16 Image SEO Tips for 2023

16 Image SEO Tips for 2024

Whether you run a website or post extensively on social media, it’s important to make sure that your images are indexed. One reason for this is that images are as much a part of your site or your social media campaigns as the words are. In fact, for some forums like Instagram or Pinterest, the picture is almost all of your post and you can’t get your message across without them. In an era where social media has taken up such an important role in marketing (not just relationships), you can’t ignore these opportunities.

Unfortunately, if your images don’t get indexed by search engines, they will have a much lower impact. Ideally, you want images to not only be visible where you posted them but also on Google. This is much easier with the “photos” section of Google searches, but you still need to tell Google where to categorize your pictures.

In other words, you need image SEO.

What is Image SEO?

Image SEO is the process of improving the discoverability and ranking of your images in search engines by implementing proven best practices. These practices give Google and other search engines the tools they need to properly index your pictures. In addition, you’ll get a boost for your underlying articles or social media account because you can click through the imager in Google to visit a website. 

Why is Image SEO Important?

There are several reasons why image SEO is important. Perhaps the biggest one is keyword rankings: Google and other search engines count the alt text and captions for your images towards a page’s ranking.

Similarly, you’ll get better site visibility. Not only can Google users go to a website from the picture but the more information your site has, the more visible it is. Having your images SEO-friendly is one of the best ways to outperform the competition.

Finally, image SEO helps with user experience. The alt data and captions can help people who use screen readers and other assistive technology. In addition, when there’s a clear connection between your images and text, everyone will find the site easier to understand.

Further Reading: Looking for a Google SEO Checker? Here’s 15 to Check Out

Images Increase Your Overall SEO

There’s little question that blog posts and articles look better with pictures. After all, these images break up your page and help portray your point in other ways. There’s a saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and nobody wants to read that extra length.

However, there’s another reason why images are important: They help increase your SEO. In particular, image SEO gives the search engine another way to determine what’s in your article. This is especially true when you add keywords to the image information.

What are SEO-Friendly Images?

Any image can be SEO-friendly, whether it’s an illustration, a photograph, or even an infographic. However, not all images are SEO-friendly. If your photo doesn’t have alt text or other information, then the search engines won’t get much out of it.

Generally, we talk about SEO-friendly images as having been optimized. To do this, you’ll follow a series of steps that not only touches on the keywords you might use, but also resolution, file type, and more. What follows are some image SEO tips for beginners 

16 Image SEO Tips for 2024

Like so many other things SEO-related, making your image SEO-friendly is much more difficult than just whipping up some clever text. Instead, you need to consider smaller details like file format, size, name, and more. Google and other search engines look at everything, so you need to maximize every detail.

1. Image Size Matters

Image Size Matters

The size of your image file directly impacts your site’s load time, and a slow loading page offers a poor user experience. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why people leave a website early is that the page takes a long time to load. Mobile users, a growing segment of the internet audience, are especially well known for giving up when sites load slowly. To compound that problem, mobile internet often loads more slowly than wifi.

Don’t let your potential customers leave because it takes too long to load your website. Instead, compress your images so that they load quickly. You can use a website load time checker to see if your site loads fast enough for most people. Then, adjust until you get a nice picture with quick load times.

2. Choose an Appropriate File Format

You may have a lot of image format options but not all may be ideal for your use case. For instance, some formats are too heavy for your use case, and others don’t display well on your screen. Common formats include JPEG, PNG, TIFF, RAW, WebP, and SVG. Just because your computer has an image already saved in a format doesn’t mean that it’s the right one for current use.

With that said, some file formats can lose data, provide something grainy, or give high-definition results. Weigh the pros and cons and select a format that strikes a balance between quality, size, and practicality. For example, if you’re marketing a computer game then the high definition is OK because people expect those images to load more slowly. Similarly, you need a different file type for a simple infographic.

Finally, resize images to fit the display dimensions. Social media channels like Instagram have specific dimensions for pictures on their site. And for your website, it’s best to choose an image size that looks nice on each page. Ideally, you’ll use consistent sizes throughout your website because it promotes better branding and organization.

3. Image File Name Matters Too

Some people might think that the image file name is just a placeholder. After all, computers give most photographs a random file name full of numbers. But once you put the file on the internet, it’s best to have a specific file name. That’s because naming the image file helps Google know what your image is about.  

To help promote proper image SEO, name the file before uploading with relevant keywords. For example, the portrait you use should say something like “name-portrait.” Google will immediately know that the picture is a portrait of the author. An infographic might have a name like “image-SEO-tips” which describes the contents.

Target keywords should be towards the beginning. It’s well known that Google and other search engines consider a keyword more important if it occurs early in a text, because people usually make a statement, then back it up. Think of file names as a title. 

Finally, separate each word with a hyphen instead of an underscore between words. Google says that they can read the text more easily with hyphens than with underscores, so you’re missing out on opportunities with the other method.

4. Optimize Your Alt Tags

Alt tags let search engine crawlers understand what the picture is about. They are also referred to as alt attributes or alt text by SEO experts. To insert alt tags, you add text to the HTML code for each image. These are what search engines read, and you should use some keywords and other items to add context. Google Images will then classify your pictures and display them in the Images tag.

Similarly, you should optimize alt tags so that the visually impaired can enjoy them. Many people with disabilities use a program called a screen reader, or the accessibility features in their computer operating system, to browse the web. By adding alt text, you’ll let them look beyond the text sections of your website. And, if you own a visual-heavy site, this flexibility is critical.

5. Don’t Forget the Captions

The image caption is the text below the image. It helps in making your page more scannable. In fact, according to KissMetrics, captions are read 300% more often than the actual body copy, making it an important part of your article. That being said, not every image needs a caption. For instance, infographics essentially speak for themselves. On the other hand, a picture of your latest convention trip would probably need one. It’s up to you to decide which images on your site need a caption. 

6. Use Original and Unique Images

Use Original and Unique Images

Don’t source your images from free stock image websites, as they are likely to have been used by other sites as well. Not only does this mean your images aren’t original, but you might get penalized for duplicate content by some search engines. This is especially true if you have a duplicate caption or alt text.

Want to avoid this problem? Provide your own unique image if you can. Infographics are easy to make with some image editors like Canva. You can also use those tools to edit photos and, in many cases, create various documents with graphics components. Best of all, many of these tools are free or cheap, meaning you can get great content for minimal costs.

If you’re sourcing your image from stock sites, make sure that the image doesn’t violate any copyright laws. While laws vary by jurisdiction, as a general rule you want to look for any indicator that you have permission to use the image. For instance, some stock sites ask you to pay a publication rights fee. Or, there might be a Creative Commons license of some kind. In these situations, be sure to follow instructions.

Strictly speaking, copyright doesn’t affect image SEO. However, you can get into legal problems if you step outside of either the fair use doctrine or a license. This might mean reaching out to the creator or their agency. I always recommend that you get guidance from legal counsel if you have questions, especially since copyright infringement lawsuits are expensive.

Further Reading: 7 SEO Copywriting Tips for 2022

8. Make the Images Mobile Friendly

Make the Images Mobile Friendly

Create responsive images that work well on both desktop and mobile devices. As I’ve said before, mobile phone users are a growing segment of internet traffic. Therefore, you want your site, and its images, to appeal to both groups. This means making your images easy to load on both device types, but it also means the image should display well on both devices. Some image formats don’t work well with one or the other.

In addition, you should remember that people often hold their phones in portrait mode rather than the landscape mode of computer monitors. This means that if your image is too wide it’ll be partially cut off, or that the text around it may become too small to read. You want to avoid both problems with mobile optimization.

Further Reading: 11 SEO Trends Every Marketer Should Know in 2022

9. Add Image Structured Data

Search engines can display rich results using image structured data. These data points connect an image with its home page, thereby boosting image SEO. However, the real magic of structured data is that it tells Google your image is licensable. In particular, you can post your license information to demonstrate that you have the owner’s permission to use the image. It’ll also tell people where the image came from, such as a stock photo site or the photographer’s name.

Another advantage of structured data is that you can more easily benefit from Google Images search. That’s because your images will be permanently associated with your website. Especially if your visuals are original, this association is very valuable, both for SEO and for business.

10. Create XML Image Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a list of URLs that contain information about the pages on your website. This way, it’s easy for search engine crawlers to know what’s on your website without needing to analyze absolutely everything. Consequently, getting your site indexed will happen much more quickly, especially if you ask Google to index your site. Besides this, an easily readable site will likely rank higher than one that’s more difficult to read.

Also, an image sitemap helps Google to discover your images with ease, boosting your image SEO. Remember, the best way to rank highly on Google is to both have relevant keywords and also make your site user-friendly. Because machines are also users (to a point) you need to make images and text easily accessible to them. With the heavy competition in SEO these days, you want every possible edge.

11. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for Images

Using a dedicated CDN for image delivery is a great way to increase your site speed. CDNs are groups of servers, distributed in several locations, that help deliver files to a computer. Usually, the server closest to the requesting computer will deliver each piece of content, though there might be exceptions for regulatory issues or when one server is down.

The biggest advantage of a CDN is improved website speed because large files get delivered over shorter distances in most cases. Plus, the use of multiple servers helps avoid server overload, which you could get if too many people access your website at once.

Remember, increased site speed is good for your overall SEO strategy, so this image SEO tip works to some extent for your whole site. Even if you put the text parts of your site on only one server, you’ll achieve quite a speed boost.

12. Optimize for SafeSearch

SafeSearch filters content based on age-appropriateness. For instance, you can filter out violence, vulgarities, pornography, and more. This is a Google service that provides basic filtering for people who can set some simple rules and forget them. Settings attach to each Google account so that you can have different rules for each member of the family. Then, anything that violates the filter criteria gets excluded from the search results.

Depending on your website topic or niche, this can be a significant image SEO problem. In particular, religious, political, and medical topics can offend some people. For medical images, there are concerns about graphic depictions of body parts or medical procedures. Likewise, world events and political demonstrations can depict violence, as can video games and some other things.

With image SEO, the important thing is to ensure that SafeSearch can tell the difference between something that’s developmentally appropriate for an elementary school student, a high school youth, and an adult. That way, you won’t lose out on legitimate traffic from appropriate audiences.

13. Use Lazy Loading

Use Lazy Loading

As I’ve mentioned before, slow page load times can be detrimental to SEO. Not only do people leave your website if it doesn’t load fast enough, but slow websites can limit the number of pages people view on each visit. If your site is slow enough, people will learn not to come back, and your SEO is slipping.

On the other hand, you can try lazy loading. With lazy loading, you don’t have each device load your entire site page at the same time. Instead, browsers will download each image only when it’s needed. If the load is faster for images, then visitors probably won’t notice. On the other hand, users can also scroll through pages without waiting for large images to load. If your images aren’t important to the story, then there might not be a need to see them anyway.

When your site loads faster due to lazy loading, you give visitors the best possible experience so that they stay longer. You’ll win, not only because of improved customer experience but also with better image SEO.

14. Optimize for Twitter Cards and Open Graph

Twitter Cards and Open Graph Cards provide the reader a preview of the post that is being shared on social media. Twitter cards can include various information since there are several types. For the sake of image SEO, they usually include a thumbnail of the post’s main picture to pique people’s interest.

The open graph describes how web pages are shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It ensures that the image is included with the post you are sharing. In addition, this boosts SEO because it offers another opportunity for your images to be indexed by Google and other search engines. That doesn’t count the SEO for each platform’s individual search engine, where you look things up by user or hashtag. In other words, Twitter and other social media cards drive traffic to your image and your website through improved SEO.

Further Reading: How to Best Leverage Twitter Cards to Generate More Traffic from Your Tweets

15. Audit Your Site’s Existing Images and Check for Issues

Audit Your Site's Existing Images and Check for Issues

An SEO audit helps you find weaknesses in your website’s overall SEO. To perform one, use an SEO audit tool to check your images for issues like missing alt text, description, caption, file size, and more. Sometimes, you’ll find other technical issues like broken links, or that the image no longer matches up with your page.

Once you get the report, fix whatever problems your audit tool finds. In some cases, you’ll have an easy fix like optimizing your caption. Other problems might require technical support or IT to fix, especially if the file is corrupted or loading very slowly. Either way, to improve your image SEO you’ll want to address these issues right away.

16. Use Tools for Image Optimization

Image optimizers help you compress your images without degrading the image quality. They can also change the file format. Combined, these image SEO tools let you and your site visitors get the best of both worlds: nice, crisp images at a load speed they can appreciate. Plus, you won’t weigh down your servers or hard drive with more data than you need.

Image optimization is simple: you can use online tools such as TinyPNG, Kraken, and JPEG optimizer to optimize your images. Each of these tools handles different file types, so while you often can change this image attribute using the optimizers, you don’t have to. Remember, this is one thing that an SEO audit can recommend.

Further Reading: The 15 Best Free SEO Tools You Need to Know [2022]


Most website owners don’t think of images when they talk about SEO. However, this isn’t in their best interest, because Google and other search engines consider image SEO when they rank the site. Fortunately, many of the steps we follow to make our websites user-friendly also boost the SEO position of our images and sites generally. If you follow these best practices, you have a good chance of success.

Hero Photo by Jenna Day on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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