It’s hard to imagine a time before the internet. A time when, if we wanted to know the answer to something, we had to go to the library, read a book, ask someone or just gave up and accept you would never know the answer. Now, the answer to everything is at our fingertips - we just need to search for it, and it’s the task of any good web author to make sure their web page is the one people find to help them answer those questions, but, have you ever wondered about images and how important they might be in answering those questions?

We all know adding an image to a web page makes it look nicer, it’ll increase the pages engagement and help the ranking of the page but what about the image itself? Is it just about increasing engagement or can an image actually answer someone’s question, and help the page rank better?

As way of a real-life analogy, the other day my wife and son came home from a charity shop in town that sells children’s clothes and toys with a strange looking toy I had never seen before. A quick Google search revealed nothing about it at all, so we had no idea what it was and what the point of it was. As my son, who is 2 ½ stood there demanding that I “open it”, I ran another search through Google images, describing what the toy was, and some of the brand names that were imprinted onto the side of it, and there in my list of images was a picture of the toy that I was looking at. I quickly clicked on the image, and landed on a web page where I promptly found out this wasn’t a toy, but actually was a puzzle of some kind supposedly harder than a Rubik's cube – that couldn’t be opened, and certainly was too hard for my toddler to figure out. So, yes – great image SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) will help you. Both in how your web page ranks on regular page search listings and in image search rankings too, but your choice of image can also help drive traffic to your webpage.

However, finding content or answers through image search isn’t just something that we do occasionally. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 90% of the information transmitted to the human brain is visual and, according to The Intent Lab 59% of people think that visual information is more important than textual information. It should be clear therefore that images are needed to help convey your content and for the majority they are generally deemed more important than the actual words you are saying. It should be no surprise therefore that Google Image search is an absolutely vital part of the search real estate of Google.

Top SEO image tips

There are a few things when uploading an image to our website you are told to do in our web author guidance. We advise these for several reasons, but one of them is to ensure your images are indexable and can have the best opportunity to rank on Google Image Search, and help the ranking of the web page that the image was used on.

  • Follow a file name convention

Very often people upload images with their names that come from their camera e.g. “IMG2346” or with something equally unhelpful such as “Image 1”. But, naming it something helpful and descriptive with a keyword will actually mean it stands a chance of ranking. Google can’t see your image, so without its name it has no idea what it is and what it relates to.

  • Store it in the folder structure.

It is far too easy to save images wherever you wish on the website, and not within a sensible folder structure. I’m sure most authors at some point have felt frustrated searching through the hundreds of images that are stored directly under the first media folder behind the scenes. But the folder you use is hugely important as it feeds into the image URL, and that URL is one of the signals Google looks at to know what your image is about. It gives that image structure and context. Without it, Google will just know the name of the file, but once it's stored in the right folder, one that makes logical sense to its context, Google can give it a genuine place to live – and rank.

  • Set an appropriate alt tag to the image (alternative text) and title tag.

Alt tags or alternative text serve two fundamental purposes. They provide users who rely on a screen reader (a text assistive technology that reads a web page aloud) with a text alternative to the image that has been used, but, because they are text-based, they also provide something for Google to look at to assess their relevancy. An Alt tag should therefore be written in a descriptive manner, in a full sentence but include some helpful keywords that also aid with that description. You should not cram the description with all the keywords your page is targeting.

A title tag is similar to the alt tag, but rather than it being hidden and only available to Search Engine crawlers or those using screen readers, the title tag is a descriptive element added to an image that can be visually displayed. Both these fields can be edited when you upload your image.

  • Ensure your image is web-ready.

When a photograph is taken, the size of the photograph is usually quite high, so that you can print it off and put it on a huge canvas on your wall if you wanted to. But, when you use it for the web, you don’t need an image that is super huge. You just need an image that is appropriately size – we advise around 1000x1000 pixels.

When a huge image is added to a website, the user needs to download all of that data before they can view the page. The larger the image, the more there is to download and the slower the page will be. Page speed is a huge factor in how well a web page or image will rank on Search Engines. If you have access to photoshop you should compress the image too – this will make sure that the image file size is a small as possible. Make sure to only save your finished file as PNG or JPG too.

  • Make your images sell your work.

The University has image guidance to help web authors and editors think about what images they could use to sell the content of their work. It is extremely easy to just grab an image that “looks ok” and find out that image is used everywhere. That won’t help sell your page and it won’t help it rank well on Google image search either, especially if you’ve opted for a stock photo. When it comes to Google Image search, a unique image that is both optimised well and really relates to your web content is the best way to rank high. If you are unsure on your image, do a quick google image search for your topic and see what it throws up. Universities have a bit of a bad habit of reusing photos of students smiling into space for most of their course-led images, and scientific/laboratorial type images for all of their research – our guidelines are there for us to stand out from the crowd and for your web content to do so too.

  • On-page SEO

It should go without saying you need to follow best on-page SEO practice. The better the page is optimised, the better your image could rank.

Selecting and optimising your images shouldn’t need to be difficult, but perhaps the biggest challenge any content editor might have is not thinking about their image till the end – frantically hunting round for something that looks appropriate and adding it to the text at the last minute. Planning ahead and choosing your images carefully and creatively will help your content perform and will ensure you achieve what you need to with your pages.