Image Optimization for Search

Your Guide to Modern Image SEO 

Image optimization for SEO

Great images are an opportunity to increase traffic to your website. That’s not often how we think about them, but it’s true. The right picture will land well on social media and lead people to your website. At the same time, well-optimized images can be part of a robust search engine optimization strategy, bringing in traffic from Google and bolstering your overall site in its view. 

As with any individual part of search engine optimization today, image SEO has changed a lot over the years. A lot of the more basic rules still apply, but there’s a lot more to know if you want to maximize the benefits of the images on your website. 

Understanding what Image SEO is

There is off-site optimization, which is when sites are linking to yours, and there is on-page optimization, which are the things you do on your website to optimize it for the search engines. For pictures, we’re looking at on-page optimization strategies. 

image editing

Don’t let words like “optimization” intimidate you. On-page search engine optimization involves the small changes you can make to your site so that search engines like Google like it better. They are evaluating your web page against others and determining which ones their users will like best. Always remember: search engines are there to please their users. So if your website is pleasing to their users, they’re going to send more people there. 

When you think about image SEO, you need to think about telling Google what the image is, and you need to think about loading speed. 

Users want to see content that is relevant to what they searched for. They also want a fast-loading website that looks great by today’s web design standards. So, this is what Google wants to see from you, too. 

Naming your Image files

This is a search engine optimization tip that has been around since search engines existed. It used to be the only thing we really knew about image SEO. 

You need to name your picture files something relevant, using your primary keyword. 

SEO Strategy

Do not keyword stuff. Say you have a picture of a basil plant. You can name that picture Basil-Plant.JPG and be just fine. You don’t want to name that file Basil-Plant-Herb-Garden-Gardening-Italian-Spice-Ocimum-basilicum.JPG. That’s too many things. Google will roll its figurative eyes at you and move on to the next image. 

Saving As a JPEG, PNG, or GIF

Yes, it does matter which file type you save as. 

In most photo applications, you’ll be able to choose between these three. If you save your image in each format and check the file size, you will notice a vast difference between them. 

And a smaller image file size will load faster on your website, which is what you want. 

However, that doesn’t mean the smallest file size is always the right choice when it comes to formatting. 

If you have a moving image, you want to use the .GIF format. 

If you have an image with a lot of text on it or line drawings, you probably need to use a .PNG file format. This will give you the clearest image. 

photo editing

In most other circumstances, a .JPEG file format will be your best choice. 

It doesn’t hurt to save in all three formats and take a look at what you have in front of you. What looks best? Which is the smallest?

Yes, File Size Matters

This is something to consider after you choose your format. So, you have looked at your image and know which format is best for it, but you would still like it to be smaller. 

That’s good because your website’s loading speed is becoming a bigger SEO factor, especially with Google. Online users have no interest in waiting for a page to load these days. The smaller your file size, the faster the page will load, the happier your users will be, and the more traffic Google will send your way. 

That means it is worth it to take the time to optimize your images, so the file sizes are smaller. 

You’re going to need to use a tool to compress your images. 

Some of the websites Google themselves recommend for doing this include pngquant and Guetzli. The site MozJPEG is also popular. You can upload your images in batches and then get back the compressed file size. 

Regularly Review Your Page Load Time

When it comes to image SEO, you might believe you’re doing everything right and not know how far off things have gotten. You can easily miss one key component and have no clue why your bounce rate has gotten so high. 

Use Original Images

To help you out, Google has created their tool, PageSpeed Insights. Add a regular review of your website using this tool to your calendar. All you need to do is enter the URL of your website. Google will then give you back an in-depth assessment. They’ll tell you what parts of your webpage could use improvement. 

As a place to start creating a plan for better search engine optimization for your images, this tool from Google is a powerful resource you should revisit often.

Use Original Images As Often As Possible

Yes, stock images make being a site owner as easy as possible. They’re a gift. They make your website more attractive with a lot less work on your end. 

But are they hurting your search engine optimization efforts? Maybe. They’re definitely not helping as much as original images would be. 

Stock images will help your image SEO better than if you had no graphic in your content at all. A stock picture will give your users something to look at, break up a text-heavy piece of content, and make your pages more visually interesting. Search engines like to see that. 

But is anyone going to be linking to your content pointing out your great visuals? No. Is anyone on social media going to be sharing your content solely based on the picture? No. And a great image can increase your odds of going viral on social media, so that counts for a lot. 

image naming conventions

When Google shows their image search results, they want to show as many unique pictures as possible. They have AI now that allows them to guess what is in a photo and which graphics are the same. If you use only stock pictures, you’re not going to show up as a top picture in the results. 

This takes more time, but consider creating as many original pictures for your website as possible. As far as content goes, photos count for a lot. If you can create some standout pieces, it will help your page rank well on the search engines and pick up social media attention. 

How do you create original pictures? Consider your content and what will serve it best. For example, you could create a chart or a graphic. Infographics that summarize some of your best points do well on social media and are useful enough to pick up search engine attention. You can also include some of your own photographs. 

Tools like Canva can make creating your own graphics easier. 

Use Smart Alt Text and Captions

Like with your file name, you want to use a keyword or two here without stuffing them in. Write these as natural sounding as you can. 

Your alt text is meant to describe your image. If someone uses a screen reader, the alt text will be read to them to tell them what’s inside the picture. Think about what they might hear when this happens. This text also shows up if the browser fails to load the picture. 

Consider Using Lazy Loading On Your Page

When your site loads, there is the information your user sees “above the fold,” meaning what loads right at the top of the screen, and the things “below the fold,” meaning what they have to scroll down to see. 

Lazy loading allows the graphic files below the fold to load as the user scrolls down. This lazy style of loading can make your page load faster in the sense that the only things that count when the page is first loaded are the things above the fold. 

Lazy Loading

This may sound like cheating, but Google has said they approve. 

This won’t work well on every site out there. Consider trying lazy loading on your site and see how that works for your page loading time and how it makes your site run. What do you think of the user experience with lazy loading turned on?

If you use WordPress, you can download a plugin to handle lazy loading for you. 

Use Schema Markup

Do you have recipes? Product pages? Videos? All of these can benefit from some schema markup. 

Schema markup is a kind of language for search engines. It adds structure to your pages. Search engines easily read this structure to tell them what kind of content they’re looking at. When you use markup on a recipe page, Google can immediately recognize that it is a recipe.

Why does this matter so much?

Google now has rich results. This is where they show snippets or answers to common questions, products, videos, or recipes right on the search results page. 

For your image files, this means your pictures may get little icons placed over the lower-left corner that say “recipe.” This is advantageous since the user will see a photo of a delicious-looking meal and then realize that they’ll be taken to a recipe if they click on that picture. 

Make Sure Your Images Are Responsive

How is your site loading on mobile devices? 

Today, mobile search engine optimization is possibly more important than desktop SEO. You need your website to load great on mobile. A lot of that comes down to your picture files. 

Responsive pictures are ones that are automatically scaled to the mobile screen size. 

Using Lazy Loading On Your Page

To do this, you’ll want to use a piece of code called srcset, which allows the browser to call on different file sizes. Mozilla goes in-depth on how to use srcset to make your picture files responsive. If you use WordPress, there are plugins that can do this for you. 

Make Images A Strong Part Of Your SEO Strategy

A lot of website owners know that pictures are an essential part of the user experience. They know that it matters for social media. They also have a rough idea that it matters for search engine optimization. At the end of the day, they figure that having pictures on their site is “good enough.” 

That means the savvy site owner has an opportunity to get ahead by using original images that are well-optimized to take off online. The better the graphics, the more branded they are, and the more well-thought-out your image SEO strategy is, the further ahead of the competition you can get.

Bonus: Image SEO Tips from John Mueller

John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, dives into how images work on Google, using images to achieve your site’s goals, and SEO and optimization best practices for images.

Provide context

Ensure that images are relevant to the page and that the titles, headings, and content are relevant to the image.

Optimize image placement

You should place images near relevant text and provide captions near the image. Add your most essential images at the top.

Do not embed text

Don’t embed text in the image; place that text on the page.

ALT Tags

Use alt-attributes on your images. ALT-tags provide additional information to search engines, and users unable to view those images.

High-Quality Images

Use high-quality images optimized for the web. Quality images attract more traffic to your website. 

Make high-quality sites

Don’t stop at optimizing your images; optimize everything. High-quality content is used when ranking images. 

photo load times

Create mobile and desktop-friendly sites

Ensure your images look great on mobile and desktop monitors. Don’t use images too large or heavy for mobile.

Use Descriptive URLs

Use descriptive URLs; Google uses both the URL path and image file name for understanding the image. Avoid changing the URL, and if you do change it, use 301 redirects when they need to be changed.


Do not block relevant images in Robots.txt.

Structured Data

Provide relevant structured data to your page. Structured Data is essential when using recipe schema.


Use large image previews using max-image-preview-large. Previews help in Google Discover Traffic.


Add image licensing markup to attract more visitors.


Speed up your pages by optimizing image size, lazy loading techniques, and more.

Published on: 2021-02-11
Updated on: 2021-06-17

Avatar for Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is SEO Director with SEO North, where he helps the team plan marketing goals that are keyword-optimized and measurable for over 30 clients simultaneously. He has worked at Microsoft, The institute of chartered accountants in Australia, Auto Trader, Le Cordon Bleu, and Algonquin College in various Digital Marketing Roles. Isaac is qualified as a Full-stack developer, Server Administrator, and Cyber Security expert, adding additional experience to his Search Engine Optimization knowledge. His Inuit heritage brought him to the Arctic to hunt and fish for most summers, which grew his passion for 4-wheelers and dirtbikes.