6 SEO Tips To Boost Photo Rankings in Search
by Eric Leslie
Lets talk about getting new eyes on your images. That's why we create all of these images right? I know it's just a basic joy that comes from sharing my creations. No ego or desire for fame. We create photographs to get seen. Photographers have a plethora of outlets to make that happen and most of them are not free. Even social networking costs you a lot of time to build relationships with people. The holy grail of eyeballs are those that come from a web search because those people know what they're looking for and the search engine tries to deliver great content and it's free of charge. There are a million factors that go into Google's algorithm and they're all a secret. Through trial and error we have somewhat reverse engineered it and have good guesses about what we can do to help Google (Bing/Yahoo) serve up your pages at the top of the results. We have a unique problem trying to get an image to rank. When a search engine crawls your website, it only sees the HTML code. It can see when there is an image on the page and it can even figure out how big the image is. How does it know what it's a picture of if we don't tell it?
- Give a Descriptive Page Title The page title is the first thing a person would do to figure out what the page is about and the same is true of a search engine. Just like a person who reads left to right, Google places greater value on the words on the left of the title. You should never have the name of your website start each page's title. Be descriptive when you title an image. In the past I would give my images artistic names that were rarely descriptive of the image. Now, I title my images with the name of the subject and in parenthesis put my artistic name afterwards. For example, a recent picture I posted of Burney falls is titled like this, "Burney Falls (Veiled Secrecy)".
- Upload High-Resolution Photos Google wants to give it's users the best experience possible and people generally prefer bigger images over smaller ones. If Google is trying to decide between two images of Yosemite's Tunnel View and all things are equal except the number of pixels, the higher resolution image is going to rank above the other file in the search results. I have heard it said that it is preferred to use the IMG tag's height and width attributes to instantly tell Google your photograph is big, but I have never used height and width attributes and I can't see any negative effects. YMMV. Though looking at the results for an image search, Google does know how many pixels each image has regardless of the height and width attributes.
- Use ALT and TITLE Attributes
Inside your IMG tag, the most direct way to tell Google what the image actually contains is to write a concise sentence that fully describes the photo in either of these attributes. Now there is conflicting information about how to use these. Some people say use ALT, some say TITLE and some say to use both. The title tag has the added benefit of displaying a tooltip for the user when they mouse-over the image. Where the ALT attribute is the text used for people who use text-readers to browse the web. I personally only use the ALT attribute because I have additional information with my images rendering the tool-tip unnecessary. I also don't want to stick the same sentence in both attributes in the off chance Google might consider that keyword padding. Google's recent chain of "Panda" updates have been targeting duplicate content around the web and subtracting it from their index.
- The text around the Photo This most frequently overlooked tip is hard to measure, but Google also uses the text written around the image in it's search results and rankings. I like to write at least a paragraph about the photo. It's another chance to use a few important keywords. Often times visitors like to read some of the back story about the image and how it was created, so the user experience is that much better.Say you're ranking well but you're still not getting the clicks, this text will also help boost your click through rates. In my case this paragraph of text is also used as the text snippet describing the image on Google's own search results. So I try to craft this paragraph carefully to draw people in to actually click on the at that result and land on my website. It's conventional wisdom to use the META description tag for this purpose, but in my experience, Google completely ignores this description.
- Keywords in the URL The format of the URL can be hard to control if you're relying on a third party gallery service like Smugmug where you have zero control over it. If you share your images in a daily blog post, the Wordpress platform allows you to set the "permalinks" where the image title gets used in the URL. In my case, my gallery is custom made, so I designed it to use the image title replacing the spaces with hyphen for the URL. This reinforces what this page is actually about.This is another tip that has a human benefit. When you share a link on the net, if someone can read the URL and have some kind of clue what they're going to see, they are more likely to click on it. So in the above example of Burney Falls, the URL to that image is, http://ericleslie.com/image/Burney-Falls-(Veiled-Secrecy).
- Keywords in the Filename This is a very often overlooked detail. I don't know how many images you see floating around the internet with names like DSC_3022.jpg. Just do a Google Image search and hover over the results for page one. The link just under the image is the file-name. Look at the Google Image Resultsfor Burney Falls and you'll see every single image on the first page has the keywords "Burney Falls" in their file-name.While this may seem like a hassle, if you use Lightroom, this is a no-brainer. You are already titling, captioning and keywording your images in Lightroom right? If you're doing that, you can setup a filenaming template in your export presets so it will name the image with the title you gave it. Once that's setup, you don't have to think about it ever again.