Anyone who has worked in a restaurant (or six) knows that, while customers may only interact with employees in the front of house, they’ll go hungry without the work that takes place in the back.

This dynamic occurs during the website development process, as well. While the differences between front-end development (customer-facing; how a website looks) and back-end development (server-facing; how a website works) may not be as stark as what happens in restaurant culture, the truth remains: Your customer-facing efforts can be fancy, but you still need a small army in the back to sling that hash.

Most of the details regarding a website’s images are tucked away, unseen by all but the most curious of visitors, but those details—not technically invisible, but functionally absent from the user’s experience—require behind-the-scenes vigilance and play a notable role in SEO efforts. Many businesses focus on text-based content, which of course matters tremendously, but images are also essential for both the user’s experience and SEO purposes. This is even more true in e-commerce.

Nearly one billion people use Google Images daily, and up to one-fifth of all Google searches are image searches. Neglecting the opportunity to attract or interact with up to 20% of potential customers would be a poor decision in any business model. That’s why optimizing a website for search engines is now a critical aspect of any business’s online presence, and should be a consideration as you begin assembling a digital marketing strategy

Ultimately, you should take any step to increase a website’s performance—how quickly a website and its pages load—while also improving the website’s accessibility. Too often, however, businesses neglect some of the details in their (potentially large) media libraries to focus on the most obviously glaring concerns, even though proper image SEO can help generate a significant amount of website traffic for those who adhere to the following principles.

Most of the steps outlined below should be taken because doing the right thing is always a good move, but they can also help businesses get the most SEO value from their websites.

Image Selection & Placement

Selecting the right images for your website is the first step in optimizing your images for SEO. “Right” means contextually relevant to the content on your website, but also rhetorically significant (conveying the intended message effectively) and aesthetically pleasing—websites normally show and tell, after all.

Because Google extracts information about the subject matter of each image based on the content on the page, the image’s placement on a page is no small concern. Search engines place more weight on content that appears higher up—in that area that newspaper editors and reporters would call “above the fold.” 

Accordingly, key images should be placed near the top of the page to improve the website’s overall relevance.

Alt Text & Title Attribution

Alternative text for images is an essential attribute that describes the content of an image. Search engines need alt text to best understand an image’s content, even when it cannot be displayed, as when an image fails to load for some reason or when a website’s visitor uses a screen reader. Descriptive alt text also improves a website’s accessibility for visually impaired users; without it, a website may not meet the ADA’s basic expectations about accommodations and accessibility. But as we have argued before, making your website ADA-compliant is a smart business decision, too.

The title attribution for each image is one more piece of vital information that can be easily overlooked, even though it provides further context for the image. If you hover your mouse over an image, you can see it—and search engines use this to understand the image’s content, which means descriptive and relevant titles that accurately reflect the content of the image are essential.

Image Caption & File Naming

A caption briefly describes, and usually appears directly below, an image. Unlike most of these recommendations, captions are content that can be seen by a website’s visitors. As with the rest, it’s an opportunity to provide additional context about the image to search engines and improve the user experience. That said, this element is not as critical for SEO as some of the other elements described here, but it can aid your SEO efforts.

Even the image’s file name is something to consider in the SEO optimization process. Default image names (“IMG_01291985.png” ) are usually meaningless, but especially to search engines. Renaming the images to more accurately reflect the image’s content is never a bad idea. Search engines can then understand the content and improve your website’s overall relevance. In many ways, these steps are all about making your images more accessible—not just to the user, but also to search engines like Google and Bing.

For example: The file name for the image below is “image-SEO-is-important.png,” which adds value to the SEO of this page and accurately describes what the image displays. For the alt text, we’ve added “graphic displaying the text ‘Image SEO is important.’”

Image Size & Type

Large file sizes slow down your website, which can negatively impact the user’s experience and SEO. While the images must be high quality, the file size should not be too large. Therefore, it is important to compress images to reduce file size while maintaining image quality. There is no reason to not do this. Compression is your ally.

In addition, even the types of images used can be a factor in SEO efforts regarding a website’s media library. Outdated or older image types can slow down a website’s loading time, and…well, it gets a little technical at this point. If you’re interested, though, one of our designers would love to talk with you about it.

Image Sharing

Finally, sharing your images—via social media, email marketing, or other online efforts—increases the visibility of those images and helps drive traffic to your website. Additionally, linking back to your website when you share those images will help improve the SEO, as links from reputable sources signal to search engines that your website is ready, like pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham, to announce its presence with authority.

By engaging with some of the decidedly unsexy but truly essential steps of digital marketing, businesses can improve their SEO ranking and improve their website’s relevance to search engines. And with the coming changes to Google Analytics, now is the time to get your digital house in order (front and back). We’d love to talk with you about how Rare Bird can improve your digital marketing efforts.