Google and other search engines don’t (yet) have technology for identifying what appears inside an image. So how do search engines find images on the internet?
They read the code! Search engines find the filenames and alt texts of images and graphic files and uses both bits of information to judge whether or not the image is relevant content for the search terms.
Luckily, you can optimize both image filenames and alt texts to make images search engine friendly. Here’s an awesome guide showing you how to do just that.
The name of the file typically looks like: “filename.jpg” or “someotherfilename.gif” or maybe “anotherfilename.png”
If you’re grabbing an image from your phone or camera, the filename often is an acronym or abbreviation followed by a serialized number. Perhaps like “DSCV2388.jpg” or “IMG_342.jpg” And these default file names are not optimal.
The optimal filenames answer the question: why is this image is being used? When you insert an image into a page, you must think of the reason behind the image use. What content is your picture supporting? Is the image communicating something about your message? And if yes, what is it communicating?
Another way to put it: How is the image RELEVANT on this page of your website?
You can change image filenames on your computer prior to uploading them to your website.
Alt text is an alternative text for the image. In addition to being read by search engines, the alt text is also read by screen readers.
If you don’t know what screen readers are, they’re specialized programs that help people that are vision impaired surf the internet. Because they may not be able to see the images, it’s good practice for search and for screen readers, to put a bit of description about what the image is of.
Again, you want to answer the question of why is this image being used but alt text should be a bit more conscious of the content of the image. You can think of alt text as a relevant description.
If you are using WordPress, you can easily insert alt text into the media modal window attachment details pane:
Let’s look at some specific examples to demonstrate how to use filenames and alt text to optimize your images for search engines.
Optimizing Your About Page/Portrait Image
Every therapist website has an about page with a portrait. The about page typically includes a little bit about the therapist, their niche, and their locatio. Therefore, the portrait image filenames should include the therapist’s name, what they do generally (therapist? life coach? counselor? social worker?), their niche, and/or location.
About Page Images
For example, here is a portrait of psychotherapist Mary Whiton Calkins:
To name re-name her image file, she would want to take into consideration her name, Mary Whiton Calkins, her title as a psychotherapist, and the fact that she works primarily with clients who struggle with anxiety, which is her service area. (Ok, ok, in real life, Mary wasn’t an anxiety psychotherapist, but let’s just play pretend).
Filename = “mary-whiton-calkins-anxiety-therapist.jpg”
The alt text should describe the image. So for the alt, she could insert,
alt = “A portrait of anxiety therapist Mary Whiton Calkins”
The second portrait or an alternative suggestion for her about page portrait photo could add in her location.
Filename = “mary-whiton-calkins-psychotherapist-colorado.jpg”
alt = “Headshot of Mary Whiton Calkins a psychotherapist in Boulder”
Optimizing Content Images
Images that are used on other pages of your website, like perhaps a “rates” page or a “services” page, ought to be named according to where the image is being used:
For example, this image of a calm beach is used on therapist Mary Whiton Calkins’s service page about anxiety:
Filename = “mary-whiton-calkin-calming-anxiety-with-therapy.jpg”
alt = “An anxiety-free, tranquil beach”
And here’s his second image on the same service page which is being used to demonstrate her use of art therapy techniques:
Filename = “mary-whiton-calkin-art-therapy-for-anxiety.jpg”
alt = “Paint brush and canvas demonstrating art therapy”
The file names work because the same keywords being used in the filenames are appearing in the page content. The filenames are relevant. And the alt texts are relevant to both the content and describe the images.
Optimizing Blog Post Images
What about photos for your blog? In most cases, you’ll want to name them after the post author and relevant keywords to the article in which they appear:
Blog Post Images
[post author]-[relevant keywords].jpg
Here’s an image from Mary Whiton Calkin’s blog article entitled “5 Ways to Ease Anxiety”
Filename = “mary-whiton-calkin-ways-to-ease-anxiety.jpg”
alt = “Person on bench contemplating ways to ease anxiety”
What to Avoid
Google and other search engines are constantly trying to improve. These search tools are updated in an attempt to give searchers the most relevant results (and not spam, ads, or “rocket ships” when they search for “kittens”).
So although it is a great idea to put some relevant keywords into your image file names and alt texts, it is possible to overdo it. A filename that is a 25 word run-on sentence and an alt text that is keyword after keyword packed together, are actually bad ideas.
As long as you keep things brief and relevant, you’ll have search engine optimized images in no time.
- Filenames and alt texts should be relevant to the page on which they appear and the content that is within the image. “fluffy-rainbow-unicorns.jpg” image would only be relevant if the page is about unicorns, rainbows, or fluffy things or ideally all three.
- And to keep things brief, aim to keep filenames and alt texts around 3-7 words.
That’s it! Once you get the hang of naming your image files and writing in your alt texts, it doesn’t take much more time. And the benefit of being findable in searches and being kind to those visitors who may be using screen readers, is pretty great.
Are you going to put these tips into place? Have you already been renaming files for search or using alt texts successfully? Let me know what you think by contacting me or tweeting me anytime. I would love to hear from you.