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Multimedia Search Optimization (Part 1): Image SEO

September 16th, 2010 | | Advanced SEO Tips, Nuts & Bolts of Optimization

Here at SEO Boy, we typically share SEO tips and tricks on how to best rank for the general search engine results pages. Our focus is often on helping our readers to optimize their web pages for Google, Yahoo, and Bing as well as for the smaller search engines around the Web. However, for today and next Thursday, the SEO Boy team will bring you a short (but sweet) two-part series on how to get ahead of your competitors by mastering multimedia search. If you like this post on focusing on SEO best practices to optimize your image rank, check back next week when Jessica gives tips on how to optimize videos.

Over time, Internet users have learned how search should look, and more specifically, what information search engines will deliver.  A query is entered and a list of links to relevant pages is returned. Yet as the Web evolved from text based information to multimedia information, content became more than just Web links and transformed into audio, video, and image files.

Thus, a surge of user-generated multimedia content (video blogs, podcasts, photo albums, etc.) began to rule the Web and change the tradition of Internet information organization and distribution. Search got more crowded in the era of Web 2.0 as YouTube and Facebook popularized the concept of multimedia and social search.  Most major search engines evolved to include this content, but the general public’s concept of search engines has been slower to change. Furthermore, SEO rules and best practices have not kept up with the new sources of content.

Before I begin to explain how to optimize multimedia content, it is probably best to define what I mean by the terms multimedia and multimedia search. Multimedia search includes results for both audio and visual files (think YouTube & Google image search). Information is delivered in a way very similar to general linked search results and with any large search engine, multimedia results will be generated in addition to web page files. Overall, multimedia files are organized by keyword themes much like Web pages; however, with the rapid rise in social sharing of user generated content over the past half decade, organizing and distributing the information is an issue of significant importance.

Needless to say, a lot of mistakes have been made in labeling and optimizing this content for search engine crawlers. Fortunately for us, a great window of opportunity has been left for those savvy in SEO.  Today I’ll provide 8 tips on how to best rank for images.

1)   Surrounding Text – The most vital part of optimizing your images is providing fresh, relevant, and themed content around the image. Search engines will use the text surrounding your image to define, organize, and display your image. Thus, load your keywords in the places that count: the header tags above your image, the content describing your image, and the labels that caption your image.

2)   Alt Tags – Basically, an “alt tag” is a text description provided in the HTML to explain your image when it is unavailable or cannot load for any number of reasons. In the case of SEO, when a search engine bot crawls your site, it is unable to see the page as your visitors will see it. Thus, a search engine crawler will never be able to see any of your beautiful Golden State Bridge pictures.

An important step in the SEO process is to describe your image to the crawler using the alt tag. In addition to helping your overall image rank, this process also allows you to strengthen your Web page optimizations by utilizing target keywords. Although the alt tag has lost some of its influence in the search engine algorithm over the years, this is still an important step for both your users and your SEO needs.

As for some general rules to follow:

  • Try to use short and complete sentences to describe the image
  • Focus on more detailed, and longer tail keywords
  • Always vary your alternate text, and never use the same alt tags for multiple photos.

3)   Above the Fold – I was once told about this thing called a “newspaper.” Apparently, the best way to appeal to your audience and to grab readers for a newspaper was too put the most intriguing and important information above the fold (or in other words, the part of the page that could be seen when a newspaper was folded in half and laying out on display).

Times haven’t changed too much since then and in Web design and layout the best images are still best served above the virtual fold (i.e. the top of the page where no scrolling is necessary to see content).  Search engines will give more value to content on the top half of the page, including images. Particularly, Google will reward you for this by displaying images next to your stories in the Google News and Blog feeds, which is a wonderful eye catcher to a potential reader.

4)   File Location – This tip refers to the actual place you store the original image file. Hopefully this will serve as an easy guide:

  • Ok/odd: Separate domain – siteimages.com/
  • Better: Subdomain – images.site.com
  • Best: Subfolder – site.com/images/

5) Embed Links – Rather than directly linking to image sources, it is better to embed the source on your page from your own server. Mostly, this is a matter of having control over the content. If you direct link from another page, a number of things can go wrong that will be out of your control (for example, the image changes, the image is removed, or the server crashes).

6) Image Title & File Name – The image title and file name serve as two more places to utilize your target keywords and to inform crawlers of your page and image theme. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Keep the titles and filenames short
  • Use more detailed and longer tail keywords, if possible
  • For File Names – Use hyphens, rather than underscores to separate multiple words in the file name.
  • For Image Titles – Make these informative as this content is displayed when users hover over images.

7)   Image Size – Once an issue of concern, image sizes matter much and much less these days. My only advice here: Keep it larger than 400X300

8)   The Bonus tip - Check out this fun and addicting game from Google and kill an hour of work… Tell your boss you are “brainstorming.” In fact, this game does provide great insight on how other people will label images and provide you information on how to narrow down your descriptions to provide the most relevant and concise information.

That’s it for me, but before I go, us here at SEO Boy would like to give a quick thank you to the SEOMoz Pro Conference for inspiring this series. That said, good luck with your image optimization this week and check back next week for Jessica’s tips on video optimization!

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  • Jake

    I think you mean Golden Gate Bridge…

    Great article!

    • Caleb

      Sure did. Thanks for the comment!

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