Friday, October 28, 2011

Image Search on Google is an excellent source for traffic

With over a billion pageviews per day, Google Image Search can be an excellent source of traffic. Of course, one has to ask themselves whether this traffic is beneficial or not and if so, then followup with an understanding of how to get their images to rank.

Why Would You Want To Rank On Image Search?

For some businesses, ranking for their images would mean nothing more than taking on the inconvenience of having to monitor those results for theft. For others it's a great source of traffic and potential leads. For yourself, the first question to answer is: "is ranking your images beneficial to your bottom line?"

A lawyer for example would likely not want their images ranking for image search. For said lawyer, it is virtually inconceivable that they would attract converting traffic from images however because they have to set an example on copy and content ownership, they would have to take the time to insure that their images aren't taken. Ranking for images then would produce a net negative ROI as they won't reap any benefits yet have to expend resources insuring that their images aren't used elsewhere.

On the other hand, there are many sites/companies who do benefit from ranking their images. A few examples here are:
  1. Photographers: While photographers have rightfully complained about having their work taken and used without permission, ranking images is an opportunity to get their craft in from of potential buyers.
  2. Image Sales Sites: For sites that sell images it's obviously beneficial to get those images in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
  3. Ad Driven Sites: I learned this lesson from my eldest son who built himself a Pokemon site at 9 years old. After he asked me how he could make it generate money we dropped some AdSense on it. While the vast majority of his traffic came from image search he quickly surpassed the ad revenue generated from the Beanstalk site and attained upwards of 5,000 unique visits per day.
So think to yourself: How can I benefit from image search? What types of image-based phrases would I benefit from rankings for? And of course, how can I monetize those rankings? Once you've got these determined, it's time to get them optimized.

Optimizing Your Images For Rankings

A picture displaying a variety of images as an example of Google image search variety. 
Before we delve into optimizing the images for rankings, let's first get them optimized for their size (which, one could well argue, will impact their rankings and even the rankings of your site as a whole). There are a variety of easy-to-use tools on the web to help you with this process. You can find a few of the better ones listed by Bryan Eisenberg on the recently updated Website Testing Tools site.

Now that you've optimized your images for size, improving their load times and reducing their impact on your server, it's time to try to get them displayed more often. There are a few core areas that need to be directly optimized, let's discuss them one by one.

Image Name: After downloading images from your digital camera you'll likely end up with them alpha-numerically named with little to identify their contents. This would see them uploaded to and references from your hosting environment with location such as All this location would really tell Google is that it's an image. If you had an image on, say, Google image search you'd do well to place it to that location as With this you've described the image and named it in the URL.

Alt Tags: Adding alt tags to your images serves two optimization functions. The first is to associate the image directly with a set of text. The second is to give the engines a set of information to use as quasi-anchor text if the image is used as a link.

Now let's discuss a couple of the other factors involved with ranking your images highly.

The Title Tag: The title attribute applied to a picture will appear when one hovers over the image. There are arguments whether this attribute actually has an effect on the ability of images to rank however it's most certainly not going to hurt and there are those who believe it does hold image-based ranking value. At the end of the day, it will serve the visitor and even if it doesn't hold direcct SEO value today, that doesn't mean it won't in the future. Better to apply the attribute now than to try to play catchup later or wonder why your traffic dropped.

Page Copy: Similar to Google reading your page for traditional SEO relevancy, so too do they read it to determine the relevancy of the images on that page. If you've got an image gallery, make sure to add copy around the image and a title and heading to the page to help reinforce the image content. This will allow Google to put your image in context. Matt Cutts discusses the use of page copy in the following video:

Additional Notes About Image Results:

Note One: As we touched on earlier, there are some issues with ranking your images. The biggest issue is theft. Depending on the application, you'll want to watermark your photos and graphics. While you may want to keep images such as your logo free for use (always nice to have some free branding) if you're a travel blogger, professional photographer, etc. you may want to watermark your images with your domain, name or company. They may still be taken but they'll certainly be easier to find and if they are, at least you're getting some free publicity.

Note Two: The second issue with image search is competition. If you sell an assortment of blue widgets, be sure to take your own pictures and not rely on the manufacturer's. Google may not be perfect yet but they're getting better at image detection and if we learned nothing from the Panda Update it's that they don't like duplicate content. If you want your images to rank in the future, make sure they're unique.

Note Three: We are in the process of comparing the relative strength of links (both internal and external) to images vs. embedding the images on pages (again, both internally and externally). While the results are as-of-yet inconclusive as to which carries more weight, there is indication that both appear to be signals. I would skew the results by listing them here at this time but once completed I will be doing a followup article on linking and embedding strategies for image optimization.

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