposes and others are doing research. In terms of merchandising a product, the photo is a key way to catch someone’s attention and then make that person feel a sense of comfort – something that can help initiate a purchase.  Would you buy something on eBay if you didn’t see a picture?

How Photo SEO Works

Google’s search bots  see the HTML tags of the images including the image source markup (img src) and the ALT Tags.

Google then pulls the image, indexes it and classifies it.  Some of the classifications include:

  • Is it a photo?
  • Is it in color or black and white?
  • Is it a person?
  • Is it safe or should the safe search feature filter out the photo?

Google clusters duplicate and similar images like it does for text.  It then renders one of the images in the search results.

Optimize Your Photo

It should go without saying but quality is important.  The image should be clear and crisp and the content in the image should be engaging.  While cameras on mobile devices are getting better and better, you can’t beat an image from a properly set digital SLR camera.

In terms of image file formats, the most popular are JPEG (,jpg), PNG, and GIF.  Avoid obscure file type and those not optimized for web viewing.

Whenever possible, include a caption.  The caption should be descriptive and mention the 5 W’s you learned in grammar school: who, what, when, where and why.  Always put important keywords at the start of the caption and keep the entire caption less than 2,000 characters. You should use the same keywords in the name of your image as well (keyword-keyword-keyword.jpg).

Photos that are taken with most cameras have EXIF information embedded within the image including the camera manufacturer and model, the date and time the photo was taken, exposure settings, and even geo-location.  You can embed your own metadata in the photo’s IPTC and XMP fields by using one of the many free and paid applications out there, like PhotoShop.

There are conflicting accounts on whether Google actually looks at the information embedded inside the photo itself for indexing purposes however, it is prudent to embed the key information including the caption, location and photo credit in the image itself.  This will add context to photos that are found separate from their related content as well as enable the photographer to be identified which is important for rights purposes.

There are a number of measures you can take on your own website to ensure photos are optimized for search engines and user consumption.

To guarantee the webpage loads as fast as possible, you should resize the image to fit the size that will be displayed on screen, resizing the image at the time of the page loading will slow down the user experience.  While thumbnails will make pages load the fastest, you need to make sure people can see the image in a larger format. For best results, the image should enlarge to no bigger than the browser size.  Photos less than 60 pixels by 60 pixels and those that have crazy aspect ratios will most likely be passed over by the search engines.

You can increase the chance of pickup by search engines, by placing the image at the top of the page and as close to the headline as possible. At the very least, make sure the image is above the fold so users don’t have to scroll down for it.

The search engines will look at the content around your image to get a better understanding of what’s in the image so keep your image inline in your content.  The text around the image should be descriptive.  Always utilize the HTML ALT tag for the image and use a 3-4 word descriptive phrase for the image.

If you have an image gallery on your website, to increase the likelihood of Google finding your images, you should look at creating a Google image sitemap and a Google News image sitemap.

Author Dan Hennes is PR Newswire’s vice president of distribution products.

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