Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Optimize Images for Google

We live and breathe in a world of images and visual content today. Words, are mere words now, insignificant. Visual content is the rage, and apparently, images and pictures are the new black!

Marketers have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced visual content such as videos and images, and made it a part of any and all of their online marketing efforts. This is especially true when it comes to social media marketing.

Social mediums such as Facebook and Twitter have been altered to give preference to visual content – Twitter has natively integrated Twitpic and Facebook has done away with walls and introduced timelines.

And that doesn’t even begin to mention the emergence and popularity of relatively-new social mediums such as Pinterest, a social networking website based solely on sharing pictures and images. And Pinterest, mind you, the ranked 3rd right now in terms of total number of visits-per-month (just 80 million shy of second-placed Twitter), and also in terms of generating referral traffic!

Importance of Images

Images and pictures are important, for numerous reasons.

  1. They make your content more engaging and interesting, helping your content garner more interest! Users are more likely to comment on a picture rather than a boring wall of text, if you think about it.
  2. They give your brand a unique identity, which is instantly recognizable and identifiable.
  3. They provide a lot of information in a short space, for instance through the use of infographics (literally proving that the age old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is correct!).
  4. They provide an opportunity for marketers to market their products, and get referral traffic. Pinterest, for instance, has just burst onto the scene, and is already generating more referral traffic than G+, Linkedin and Youtube combined!
  5. Enhances customer engagement by providing users with an opportunity to provide feedback and comment (such as on social mediums).

Google’s Image Indexing Criteria

Google’s crawlers and bots look at the following set of attributes when indexing images:
  1.  Image type – Google indexes all of the common image types, such as JPG, BMP, GIF and PNG.
  2.  Anchor text, image title and alt attributes.

How to Optimize Images for Google

According to Google, the following should be done with any and all images on your blog, in order to optimize them for Google and other search engines:
  1. Use supported formats – such as the ones mentioned above – JPG, BMP, GIF or PNG only, as Google will only index these file formats.
  2. Titles and Names – It is extremely important to name your files correctly, giving them proper filenames. For instance most camera pictures are usually titled DSC12498, or images could be titled IMG5423. Instead, name your articles something that would tell visitors as well as search engines what the image is about, e.g. football-player-tackle.jpg or iphone-5-concept.jpg or a similar descriptive title.
  3. Alt-Text Matters – Google does not have eyes and hence cannot ‘look’ at images. That’s where the alt-text comes in. Alt-text also helps describe images in a similar way as the title would, and in a similar way a human would ‘see’ the image. It gives Google the information about the image, and helps it determine which keyword(s) the image should be ranked for. Alt-text should never be left blank, and should be as descriptive as possible (in the least amount of words as possible), instead of simply a one-letter word. Bear in mind that according to Google’s recent changes, keyword stuffing should be avoided at all costs!
  4. Context – provide a few words about the image, around the image itself, for instance a few words describing the image and what it is.
  5. File size – no limitations or restriction. Image can be as small or large as desired!
  6. Image sitemap – similar to regular sitemaps (which is a list of pages on your website, telling Google about the pages on your website, it is also recommended to submit an image sitemap to Google, as it helps Google discover the images on your website.
  7. Image Protection – even though Google uses different ways to determine the original source of the image, it is difficult to do so, especially when multiple copies of the same image exist and hence it is important to ensure you protect your own images by providing as much information about your own images as possible. If you want others to use your original images, link to them and reproduce them on their own website, go for Creative Common License. If not, add copyright text and/or watermark your images. Similarly, if you use an image from another external source, do so with permission, and credit the original source/uploader.
  8. Create a user-experience for your visitors – use good quality photos, put images as high up in your posts as possible, create uniformity by specifying the same width and height dimensions for all your images and above all, optimize images so that they load quickly, and don’t hog down bandwidth and resources or affect your website load-times.

Additional Read

For a complete list of Google Image Publishing Guidelines, with additional image-indexing criterion and more details, do read up on Google’s Webmaster Tools!

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