How to optimize photos & images for search engines

Get Showit, BluDomain, Livebooks, WordPress and Blogger images into search enginesIf you’re looking for how to optimize your photography for search engines, this post is your ticket.

Search engines read the page/post code to understand the topic of a site and potentially rank it against the user search query. Since the average blog may use only one or two images in a post, a search engine assigns extra weight to the topic of the image, guessing that the image accurately describes the subject matter of the post.

Assuming you use tons of images in your blog, it’s absolutely essential to help Google understand your images. Otherwise that extra weight will be assigned to nothing and hurt your chances of ranking.

Google interprets image using attributes including alternate text, image filenames, and text around the image. After learning about these features, don’t go back and change everything for all the images on your blog. Image attributes are a small part of the overall rank consideration. My advice is to optimize the images for your main pages/posts only, and incorporate these best practices on all posts moving forward.

What is Image Alternate Text?

Alternate (or alt) text is the most important part of image rank and also helps pages rank that have images on them. Since search engines can’t see an image like we can, alternate text was created in HTML code as the text behind an image to help Google read and interpret what the image is about. Alternate text looks like this in HTML code:

<img src=“/image.jpg” alt=“Short description of the image”>
<img src=“/family-portrait-at-golden-gate-park.jpg” alt=“The Prez family poses under a big oak tree in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco”>

Can you imagine the photo just by looking at the above code? Google can too. Website systems like SmugMug and Showit often have a field for image name that ends up being the alternate text for that photo, while platforms like BluDomain and Livebooks hide images from search within Flash. Typically blogs are the best sites to focus on crafting your alternate text. Some blog platforms like blogger make you go into the SOURCE mode and manually add in the alternate text for each image. WordPress makes it easy with a field in the image settings where you can enter your text without needing to look at the code.

Tips for alt text:

  • Try to use a short complete sentence to describe the image
  • Focus on minor keywords (like park portrait) instead of broad keywords (like San Francisco photographer)
  • Don’t use the same alternate text for multiple photos
  • Don’t just list a bunch of keywords

Alternate text can add up quickly when Google tries to figure out the subject matter of your blog post. When you have 10 images within a post and not a lot of text, it sees the image text as the majority of text on the page, so you need quality keywords in the images for the overall post to rank well. When 10 posts, each with 10 images, stream into your blog homepage –that’s 100 images that Google sees all on the same page.

You want Google to understand what those images are about so it can consider those words when ranking your blog.

What you name the image on your computer (filename) is important

Right next to the alternate text in the HTML code is the image filename. Reinforce the quality image description with good keywords in the filename. Dashes are Google’s preferred method to separate words in a filename or URL. Therefore use family-portrait-at-golden-gate-park.jpg and definitely stay away from camera generated names like DS0000123.JPG. I understand this can be a time consuming task to name every image file, but you know what my image is about and I didn’t even show it to you!

For bonus points, store your images in a keyword-rich folder. Like /photos/family/family-portrait-at-golden-gate-park.jpg. Search engines interpret that you have a whole folder of photos, with a subfolder of family photos, so your site must be about family photos when users are searching for that phrase.

The only thing Google knows about your photos is what you name them, where you put them, and the text behind them. With only these few factors to tell Google what your images are about, it is important to use them all in order to rank well.

Why Captions are Important

Text surrounding images can be important to the ranking process. Search engines will know the page is not about San Francisco family photos if the text on that page talks about a wedding in Los Angeles.

Captions make it easier to reinforce keywords rather than trying to cram them into paragraphs on the page. Plus it’s faster to write a quick caption about each photo than to write clean text describing the event and trying to talk about all the pictures at the same time.

This week’s homework:

  • Optimize the images on your blog homepage by making sure they have quality file names, alt text, and captions
  • Take 5 pages/posts you want to rank for and optimize the images in those posts


Thousands of Photographers boost business with my tips!


  1. nicolevoth says

    Can you tell us how much keywording within programs like Lightroom affects search engines look at a photo file? Can/do search engines actually pay attention to these embedded keywords?

    Thanks so much for all of the great information!

  2. says

    Much much more important are the heavy factors like alt text and image filename, as well as the context of the image on the page. All of which are likely applied after Lightroom during the creation of your page. If it’s as simple as listing a bunch of keywords, Google won’t give it much weight, just like it ignores meta keywords for pages. Here’s another article you might find valuable: @nicolevoth

  3. says

    Nice Post,very informative can you give me some tips on how to design seo for our gallery which has no text in it, like the whole gallery page, Here is page that show photos of our recent wedding projects: <a href=””>Wedding Gallery</a> it has just photos in it how do i optimize it for good ranking apart from title and description.

  4. says

    Very good posting I really appreciate.The best thing about pasting an image in your website or blog is that it will attract the attention of the reader. The image can sometimes give a better understanding pertaining to the topic that you write.

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