Regardless if you’re a content specialist, a writer for an online publication, or just a casual blogger, chances are you’re always using a lot of photos or images to enhance your work. Images add life to our work when used correctly, but they also bring a technical aspect into the mix.
Image optimization is of key importance for our articles and websites, and when done correctly, this ensures elevated website traffic. This process is part of the many SEO efforts and tactics that ultimately lead to better search engine results and rankings.
By now, you’re probably rolling your eyes after reading the first two paragraphs, because you already know that using the right image size to optimize loading time and adding alt tags and captions bring SEO value to your images. But there’s so much more to image SEO than these basic manoeuvres.
The truth is that image optimization is among the most overlooked areas of SEO. SEMRush recently published an interesting piece on the entire optimization process, and we decided to briefly break down the most important steps.
1. Name your images properly
Before uploading an image to your website or WordPress, make sure you rename it. And we’re not talking about the caption, but the default .jpg or .png filename.
Uploading an image with a descriptive name that gives context helps Google identify it, and the image or photo in question will show up on Google Images when people search for similar content. And, you’ve guessed it—this can lead to increased external traffic if people access your website through Google Images.
Furthermore, when renaming, remember to separate words with dashes, not underscores.
2. Resize your images wisely
Next up is proper resizing. One of the most common issues is that often images are much larger than they need to be when uploaded to a website—both in file size and pixel dimensions.
For example, you have a 4K photo, which is 3840×2160 px and around 5 MB. And let’s assume the maximum width this photo will display on your blog is 630px. Downsizing your photo to 1200x630px (the optimal image size for WordPress) will substantially decrease its file size and make it load much faster when the article is accessed.
Always resize images based on your website’s or blog’s maximum display dimensions, and not a pixel more. You can use resizing tools such as Photoshop or Canva to get the job done. Plus, make sure that you are scaling images responsively with CSS.
3. Decrease the file size of your image
As mentioned above, decreasing the file size of your image will make it load much faster, minimizing lag or removing it altogether.
Reducing display dimensions is just one of the ways to reduce an image’s file size. You can use different tools and play around with various quality settings to obtain the best result for your images. Toning down visual quality in exchange for file size savings is often a good strategy, as far as the visual results are good enough.
If you don’t want to take our word for it, check out what Google has to say:
“For best results, experiment with various quality settings for your images, and don’t be afraid to dial down the quality – the visual results are often very good, and the filesize savings can be quite large.”
4. Create an image site map
For Google to discover all of the images on your website, plus have them show up and perform in Google Image Search, you should create a dedicated sitemap that includes the URLs of all images.
There is a key difference when creating an image sitemap as opposed to creating one that includes your web pages.
According to Google, “Image sitemaps can contain URLs from other domains, unlike regular sitemaps, which enforce cross-domain restrictions. This allows you to use CDNs (content delivery networks) to host images.”
In short, an image sitemap can contain URLs from other domains. This allows you to use CDNs.
5. Host images on a CDN
A content delivery network caches your images across multiple servers in different locations around the world.
For example, if your website is hosted in the United States and is visited by a user from Europe or Asia, the images will load much slower. With a CDN, the images will be cached across multiple servers, resulting in a quicker load.
6. Implement lazy loading
What is lazy loading, you might ask. Lazy loading means that assets (in our case, images) aren’t loaded until they are needed. This can drastically improve loading time on pages that are filled with images.
Usually, images have the largest file size on pages, and sometimes this is the primary cause for slow website loading speeds.
With lazy loading, if a user never scrolls to where the images are, they won’t load, thus improving site performance.
7. Leverage browser caching
Browser caching basically means that files are stored by a visitor’s browser. This ensures that images will load faster the next time they visit the page.
When we visit a page, the images are downloaded in the background and displayed in the browser. This process usually takes a couple of seconds. With browser caching enabled, the next time the page is visited, the images don’t have to be downloaded again, resulting in a faster load time.
Browser caching is noticeably impactful on sites where users frequently revisit the same pages. You can easily implement this in WordPress.
8. Use next-gen image formats
Before you take any of the steps mentioned above, you need to make sure you are using the proper image formats.
Stay away from certain types of image formats that have large file sizes. JPEGs are fine, but JPEG 2000 and JPEG XR are the next generation of image formats with superior compression capabilities and outstanding quality.
Another next generation image format is a Google open source image format called WebP. Currently, WebP is ‘thinnest’ image format and archives 30% more compression than JPEG or JPEG 2000.
With these image formats, you’ll be able to optimize and simplify your webpage and greatly improve loading speeds.
With Google’s Page Experience update coming next year, there’s never been a better time to prioritize image SEO procedures.
If done correctly, these tactics can seriously improve your site’s performance and traffic, as well as the user experience. Optimized image files give contextual relevance, improving visibility on the web and Google Image Search.
If you need help optimizing your website for search engines or want to improve your rankings and traffic, reach out to our team of digital marketing experts.