Image SEO: How to Rank on Google Image Search in 2022
By: Dileep Thekkethil
August 30, 2022
Table of Contents
So, why should you care about Image SEO in the first place?
You may have already come across this famous adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Even though this adage was used first during the print era, its relevance doubled if not multiplied in the internet era.
With search engines now doing all the heavy lifting to find the best relevant images, users are provided with a sea of opportunities to consume images with a click on a button.
What is Image SEO?
Image SEO is the optimization technique that involves using best practices to ensure that your images are crawled, indexed, and displayed on search results for a relevant search query.
If you think that image SEO is done only to help you rank higher on Google Image Search, then you are wrong!
Google and other search engines have started showing images even on the web search results pages.
Most of the time, a result that accompanies an image gets more Click-Through Rate, like the one below.
So, if you are creating a website focusing on ranking higher on search engines, make sure that the image SEO best practices listed in this article are followed without fail.
By the way, if you are running an e-commerce website, image SEO will play a pivotal role not only to rank you higher but also to increase the conversion rate.
Importance of Adding Images
Users consuming your content hate monotony. Since they have less attention span they might hit the back button as soon as they feel humdrum.
To avoid such circumstances, images are used in abundance by websites and they are evenly distributed within important sections to keep their visitors glued to the page.
So, think it this way, if Apple is presenting a five-year financial report in numbers alone, 9 out of 10 users will just skip that part as it’s hard to decipher the data.
But if you put the same data in a graph or a pie diagram like the one here, people will find it very helpful and they will continue reading your report.
This is very true to all internet users.
A whole passage of content that has no relevant images makes the users bounce off the page and look for something similar which has more images that are relevant.
This doesn’t mean that adding tons of images can make users and search engines happy.
That is where the term relevance comes to the fore. The images you add within the content must add value to the users and search engines.
How do search engines find value inside the images you add? By implementing a proper image SEO strategy.
So, where do you go and search for the images? Of course, in 2022, Google is your go-to search engine.
Let me explain the basics of search first before moving to more advanced Image SEO concepts.
What happens when the user types a search query and press enter on Google?
The search engine algorithms will find and display the best results based on relevance and authority. The same process is applicable to image search.
However, displaying the right image on search is more challenging for search engines. Even though search engines like Google use reverse image search the quality of the image matters.
Google still depends on factors such as the context, image file name, alt tags, image titles, description, and caption to understand if the image is suitable for a specific search query.
What this means is optimizing these individual elements continues to be a critical aspect of an on-page optimization strategy.
How Google Image Search Works
Google Image Search uses superior algorithms to find pictures that are relevant to the search query entered by a user. It uses two methods to retrieve relevant images for the users.
Image Search By Context
The search engine tries to first identify images with surrounding text that matches the search query. If the image matches the intent of the user, the image is displayed on search.
If you add more context to the images that, in a way, helps the users to better understand what the image represents, you have higher chances of ranking higher. According to Google, when you make the context informative and understandable to the lay users, the search engine will rank your images better.
Here is how you can do that.
- Contextual and Original Image: The image you add to the content must be 100% relevant to the main topic represented by the page. What this also means is if you are publishing scraped content, or if the images are not original, it reduces the chance of ranking the image on search.
- Right Placement: The placement of the image also plays a critical role in deciding whether it will appear on search or not. Images that are below the most important part of your content have less chance of ranking higher. So, make sure that images you want to rank higher are placed on the top where the most critical information is shared.
- Authority of the Site: Not all websites can become experts in all fields. Over time, Google understands that a site is good in one niche topic. For example, Stan Ventures is recognized as a site that specifically talks about SEO. If we publish an article about laptop accessories, there is no way Google will rank us. If the content cannot rank, neither will the images associated with the content. Image Ranking and page/site quality go hand-in-hand.
- Mobile-Friendliness: Google has been pushing mobile-first indexing for quite some time, and if you are yet to make your website responsive, the chances of your images ranking on Google search are slim. If your images are non-responsive, this ends in a bad user experience and Google has been on such sites lately.
- Define a Proper Image File Name: Google has been categorically stating that the file name of the images plays an important role in ranking. But this is one of the least optimized things on the internet. Most websites upload images with numbers, which gives Google no clue about the context of the image.
- Check the Meta Title: 99% of the time, the image search result you see will have a meta title that is closely relevant to the search query entered. This means, for your images to rank higher, you must also ensure the page title is properly optimized with the right keywords that people use on search engines.
- Make Use of Structured Data: Google Image Search supports Product, Recipe, and Video structured data. What this means is if you have an eCommerce website or a recipe-based website, adding the images within the schema data will improve your image search visibility. Such images will also get to feature as snippets in the web search paving the way to higher organic traffic.
- Quality of the Image: In Web Search, Google looks at the quality of the content within the page and other ranking factors. However, when it comes to Google Images, the quality of the images plays a vital role in showing up on search. Earlier days, some of the images that ranked higher on Google image search were pixelated. Now, Google has updated its image algorithm to ensure that only high-quality images show up.
- Heavy Images are Not SEO Friendly: Images that are heavy to load on a web browser tend to get lower rankings on Google because it gives a bad user experience. A large size image can significantly cause the page size to increase. Even though Google creates a snapshot to display images on the search results page, the user, when clicking on it, lands on the slow page and Google doesn’t want that to happen. So, they have intentionally trained their algorithm not to rank heavy images on search. Also, opting for AMP is a good option if you want the images to load quickly from Google’s cache. (High-quality images don’t mean heavy images. It’s ideal to optimize all the images for the web before uploading so that the page load time is not affected)
Reverse Image Search
The search engine uses the search by image option to find visually similar images that are on the web and display the most relevant ones. This technique called Reverse Image Search is one of the most popular ones used by a majority of search engines.
With this, unlike the traditional search, users don’t input text. Instead, they are asked to upload an image as input. Based on several factors, the search engine will show image results that are closely related to the one uploaded.
Google provides users two Search By Image options.
Method 1: You can upload an image from your computer
Method 2: You can enter the URL of the Image. (The same feature is used in the Chrome Browser when you use Search Google for Image feature)
How Google Search By Images Work?
Search By Image analyzes your image to find its most distinctive colors, points, lines, and textures. It uses these features to generate a query.
This query is sent to Google’s back end for matching against billions of images. Google’s algorithm then returns matching and visually similar images to you on the final results page.
Since Search by Images has a different intent than a text-based search, the results can greatly vary. The result will be more focused on the similarities between the image uploaded and the images that are already there on Google’s database. This means that image SEO strategies can help only a little while trying to rank your images for Search By Image results.
How to Start Optimizing Your Images for On-Page SEO?
Now that you know the things that Google looks for while ranking images on search, let’s understand how to optimize individual factors we discussed above. What we intend to do is provide you with the best practices to follow while trying to optimize images for your website.
- Keyword Research: If you are wondering how keyword research found the first place in my list, the reason is simple, the keywords are the driving factor. If you get it wrong, your images will never show up in search results when users type in their query. Identify the key terms that users are typically searching on Google for your product or service. Make the list of such keywords handy to use while optimizing the images. If you want to know how to do keyword research, we have an extensive guide to help you with that.
- Choose the Right Image Format: The type of image you want to display on Google plays a critical role in deciding the size of your page. If you are going with GIF, the image size can be bigger than PNG or JPEG. It’s ideal to use images in PNG, JPEG, and WebP.
- WebP format is the most recommended as it’s tailored for the web and offers superior lossless and lossy compression. Google supports BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, WebP, and SVG formats.
- Create Good Image URL Structure: Like the file name, Google also uses the URL structure of the img src to understand the context of the image. So if you have an image of a bike, the ideal URL structure would be www.example.com/images/bikes/black-bike.jpg. It’s so common to see images with generic file names that give no clue about the image. Google and other search engines have been stressing a great deal on providing a file name that defines the image. Google has categorically stated that the file name is one of the key factors that it looks for when trying to rank images. Try to make the file name relevant by adding keywords so that it appears when the users type the key phrases on Google. Make sure that you rename the file names of stock photos before uploading them.
- Optimize ALT Text of Images: An alt text of your image must be the best description that you can give to people who are unable to see the image. Slow loading time and disabled people who use screen readers can rely on the alt text of the image to understand the context. Most importantly, Google also uses the image alt text to understand the content and context of the image. The Alt attribute will also act as the anchor text if you are linking your image to another page or website. You must optimize the alt text using the right keywords. It is advisable to use words that provide context to the image within a web page for image Alt text. By doing so, you will help someone with a screen reader understand how a particular image fits into the content of a web page. The best way to come up with a fitting Alt text for any image is to think about how you’d describe the image to someone with a vision impairment and then generate a description.
- Optimize Image Caption, Title, and Description: Google has confirmed that it considers the information inside the caption, title, and description important while understanding the context of the images. So, make sure that you fill in all these details keeping in mind the possible search query string the users may use to get the maximum image SEO benefits.
- Use Image Sitemaps: Providing Google with the list of URLs of all your images will ensure that they are indexed and displayed on search. Submit the image sitemap in the search console and Google will crawl these images in priority. If you are using a CDN to deliver the images to your website, you must verify the CDN in the search console.
- Don’t Over Optimize: While we do all the above image optimization strategies, make sure not to overdo it by stuffing keywords. Google has been quite vocal about significantly reducing the rankings of websites that do such spammy practices.
Now that you know the importance of images and the different ways to optimize them to improve the organic search traffic, start implementing them right away.
If you get stuck at any point in time, just ping us on the live chat or drop a comment. We can assist you with any SEO-related issues.
Google had rolled out Google Image Algorithm Update 2018 to improve the quality of Google image search.
This Google image algorithm update was intended to improve image search results by taking into account the factors like image placement on the page, the freshness of the content, and the page authority to determine the position of images in Google image search.
How Often Does Google Change Its Image Algorithm?
Unlike the algorithm updates that Google releases almost daily, the Google image algorithm gets fewer updates.
Even the last update announced by Google was rolled out in different phases over the last one year.
Users have been complaining about spammy and duplicate images in Google Image Search for quite some time.
Two announced changes to Google's Image Search Algorithm:
1) Authority/Topical Relevance of webpage is a bigger ranking factor
2) Sites where "image is central to the page, and higher up on the page" are prioritizedhttps://t.co/kLygCHxJX9 pic.twitter.com/GlE3sqPQJj
— Cyrus Ξ SEO (@CyrusShepard) September 26, 2018
What Does Google Say About the Google Image Algorithm Update?
In its official release, Google says that the Image algorithm overhaul happened over the period of one year. The statement also adds that the new Google image algorithm will pick quality images from pages that have high-quality content.
Google confirmed that the images belonging to sites with high authority will rank better.
This is what Google says, “If you’re searching for DIY shelving, the site behind the image is now more likely to be a site related to DIY projects.
We also prioritize fresher content, so you’re more likely to visit a site that has been updated recently.”
How On-Page SEO Decides the Fate of Images in Google Search?
Another essential revelation that Google made, following the image search algorithm roll-out, is that the placement of an image will matter a lot in search ranking.
According to Google, images that feature at the beginning of the article/page and the one that is in the middle will receive priority in the image search result.
For example, if you have an online store selling shoes, the image at the beginning of a product page that is dedicated to a pair of shoes will get more priority than the pictures on a category page showing a range of shoe styles.
How does the Google Image Algorithm Works in 2022?
Google Image Algorithm works either by scouring for related images that are based on the search query the user enters or by analyzing the image you upload through Google’s reverse image search, AKA, the “Search By Image” option.
Step 1: Google will crawl the images and web pages simultaneously
Google-bot, or the Google spiders, visit websites and retrieve data that is made available by the website. During this process, Google reads the data from images.
Step 2: Google creates an index for image search
Google’s search index is a collection of data from billions of web pages. The data about the images – importantly the Alt text- is stored in Google’s Database.
Step 3: The Image Search Algorithm Comes into action
Google analyses the search query of the users or the image uploaded through “Search by Image”. Based on several algorithm factors, the search engine ranks images for the specific query.
Google Fixed These Issues with Past Image Algorithm Update
- Many spammy images were featured in the first few positions of the image search results page. The new update should be able to downgrade them, and instead, put relevant images at top positions.
- The new Google Image Algorithm Update 2018, will provide better contextual images because the algorithm is looking at image placement.
- Many times users end up seeing a deleted image when they try to view it outside Google results page. Hopefully, this issue gets resolved in the future.
- With impetus on authority pages, Google can downgrade duplicate images.
How to Rank in Google Image Search?
- Upload high-quality, unique images that are optimized for the web.
- Use descriptive file names.
- Place the images on the first fold of your content/product pages.
- Add contextual images in the middle of the content/product pages.
- Add valid Image Alt Text and image description.
New Features of Google Image Search
There are reports that Google has rolled out a slew of new features to the Google Image Algorithm Update 2018 and to the image search feature as well.
One of the most anticipated ones is the refinement button that shows image thumbnails in bubbles at the header section.
This was a much sought-after feature because it will help users filter their image search for specific categories. Additionally, Google search on mobile integrates with Google lens, which is a great add-on too.
The image search has a new design now, which has more curves again – this feature is a highlight of Google’s material design.
The new feature includes additions to Google Image search and the algorithm update, that was received, shows Google’s effort to bring more contextual content to its users.
If you have queries related on how to optimize images and content for Google, please feel free to contact Stan Ventures.