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SEO Image Optimisation: A Beginner’s Guide

Images are an essential part of your website’s design and user experience, and when correctly optimised, they significantly impact your website’s performance, helping it rank higher in SERPs.

According to Forbes, 91% of consumers prefer visual content to written content, and when information is paired with images, people retain 55% of the information. These are huge numbers! Without properly optimising images, you are wasting a valuable SEO asset.

So what exactly is SEO image optimisation and what impact does it have on your business?

What is Image Optimisation?

Simply put, image SEO is optimising images by improving their performance on your website to improve user experience (UX) and boost search engine rankings. It includes using the appropriate formats and dimensions, compressing image files, adding descriptive alt text and ensuring that images use contextually relevant information so that both bots and humans can understand them.

The Importance of Image Optimisation for SEO

Optimising images for SEO in your content is important for a number of reasons. Optimised high-quality graphics, for example, stand a better chance of appearing in image searches. This consequently drives more traffic to your website. Image SEO also lowers bounce rates, improves UX, improves load time and increases engagement.

Let's look at some of the benefits of SEO image optimisation:

Improved page load speed

SEO-optimised images can help improve the speed at which pages in your website load, which is a crucial factor for user experience and SEO ranking. If your website takes too long to load, users are more likely to leave, increasing the probability of search engines ranking your website lower in search results.

To optimise your images so that they load faster, you can reduce their file size, compress them and use the appropriate image format.

Higher search engine rankings

Optimising images for SEO involves providing relevant information to search engines about your images by using descriptive file names, adding alt text descriptions and using the appropriate image format.

By doing this, you provide relevant information to search engines and improve the overall quality of your website and search engines are more likely to rank your website higher in search results, leading to more visibility and traffic.

Increased engagement

High-quality images can lead to increased user engagement because it encourages users to spend more time on your site. They’ll be more likely to interact with your content and even share it with others.

To optimise images for SEO to increase engagement, use high-quality images that are relevant to your content, and add captions.

Improved accessibility

Images and graphics also make content easier to understand for those with learning and cognitive disabilities. Optimised images improve accessibility for users with various disabilities to navigate a website. The visually impaired use screen readers, which depend on alt text to understand your content, to know what's in an image and relay that information to the user.

To optimise your images for accessibility, add alt text descriptions, use images that are relevant to your content, and use descriptive file names.

Faster site backups

SEO-optimised images can help save time and resources when backing up your website by making the backup process fast and efficient. That’s because optimised images are compressed, significantly reducing their file size so that they take up less server storage space.

Types of Images for SEO

There are various types of images you can use in your content and each of them plays a different role.

These include:

  • Photographs: These are real-life images that are perfect for showcasing products or telling a story

  • Graphics and Illustrations: Graphics use imagery, text, and colour to create visual content to convey a message to your audience while illustrations simply narrate a story or an idea. Graphics and illustrations are ideal for conveying concepts and ideas visually

  • Icons and Logos: These are often used for branding and navigation

Tips for SEO Image Optimisation

There are various ways you can optimise images such as:

  • Using high-quality images

  • Adding Alt text

  • Customising image file names

  • Using captions and the <figcaption> tag

  • Using non-generic images

  • Ensuring the surrounding text matches your images

  • Using keywords sparingly

  • Using accurate names and text

  • Creating an image sitemap

  • Using responsive, mobile-friendly images to improve user experience

Let’s look at four quick wins for SEO image optimisation for your site.

1. Optimise image sizes and formats

Choosing the right size and format for images is one way to significantly impact your image SEO. WebP, JPEG, SVG, and PNG formats offer different advantages depending on your website's needs.

WebP images have small image sizes optimised for the web and lossless compression.

For less complex images like logos, SVG images provide good quality for such small file sizes.

Although they tend to be smaller, JPEGs are of low quality. In contrast, PNG files have higher image quality and larger file sizes. As such, they’re best suited for highly visual websites.

Displaying images in their full size isn’t necessary for most websites. Overly large images increase load time and take up unnecessarily more server space. That’s why you need to compress and resize images before you upload them to your site.

You can do this by:

  • Using a free image compression plugin like ShortPixel

  • Using a web-based solution like TinyPNG to compress WebP, PNG and JPEG graphics

2. Add alt text

Alternate text is a brief description of the content of an image that conveys what’s in an image to a user. It is used by visually impaired persons who use screen readers to listen to the description of images so they can know what your content is about.

Search engine bots also use alt descriptions to better crawl and rank pages. Because crawlers cannot see images in a piece of content, they rely on alternative text to understand what it depicts. Therefore, the text should accurately reflect and describe the image to correctly reflect the content and its purpose.

When done correctly, alt text also optimises images for search, improving visibility and ranking.

Although Google hasn’t specified the length of alt text, screen readers will truncate it after 125 characters. It’s therefore best to keep this as a max.

Example of alt text for an image written correctly

The perfect alt text should, therefore, be:

  • Short and to the point with as much detail as possible and includes what users would search for, like colour, size and material.

  • Specific and written in descriptive language to convey the intended information and evoke the right emotions.

  • 4-8 words long.

  • Written without the words "Image of" or "Picture of" because screen readers will recognise the file as an image anyway.

  • Naturally incorporates keywords without stuffing them.

3. Create an image sitemap

An image sitemap is a document carrying all graphic elements on your site. It helps search engines rank your content faster and more effectively.

Google's guide on image sitemaps shows you how to add image sitemaps to your site. It’s possible to integrate an image sitemap into a normal sitemap or have it completely separate.

An image on an isolated page may be overlooked in place of more accessible or popular content. But by using a sitemap, all your valuable visual content is accounted for. It also helps search engines discover it.

With common WordPress SEO plugins like Yoast and Rank Math, you can include images in your sitemaps without worrying about code.

4. Serve responsive, mobile-friendly images

Responsive, mobile-friendly images are images that are search engine optimised to display correctly on different types of devices with varying screen sizes and resolutions. They improve website performance and user experience by offering various versions of an image to help browsers select the most appropriate graphic size for them and ensure that the images’ load time on a page is the shortest possible.

According to Statista, as of June 2022, mobile device traffic worldwide was at 58.99%. This goes to show just how essential mobile-friendly responsive images are. They adapt easily to different mobile devices, allowing users to easily interact with them. Failing to optimise your images for mobile would be detrimental to your business.

To serve responsive, mobile-friendly images for image SEO, use the appropriate image size, faster-loading image formats, use resized responsive images that load correctly across devices. Also, compress images and save them to an external server.

Wrap Up

Optimising images for SEO is often overlooked, yet it plays a major role in the performance of your website. By creating and delivering high-quality images in the ideal format, size, and resolution and accurately labeling images with metadata you can improve your chances of ranking in SERPs and provide a better UX for your site visitors.

Combined with other SEO aspects, these tips can help your business improve user engagement, attract and retain customers.

Download SEO Image Optimisation checklist below or visit our blog for more resources.

SEO-WTF Image optimisation free checklist


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