Website Images Optimisation and SEO:
a no-nonsense guide for small business owners
Images play an important role in search engine optimisation. However, if we designed websites for Google bot only, we would use text only rather than bother with visual aspects of the sites. At the end of the day the ‘spider’ crawling our website pages has no eyes and can only ‘read' text, right? The truth is that SEO is just the beginning of our marketing efforts. Once we manage to rank the website well and are found by potential customers, it is now time to impress the visitors, to persuade them, to make them fall in love with our company and brand… and finally to TAKE ACTION and become clients.
As ‘a picture is worth thousand words’, we use images in web design and marketing a lot.
Website images and SEO: Potential challenges
Even though photographs and graphics are useful for website marketing, they can also be a source of serious problems.
Images are slowing down your website
Using high quality photos is a must for most business websites. Can you imagine a wedding photographer’s website without a powerful gallery, or worse – with low quality pixelated images? Me neither! Unfortunately, high quality imagery often comes at a cost: they are large files. The more photos you include in the design of your pages, the longer it takes for your site to load. Which brings us to the core problem…
Bad user experience
Internet users are becoming less and less patient. A study carried out by Kissmetrics shows that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and a staggering 40% of them stated they will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Most study participants (73%) complained that they have come across websites that were too slow to load on their smartphones. Now, considering that more people use mobile phones to access the Internet, the results of the study should be a big concern to you, a small businesses owner. If your images are not properly compressed and resized for web, your slow loading website will make the web visitors unhappy.
Unhappy website visitors = less sales leads/sales
Google rewards sites that care about site visitors’ experience
Google keeps details of its algorithm secret and rarely comments on it. However, site speed is such an important element of delivering a positive experience to the search engine users, that Google officially announced site speed as a ranking factor. It also provides a free tool for webmasters to measure how their sites perform in that matter, and even gives detailed suggestions for speed improvements.
Most of my clients’ websites that failed the Google Page Speed test used a lot of images that were not optimised for web. Even if there were other issues slowing down these websites, by simply reducing the image size and quantity we could achieve a significant speed improvement.
Forgetting about visually impaired site visitors… and the Google bot
Most people visiting your website can appreciate the imagery presented to them. However, there is a chance that occasionally a visually impaired person reaches you online. By properly describing the images (by using ALT tags) you can provide a much better experience to such people.
From time to time browsers may also fail to display website images and show the ALT tags instead. That short description explaining the meaning or purpose of these unloaded photos makes people’s experience on the site so much better. Did I mention already that Google loves businesses providing excellent user experience for their website visitors? I thought so!
As a bonus, by using ALT tags we enable Google bot to understand the image content and evaluate it in the context of the entire page. This can positively affect your rankings, if done properly.
IMPORTANT: please do not use ALT tag descriptions purely for Google – keyword stuffing is passé and will most likely earn you a penalty from Google, rather than a better ranking position. Not to mention the frustration of visitors unable to see the images and relying on their clear description instead.
How to use images properly on your website to enhance visitors’ experience and boost your rankings
Image optimisation for SEO
Always be careful while styling your web pages. Before you start throwing hundreds of images on each page stop and think. Is it necessary to include any picture at all? If so, how many? What is the purpose of each of them on this page? Remember that every image, even properly optimised for web, will slightly increase page loading time. Once you decide to use photos or graphics on a page it is time to optimise them.
1) Resize the photos. Use any graphic editor of your choice – I use Adobe Photoshop (a powerful but expensive piece of software) but you can use any other app you like. Most common graphic editors used by small business owners are Paint (which is a standard addition to all Windows operating systems), or an open source (FREE) app GIMP. Find ‘Resize Image’ or ‘Image Size’ option and decrease the size, so the graphic looks exactly as you want it to look on your website.
2) Use: ‘save for web’ option. In Photoshop and GIMP there is an option called Save for Web. In MS Paint you can only Save as GIF Picture which is not suitable for most images we use for marketing purpose.
3) Use JPG and PNG (raster graphic) or SVG (vector graphic) formats. For most images and photos JPG format will be the best choice. JPG images are smaller size than PNG and can also compress more than PGN format files. SVG files can be a lot smaller than raster graphic files (not always!) but cannot handle complex photographs well.
To keep it simple:
· use SVG for graphics that needs to be scalable and look sharp on high resolution screens
· Use JPG for photography and most images
· Use PNG for images with transparency
4) Compress the images. Without going into too much technical details, compressing images for web means reducing image file size as much as possible without losing too much of its quality, and the same increase the site speed. Basically, the aim is to reduce an image size until the loss of its quality starts being visible to a human eye. JPG can be compressed more than PNG files (check lossy and lossless for more details) and still look good, so in most cases you would want to use this format for images on your site. How can we reduce a size of a photo without losing its quality? Well, here is the trick – when compressing a JPG file we do lose some of its quality. However, as human eyes have different sensitivity to different colours, website visitors are often unable to notice the quality loss. If you ever need to use PNG formats for web it is recommended that you compress them too.
I use and recommend the following software for this purpose:
There are plenty of other free and paid services you can find online, so feel free to ‘google’ them if you need. I tried a lot of various apps over the last few years but these listed above are my favourite.
5) Add appropriate (descriptive) name to each image when saving it on your computer or in a ‘cloud’
6) Add the compressed images to a page of your choice and describe them properly
Go to your CMS (content management system), find the page you want to add images to and start uploading them. Once uploaded you should see an option to describe each image (title tag, ALT tag, caption). I am familiar with WordPress, Joomla and Squarespace content management systems and they all provide an intuitive way of describing images, so again, avoid keyword stuffing (‘overoptimisation’ of images). Do you need an example? Here you go: ‘Roasted beef served in a Cork restaurant XYZ’ kind of makes sense (if this is what the photo presents, and if you are careful not to do it purely for SEO purposes). However, ‘Best cheap roasted beef in Cork in the best top rated recommended most popular Cork restaurant for Cork people’ is a big NO-NO!
Is this all you need to know about
website image for SEO optimisation?
All my Cork based clients are specialists in their areas of interests: they are great cooks, restaurant owners, photographer, builders, architects, managers. I admire them for having skills that I do not have. However, it is not possible to be proficient in everything, and so most of them are not tech or digital marketing wizards. They do not like spending their free time on optimising websites for search engines and users, not to mention learning the technical details of how things work in the web design and SEO world. Fair enough, they can outsource all this SEO stuff to me. However, most small businesses take care of updating their website content (including images) themselves, and so it is important to know how to do it right.
I tried to create a very simple and easy to follow guide that is helpful for EVERY business owner, no matter how little technical skills they have. If you are a web developer and landed on this site by mistake let me assure you, I am aware of other, more advanced methods of managing images/graphics for web. At the same time, I do not believe that talking about using FTP to upload images, using FontAwesome for web design or installing WordPress plugins will be useful for the core audience of this blog.
Instead of scaring people of, so that they give up on any attempts of image optimisation, I decided to create a super simple and practical guide that can help many small companies deal with site speed issues caused by heavy imagery without the need of hiring a professional.
Remember, making image optimisation a habit will make a big difference to your website visitors, as well as your potential rankings in Google, so it is worth the effort.