Google is the most popular search engine on earth. It held 86% market share worldwide as of February this year. Optimizing for Google isn’t just a “nice thing to have” any more. It’s a necessity.
But Image Search often goes under the radar.
Jumpshot data indicates that almost 27% of all Google searches take place on Google Images, and 3% of regular Google searches end in a click on an image block.
That 3% may not sound like a lot. When you consider it’s in addition to the amount you can already get through Image Search itself, it becomes significant. And, Google Image Search has some unique benefits that can augment and enhance your SEO.
Why Care About Google Image Search?
Image Search is valuable on its own as an SEO tool, given the number of searches that originate there. But it’s also valuable due to its integration with Google search.
Many searches now incorporate images in the results, in a small pane as part of the main text-based SERP (search engine results page). These images are an additional method that can drive traffic to your site.
There’s also an added bonus for those who try to rank on Google Images: extra visibility. Images SERPs have many more entries than regular text SERPS, giving you more chances to rank. People scroll down more, making “below the fold” less of an issue than it is with text.
One of the big things that optimizing for Google Image Search can indirectly do is help you with accessibility compliance. The small details that help with WCAG 2.0 standards on images also help you with your Google presence. Images pose challenges for accessibility, particularly for the visually impaired, and Google has some of the same challenges with putting images into context without being able to directly understand what the image is. You can kill two birds with one stone.
So who should care about Google Image Search?
27% of Google searches is a significant chunk of the global search engine market, and if you can capture a small piece of that in addition to your regular SEO efforts, you may be able to slingshot yourself up the ranks.
Not only that, but it’s uniquely useful for companies that rely on a lot of visual content for their business. Artists, landscapers, designers, photographers and other people that have many diverse images on their websites can reap the benefits even more than everyone else. That’s because of one of the most important changes Google has made to its image search algorithm lately: forcing duplicate images out of SERPs.
Google’s New Update: Prioritizing Unique Images
Google announced in February through their Twitter account that they had changed the algorithm to prioritize images that were unique, reducing the number of duplicates that can rank among the top results for a search.
They also mentioned a few other quality of life changes, including easy ways to narrow down a search. In instances where a search may have several different intents, there are now buttons at the top of the page with images representative of each intent. Google’s example was the word “jaguar”.
These changes were made in November but only announced in February.
This new algorithm has clear consequences. Sites that heavily lean on stock images for their photos will see less traffic from Google Image Search. Previously, there were many sites that had large repositories of images that were well-tagged, well-organized, and often at the top of the search rankings. These images were duplicated elsewhere and were not owned by the site. Now that uniqueness matters, those sites can’t lean on other people’s images and still rank well.
If you want to rank well on Google Image Search, focus on building a library of images that you own, not just taking free images from Pexels or Unsplash (or worse, copying images from elsewhere without permission or rights). The less your site duplicates everyone else, the better off you’ll be. Infographics, unique photography and in-house artwork and graphics are great for this.
Organizing Your Images
There are several additional ways to capitalize on Google Image Search, and they all revolve around the tagging, naming and taxonomy of your site images.
Google’s best practices for images have been public for a while now and they look similar to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. As mentioned before, Google can’t really look at the image itself so it relies on context clues, tagging and other data around the image to figure out what it’s looking at.
Some of those best practices overlap with regular SEO efforts, too — designing for users first, for example, or providing good context. But some others are less obvious. Specific areas Google calls out include:
- Page title and snippet. Like with your regular SEO efforts, your page title and the snippet that appears in the SERP help Google figure out what the page is about as well as providing context for someone searching.
- Image optimization. Page speed is a critical ranking factor already and images are the biggest contributors to success or failure here. Compress your images and consider using techniques like “lazy loading” to speed up initial load times.
- Image name. When you take a picture, the camera will often name it something like “IMG32834.png”. Changing the filename to something descriptive like “jaguarjungle.png”. The name will help Google figure out what your image is.
- Image titles and captions. If your image has captions or titles, be descriptive. Don’t just type something generic in.
- Alt text. This is one of the biggest overlaps with accessibility. Alt text is used by people who have accessibility issues or low bandwidth. It is meant to be a description that completely explains what an image is, since the person on the other end cannot see the image at all. It is the text displayed when someone mouses over the image without clicking it normally. Creating good alt text for an image of a jaguar would mean writing “Jaguar lying on the branch of a tree sunning himself” instead of “Jaguar”, or worse yet, a long description stuffed with keywords like “jaguar jungle cat south america brazil travel”.
- Structured data. Google calls out products, videos and recipes as being eligible for structured data in Google Image results. Those pages can incorporate specific tagging to flag that they aren’t just an image, and Google will pick up that extra data to create a richer result. Structured data guidelines are available on the Google Developer site.
The Future of Google Images: Does it Matter?
Google Image Search is a great addition to existing SEO efforts. If you haven’t put the effort into regular SEO yet, concentrate on that first — regular Google is still the 800-pound gorilla of search, and if you haven’t optimized for that yet it’s not worth bothering with Images.
If your site is already SEO-optimized, you should take the time to optimize for Google Images. Not only does it open you up to a significant chunk of Google’s audience you wouldn’t otherwise tap, it also will force you to address issues that may crop up down the line like accessibility and page load times.
At the very least, changing file names and building more descriptive alt tags will get you a head start on Google Images. From there, you can consider building more detailed descriptions, titles, structured data and more. But if you want to start today, keep it simple — make your alt tags better. Focus on creating unique assets and photographs that can compete after the duplicated image update. Then get into the deeper details if you have time.
If the idea of Google Image Search SEO seems overwhelming, know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services