A Thousand (Searchable) Words: Why Image Naming and ALT Text Matter for SEO

Toothpaste for Dinner JPEG is Worth

You may be familiar with the old cliché, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but what if a picture was worth a thousand hits?

In the era of Google Image Search, including a relevant picture  with well-written content can boost your site’s traffic. We have a few easy tips for optimizing your blog’s images for SEO but first, let me relate an anecdote.

My accidental rise to the top of Google Image Search

I started blogging when I was a freshman in college. My passion for music and live concerts was just too intense not to share it with the world. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I signed up for a WordPress.com blog and started writing and posting images regularly. None of my posts got much attention since I wasn’t using SEO best practices or promoting myself effectively through social media. I was thrilled if two or three people read a post.

That all changed when I posted an image that exploded without warning. It was a picture of me with the lead singer of a new band called MGMT (The name might ring a bell). The image was simply titled “andrew-van-wyngarden-mgmt-and-me.jpeg” with the embarrassingly enthusiastic ALT text “Andrew VanWyngarden and I!!!” Yes, I used three exclamation points. Please don’t judge me. I’ve grown up and learned to control my punctuation usage.

Without knowing it, I had made a post that was incredibly search-friendly. For a while, my silly face was at the top of every Google image search for that singer and several related search queries. I went between result number 2 and number 3 depending on the week. My blog saw a traffic explosion, and a huge comment thread was born. People from around the world were finding and visiting my blog! All I had done was post a JPEG and name the file.

To date, that single image post has accumulated approximately 120,000 views.

Embarrassing college stories aside, the point is, if you’re using images on your blog, you should be using a naming schema and adding ALT text. It only takes a little extra time, and it opens up a whole new avenue for people to find your awesome content. Check out these five tips for naming and optimizing blog images:

1. Come up with a clear naming schema and stick to it.

I’d recommend being consistent with whatever naming schema you adopt. Make it a habit! It’ll keep your image folder organized and help Google figure out the image’s content. Get descriptive and don’t be afraid to use hyphens or underscores. Include your company name when it’s relevant. Your images will instantly be more search-friendly than “IMG_0052″ or “45299_3615209171720_1719966979_n.”  Plus, if a reader right-clicks and saves your image, that filename will live forever on their hard drive. Better make it good.

Here are some examples to get you started: “Student-Experts-Content-Writers-Meeting.jpg,” “2012-Google-Penguin-Update.jpg,” “Tacoma-Plumber-Fixing-Leaky-Pipes.jpg”

2. Always add ALT text!

It only takes a second, so stop making excuses and add descriptive and human-friendly ALT text when you upload an image. It’s helpful for SEO and for people with visual impairments using screen-reading software. If you want to learn more, this video describes why ALT text is important. Some ALT text examples include, “Two Student Experts employees on a coffee break,” or “New Spring 2012 Collection.”

3. If you are linking to an image, use descriptive anchor text.

Creating good anchor text for external links is crucial for SEO, and image links are no exception. The more you can tell a search engine about the image you’re linking to, the better, and text is one of the easiest ways to describe your linked content. For example, ”Our house salad features delicious organic Roma tomatoes from our garden” uses better anchor text (shown in underline) than, “Click here to see a high-resolution image of the tomatoes used in this recipe.”

4. Make sure images are relevant to your post, titles, and headings.

Context is crucial with image optimization. Even if you’ve named the image with care and crafted beautiful ALT text, search engines can get confused if the image appears to be unrelated to the content around it. Always use relevant images (except, of course, when you’re being intentionally ironic).

5. Don’t stuff your images.

Keyword stuffing is a bad practice for content and for images. Keep your ALT text and titles relevant and succinct. Images with extensive ALT text can appear spammy, especially when multiple images are stuffed with the same repeated keywords or phrases. This thread at Google’s forums provides a great example of the negative effects of keyword stuffing images.

I hope this posts allows you to create image-filled and SEO-friendly blog posts. If you have questions about image optimization, or think I’ve missed any important tips, then leave me a comment.