12 tips for the best image SEO

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Images play an important role in your search engine rankings. By planning your image SEO right, you'll maximize the chance of high search positions.

You may be wondering how your Google ranking will change when you host your images on Sirv. The good news is that Sirv will likely improve your search ranking. Here's why...

1. Faster page load speed

One of the best ways to improve Google ranking in SERPs is to make your pages load faster. Google considers speed a really important ranking factor, so every improvement you make will assist in generating more traffic to your site.

Sirv is specifically designed to serve images lightening fast. Every possible optimization has been made to reduce file size and respond to requests as quickly as possible. Cached images are returned within just 1 millisecond, on average. That's how short the request stays on the Sirv network.

Total delivery time is further accelerated by using the Sirv CDN. With points of presence in 20 locations around the world, the time to first byte (TTFB) is kept very low, making images load sooner and thus improving your ranking.

Website owners should explore ways to improve their TTFB. This includes using CDNs, optimizing your application code, optimizing database queries, and ensuring you have fast and responsive web servers.

2. Optimize images

The smaller the file size, the sooner an image will download. Again, the faster your page, the better your search ranking, so optimizing your images as best as you can will help your SEO.

At Sirv, we're fanatical about achieving the smallest possible file size, without sacrificing image quality. The default Sirv settings achieve a remarkable balance between tiny file size, yet high quality appearance. Most Sirv users keep the default settings but if you ever want to refine your Sirv image optimization settings, it's just a case of changing the settings in your Default profile.

Even more benefits come from fast loading pages - it helps users stay focused, which increases time on site (dwell time) and it decreases your bounce rate (when users leave the site without staying).

3. Use next-gen image formats

Google is placing an ever increasing emphasis on using better image formats. 99% of images served online are JPEG, PNG or GIF but these old formats are not as efficient as modern image formats.

These days, Google advises you to serve images in next-gen formats such as WebP. Normally, that'd be troublesome, because some browsers don't support new image formats. But Sirv solves that by automatically serving the most optimal image format to each browser. You don't need to do anything other than use Sirv for your image hosting.

4. Use a custom domain

People sometimes wonder if hosting their images on a different domain will hurt their SEO. Hosting images on an external domain has no SEO impact, as all the experts agree.

If you have any remaining concern, put your mind at ease with Sirv's custom domain feature. Instead of serving images from your sirv.com domain (e.g. yourbusiness.sirv.com), serve them from your own domain name e.g. cdn.yourbusiness.com. This approach is recommended by John Mueller of Google, as it has the benefit of portability of your CDN in the future.

5. Choose HTTPS

A further way to boost Google ranking is to serve your web pages and images over HTTPS. Google strongly encourages the use of secure content and introduced HTTPS as a ranking signal in 2014. Matt Cutts stated that the ranking signal might be strengthened over time and in July 2018, Google actively started marking HTTP pages as "not secure".

By switching your content from HTTP to HTTPS, you'll immediately receive a small but worthwhile boost in ranking.

Sirv delivers all images over HTTPS by default (you can still deliver images over HTTP if you wish).

6. Use HTTP/2

HTTP/2 is a major revision to the Web's protocol and a replacement for HTTP. The primary aim of HTTP/2 has been to deliver files faster, with reduced latency, network and server resource usage. One of HTTP/2's greatest features is multiplexing, which allows multiple files to be served in a single TCP/IP transmission, reducing the amount of back and forth between the browser and the server.

Sirv delivers images over HTTP/2 automatically, so by using Sirv, you'll benefit from the fast new protocol immediately.

Google Images accounts for as much as 22% of all search queries, making it a valuable source of traffic, if your images appear high in results. Since February 2018, there have been a prominent "View Image" and "Visit" buttons, helping generate a lot of traffic to sites.

Google Images screenshot for SEO of Adidas trainers

Sirv can help you achieve your best possible image search ranking. Large images tend to rank higher and with Sirv, you can display large images (or zooms) on your website without fear of them being slow to load. Faster responding servers tend to rank higher than slow or rate-limited servers, so Sirv's sheer scale and speed of response will allow Googlebot to index your images rapidly in its avaialble time for crawling your website.

It's possible, if not likely, that you will experience an increase in the volume of Google Images referrals when you use Sirv for image hosting.

8. Use descriptive image file names

Google considers the file path as a search engine ranking factor. That means you should choose appropriately named folders as well as files.

Google uses the URL path as well as the file name to help it understand your images. Consider organizing your image content so that URLs are constructed logically.

Best practices for image file name SEO:

  • Use hyphens to separate words
  • Avoid characters that would be encoded - use only a-z A-Z letters, 0-9 numbers and these characters -_.+!*'(),
  • Descriptive yet succinct - about 3-6 words
  • Avoid keyword stuffing (excessive or repeated words)

If you can't change your image names, consider using Sirv's feature to serve keyword rich images, without changing the file name.

Keyword-rich file names will help rank your images higher in Google Images but it is a minor factor in the overall determination of rankings. Looking at the top results for image search queries, you'll see that some file names have no relevance to the search query.

9. Use alt tags

The alt attribute of an image should describe what the image shows. Used by screen readers to describe an image, alt text can also help SEO.

Matt Cutts of Google says you "should pretty much add alt tags to all of your images".

Best practice for image alt text:

  • Sufficiently descriptive - about 4-10 words
  • Avoid keyword stuffing (excessive or repeated words)

Sirv will automatically add alt text to any images or galleries that you've added to your page with Sirv Media Viewer. It's really easy to add alt text to your Sirv images.

Search engine professionals agree that while alt tags are worth your effort, optimizing alt text should be a lower priority SEO task. All other possible on-site ranking factors are likely to have greater impact.

10. Place images thoughtfully

The location of the image on the page and the text around it are also an important ranking factors.

Google extracts information about the subject matter of the image from the content of the page, including captions and image titles. Wherever possible, make sure images are placed near relevant text and on pages that are relevant to the image subject matter.

Best practice for image placement:

  • Place images near relevant text
  • Place the most important image near the top of the page
  • Give your page a meta description, as it might be used as a snippet for your image

11. Use Open Graph meta tags

Social media sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn generate billions of visitors to websites every day. You can maximise the traffic your site receives from social media by influencing how links to your pages appear on those sites.

The Open Graph protocol sets a standard for you to tell social media sites what image should be displayed on their site. By embedding a meta tag in your page header, you can ensure the best possible image is shown. If you don't already have images in the optimal dimensions for the various social media sites, you can use Sirv to generate personalized images for each of your pages.

The increase in social media visitors might have the added bonus of improving your Google search ranking too.

12. Specify large images in meta

To ensure that you get the best looking image on Google web search, Google Images, Discover and Assistant, set the max-image-preview robots meta tag to display your large image. Without this tag, your images may appear only in thumbnail size.

Add this line to the head of your HTML pages:

<meta name="robots" content="max-image-preview:large">

Websites have seen clickthrough rates increase from 30% to 79% after adding the tag.

Next steps...

Achieve your best possible image SEO - try Sirv today.

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