In this guide I’ll explain how image search works and how to optimize your images so they rank higher in Google image search results, hence allowing you to get more traffic.
I will share tips and tricks on how to make your images SEO friendly in WordPress and include practical examples to help you implement them.
OK, so what is image SEO?
Image SEO is a set of rules and best practices to help you optimize your images and get more traffic from image search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Pinterest, Flickr, Openverse and others.
It can become an important source of organic visits and leads to your WordPress website, and a significant contributor to your business growth.
Your textual content and media files (photos, videos, audio, etc.) are your main business resources, so you have to make sure that users can find them online and visit your website.
Where can images appear in search results?
Your images could be found in image search engines like Google.
It works like this: you post images on your website, Google crawls your site and indexes your images. Users search for images in image search, click on your images and land on your website.
In Google, your images can appear in multiple search results. For example:
Google web search results
When you search for something in Google, it can show you images in so-called “image packs”. You can browse them directly in search results or click to view them all in Google image search.
Google image search results
This one is the dedicated image search functionality in Google where you can search for images using text, other images or your voice.
These results appear on top of regular web search results and point to product pages or e-commerce related websites.
It suggests you relevant content on your mobile device based on your interests and past search behavior. Google Discover is available in the native Google app, in Chrome app and in google.com website on Android mobile devices.
This mobile app by Google allows you to search for visual content using your smartphone’s camera. It also has the mutisearch option – take a picture and then continue your search using text and Google will return appropriate search results.
How to make your images SEO friendly?
Ok, now that you know where your images can appear it’s important to make sure that you optimize them.
Your ultimate goal is to make your images appealing, lightweight and SEO friendly. Visual information is particularly important for creatives, so they should make the most of it.
Here are 12 handy tips on how to make your images SEO friendly. Follow them to achieve better results:
1. Compress your images
You should always save your images for the best performance on web. Your main goal is to reduce the file size of your images while keeping the quality. Lightweight images = fast loading pages = better user experience.
The advice here is to always compress images before you upload them to your site. If you didn’t do that, that’s not a problem. Most of the image optimization WordPress plugins can optimize existing images as well.
You can use various dedicated tools to optimize your images. Choose an app that is suitable for you in terms of the operating system, ease of use, pricing, etc. Here are some examples:
- Desktop apps – Lightroom, Photoshop, JPEGmini
- WordPress plugins – Shortpixel, Imagify, EWWW
- Web based tools – TinyPNG, TinyJPG, Squoosh
I prefer Photoshop and TinyPNG. Once I finish adjusting the image in Photoshop I save it as PNG or JPG in good quality and then compress it once again in TinyPNG.
2. Use the right image size
This is one of the most frequent questions I used to get: what image sizes should I use on my WordPress website? Depending on the area of your site, there are diverse recommended sizing options.
Use the following image sizes as a reference. The size is in pixels for width and height:
Slideshows or hero sections
2,400 x 1,200 px or auto
1200 x 630 px
Learn more about the best WordPress featured image size
1,200 x 600 px or auto
Landscape images – 1,200 x 600 px or auto
Portrait images – 600 or auto x 1,200 px
Serve scaled images – this is a common issue that happens when you upload large images on your page and they are resized in HTML or CSS. This issue might negatively affect your site performance.
Many WordPress theme providers implemented the srcset attribute to images in order to solve this issue. It serves an appropriate image size based on the device you are browsing from.
Note: there might be cases when your images are still too large, so you will need to resize them manually. Use tools like GTmetrix to find out what performance issues you might have.
3. Always add alt tags
Alt tag defines the alternate text for an image. It’s an important attribute and has a significant impact on your image SEO. Alt tags have multiple functions:
- Alt tags will be displayed in case your image can’t be loaded
- Search engines use alt tags to better understand what are your images about
- Alt tags act as anchor text when you link to your page using an image
- They are used for accessibility purposes. Screen readers use alt tags to serve images for users with visual impairment
Remember to always add alt tags to your images. Here how it looks like:
<img src="red-flowers-on-field.jpg" alt="Red flowers on a field">
And here is how to add an alt tag in WordPress:
- Login to your WordPress admin
- Go to Media – Library, open an image
- Fill in the Alt Text field
Consider including a keyword in your alt tag, but don’t stuff it with keywords. This will help your page rank higher in organic search results.
Bonus tip: if you forgot to add alt text and have multiple images in your media library, feel free to use this great plugin that will help you add alt tags in bulk.
4. Use descriptive file names
Many times you would simply export or save images from your mobile device or digital camera which uses the default naming convention. You will end up with file names like IMG_763475675.JPG.
This is not SEO friendly and doesn’t help search engines understand the meaning of your images.
Always name your image files accordingly and make them descriptive before uploading them to your WordPress site.
Keep them short and relevant and use sequences if you have lots of similar images (for example: you have a gallery with multiple images that are the same). In this case you can name your files like this:
- and so on
5. Use text around images
Although Google can identify an image by looking at its pixels, text is still an important factor in image SEO.
Google looks at the text that surrounds an image to better understand what is that image about. This is why it’s important to add textual content to your posts, pages or galleries.
There is no need to describe every image on a page, but it’s useful if you provide context and include relevant info above/below your images.
Also, your page authority and relevance matters. The higher your domain or page rating is, the better are the chances to rank higher in image search results. Visual and textual content are both important for your SEO, so try to post fresh and useful content.
Important: make sure your page has a relevant title tag and meta description, as Google might use them to generate a snippet for your image in image search results.
6. Place your most important images on top
Consider placing your most important images close to the top of your page.
If you have lots of images with the same alt tag and they look similar, there is a big chance Google isn’t going to rank them all.
That’s why I recommend adding the most important images on top of a page and using a reasonable number of images per page.
7. Don’t use too many images
This is important for both performance and user experience. Too many images can slow down your site dramatically and provide a bad UX, especially on mobile devices.
Here are a few tips for reference:
- Aim to have maximum 10-15 images on a page. If you really need more than that, it’s generally not an issue as WordPress supports native lazy loading and only loads images when you scroll down
- Your images should be less than 500 KB
- Your web page shouldn’t be larger than 3-4 MB
8. Use an image sitemap
An image sitemap is the fastest way to notify search engines about new content on your website. If you are using WordPress and Yoast SEO plugin, you can easily enable an XML sitemap on your site.
Yoast will automatically generate a sitemap with image information, so search engines could easily find your textual content and images.
9. Add Open Graph tags
Open Graph protocol is not necessarily an SEO ranking factor, but it’s useful for social media sites. Enable Open Graph tags on your pages and they will look nice when you share them on social media sites.
Yoast SEO plugin allows you to enable Open Graph tags and adjust your image thumbnails if required. You can also test your URLs here.
You can check if a website has Open Graph tags by inspecting the source code of a web page (right click in your browser and click on View Page Source). Look for og:image and other similar tags. Here is an example:
<meta property="og:image" content=”https://example.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/red-flower-on-filed.jpg" />
10. Serve images on mobile devices
Having a responsive website these days is a must. Moreover, your website should be ready for mobile-first indexing, where mobile content is used for indexing and ranking purposes.
Most of WordPress themes like Astra or Kadence are fully responsive and look great on all devices.
You can test if your site is mobile friendly and check if there are any blocked resources that prevent Google from properly rendering your website.
You can also see all mobile usability issues in Google Search Console by going to Experience – Mobile Usability section.
11. Implement structured data
If you implement Product or Video structured markup on your site, you might get some rich results (or rich snippets) in Google image search.
Learn the difference between rich snippets and featured snippets and how to implement them on your website.
12. Track your results
You can track your results in Google Search Console. Keep an eye on your top performing images and keywords that generated the most of organic traffic. Here is how to track your results:
- Login to your Search Console account
- Go to Performance – Search results report
- Click on Search type filter and select Image
- Click on desired tabs to see more data: queries, pages, countries, devices, etc.
Over to you
Image SEO is not an easy task, but it’s definitely a good long term investment in your business growth. Focus on posting high quality images that are loading fast and are SEO friendly and you’ll most likely start getting more organic traffic from image search.