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The images you post on your website, blog, and on certain platforms like Flickr, play a powerful role in driving Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and traffic to your site.

Think of the times you have searched on Google, Bing, Yahoo and others for an image that you might use for whatever purpose. (The issue of copyright is always important to consider and is addressed is a different article).

I use Google image search a good bit. Here, I searched for the term “Delaware farms” and here is a screen share of my results:

Google Image Search 1

This is the first page of my Google image search for Delaware farms. These pictures show up because they are titled or tagged with those keywords, and possibly if they are shown in context with my search term.

I like the first one so I select it:

Google Image Search 2To the right of the image, Google provides option to view the image (this is necessary to see and perhaps download (if it is legal to do so) the full resolution). It also offers the option to see the image in the context of the website. This is how an image can draw people to your website, and how a lot of people, consumers, future customers, and students find you – through image searches. Often out of curiosity, I want to see the image in its fuller context. Don’t underestimate how many people select “Visit page.”

Google image search visit page

As you can see, I am asked if I’d like to visit the page (web location) where the image exists or simply view the image by itself. Access to these images do not address copyright. One must assume all images are copyrighted unless marked otherwise. Visiting the site and contacting the page owners is a good first step in determining whether you can use the image – permissions can depend on your purpose.

Will the images on your blog or website show up when people search for a term?  If you want to drive traffic to your site, how you label your images can make a big difference.

Unfortunately, I often see the following mistake.

This image accompanied a news release about a new agricultural program. The press release rested on a WordPress blog page, not unlike the one you are reading now.

This was the picture posted in the website. Part 1 of 2.

This was the picture posted in the website. Part 1 of 2.

This was the accompanying media file information for the picture on WordPress. The webmaster or blogger is the point person who controls how an image is titled, tagged and described.

Original media file information uploaded with picture. Part 2 of 2.

Original media file information uploaded with picture. Part 2 of 2.

As you can see in the above screenshot, the title was a file number! Likely assigned by someone else, maybe a photographer. Other obscure titles such as, “DSC_1145” or “image3044” are void of descriptions and do nothing to advance your SEO. They tell Google absolutely zip about the photo. No one ever searches for terms like “DSC_1145.” Titles and descriptions like this are SEO opportunities flushed down the toilet.

All the other fields are left blank! This is a mistake if you are trying to increase your Search Engine Optimization.

What are these fields and what do they do?

Name the image for SEO

To clarify:

1. It is better to change the name of the image before you upload. Keep it simple, but descriptive -two or three keywords is a best practice. If I have a vineyard and my picture is of grapes, the picture title might be “grapes-delaware-vineyard.”

2. In sites like WordPress, you can change the title after you upload it. Go ahead, please, and erase the series of numbers or “image_1234” and plug something in that actually matches the image and a term someone might actually search for.

3. Captions are optional. Sometimes I use them, sometimes I don’t. But any text used in a caption becomes HTML language that is searchable!

4. AltText. This is different than a title. It is language that appears in some browsers and pops up when the user hovers over the image. The language you enter describes the image. It is particularly helpful for people who are visually impaired or who use text-to-speech software. A short sentence – “people looking at raised bed gardens” or “boy on a playground swing” is all one needs to do. Many organizations mandate that this field is completed in order to be compliant with the American for Disabilities Act.

5. Description. Filling out this field is very important if you want to optimize your image appearing in searches. Write a sentence or two or string along a series of tags; garden, people, raised beds, vegetables, my business name, date, my website address, organics, etc… Descriptions do not appear in your website, but search engines do crawl across the terms. If people search for a term that exists in your description, you are more likely to get a hit. It might help you move from page 82 of the search results to page 4. You never know.

Domains with .edu will always trump and be more prominent than .com or other domains as far as delivering results. But if these domains don’t title their images, they lose their advantage. Nevertheless, educational websites should maximize their optimization by filling out these fields as much as they can.

Flickr, an image storage and sharing platform can serve as a HUGE driver of traffic to your website. I use Flickr to search for images licensed in the Creative Commons, and therefore allowed, under different restrictions, to use the image as long as I source where I obtained the image.

On my personal Flickr account, some of my pictures are licensed to Creative Commons, others are private or restricted. Almost all of them however, are labeled so that they can be found via a Google image search.

I took a bunch of pictures receently and uploaded them to Flickr. This screenshot shows that they are also available for people to use in Creative Commons

creative commonsAs you can see, they are all titled “Waples Pond, Milton, Delaware” They are also tagged “pond,” “sunset,” “nature,” etc. When I have time, I go back in and re-title similar images so that I cover all the main keywords, e.g., “sunset on Waples Pond,” and “Delaware January sunset.” 

A week after posting these images,  I searched for “Waples Pond, Delaware” on Google image search. I left off Milton as a term. Already, only six days old, one of my images shows up as the second choice on the first page of the Google imae search!

waples pond image searchOthers appear lower down. If people clicked further, it would take them to my Flickr site, or anywhere else I might have used it publicly and named it or posted it publicly, such as on social media.

On Flickr, I can take it a step further and use the photo description to drive traffic to my business site (if I had one) an Esty site (if I had one) or other location or website I was trying to promote.

Here is an image taken of a Master Gardener workshop on miniature or fairy gardens. It was specifically labeled so if people were searching for fairy gardens on the Internet (a very popular garden trend last year) they might have come across this picture. I also added “hypertufa” in the image title. Each photo title in the album varies. I could have labeled all 63 photos the same, and I did originally, but I went back in and tweaked several so they were specific, like this hypertufa example. This practice explains the 205 views. This image will appear in a hypertufa only search.  In addition, I used the description (which in Flickr is public) to direct viewers to find out more about the Master Gardeners and their programs. With that many images views, why not?

If you type in a url in the description area, Flickr activates the link. Each image in this album is strategically named for SEO.

If you type in a url in the description area, Flickr activates the link. Each image in this album is strategically named for SEO. Viewers who want to know more can click on the blue hyperlink.

The lesson. Name your pictures thoroughly if you wish to increase your public profile or drive traffic to a particular website.

My website on Chinese cartoons drawn by Thomas Nast, a cartoonist from the 19th century has received 56,000 visits in just over one year. It is not exactly a hot topic. Or so I thought. But every image iI uploaded is fully titled with the cartoon date name. Most are fully captioned and described. As a result, the cartoons I have posted often trump those of much more established sites. The statistics WordPress provides tells me that thousands of the referrals to my Nast website came from image searches from the main search engines. Once there, statistics show that the people who might have come because of one specific image, look around and visit other pages.  I can’t ask for anything better than that. If I had named the images “cartoon 1.” “cartoon 2,” and so on, I have no doubt my statistics today would be significantly smaller.

Think about your topic and your purpose. What terms might your targeted audience, or a potentially new visitor search for?  Will your images point them to your website?