Whether you’re writing a new blog post or working on your product pages, chances are you’ll find yourself asking whether your page needs an image or not. The answer is always “Yes”. Images bring a page to life and contribute to your website’s SEO. But don’t worry, we’ll help you figure out where to find the right image and optimize it for SEO in no time. Let’s get started!
Table of contents
Always use images
Images, when used correctly, will help readers better understand your article. Or get a better idea of the product or service you’re offering. The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” probably doesn’t apply to Google. But it’s certainly true when you need to spice up 1,000 dull words, illustrate what you mean in a chart, or make your social media posts more enticing.
It’s a simple recommendation: add images to every article you write or page you create to make them more appealing. What’s more, with the search landscape rapidly changing and not just relying on text anymore, adding visuals to your pages will benefit your SEO. Visual search is still very much part of the equation — as was already apparent in Google’s vision for the future of search a few years ago. But with AI and other multimedia developments on the rise, optimizing your images (and videos for that matter) makes it way easier to find you for both search engines and people. Making that effort to optimize your images can provide you with a nice bit of traffic.
When you go to Google Images, you’ll notice it now comes with filters, metadata, and even attribution. This shows us that Google increasingly knows what’s in an image and how that image fits into the larger context.
Finding the right image
It’s always better to use original images – photos you have taken yourself – than stock photos. Your team page needs pictures of your actual team. Not this dude on the right or one of his other stock photo friends.
Your article needs an image relevant to its subject. If you’re adding a random photo just to get a green bullet in the Yoast SEO content analysis, you’re doing it wrong. The image should reflect the topic of the post or have illustrative purposes within the article. Also, try to place the image near the relevant text. If you have a main image or an image that you’re trying to rank, try to keep that near the top of the page. If that’s possible without feeling forced. There is a simple image SEO reason for all of this. An image with related text ranks better for the keyword it is optimized for. But we’ll go into image SEO later on in this article.
Don’t have any original images that you can use on your website? There are other ways to find unique images. Flickr: Creative Commons and Unsplash are great image sources for instance, as you can use Creative Commons images. Just remember to check out the restrictions and attribute the original photographer when you use one of their images. We have a blog post that gives you an overview of where to get great images. Steer clear of the obvious stock photos. And if you insist on using stock photos, pick the ones that look more genuine. But whatever you use, you’ll probably find that images with people in them tend to look like stock photos. Unless you took the photos yourself, which (in our opinion) is always the best idea.
Obvious alternatives for photos are illustrations or graphs, which is what we at Yoast use. If you’re interested, our resident illustrator Erwin wrote a fun article about the making of illustrations. Also, an honorable mention should go to animated GIFs, as they are incredibly popular these days.
Even though animated GIFs are popular, don’t go overboard. It’ll make your post harder to read, as the movement of the image distracts your readers’ attention. Also not unimportant and good to mention is that they can slow down your page.
Preparing images for use in your article
Once you’ve found the right image – whether it’s a photo, illustration, or chart – the next step is to optimize it for use on your website. So before you add your image, there are a few things you need to think about:
Choose the right file name
Yes, we’re serious. Image SEO starts with the file name. You want Google to know what the image is about without even having to look at it. So use your focus keyphrase in the image file name. It’s simple: if you’re writing an article on Notre Dame and you use an image showing a sunrise in Paris over the Notre Dame Cathedral, the file name shouldn’t be DSC4536.jpg. A proper file name would be notre-dame-paris-sunrise.jpg. That way the main subject of the photo (and perhaps your article) is at the beginning of the file name.
Choose the right format
For images, the right format doesn’t exist. It depends on the kind of image and how you want to use it. In short, we recommend to:
- Choose JPEG for larger photos or illustrations. It will give you good results in terms of colors and clarity with a relatively small file size;
- use PNG if you want to preserve background transparency in your image;
- or use WebP instead of JPEG and PNG. It will produce high-quality results with smaller file sizes. You can use tools like Squoosh to convert your image into WebP.
If you know a large part of your audience uses specific browsers or devices, make sure to check whether your preferred format is supported by those browsers on CanIuse.com. When you’ve chosen the right name and format, it’s time to resize and optimize your image!
Scale for image SEO
Loading times are important for user experience and SEO overall. The faster the site, the easier it is for users and search engines to visit a page. Images can have a big impact on loading times. Especially when you upload a huge image to display it really small. For example, a 2500×1500 pixels image displayed at 250×150 pixels size.
Even if it is displayed a lot smaller, the entire image still has to be loaded. So resize the image to the size you to display it at. WordPress helps you do this by automatically providing the image in multiple sizes after uploading it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the file size is optimized as well, that’s just the image display size. So think about the size in which you upload your images!
Use responsive images
This one is essential for SEO as well. And if you’re using WordPress it’s done automatically, since it was added by default in WordPress 4.4. Images should have the
srcset attribute, which makes it possible to serve a different image per screen width — this is especially useful for mobile devices.
Reduce file size
The next step in image SEO is to make sure that your scaled image is compressed. That way it’s served in the smallest file size possible. It is good to know that WordPress does compress the images you upload. But, unfortunately, this automatic compression often isn’t enough to rely on it alone.
Of course, you could just export the image and experiment with quality percentages. But we prefer to use the highest possible quality images. Especially given the popularity of retina and similar screens these days.
Adding the image to your article
While Google is getting better at recognizing what’s in an image, you shouldn’t totally rely on their abilities yet. It all comes down to you providing the context for that image — so fill in as much as you can! We’ll discuss how below.
Your image is ready to use, but don’t just throw it into your article anywhere. As mentioned earlier, adding it close to related textual content helps a lot. It makes sure the text is as relevant to the image as the image is to the text, something users and Google prefer.
The image caption is the text that accompanies the image on the page. If you look at the images in this article, it’s the text in the gray box below each one. Why are captions important for image SEO? Because people use them when scanning an article. People tend to scan headings, images and captions as they scan a web page. Way back in 1997, Jakob Nielsen wrote:
“Elements that enhance scanning include headings, large type, bold text, highlighted text, bulleted lists, graphics, captions, topic sentences, and tables of contents.”
Do you need to add captions to every image? No, because sometimes images serve other purposes. Decide whether you want to use yours for SEO as well or not. We’d say you should only add captions where it would make sense to the visitor for one to be there. Think about the visitor first, and don’t add a caption just for image SEO purposes.
alt text (or alt tag) is added to an image so there will be descriptive text in place if the image can’t be displayed to the visitor for any reason. We can’t put it any better than Wikipedia:
“In situations where the image is not available to the reader, perhaps because they have turned off images in their web browser or are using a screen reader due to a visual impairment, the alternative text ensures that no information or functionality is lost.”
The alt text is there to enhance your website’s accessibility. So be sure to add alt text to images you use. Also consider including the SEO keyphrase for that page if it’s appropriate to do so. Do not stuff the alt text of every images with keywords. Most importantly, describe what’s in the image so both search engines and people can make sense of it. The more relevant information surrounding an image has, the more search engines deem this image important.
However, please note that not every image needs to have an alt text. Instead, you should think of alt text as a part of your content and add it where it makes sense. For instance, if you have an image purely for decorative reasons, then that image doesn’t need an alt text. In this case, having an alt text doesn’t bring any value to your readers. On the other hand, if you use an image with a statistic, let’s say – the number of people who search for ice cream last month, then this should be reflected in the alt text. You can find guidance for alt text in this W3’s article.
When hovering over an image, some browsers show the
title text as a ‘tooltip’. Chrome shows the title text as was intended. Title text for images is similar and a lot of people who use titles simply copy the alt text. But more and more people leave them out altogether. Why is that? Here’s Mozilla’s take:
titlehas a number of accessibility problems, mainly based around the fact that screen reader support is very unpredictable and most browsers won’t show it unless you are hovering with a mouse (so e.g. no access to keyboard users).”
It is better to include such supporting information in the main article text, rather than attached to the image.
Add image structured data
Adding structured data to your pages can help search engines display your images as rich results. While Google says structured data doesn’t help you rank higher, it does help to achieve a more fleshed-out listing in Image Search. There’s more, though. For instance, if you have recipes on your site and you add structured data to your images Google can also add a badge to your images showing that this image belongs to a recipe. Google Images supports structured data for the following types:
Google has a few guidelines you need to follow if you want your images to appear rich in image search. For one, when specifying an image as a structured data property, make sure that the image actually belongs to the instance of that type. In addition, your image should have the image attribute and that your images should be crawlable and indexable. You can find them all Google’s Structured Data General Guidelines.
Yoast SEO automatically adds the correct structured data to a number of images on your site. For example, your logo or the images you add to your how-to articles built in our blocks. The plugin always finds at least one relevant image on any page to add to the structured data graph. This way, Yoast SEO can describe your page properly to search engines. Want to learn more about structured data? Enroll in our free Structured data training course to learn more about adding structured data to your pages!
OpenGraph and Twitter Cards
Earlier on, we mentioned using images for social sharing. If you add the following image tag to the
<head> section in your page HTML like this:
<meta property="og:image" content="http://example.com/link-to-image.jpg" />
That will make sure the image is included in your share on Facebook (and OpenGraph is also used for Pinterest, for instance).
Yoast SEO has a Social section where you can set and – in the Premium version – even preview your social posts. Premium users can also use the Zapier integration to automate posting to social media platforms. Make sure to use a high-quality image, like the original image you used in the post. As the social platforms use higher quality/larger images more often than not. If you have set this up correctly, and it’s not showing the right image, try to flush Facebook’s cache in the URL Debugger. Twitter Cards do the same for Twitter and are also generated by our plugin.
XML image sitemaps
If you are a web developer, you might wonder about XML image sitemaps. I’d prefer to describe this as images in XML sitemaps. Google is clear about this:
Every now and then, people ask us about XML image sitemaps. We don’t generate these in our plugin, but follow Google’s advice and include them in the page or post sitemaps. Just scroll down in our post sitemap and you’ll see we have added images to all our posts (there is a column just for that). Adding images to your XML sitemaps helps Google index your images, so be sure to do so for better image SEO.
Serving images via an image CDN
We all know CDNs as one of the most popular site speed optimizations. Some of the companies that provide CDNs also have a specific CDN for images. The image CDNs are built around basic tasks: to optimize your images and get them to your visitor as fast as possible. Running an image CDN can speed up the delivery of your images many, many times.
An image CDN lets you handle the transformation, optimization and delivery of images. You can determine what loads when and how that should work. For instance, you can say that all your PNG images should be converted to webp on-the-fly because these load fastest and give the best image quality. An image CDN has loads of options to fine-tune the process, but there’s often a default setting that’s probably best for most sites.
There are loads of image CDNs to choose from, like Sirv, Cloudinary and Imagekit. Also, platforms like Cloudflare let you determine how to resize, reformat and serve images.
Image SEO: summary
Image SEO is the sum of a number of elements. With Google getting better at recognizing elements in images every day, it makes sense to make sure the image and its elements contribute to a good user experience as well as SEO. It would be foolish to try to kid Google.
Keep these 12 things in mind when adding an image to an article:
- Use a relevant image that matches your text
- Pick a good file name for your image
- Make sure image dimensions match the image size as displayed
- Reduce file size for faster loading
- Add a caption, if appropriate, for easier scanning of the page
- Use image alt text. No need for a title text
- Add structured data to your images
- Add OpenGraph and Twitter Card tags for the image
- Use images in your XML sitemaps
- Serving images via a CDN
- Provide all the context you can!
Besides contributing to SEO and user experience, images can also play an important role in conversion. So don’t underestimate the importance of image SEO on your site!
Coming up next!
- Event September 27 - 28, 2023 Team Yoast is Sponsoring WordPress Accessibility Day 2023, click through to see if we'll be there, who will be there and more! See where you can find us next »
- SEO webinar 21 September 2023 Learn how to start your SEO journey the right way with our free webinar. Get practical tips and answers to all your questions in the live Q&A! All Yoast SEO webinars »