The search engine results pages are becoming increasingly more visual.
Not only are image packs larger than they once were, but Google Images has integrated with shopping feeds to allow users to find a quicker path to purchase.
This is great for the user experience, but creates another to-do list item for SEOs.
Needless to say, image optimization may be more important now than it ever has been.
(An Image Pack search result for the query “black hoodies.”)
The Three Components of Google Image Optimization
There are three main components of Google image optimization. Here’s a quick overview of those elements.
Later on, we’ll talk about how to locate any errors and optimize.
#1. Alt Tag
An alt tag, also known as alt text, is text that describes an image on your site. Because Googlebot can’t “read” an image, the alt text is in place so Google can still learn about the context of the image.
But alt text is also important for users and the end user experience — especially for those who are visually impaired or blind. Alt text can be read by a screen reader so those who are visually impaired can still know what an image depicts.
#2. Image Size
Each image has a width and height specification that’s part of the raw code itself.
#3. Crawlable Images
Just as you’re used to with your overall web pages, Google has to be able to crawl your images in order to learn about them.
We’ll cover all of these elements below in a 3-step process:
How to Optimize Your Images for Search
Even the highest quality images can have underlying SEO issues. Here is a three-step process to identify those issues, optimize your images, and report on progress.
Step 1: Identify the Issues with Your Images
The first step in image optimization is to run a crawl to locate any issue with the elements mentioned above. This allows you to kick off the image optimization workflow at scale.
If you need to specify your crawler to crawl images, go ahead and do that.
seoClarity users — when you run a crawl with Site Audits, images are automatically included in the crawl.
Here are a few optimization issues that can arise with your images:
- Image has no width and height attribute
- Image alt attribute exists but empty
- Image has no alt attribute
Similarly, you’ll be able to uncover if an image wasn’t found in a crawl — most likely signaling that the image is not crawlable.
(Issues found in a Site Audits crawl in seoClarity.)
Step 2: Optimize Your Images
Once you’ve located the issues that exist and on where they exist, it’s time to optimize!
Remember the three key elements of image optimization: alt text, image size, and crawlability.
Each element is going to have its own unique solution. Let’s discuss each in turn.
If your image is missing the alt text attribute completely or the attribute is empty, now is the time to add text.
An image’s alt text should be highly descriptive — to the point where it properly describes the image without requiring someone to actually see the image.
It’s a common mistake to use a product name or title tag as the alt text because it’s usually not descriptive enough. However, there are some cases where this can work.
For example, if your image is a green iPhone 13 — and just a green iPhone 13 — your alt text can say something like “Green iPhone 13 …” since that’s the entirety of the image.
But if your image is a man wearing a cream colored t-shirt, you wouldn’t want to just say “Cream colored t-shirt.” You’d want to also describe the man: “A man poses with one hand in his pocket wearing a cream colored t-shirt and cream slacks in front of a white background.”
Notice how you can visualize the image in your head just by reading the text.
Essentially, if the image is visually-heavy, you want the alt text to be extremely specific. The goal is to give Google as many signals as possible about what the image relates to.
TIP: Image file names should be descriptive, too. Avoid generalities like “IMG_54.”
An image's size isn't just for practical spacing purposes — Google also looks at images’ sizes to determine which image should consider as the main image for the page.
(The width and height of a particular image.)
One way to find an image’s size is to view the page’s source, and look for width= and height=.
You also want that prominent image to be higher up the page.
TIP: To best optimize your images, you want to make sure that your alt text and image height and width are a part of the raw code of the page to make it easier for Google to understand.
TIP: In an effort to keep load times fast, image files should be as small as possible without sacrificing image quality.
Which image format is best for SEO?
While PNG images are higher quality, a JPEG file format is a smaller file size, which can help with page load times.
A smaller file size will do less harm to your overall page speed and Core Web Vitals.
How to Execute the Image Optimizations at Scale
Optimizing your images one at a time is a solution, but this approach just isn’t feasible for enterprise sites. Your site may have thousands of images on it!
That’s where ClarityAutomate comes in — an SEO execution platform.
With a few clicks, you can implement critical fixes to your site, and push them live to both Googlebot and searchers. This is the first no-code solution to fix SEO issues quickly and optimize on-page elements.
Step 3: How to Report on Performance
Once you’ve identified the issues with your images and implemented fixes, it’s time to report on performance.
Reporting allows you to learn from the optimization process and repeat the cycle in the future, depending on the results.
Your rank tracker should allow you to monitor search features like images. In seoClarity’s SERP Features, you can see where the features themselves rank on the SERP, and then where your domain ranks within that feature.
(SERP Features report in the seoClarity platform.)
In this case, we’re dealing with the image pack. So, the example below tells us that the image pack appears in position 6 on the SERP, and this specific domain’s image appears in position 1 within that image pack.
(A domain's respective rank position within the Image Pack.)
You can also uncover top competitors for images specifically.
You can even enter images.google.com as a domain in Rank Intelligence to uncover opportunities, track performance, and more. This is a great way to understand how much of the SERP Google itself owns.
(Enter any competitor domain in Rank Intelligence - even a Google entity.)
This simple 3-step framework for image optimization lets you create a repeatable flywheel for your SEO program: identify the issue, implement changes, and report on the outcome to learn what works.