7 ways to optimize images and boost SEO

Use original photos, experiment with Photoshop’s ‘Save for Web’ feature, include captions and make sure your pictures display seamlessly on any screen size.


Images are often the cause of slow page-loading times.

This is a major issue, as sluggish website speed can negatively affect your SEO—not to mention your bottom line. See below:

Graphics depicting the benefits of site speed. "A 1-second delay in page load time = 7% loss in conversions, 11% fewer page views, and 16% decrease in customer satisfaction. In dollar terms, this means that if your site typically earns $100,000 a day, this year you could lost $2.5 million in sales."

Don’t let bulky images slow you down or take cash out of your pocket. Try these tips to optimize your images and keep your customers (and the search engines) happy:

1. Use original, high-quality photos whenever possible.

The more original pictures you use, the better your user experience will be. You’ll also gain a stronger rank on relevant searches.

Using stock images can be tempting, but keep in mind that many other people are using the same photos. You’ll be competing with everyone else who’s using the same images, which is why it’s best to use originals.

If you must use stock photos, try a tool like Canva to make them your own. You can add text and edits to make the image more unique.

2. Use Photoshop’s ‘Save for Web.’

Photoshop’s “Save for Web” feature lets you experiment with different file types. You can see what photos will look like and get estimated load times at various modem speeds to help you optimize the image. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can edit and compress images using online tools such as these:

3. Use captions and alt text.

Adding captions to your photos is essential for optimization.

People may not read your entire article, but chances are they will read the caption underneath your image. Research shows that captions garner 16 percent more readership than text. Adding a caption provides context for the image, which helps search engines find, understand and rank your content.

Alt text is also important. The alt attribute is used to describe the content of the image file. When an image doesn’t load properly, you’ll get an image box with the tag information shown in the top left corner. Make sure the alt text clarifies what the picture presents.

Adding alt tags to your photos can boost your website ranking by associating relevant keywords with images. Google has noted that image alt text is used to determine the best image to return for a user’s search query.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires alt text for individuals who are unable to see before the website can be considered 508 compliant. A descriptive alt text conveys exactly what’s in the photo.

4. Add OpenGraph and Twitter Card Tags for the image.

If you want to control the image that’s used when your content is shared on social media websites, you can designate it with a simple code in the <head> section of your website.

If you have the premium version of the Yoast SEO plug-in for WordPress, you can set and preview your Facebook post automatically without using the code. Make sure to use the original image for the post, because image quality is often degraded when used on social media. If you’re using a compressed image, it could reduce photo quality.

Open Graph Facebook Debugger Preview

5. Make your images responsive.

Your content should display seamlessly on all sorts of screens—especially mobile devices.

If your images aren’t responsive, you could be ruining the mobile experience. This can increase your bounce rate and harm your SEO rank.

WordPress versions 4.4 and higher automatically include this feature. If you’re not using WordPress, you can add the srcset attribute to your images in the code, which makes it possible to serve different images based on screen width.

6. Use descriptive, keyword-rich file names.

Creating a file name that describes the image and includes relevant keywords is helpful for SEO. Your image file name lets Google know what’s in an image.

If you’re using a personal photo, the default file name might look like this: IMG_5641321.jpg. Change the file name to something that helps search engines identify and understand the image.

7. Use an image site map.

If you haven’t already, create and publish an image site map to show where all your images are located. This helps search engines find your website’s images more easily. It also increases the chances that your pictures will be displayed in Google’s image search results.

Through an image site map, you can alert Google to images you upload through JavaScript that crawlers may not have found, or you can specifically call out the images you want crawled.

Google says you can create a new site map solely for images, or you can also add the information to your existing site map. If you use WordPress, you can try the Google XML Site map for Images plug-in to automatically create the site map for images that have been uploaded to your WordPress media library.

One last thing

Head over to PageSpeed Insights and run a test on your website. If Google sees that images are slowing your page down, you’ll get an “optimize images” suggestion. Follow their tips, and upload your images anew—this time using optimized versions. Run the test again, and you should notice an improvement in your load time.

Garry Grant is the CEO of SEO Inc. A version of this post first appeared on the SEO Inc. blog.

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