Solving Visual & Image Search SEO Conundrums

Posted on in Blog

When Oneupweb team members attended a recent SMX Advanced conference, major discussion topics included unique images and SEO, image optimization tactics, ALT text and more.

This is because images are served in nearly 40% of search results, and visual search (e.g., Pinterest, Google Lens) is gaining popularity fast. Businesses must evolve quickly or fall behind.

Today we’re solving common conundrums surrounding Google image SEO best practices.

Stock vs. Original Images SEO Impact

When it comes to good SEO, original images are best. But why exactly?

Our SEOs surmise that a stock image is interpreted by search engines as a form of duplicate content – or, at best, mediocre-value content. Dozens of other websites are potentially using the same image, so it isn’t distinctive media with special benefits to the user.

On the other hand, a unique image has SEO value because, just like a relevant and well-crafted article, it was designed to respond to a specific set of search queries in the most helpful way possible.

Will stock images ruin your SEO performance? No. Not if they’re optimized and they have ALT text. But original photography is much more likely to give you a bigger presence in image search and visual search results.

What’s the Difference between Image Search and Visual Search?

Image search refers to using a voice or text query to see image results. Visual search is the practice of searching with an image, not voice or text. This can be achieved with an existing photo online (e.g., shoes you see on Pinterest) or by taking a picture in real time.

Image search has been around since the late ’90s, while visual search is much newer, popularized around 2011 by Google “reverse image search” – which is truly a simple form of visual search.

Just like optimizing for voice search, prioritizing visual search is a timely business growth strategy. Gartner predicts that those who gear their ecommerce websites toward visual and voice search will substantially increase revenue.

How to Make Images SEO-Friendly

Focus on the basic image tips, visual search tips and speed tips below. While many of these are based on Google image SEO best practices, they also apply to other search engines and social media platforms.

Basic tips for image optimization:

  • Use original images instead of stock photos.
  • Use schema markup to indicate the image’s meaning. For example, is it an article’s featured photo or a product photo? Each type should be wrapped with different markup.
  • Apply image captions to add context.
  • Make your images high quality without slowing down the site. Quality images are quick to load, responsive, properly compressed, and in the right format. (Keep reading to see image speed tips.)
  • Give each image a proper title and ALT text. (See the ALT text section of this post.)
  • Make file names descriptive.
  • Create an XML sitemap for images.

How to optimize your images for visual search:

  • Apply all basic image guidelines for schema markup, quality, speed and naming conventions. (See the list above.)
  • Optimize your web pages for keywords that serve image results on the SERP.
  • Advertise on Pinterest and other popular visual search platforms.
  • Avoid “cluttered” images, such as photos with busy backgrounds. Clean composition will help machines “read” the image content.
  • On social media, size your photos to meet platform requirements.
  • For ecommerce, optimize title tags and product descriptions. These show up in Google Shopping results.
  • Also for ecommerce, include multiple product photos.

How to optimize images for page speed:

  • Get familiar with Google’s guidelines for images and image formats.
  • Save images in the lowest quality you’re comfortable with before applying lossless compression. Then upload them to your website.
  • Provide height and width attributes to your images and other media. This prevents visual instability.
  • Implement a fallback solution to optimize website images that are accidentally uploaded unoptimized. For example, WordPress offers plugin solutions such as Smush or WebP Express. Additionally, any site can utilize a CDN with image optimization features, such as Cloudflare.
  • Utilize lazy loading for media “below the fold.”
  • Consider when fast CSS may be a better alternative to an image.

ALT Text Best Practices

If you’re buckling down on your image SEO, ALT text is an essential area to work on. Here are some best practices:

  • Add ALT text to each image, button, and important non-text element.
  • Describe the image and its purpose with vivid words and proper grammar.
  • Use a target keyword if it fits naturally.
  • Use fewer than 125 characters. But if you need to use a longer description, use a longdesc=”” tag so screen readers will read the whole thing.
  • Avoid obvious lead-ins like “An image of …”
  • Mention a color if it’s central to the image’s meaning.* Otherwise, just focus on image purpose.

*Example of when to mention a color:

For an image of a red puddle, good ALT text would be “a red puddle” because it’s an unusual color for a puddle to be. But if it’s an image of a green checkmark, you might make the ALT text, “Checkmark indicating mobile-friendliness.” No need to call it green unless there are other checkmarks on the page in different colors.

Be careful about how you implement ALT text. In many cases, applying it through the image library in your CMS won’t actually apply it to the pages containing those images. So do a test before you write hundreds of tags, and make sure you find the best method for your business! For example, Oneupweb uses a plugin to manage our ALT text because we had to retroactively add this text to some super-old content and wanted to be efficient.

ALT text benefits: it’s a double whammy!

Not only does an ALT tag improve image SEO, but it also ensures accessibility to people who use screen readers or who choose to disable images. This means that a wider variety of users can engage with your content. Their engagement, in turn, shows search engines that your content is worthy of fabulous rankings for both standard search results and image results.

What Are Next-Gen Image Formats?

Next-gen image formats include JPEG XL, WebP and AVIF. These formats have better compression and quality than older JPEG and PNG images, so they load faster.

Next-gen images are not always a requirement for good SEO performance. If you’re able to optimize your existing images for speed and that works for you, great. However, if your competitors serve images in next-gen formats, they may outrank you for important keywords, due to having faster websites.

If you decide to go next-gen, remember to check which browsers support your chosen image format. You’ll need to designate fallback images for other browsers. 

There are several ways to implement next-gen image formats, including CMS plugins. Your method will depend on your tech stack. Check out Google’s documentation for WebP implementation.

Let Oneupweb Help

Our agency has the skills and development resources to pull off any technical SEO strategy. We’ve been around since SEO first became a thing, and we still love it. If you’re looking to team up with down-to-earth people who show you clearly awesome results, reach out here or call (231) 922-9977.

Up Next

Oneupweb seeks a bright, highly motivated, strategic and experienced Sr. SEO Project Manager to join our growing SEO team. This is a highly visible role that requires you to be resourceful, creative and persistent for the betterment of the clients we serve. The ideal candidate is an expert in Google Analytics and Semrush, as well...

Read More