Image SEO: How to Optimize Visuals for Higher Rankings

Do you know that Google Images account for 22.6% of all searches and make up almost 63% of searches on Google Web Search? Such numbers look impressive enough for SEO specialists to bother about rigorous image optimization.

Indeed, images can boost your SEO results by far. Not only does proper image optimization influence a load time and bring tons of traffic, but it also creates a stellar user experience and generates ranking opportunities like crazy.

Let's take Dan Morgan from WebSpection as an example: By optimizing his image, he got it ranking #1 in Google for a particular keyword in less than four days! And what about Robbie Richards, who generated 150+ thousand visits by equipping his image with a few search engine optimization tricks?

The good news is that you can reach the same results.

This article will reveal the secrets behind Google Image Search and share practical tips on optimizing your images for better visibility, rankings, and conversion. Get ready to cover the topic step by step.

What is Image SEO?

Image SEO refers to a set of techniques allowing you to get visuals crawled, indexed, and ranked high on Google Images results for driving significant traffic to your website.

As you can see, Oberlo ranks first for the "image SEO" keyword when you use Google as a picture search engine with the Images tab.

However, image search engine optimisation is not only about higher rankings on Google Image Search. As well as other search engines, Google shows images in SERPs, so image enhanced SEO is also about better visibility and click-through rates. (Most people are visual learners, so no wonder that search results accompanied by images draw more attention and get more clicks):

Image SEO helps with:

  • driving traffic (via ranking in Google Images and being a part of on-page SEO)
  • ranking higher in search results (often above the usual organic results, as a Featured Snippet)
  • increasing the conversion rate (it's especially true for e-commerce websites, where product images are critical for users to see for making a purchase decision)
  • user experience (images help engage users and break up large text blocks for better readability, dwell time, and lower bounce rate)

How Does Image Search Work?

Google Image Search operates specific algorithms to find visuals relevant to user search queries. As of 2022, it can do that using three methods:

1) Context

First, a search engine tries to identify an image by its surrounding text. If it matches the search query and user intent, Google "decides" to display it on the search.

So, the more context you add to the image that helps a user understand what this visual represents, the higher chances this image has to rank properly. When your context is informative and relevant to the image content, the search engine will rank that image accordingly.

2) Reverse search

A reverse image search is Google and other search engines' feature allowing you to upload an image and find similar visuals or details about it without typing keywords in a query box. Think of this feature as a photo search engine.

Follow Google image search guidelines by going to Google Images and upload your visual or enter the URL of a ranking picture you want to explore. Based on several factors, search engines will show you relevant images closely related to those uploaded.

3) Google Lens

Google Lens is a AI-powered technology by Google that allows a user to scan an object in front of their smartphone camera and get more details about it.

The technology offers actions like translation, shopping, learning, and more.

How to Optimize Images for Better SEO Results

And now, for a practical part:

Below you'll find the best practices for stellar image optimization. They'll help your content visibility, bring more traffic to your visual assets, and serve to improve your search rankings and overall SEO results.

Create custom images

Gone are the days when you could fill a website with stock imagery and not worry about its copyright or originality. Yes, they are free, but the problem is that too many websites use the same pics. And while you may perfectly optimize such images for SEO, they won't bring any results for rankings.

Google's John Mueller nailed it:

Your images should be original and 100% relevant to the topic you cover on the page. With tons of free graphic design templates available for custom image creation, you can generate original pictures for better user experience and higher engagement.

Moreover, original images offer another chance for your content to get onto Google's Featured Snippets as Image Packs because they'll rank on relevant searches.

Name your image files properly

Does image name affect SEO?

As Google explains in their Image SEO guide, a descriptive image file name is critical for crawlers to get the subject of your visual and rank it accordingly.

Please use keyword-rich but descriptive names for your image files so that search engines understand them and improve your SEO value. Say no to files like IM06444.jpg, and try something like "dark-chocolate-with-coffee" instead.

By the way, Google recommends using hyphens for image file names, not underscores. Also, consider revising the file names accordingly if planning to translate or localize your webpage.

Resize and compress if necessary

Pay attention to an image file size before uploading. You may need to resize it according to the maximum image width on your website; otherwise, it will slow down your page load, which is crucial for user experience and influences a page's overall rankings.

Tools like Photoshop or VistaCreate can help with that.

For those using WordPress, here goes the tip: Download a plugin for image resizing, enable the corresponding feature, choose the size you need — and voila!

Besides resizing, you may also want to compress an image, i.e., minimize its file size without sacrificing the quality. It also helps with image optimization, decreasing page load time for better user experience and a dwell time.

Tools like ImageOptim, Optimizilla, or TinyPNG can help with image compression. For WordPress users, the Smush plugin is worth downloading.

Remember about the format

As previously mentioned, page load time is critical for rankings on both desktop and mobile. So, given that each image format needs a different compression method, some can influence your page speed significantly.

Long story short, consider the proper formats for your images, those offering the best compression methods while maintaining high image quality. It will help with page load optimization.

The two most popular formats are JPEG and PNG: The former works for preview images, large photos, and illustrations; the latter is for graphics, screenshots, and pictures requiring background transparency.

Other image formats to consider:

  • WebP: for animated images or those requiring higher compression than JPEG and PNG.
  • SVG: for logos and icons of different sizes.
  • GIF: for animation and moving graphics.

Think of SEO-friendly alt-texts

An alt-text is a short description of your image users will see when using a screen reader or when the image doesn't load on the page. Also called image alt tags, they describe the contents of your image file, serving for the overall on-page SEO strategy and better rankings in search engines.

Alt tags or Alt-texts provide Google with information about your images, so it's critical to make them descriptive and keyword-rich yet not spammy. Search engines use alt-texts to determine the best visual to showcase for a user's query.

Here's a few examples of how to manage SEO for your image alt tags correctly.

Tip: Most screen readers don't see alt-texts longer than 125 characters, so optimize yours accordingly.

---Read: 6 Meta Tags to Improve SEO ---

Optimize page title and description

According to Google's Image SEO guide, it's a good idea to optimise SEO for your page titles and descriptions for the image search algorithm.

With that in mind, pay even more precise attention to core SEO factors like meta tags, structured data, etc. All they also matter for improving image rankings.

Consider image placement

Some webmasters practice the tactic of placing an image or two in random places on their pages to break up the text. It's wrong to do as it brings nothing but distraction and confusion to the audience.

Search engines don't get this tactic either:

The place of your image on a webpage influences its context and relevance. So, the best practice would be to place visuals near the most relevant text: for Google — to serve them to related queries; for readers — to understand the context.

Add structured data

Structured data is information that helps search engines understand your website. It increases the chances of your images getting into so-called rich results (Featured Snippets' Image Packs) and allows Google to deliver more relevant visual results to user queries.

Currently, Google supports structured data for products, videos, and recipes. For example, that's what your recipe image will look like in search engines if you add structured data to it:

Structured data is among the recent SEO necessities for those willing their images to display as prominent badges and drive quality traffic to their websites. To add it right, follow the general structured data guidelines from Google.

Create an image sitemap

An image sitemap is your extra opportunity to showcase your images in search results: It's a lot like a standard XML sitemap but includes the properly optimized URL of all the pictures on your website.

Technically, you don't need it because you can submit URLs via your Google Search Console. However, it helps crawlers find and understand your content faster, ranking it accordingly. Just do your best to get an image sitemap automatically updated each time when your new content goes live.


Image or picture SEO is critical for creating compelling and relevant pages that search engines will love and rank high. It covers many facets: image size, format, placement, and other related data. When optimizing your images, it's critical to craft original, high-quality visuals, write descriptive alt-texts, and consider other on-page SEO factors like metadata, tags, keywords, and the overall content quality.

Every detail matters when used in tandem with others. When done right, image optimization is your ticket to improved search rankings, high traffic, and skyrocket conversion.

See also:

Olesia F.

Content writer and manager at Writing Breeze. With 7+ years in SEO copywriting, she's a ghostwriter and contributor to websites on digital marketing, social media, and self-growth. In love with books, psychological thriller movies, and jazz. In the hope of seeing Niagara Falls and a real panda one day.


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