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Image Optimization Reminders
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Image optimization is not that difficult yet many fail to implement common best practices for optimizing the images on their web properties. With the search engine results pages (SERPs) moving away from traditional text results to more dynamic results pages such as the case with Google Universal Search and blended search, the importance of optimizing things such as video and image becomes increasingly important. As the engines continue to improve image results, simply uploading an image will not get you listed in image search results or in the main results.

Places where image search results appear, and can be indexable into general search engines' contextual results, include:
  1. Major search engines - either within contextual search results or vertical image search (Google, Yahoo, ASK, Windows Live Search)
  2. Photo sharing sites (Flickr, Webshots)
  3. Social image sharing sites (MySpace, Facebook)
Image Size

The following guidelines should be considered when optimizing the images on your site.

  • Limit the number of images to a reasonable number that you have on site pages. Having a large number of images on your pages can reduce page and site load time.
  • Combine, refine, and optimize your graphics.
  • Replace graphic rollovers with CSS rollovers to speed display and minimize HTTP requests.
  • As a general rule of thumb, try to keep your total size of images per page to less than 30K (30,000 bytes)

Optimizing Images

People are visual and need to see images if they are going to purchase something. Optimizing your images for search engines becomes a necessity if you are to intercept these people. Here are some image optimization tips:

  • Optimize Images for Size – as mentioned above, consider the size of the images that you use on your site pages.
  • Use Quality Images - make necessary resolution adjustments between your full size images and your thumbnails. Good quality images will entice more clicks from users. Use quality pictures.
  • Use Original Photos – just as search engines prefer unique content, they also prefer unique images. Brand them with your logo, trademark or URL.
  • Use Consistent Image Formatting – Save photos as JPG files, and other graphic image types as GIFs as search engines will interpret a GIF as a standard graphic image with 256 colors and JPGs as photos.
  • Optimize Image File Names - be sure to incorporate keywords into the file name of your images that accurately reflect what the image consists of. The image name will appear beneath the graphic image in search results. It helps to communicate to searchers that they are viewing the desired graphic image.
  • Tagging Images – Where possible, you should always tag your images. Take advantage of the many special contextual tags for social sites with image search. Not only are image names given more weight than regular search results, but you can also add special tags such as captions, comments, location, and themes. Try to put labels and captions on key graphic images.
  • Describe Your Images with “Alt” Text – use alt tags to accurately describe images utilizing important keywords in the alt text. Alt text shows up in Google Image search results. Proper syntax looks something like: alt="Keyword Rich Image Description"
  • Optimize Page Content with the image. Optimizing the page the image appears on is just as important (probably more important) as optimizing the image itself. It’s fair to say that optimizing the actual page for contextual search improves graphic images search.
    Did You Know? The engines look at the text surrounding a graphic image to determine relevancy. Text within the anchor tag and next to anchor text will have a strong influence on image-search rankings.
  • Organize File Structure/Hierarchy – It is important to create an image folder on your web server space that's accessible to the search engines.
  • Factor in Usability - usability is very important in image search optimization and should always be considered when creating an uploading your images. Just because you show up at the top of image search results, does not mean that people will click on the link to the image and go to your site. Image optimization needs to accurately reflect the image.
  • Re-Upload your Images – be sure to revisit your images from time to time and consider re-uploading them so that the search engines can crawl them again. “Image freshness” can provide a hint for the search engines and might affect relevancy of your image search results.
  • Create an Image Sitemap on your site – create a separate sitemap page that is specific to your main images that you wish to optimize. The image sitemap would consist of links to the actual images and would contain alt tags for each image. This would help the search engines find your main images and should help with Universal Search rankings.
Common Image Optimization Mistakes

Below are some of the most common errors that are encountered on a regular basis as they pertain to image search optimization.

Copying Existing Photos – Prior to uploading an image that you may have acquired, be sure that you have the right to use them. Copyright laws will restrict usage in a number of cases.

Limiting Access to Image Files via robots.txt - Do not use your robots.txt to exclude your graphic images directory or limit search engine access to graphic-image files.

Avoid Javascript Links – avoid putting a 'click to see larger image' inside of a JavaScript link. When you do that, you are limiting search engines' access to that image file.

Avoid Burying You Image Folder within your site’s hierarchy – if you have an images folder you’ll want to ensure that it is accessible to the search engines. Just as with page content, if you images folder is buried 4 or 5 levels deep, the engines may not treat these images as authoritative and thus not rank your images as high as they could in the image search and universal results.

Image optimization will not only help you with the image vertical search results, but if optimized correctly can help improve visibility in the main search results of the major search engines. Image optimization should be a key component on your blended search strategy as it creates yet another interception point for your brand and your target audience.

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posted by Jody @ Tuesday, June 30, 2009  
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