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Five Image Optimization Tips for Google Visual Searches

Are you taking advantage of visual searches on Google?

If not, you may well wish to pay attention to today's episode with a man who has a collection of over 40 single malt whiskies at any one time. He has a comprehensive background in technical SEO and an interesting sideline in taking pictures of creepy bugs. A warm welcome to the In Search SEO podcast, Bipin Padhiar.

In this episode, Bipin will share five ways to optimize your images for visual searches on Google, including:     
  • Structured data
  • XML sitemaps
  • Alt tags
  • Image sizes
  • Clear and clutter-free images 

Bipin: Hey, David. How are you doing?

D: Very good, thank you. You can find Bipin over at kaweb.co.uk. So Bipin, is visual search important for every type of business?

B: I’d say for a lot of businesses but perhaps not every type of business. But definitely the e-commerce business for sure. I think that's where it really comes to light and is becoming prominently more and more important as time goes on. That’s the focus of what I want to talk about now.

D: Quick follow-up question. Is it important for e-commerce to have unique images for their products? Or will images from an RSS feed that a few other websites are using suffice?

B: I think you could get away with some generic images that are used elsewhere. But things that I'll touch upon where you can make it unique for your site in the background probably don't need to come into play. So there are elements where you can make a generic picture unique for your site. You do need to have that element so other sites don't turn up in the search results instead of yours.

D: Sounds intriguing. So today you're sharing five ways to optimize your images for visual searches and Google. Starting off with number one, structured data.   

1. Structured Data

B: I think a lot of people in the SEO industry know about structured data, but I want to emphasize how structured data can be used for helping visual search. We know that structured data can be used in various mockups, for example, recipes and videos. But then we also have product structured data as well, which is where it comes in handy for e-commerce. And there are software tools to inform if you are eligible to show up for like Rich Snippets, for example. So tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush will tell you if your image is eligible for a gallery, a snippet, or a carousel. This is handy knowing that Google or any search engine knows what your image is about and knows the intent of your image. Once you have that in place, you know that you will your image will be better known for visual search.

D: Let's dive into that slightly deeper. You mentioned search engines or platforms like SEMrush will actually say your image is relevant for a gallery, a snippet, or a carousel. What precisely does that mean and how is that beneficial?

B: With structured data, you can add a piece of coding into the background of your page, and add certain information to let search engines know what that page is about or what the image is about. Now let's say you have an ingredient or some kind of substance that is used for a recipe and that's added into your structured data, and you find out if that structure data has made you eligible to show up for a recipe. That will be a recipe Rich Snippet. So if you know that then you know that the search engine completely understands your image, completely understands your page, and therefore you most likely will be showing up for visual search as well.

D: Understood. So we're talking about different elements in the SERP here. For some reason, I was thinking about your website as well. Does that mean if you're potentially going to show up for a carousel you need to have multiple images on one page?

B: Not necessarily, even one image can suffice. But should you want to show up for a gallery then you probably would need multiple images?

D: So would search engines blend your image with images from other websites for the same search to incorporate multiple images from different locations in the same gallery or carousel?

B: I don't think. I think on your page, if you add multiple images and structure them with the code, your whole gallery will show up in that snippet.

D: Understood. So that's underlying the importance of structured data. Going now to number two, XML sitemaps.   

2. XML Sitemaps

B: Often, we use XML sitemaps to list all of the most important pages within our website so it’s easy for search engines to have one place to go to crawl them, and know exactly what your most important pages are. It's equally important to do this for images as well so you can have image-specific folders within your XML sitemap. The same rules apply to your URLs. It’s good practice to have no more than 50,000 URLs per folder. Again, if you've got a large website with so many products, stick to that rule. I would recommend staying well under 50,000, if you can, per folder. And it's just a good way for search engines and crawlers to know what your most important images are on the site. And you can keep that updated and change it over time. It's a really good and handy way to let bots know what your best images are.

D: So if you include your images in an XML sitemap, is Google much more likely to include your images within an image search? Or is it just a general increase in confidence in what the images on your site are about?

B: I think it's a bit of both. One is just a general best practice that allows search engines to know more about what your most important images are. But in turn, along with a number of elements that you put together, the XML sitemap will contribute towards your images showing up in visual searches.

D: And number three, something that's been around for a long time, alt tags.   

3. Alt Tags

B: Yes, alt tags, are one of your basic SEO features. I wanted to add in as well file names in there. This is a two-in-one, let's say. But alt tags, in particular, are used to describe the image more so for users who are visually impaired and can use screen readers to know more about what the image is about. But also, secondary to that, it helps search engines know what the image is about as well.

Tying this up with file names, an image file name typically can be called anything it wants. We can have a picture of something and it could be that the file name is just a bunch of numbers and letters. So search engines do look at the file name. So my advice would be to make it slightly descriptive. Layering that with the alt tag as well. So if you have a longer description and give as much information as you can about the image, these two things hand in hand will bring about the image and let everyone know what the image is about.

D: Just using as an example, if I had an image of Edinburgh Castle, for example, I wouldn't just use Edinburgh Castle as the alt tag, I would actually say, Edinburgh Castle on a sunny day photograph taken in 2013 as the alt tag. Would that be too long? What's the optimum style of an alt tag?

B: Exactly something like that. Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, just to make it very clear. You can use the location, the weather, and the angle. If there's anyone in the back in the foreground, the family having a picnic in front of Edinburgh Castle, for example. Something like this all helps. Because that kind of thing could tie into a very specific search. If someone's searching for ‘tourists in Edinburgh,’ and you have an alt text like that, it will maybe show your picture instead of a generic picture of Edinburgh Castle. Also, the file name, you might call it ed.ca.jpg, means absolutely nothing to anyone. But if you named it Edinburgh Castle, that will help.

D: A quick follow-up question in relation to that. First of all, the file type. You mentioned JPEG there. Is jpg still sufficient? Are search engines looking for WebP now or another type of file? Would they rank a certain file type higher than another file type? And a second add-on question, you gave a great description of how someone should write an alt tag description that got me thinking that perhaps an SEO copywriter should be writing alt tags. Is that ideally what should be done as well?

B: I think alt tags do need to be optimized. And it should be looked upon as something that you optimize like a page. The images need to be optimized accordingly, as well. It's such a big thing. Again, depending on what type of site you have. If you have a site with loads of generic pictures of random things that mean nothing to what you're selling, or if you've got a lead gen site, it might not be as important. But especially where you're selling products like that it really does help. And the description of the files, it's the description of the alt text makes can make a massive difference to your visibility in search engines. So yeah, I'd give it equal weighting, to be honest.

And in terms of the first question of file type, that’s an interesting one as it’s a slightly gray area. JPEGs are still being used, and they're fine. Better formats are coming along, like, as you mentioned, WebP, for example. That's an example that Google gives within its guidelines to use which leads on to my next point, but things like Core Web Vitals. The guidance for that, Google does reference WebP format, but there are a fair few that are still in use and are fine like PNG.

The thing about WebP is that not all browsers fully support them at the moment. There's that issue of whether all browsers support WebP even though they are probably the preferred format, technically, but older browsers, for example, might need to still play catch up. And that might mean the image doesn't show up if you do a WebP right now. That's why some webmasters are reluctant to make that switch. But it is the more modern format. And I think in a time when people are comfortable that all browsers have caught up, that will become the preferred format for images.   

4. Image Size

D: And number four is image size. Is this something that's going to be stipulated or are you actually recommending a specific image size?

B: Not a specific one. But what I was going to say is that there are tools to help you compress and resize your images accordingly. So you need to have that balance. It's going to come down to individual preference. Everyone wants a high-quality image but will that image load in time and fit the guidelines for what search engines are looking for? If search engines know your image is going to take a long time to load, chances are they won't use your image, they'll use someone else's image that loads a lot faster. And this is where things like Core Web Vitals come into play, which has been a big thing for the last couple of years. Especially with product images on an e-commerce site will tie in again with your Largest Contentful Paint. If that's your image, and that's your LCP, then you know how to optimize, you'd have tons of information that Google gives you through tools like PageSpeed Insights, that will tell you how big the image needs to be. If the size is following the guidelines within the thresholds, etc. I think compressing and resizing images ties into other parts of what Google is looking for. It’s a very key part of looking at your images overall for your site.

D: If I'm doing an image search on Google, I would say that the average image size is probably about 1200 pixels, probably varying from about 600 to about 1800 pixels. So I guess that's a rough indication as to what you should be aiming for. If you want your images to appear in Google Image search.

B: Yeah. 600 pixels as a minimum. Also to remember, a lot of these images are being viewed on mobile devices where they don't need to be super rich and super heavy images. It's worth looking at your audience in Google Analytics and if the majority of your traffic your visitors are coming from mobile devices, have a think about if the digital images need to be so high resolution or not. 

5. Clear and Clutter Free Images

D: And number five, clear and clutter-free images.

B: Slightly overlooked and maybe not talked about too much. But yeah, just having your product without things in the background. Just to help the AI process because Google is using a lot of algorithms and AI to determine what your image is about. So the clearer your image, the less clutter you have in the background, it's all going to help. Have it clutter-free, have a light background, if possible, and try and separate the main feature of your image from the background.

A good example I use is if you take a photo of someone or a friend you can often use portrait mode, and portrait mode, what that does is blur out the background. It separates the person you are taking a picture of from the background. Things like that will really help the AI because that is already separating the background from the foreground. Things like that will help outline the edges of your product. So if you can use techniques like this to have crisp and clear images.   

The Pareto Pickle - Writing Content Briefs

D: Some great tips there. Let's finish off with the Pareto Pickle. Pareto says that you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What's one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?

B: The one I've picked and it’s had a great effect on us is writing content briefs. Whether our content writers are in-house or use external writers, we dedicated a lot of time to this, at least in the beginning. What we do is create very precise content briefs for our writers, and include lots of information for them to help them in the journey of creating that long-form content. So we'll do the keyword research, adding competitors, the internal links, the external links that we'd like to have the headings, the subheadings, etc. Now all that sounds like a lot, but over time, once you have your templates for various types of content, it becomes super quick and that saves so much time back and forth. This cuts out a lot of the multiple revisions. So my top tip is to spend a good time on writing your content briefs.

D: Wonderful. And that sounds like a superb future episode on essential elements to include in a content brief for your SEO content writer. Thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.

B: Thank you for having me.

D: And thank you for listening. Check out all the previous episodes and sign up for a free trial of the Rank Ranger platform over at rankranger.com.

About The Author
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