May 28, 2019 in Tips by

As we rely on screens more, our culture is becoming more and more visual. As a result, modern web design is all about images. This is where web design can come into conflict with SEO- when we only have pictures and not text on a page. However, there isn’t a real contradiction between good web design and SEO practices.

This was highlighted in Google IO 2019. A large part of the State of Search talk was dedicated to images.

More and more people are using Google Image search to find the information they need. This applies to many different topics. According to John Mueller, “sometimes an image is an ideal snippet to show in search.” This is why Google is making a change to image search. Images will soon be showing more information about the information on the page- from which the image was found.  In other words, as Mueller said, “an image is a gateway to the content underlying it.”

How do you get your images into Google Image Search?

At Google IO 2019, John Mueller gave us 9 things to do to get your images into Google Image search.

  1. Use high-quality images.
  2. Place related text near the image and near the top of the page. Don’t forget your ALT text!
  3. Avoid embedding text within the image.
  4. Use Structured Data (especially formats like products or recipes) that call for images within the syntax.
  5. Use descriptive filenames and clean URLs that describe what the image is about.
  6. Use IMG tags rather than embed images within the CSS of a page.
  7. Use advanced image embedding for responsive images- especially the PICTURE element or IMG srcset attribute.
  8. Use lazy-loading with JavaScript using IntersectionObserver.
  9. Don’t block images with your robots.txt file!

Mueller gave us several resources that can help us understand these best-practices, too:

Many Best-Practices for Images in SEO Remain the Same

Most of Mueller’s suggestions are the same-old best-practices for images, in search. Google still can’t “read” an image to figure out what it is about- or why you’ve placed it on a page. You need to take steps to tell Google what this is about using text- whether nearby text, alt text, file names, structured data, etc.

There are subtle warnings about image sizes in this, as well. While Google says you need to have quality images, that doesn’t mean high-resolution! It’s referring to unique and helpful images. This is also why they’re recommending developers use lazy-loading (to prevent images from slowing page speed). It’s also why they’re recommending using the PICTURE element- to handle responsive images better. But this is nothing new.

What SEOs Need to Do with This Information

Start using unique and helpful images on our sites. I think stock photos will go extinct as Google values high-quality imagery. I this also means we need to stop re-using the same pictures over and over again, on our own site. In short- we can’t be lazy with our image choices any longer.

How can you get good photos for your website?

  1. You have a camera in your pocket- use it! Modern cell-phone cameras work really well. You don’t need to buy a fancy DSLR to take a great photo.
  2. A good photo needs more than the right technology. You might need some advice or classes on how to compose a good picture. YouTube could help you here, too.
  3. Take photos of real people around your company. Setup a photo-day where you warn people to look their best and walk around for a few hours, taking pictures. Take some action shots. Take some product shots.

Don’t have time for this? Hire a photographer. They can do it cheaper than you- once you consider the time it will take you and quality you need.

Speculation: The Future of Google

The Google team spent a lot of time talking about images, in Google IO 2019. Will you allow me to speculate, a little?

Google might shift to an image-based search engine.

Why do I think this? For one, they’re already moving in this direction.

  1. Google acknowledged that many people are using image search to look for more than just images. They use image search to look for solutions to their problems. This is why they’re adding more information to the images. These are some of the industries Google thinks should pay attention to this:
    1. Event planning
    2. DIY
    3. Work
    4. School
    5. Shopping
    6. Visual Definition
    7. Interior Design
    8. Medical
    9. Communication
    10. Visual Interest
    11. Fashion
  2. Google Discover relies heavily on images for mobile devices and it’s already live.
  3. Certain schemas (such as recipes) are already generating images in the search results. Eventually they might do this with more schemas.
  4. They’re already doing this with Paid Search- with shopping and products.
  5. They just started adding favicons to mobile search results.
  6. This is how Google is competing with Facebook and Instagram- which are really another kind of search engine.

If the future of Google is an image-based search engine, they need SEOs to pay attention to imagery used on their pages. They need us to make sure to include an image at the top of the page that corresponds to the topic. They need us to make sure we stop re-using the same photos or the SERPs will be full of the same images for different websites. I think Google is social-engineering us to prepare us for an image-based search engine.

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