Before I take a client on for SEO, I review his or her website to see where it stands in terms of optimization. Some sites are over-optimized, while some have no optimization at all. But the one thing I find, almost universally, is that webmasters do not pay attention to optimizing their images. The ALT tags are missing, and sometimes, webmasters don’t even realize that they're pirating the images!
These are two issues that must be addressed, so if you have images on your pages (and I know you do) listen up!
First, it’s easy to optimize an image, and you really want to do that for a couple of reasons:
1) Potential SEO and
2) To get that image into Google Images and also importantly now, into Bing image search.
Though an image doesn’t seem like a traffic generator, it can be. I mean, look at ICanHas.Cheezburger.com, right? It’s just a bunch of funny cat and other animal pictures with silly captions, and if you go to the site, you’ll see it’s got a page rank 6 and an Alexa of 736 right now. Talk about authority! But think about it: those images are shared, re-shared, and shared some more. People love images (especially cats) that bring a smile.
But you don’t have a cat site, so where does that leave you?
First, when you’re searching for images, find images that are thought provoking, funny, or engaging in some way. People who search on Google images often follow through to the page where the image is placed, which means traffic.
Sure, sure… Lots of times, they’ll not even bother looking at the content of the page and will click away almost instantly, but you’re mining for those folks who are interested in what your site is about, simply because they’re intrigued by your image. They will stay and read what you offer and maybe even click to other pages on your site. Watching how traffic flows from images is just as important as watching how it flows from search.
So, let’s start with issue 1: “Potential SEO.”
Images, by their very nature, are not spiderable. By that, I mean, search robots can’t parse pictures. (Or for those of you into Heinlein, they can’t “grok” them.) But they can understand text. I’m not talking about captions; I’m talking about HTML tags behind the images that tell spiders this image is…
I bet you have seen this acronym: ALT when posting an image to your blog or web page, right? It means “Alternate Text,” and it’s called that because it means that in lieu of the spider being able to “see” the image, you’re giving it to them in text. (SEO 101.)
An image code with an ALT tag looks like this:
<img src=http://URL.com/image.jpg ALT=”my business logo”> or <img alt=”my business logo” src=http://URL.com/image.jpg>
There will probably be some image dimensions and such included, too, but I want to keep this simple. ALT tags are often placed automatically by your WYSIWYG HTML editor, so the tag may be open, just waiting for you to fill it in, like this: alt=” ”. Just put something between the quotation marks and you’re good to go, baby.
In WordPress, it’s simple. When you add the image to the Media Library, click to edit. You’ll see an empty box under the thumbnail and description that says, “ALT.” Just complete that with a little thought and bingo!
If you can possibly fit in a keyword about the page, do that, but only if it makes sense. Google gets hacked at people trying to stuff keywords into ALT tags where the information doesn’t belong.
Just don’t do it.
A proper ALT tag identifies the image. So, for example, if the image really is your business logo, you could add “dog grooming business logo” to the ALT tag and that's great!
But if it’s kids walking a dog, to add “dog grooming” to that image would be pointless. The image is about “kids walking a dog.” That still gives spiders some idea what your image is about and because it’s on a Web page, what the page is about, too. (Remember, Google and other search engines rank pages, NOT entire websites.)
Got it? Good!
And here's another reason for implementing this: Bing just introduced a feature whereby visitors can pin images found there directly onto their Pinterest boards. Considering the great results that Pinterest is generating for business, having your ALT tags completed properly is more important than ever.
Now, let’s move on to issue 2: Pirated images.
Lots of people think that when they find an image online, it’s fair game. Well, it’s not! As a someone who has been a professional writer for more than twenty years, I can tell you that writers, artists, photographers, and musicians don’t like to have their “stuff” lifted.
It’s wrong – legally and morally.
Instead, you can buy stock photos for $1-2 each at some sites, like Fotolia.com, iStockPhoto.com, and ShutterStock.com.
But… You can get lots of free images, too.
Morguefile.com has a gazillion free images that photographers have added to the site. You can use them without attribution. You can adapt and change them any way you want, and they’re great for blog posts or whatever you're putting online. Some photographers ask that you tell them where the image is being used, which helps their resumes, I’m thinking, but isn’t it cool to have someone actually like what you do? Let them know!
And as I said, Morguefile images are free, and now that you know about it, I’m guessing you’ll be a regular user. You can donate to the site, and if you’re a regular user, it’s a nice thing to do. But you can search other paid photo sites through Morguefile.com, too, if you don’t find exactly what you want for free. I’m guessing Morguefile gets an affiliate commission, so nice to send some dough their way, no matter how big or small, too.
Legal Issues and Search
Using other people’s images without permission is out and out plagiarism, and it’s against the law. Best case scenario when the owner finds out is that you’re asked to remove the image from your site. Worst case scenario? You can end up in court.
But you have search engines to think about here, too.
The Big Dog named Google has mentioned that this type of non-condoned usage isn’t cool, and they’re trying to clean up the Internet, in case you haven’t noticed. So, buying images, using images with free licenses, or using images in the public domain is crucial – more so than ever before, if you still want to do well in search.
Check the license attached to the image before just grabbing it to use for your own purposes. If the owner asks you to attribute (tell people where it came from or who created it), you should do that, too. It’s the right thing to do.
So, think about your images! Don’t be lazy! Tag them properly and be sure that they’re OK to use. Otherwise, you could find out that you’re making the photographer and the Big Dog mad, and nobody wants that. When the Big Dog growls and shows its teeth, you probably ought to pay attention.