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Are graphics useful for an SEO-focused strategy?

Are graphics useful for an SEO-focused strategy?

It’s an interesting question, after all Google can’t read images so SEO is all about keywords right? Do we even need to bother with images and if so, how can they possibly help SEO?

Well, actually the days where text and keywords alone could win you search rankings have long gone. While you can’t knock the benefits of a good quality content strategy, on its own you’re unlikely to reach your full SEO potential.

Let’s run through exactly why graphics are useful for your SEO strategy – and just because we’re nice we’ll even give you a debrief on how to SEO your images.

Why are graphics essential for SEO?

It’s been brewing for a while but 2018 solidified the central importance of visual content in search. Think Snapchat, Instagram and the increasing visual focus of social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Internet users now expect to interact with high quality images, videos and even virtual reality experiences.

All in all images are now a powerful tool for search ranking for two key reasons:

1)User experience matters

We’ll let you into a secret here – the best SEO strategies design their content to be read and enjoyed by people. Bots and crawlers should never be your target audience, unless they can buy your services, in which case go ahead.

In blunt terms it doesn’t matter whether you’re at the top of the pile for search if when potential customers come to your website they are immediately driven away by your bland design and plain boring content. And guess what – recent updates to Google mean that it’s now aware of these things too. Google tracks website bounce rates and the average time users spend on your pages. So if users are consistently driven away almost immediately it will negatively affect your future page ranking.

  • So how can you better engage people in your content?

As visual creatures, we tend to respond well to pleasing images and design. Think about it, even the best online article in the world would be pretty difficult to embark on, or remember, if it appeared on a blank white page.

In fact, people recall information up to 55 percent longer if it’s accompanied by an image, according to John Medina’s Brain Rules.

The best SEO content is designed to be read and enjoyed by people

2) High-quality web pages have images – according to Google

In 2012 Google announced improvements to the search engine that would help it to better optimise Google Image Search. These improvements included boosting web pages that contained high quality, relevant images, even if the page itself wasn’t performing too well. It also rewarded high-quality images in an image search.

Since then Google search has consistently taken into account the presence of high quality images on web pages, and rewards them with improved search rankings.

Where can you use images?

It may feel like a bit of an odd question, but if you’re unsure where to start there are a lot of easy to accommodate places to include relevant imagery on any website type.

  • Header images: Often used as the banner for your site and a great place to centre a relevant design or theme.
  • Blog content: Text content can be enhanced by relevant  images complete with descriptive captions.
  • Product or case study pages: For those who provide a tangible product an image gallery can be an easy and engaging addition to the relevant page.
  • Infographics.

How do you do SEO for images?

On to the big question. Now we know why graphics are useful for SEO, how exactly do we put them into action?

Here’s what you need to do to optimise your images for SEO:

Always use high-quality, relevant images

Rule one for SEO-effective images – make sure they have a clear link to the information on the page and they look professional (okay sort of two rules). Trying to game the SEO system by including a smattering of random images is confusing and off putting for readers and anything that is blurry or poorly formatted looks plain dodgy.

If you’re struggling to find any suitable images, there are a number of great sites (e.g. unsplash, Getty Images and Twenty20)  where you can get high-quality images free of charge, without worrying about any rights for display.

Make the image file name informative

Images that you are uploading on to your website should have a relevant file name that can be contextualised by both people and crawlers. This way you add a further layer of information about the image that can be used to prove relevancy. If it is natural, you can also use it to add in a keyword to further add to the SEO potential of your page.

  • Example: A good file name for an image showing Queen Street in Auckland could be something along the lines of : IMG_Auckland_QueenStreet_2018_11.

Use your alt text

Alt text (short for alternative text) is inserted into website HTML to describe the function and appearance of an image. Having accurate and descriptive alt text is important for three reasons:

  1. Alt text is a web development principle that provides web accessibility for visually impaired users using screen readers. These readers will take into account alt text to better communicate on-page images to their users.
  2. Accurate alt text that includes good keywords also provides search engine crawlers with better image context to index an image properly. Relevant images will add strength to your SEO strategy.
  3. Alt text is also used in place of an image if it’s not able to be loaded, so it can help inform your reader even when there is a poor connection.

Use the most appropriate image format

There are three main image file types to choose from: GIF, PNG and JPG. It’s important to understand which one best suits your image needs to get the highest quality at the right storage size.

  • JPG: Easily the most common image file format, it is widely supported and can have very small file sizes. However its quality is the lowest of the three types and there are some cases where JPEGs don’t work at all (notably for transparent backgrounds).
  • PNG: Capable of the highest image resolution it also supports a text description which is great for SEO. However file sizes tend to be weighter. Most useful for complex images where text descriptions are necessary.
  • GIF: Supports very small file sizes, however its colour range is smaller than the other two. Most useful for small, simple images.

Keep your file size small

Images that take ages to load are off-putting for visitors and decrease the overall experience of your site. To avoid this make your image file sizes as small as they can be without sacrificing quality.

The easiest way to do this is to use a compression tool such as Compress JPEG, or you can have more control through manual processes on Photoshop for a similar result.

If possible add images to your site map

Sitemaps are very useful for SEO strategy as they help search engine crawlers to better understand your pages and index them. Adding images into your sitemap can feel like a bit of an extra faff but it means that you know all your images are being found and crawled. It also means that crawlers can find images that are loaded by a Javascript code.

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Cathy Breed
Cathy Breed About the author

With a degree from Downing College at Cambridge University and experience as a Marketing Executive in London Cathy comes to the Castleford Blog with a reputation for deep research and high-level subject-matter expertise. Her current writing portfolio covers artificial intelligence, financial services, the property sector and not-for-profits. Clients include Stackchat, Surf Life Saving New South Wales, Fiserv and Investa.

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