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Tips & Tricks

Image Search Engine Optimization Tips Photographers Should Know

By Kishore Sawh on April 29th 2014

As a man, I tend to revert, at times, to a neanderthal. Go days without shaving, give in to an almost primal interest in females, and have the urge to hunt down my food even if that simply means beating the old granny to the front of the line at the local fishmonger. It also means I often grunt and snarl at technology because I’ll be damned if I’m going to read the manual. If you haven’t caught on, this is bad. I’ve noticed though, that photographers on a whole, even those of an ovarian persuasion, have turned a blind eye to a rather essential side of the tech we use. It’s SEO. And we’d all do very well to get a grip on it. 

Ever wondered why your images don’t show up for the first thousand pages on a Google image search? It’s likely linked to SEO. Search engine optimization can have a dramatic effect on your business. Not just photography, but I say photography businesses for certain.

When you get back from a shoot or vacation and upload the photos, there’s a part of you that thinks they’re fine for the web, as is. This couldn’t be further from the case. When you see a photo of a dog running, or an aircraft barreling down the runway, your eyes and brain immediately quantify, and identify what’s happening in that scene. On the web, the mechanism is very different.

A search engine, for the most part, doesn’t work this way. Its code crawlers can’t ‘read’ your photos the way your eyes and mind can. They scan your site for programming code, URLs, associated text, and descriptions, to build an idea of what the image is. Only when it does, that’s when your images show up early on searches whether in a search engine, or a website. The good news is you don’t need to go become the next coding phenom to know how to optimize your images for the web, and in turn get eyes on your work. Here are some things to consider:

Name Your Images Correctly: Be Descriptive & Clear

Before you upload your images change the default name that your camera has assigned it. The idea is to assign select, keyword rich, distinct, and relevant names to the images about what the image contains. For example:

This image file is named NEF_01455. That’s absolutely useless for a search engine. here are some better suggestions below:

kishore-sawh-seo-image-google-f14-tomcat-fastcompany-1

alt=”F-14D Tomcat VF-31 Tomcatters”
alt=”F-14 Tomcat Tomcatters VF-31 NAS Oceana Virginia 2006″

You want to really make sure you’re using keywords. If you’re familiar with the subject this should be easy, and if you’re not you can really go deep and check out Google Adwords, Analytics, or other such tools and see what phrases apply best, what are trending etc.

Use Alt Tags:

Not sure what ‘alt tags’ are? Ever go to a site’s images, move your mouse pointer onto an image and then a little text box appears? That’s alt tags at work. You should really include alt tags for each image. They are essentially textual representation of your images, albeit not a replacement.

You can use the name of the image (see section above) or something else pertaining to its content. Again we are looking for keywords to be associated with the image, but be careful not to write out ‘verbs.’ For example, you can say ‘F-14 Tomcat NAS Oceana’ but not “F-14 Tomcat Is Flying fast from NAS Oceana To Arizona.” The more common and direct, the more they’ll show up and the higher they’ll rank. And remember all of this really pertains to primary images, you don’t want to do this for all unnecessary images as this will negatively affect your ‘rank’ on search engines. The whole point anyway is to have your page with rather specific associations.

Know What File Type To Use & Resize

JPEG is the typical file format used for most images online, and for good reason. The compression of JPEGS makes for smaller sizes and faster loading (progressive is a plus), but also the quality retained after compression is high compared to the other two most common formats; GIF, and PNG. 

Each has its place though. GIFs, are small in size, but quality is poor compared to JPEG. PNGs are higher in quality than GIFs and they don’t have recurring quality loss as an image is shared and saved many times over like JPEG, but the file sizes can be larger.

I generally suggest trying to keep your images between 150-200kb. I would’ve said smaller a few years back, but mobile devices are really becoming powerful now that it’s less of an issue. This brings up neatly to resizing and page load speed considerations.

Page Load Times = Can 1 Second Cost $1.6 Billion Annually?

You WANT your page to load fast. Period. Two years ago Amazon suggested that a 1 second delay in load time of a page could cost them $1.6 billion a year (see info graphic below). Furthering that notion, Google calculated at a similar time that if its search results slowed by just four tenths of a second they’d possibly lose around 8 million searches per day. That has a tremendous impact on ad revenue among other things.

kishore-sawh-seo-image-google-f14-tomcat-fastcompany-2

Sure, you’re not likely doing billions in revenue, but this is simply to highlight how fickle people’s attention spans are, and how quickly someone will move on if your page doesn’t load quickly. I’ve stressed for years for photographers to have mobile optimized websites – at least until LTE networks can be the reliable standard. Oh, and Google currently uses page loading time as a consideration in their ranking algorithm.

So what can you do about it? Well, for one, keep your image file sizes small, make them progressive scan JPEGs (more on that to come) and ensure your site is loading fast. Time, it seems, really is, money. You get less traffic, that’s less chance to convert.

[Suggested Reading: JPEG Formats: Do You Know Why You Choose The Ones You Do?]

 

You can use programs you likely already have to resize your images. Lightroom makes it a cake walk, as does Photoshop. Photoshop allows you to ‘Save For Web’ which presents you with an easy window of adjustments. If you don’t have either of those two, using something like Picnik, Pixlr, or Image Optimizer, or any other host of free online tools – GIMP comes to mind.

Note*: Don’t leave room or expect your web browser to make an image look smaller. It’s not real resizing. If you use a large image and set page parameters such as dimensional tags to make it fit, the browser will load the real larger size, and then resize it. Ensure you get your photos to the correct size before uploading.

The Question Of Captions & Content & Site Maps:

To my knowledge, captions don’t really get recognized or factored by search engines for page ranking. Apparently, there’s some link to lowering the bounce rate of your site, which, in turn, has a positive effect for SEO. This really means that if you show up on a search engine, someone clicks on your site and then quickly back to the search engine, that’s not good for you as it means they didn’t find what they want. I don’t know how large of a factor this plays.

Content though, does play a role. Simply put, surround your images with text pertaining to said images, and the crawlers will much more so associate your image with that text. For a search engine, this adds credibility that you aren’t spamming, and that the image is of true relevance.

Depending on your level of proficiency, and the type of site you are running, you may have access to the sitemap, and that map is often where the crawlers go to see what images are listed on the site. So you can ensure that yours are. I have never done this part myself, but have been told of its merits.

In Closing:

SEO for your images and site are pretty crucial. Really. You don’t have to go crazy with it, but a few of these points taken into consideration and implementation will serve you well. Keeping your site image rich is important to photographers, but I think this notion of keeping it a fast loading site may help many photographers limit how much they load on a single page. This is good as I still think too many photogs post too many shots they should scrap. So keep the images relevant, and spend a few extra moments making sure they really are working for you. And of course, testing this all out to see what is best is never a bad idea.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. shamb

    A really useful but non-obvious SEO tactic is to always use ‘photo’ or ‘photograph’ rather than ‘shot’ for any text on a photography site.
    I had a photography blog where I always used ‘shot’. Just going though and search/replacing it with ‘photo’ gave the site a noticeable kick in hits.
    Similarly, if you are talking about Photoshop, decide whether you want to get higher rankings in photography or image editing, and use ‘photo’ or ‘image’ throughout (and avoid any other ambiguous term, such as ‘file’ (and if you absolutely need to use it, use ‘image file’ or ‘photo file’, etc).

    Bottom line: Google doesn’t like slang or ambiguous terms when it is deciding on search relevance, so avoid both in any copy (or metadata tags) on your website.

    Another big issue is how you tag your images (and how you use them online) such that third parties don’t profit from your work. See http://howgreenisyourgarden.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/on-instagram-and-ownership-an-advertisers-viewpoint/ (I wrote this in 2012, but its still very relevant if you want to know exactly what is reading your image meta data and especially your image geo tagging – its not good!).

    FWIW, I’m an amateur photographer, but a senior web developer in online advertising.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Shamb, hi there. i generally look forward to your comments. That’s a great addition to the article which I’ll certainly keep in mind. Simple and easy to implement. Cheers

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  2. Dan

    Slight error in the information here. With images you can have both a ‘title’ attribute and an ‘alt’ attribute. You wrongly stated the ‘alt’ tag is what you see when you rollover an image. In fact it is the ‘title’ attribute that you can see when you rollover the image, the ‘alt’ attribute is actually used by screen readers for the visually impaired and should be more descriptive of the image! Use both attributes as Search Engines reference them both, use a keyword or two, and put them near the front of the text if possible, but make it flow naturally for the reader.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Thanks Dan. I’ve heard conflicting ideas on writing out the text to having a natural flow. Some suggest that erroneous words such as the definitive article etc actually hinder the purpose, but thanks for clarifying my understanding of the ‘alt’ tag.

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