SEO For Images – Visual Search Ranking Factors

We’re living in an increasingly visual world. A picture speaks a thousand words.

And in this visual world, the value of ranking your images can’t be overlooked.

Why Image SEO Is Important?

In so many niches image search is something many people do as research before they reach out and enquire with companies.

Creating amazing images of graphs, data, stats are earning powerful backlinks so for looking to generate backlinks is a great method from images.

Jumpshot data shows that 1/3 of searches in Google is carried out in ‘Google Images’. Yes, you heard that correctly – one-third WOW.

Over 12% of searches in web search show an image pack or image carousel.

Bonus Tip: If Google is showing these image snippets in the web search it is highlighting the intent that many are wanting to see pictures for this particular search query. So make sure you are creating some awesome images to get your brand in these image packs and image carousels.

The Rise of Visual Search

Visual search is a growing trend and here are some great examples of why:

  1. You see a beautiful flower and want to know the name of this (but it’s hard to search in words as hard to describe it)
  2. A famous celebrity has some clothing on and you were to run a visual search to see where this is sold
  3. Love a kitchen design and want to see the manufacturers of that specific design
  4. New wallpaper designs in a catalogue and want inspiration to look at similar ideas
  5. Celebrity you cannot remember the name of
  6. Reverse engineer someone using your copyright photos

There are many more examples of why visual search trends are growing so are you treating visual search marketing with the respect it deserves?

Visual Search SEO

Articles talking about the image ranking factors talk about how to optimise your images better so your webpage ranks higher.

This is not about technical SEO with reducing your image size and compressing it to help page load speeds but actually ways to improve the ranking of your photos and images in the search engines.

“Do not treat images as an afterthought. Images are part of your content. All content should be carefully considered as part of an SEO strategy”

Let me start by saying stop being obsessed with just ranking your webpages and utilise effective frequency. Start looking at how you can rank your images and videos better also because having these on your site will feed hummingbird more on the topic of your page if they are ranking for your focus keywords also.

What is image SEO?

Image SEO is carrying out actionable steps to improve your rankings in the search results.

SEO for images is not just about reducing the file size of your images to lower page load speeds because although this will help with technical SEO on your website then this is not going to start ranking your pictures higher in the search results.

Getting your images and decorative pictures to rank on Google and other image search engines are not talked about in the digital world enough at present.

“Images are an essential part of your content, not just decorations to the webpage. Treat them with the same care and attention as you do your contextual content and you will likely begin ranking better, including in the knowledge graph”

Here are ways to improve your Image SEO strategies:

Exif Data

Before uploading your images online you need to be going into the properties of your image to fill in the EXIF data with as much information as possible.

You need to try and feed the search engines with as much information about the image as possible.

Google shows the EXIF data from images they crawl and have said publicly “they reserve the right to use this data” as they can parse this information.

Here Matt Cutts says they have the right to use EXIF data as a ranking factor and although this is an old video then recently a few Google representatives like Gary Illyes have confirmed that surrounding content to images is super important and this includes snippets of EXIF data.

As it takes a few minutes to add this information in to enhance your rankings online it would be crazy not to have this as part of your page processes for ranking images higher in search.

Image Meta Data

Adding descriptive metadata to your image gives it more keywords. Therefore search engines and users are able to identify what the image is about more easily. You can add metadata information by going into the image properties and adding a subject, keywords and comments which are all relevant and descriptive of what is in the picture.

Under the ‘Author’ title you can add the URL of the webpage where the image is originally found or uploaded. Please don’t be disheartened if your images don’t rank straight away. Often pages and images will not stay in one position due to the Google Dance.

File Name of Images

When optimising your images for SEO, it’s vital that you change the file name to something descriptive which uses keywords. We understand that the viewer can see what the image is, but you need to name it for Google. This is because Google cannot see images, it only sees text.

For example, if you have an image of an elephant riding a bike and you leave the file name as ‘IMG58673.jpg’, search engines aren’t going to know that the picture shows an elephant riding a bike and the image will be impossible to find.

This is why it’s important to give the image a name which describes what it shows. So for this example, you could change the name to something like ‘Elephant Riding Purple Bike’. This will then tell the search engine what your image is about.

URL of the Image

Having descriptive keywords within the URL of your image can help to increase its search engine rankings as well. If you are uploading photos which fit into a certain theme, you can make a category folder to put those photos in.

For example, you could have a category called ‘Popular Dog Breeds’. You put an image into that category with the title ‘Chocolate Labrador Puppy’. The image URL would show up like this:

as opposed to not using a category or title with keywords where the URL would look something like this:

As you can see the top example is a lot more descriptive and this makes your image easier for search engines and people to find.

Image Caption

Image captions certainly play a role in Image SEO Ranking Factors. If you are unsure what the image captions are then it’s the text in the grey box below each image and is super important because is the closest surrounded content wrapped around your image.

This is the Images Caption For Image SEO
This is the Images Caption For Image SEO Example

Captions under images are read on average 300% more than the body copy itself, so not using them, or not using them correctly, means missing out on an opportunity to engage a huge number of potential readers.

Do you need to add captions to every image? No, because sometimes images serve other purposes. Decide whether you want to use yours for SEO as well or not. Bearing in mind the need to avoid over-optimization, I’d say you should only add captions where it would make sense to the visitor for one to be there. Think about the visitor first, and don’t add a caption just for image SEO.

Optimising the Alt Text

The term “alt tag” is a commonly used abbreviation of what’s actually an alt attribute on an img tag.

The alt tag of any image on your site should describe what’s on it. Screen readers for the blind and visually impaired will read out this text and therefore make your image accessible.

When using the alt image attributes, make an effort to describe what the image is. Don’t use it as a dumping ground for keywords you’d most like to rank for. Avoid filling alt attributes with keywords (keyword stuffing) as it results in negative user experience and may cause your site to be seen as spam. Matt Cutts gives some equally good advice for alt text in this old, yet still relevant video:

Google places a relatively high value on alt text to determine not only what is on the image but also how it relates to the surrounding text.

Build Links to Your Images

This is an off-page strategy that you can use for optimising your pictures.

It is separate to factors that you can change within the image and the page itself.

You can build links to your pictures through blogs and articles with anchor text keywords which link to the image.

Ideally, for backlinks to your images, you need to embed these onto quality webpages that are 100% relevant to your subject topic. Here is an embed code below you can use and send onto bloggers to add your picture into their articles if you feel this would add value to personal blog.

<img src=”” alt=”SEO for Images Visual Search Ranking Factors” title=”How to Rank Images in Google Search with Image SEO”>

This shows search engines that your image is relevant to the keyword it’s been linked from. It also tells it that it’s a useful and authoritative photo.

Image Sharing Platforms

Get out and share your pictures on image sharing platforms because the more places your photos have seen the more authority it starts to generate.

If you need your images shared then signal boy have a done for you social media package to save you time as the delegation is key.

Bonus Tip: At Signal Boy they have tested ranking images in-depth and understand what it takes to theme the pictures to rank for keywords. Not only do they share the images throughout many platforms they also utilise metadata surrounding the images to retheme these images to the topic of your focus keyword which is very important now hummingbird and rank brain is being more prominent following every Google algorithm update.

CTR Manipulation to Maximise Image Rankings

If anyone has never used CTR Manipulation to improve rankings yet then you need to start testing this strategy. If you can manipulate CTR SEO then it is sending signals of engagement and popularity so if people are searching for your keyword and clicking onto your images you will find the positions you rank to improve.

Click through rate feeds back to search engines on which images people are liking the most and in turn, they reward those images.

Bonus Tip: When utilising CTR manipulation you can start to help retheme the topic of the image which I have mentioned several times is very important to do so. The topical relevance of the image feeds rank brain and hummingbird which then when used on your sites can help support your focus keyword relevance score. Plus if you can utilise CTR manipulation there are tricks where you can force an image pack in web search which hugely boosts your website impressions. If you want more information on this then hit me up on because I won’t be sharing this publicly.

Tips To Improve Real Click-Through Rate

Apart from trying to gain CTR by manipulating the traffic then improving your actual click-through rate is important to help your images.

Here is a video which highlights several tips and tricks to improve click-through rate:

You can see several CTR tips to improve traffic through your images to your blogs.

Do Stock Photos Hurt SEO?

No stock photos do not hurt SEO. In fact, you can outrank the original source if you carry out all the necessary SEO for images on this article.

If you were to add a stock photo onto your website which has been uploaded to thousands of other websites talking about a particular topic. Then you upload to yours which is a completely irrelevant topic then you are confusing the search engines on why you have added an irrelevant picture to your webpage.

In contrast, if you added a stock photo to a page which is perfectly on the subject matter this can actually help your search engine optimisation because you are feeding and supporting what the topic relevance of that page is about.

So sometimes a stock image can actually help you more than a new picture you upload because rank brain needs to try and understand what this new image is about. As Rand Fishkin presents here then duplicate images are not seen as a problem and are great you can actually rank higher than the original source if you properly optimise your images.

Bonus Tip: The reason why it is easy to outrank original stock images is that generally, these photos are part of huge galleries on the same page and there is very little relevant content surrounding the images to help them rank better. Most images you will find ranking well are not part of huge galleries and live by themself surrounded by super relevant content.

Can Images Improve Your Webpages?

Yes, absolutely images improve your on-page ranking factors.

An image adds to how the search engine understands the content, whether it’s a product image or an infographic.

What matters is the content. Never use an image to simply make the page pretty.

Always make that image support the content. So just like supporting articles help build the topical authority of your website then images also act as supporting content. So to get past the authority wall and become an expert ranking your images is key as supports your topical score also.

“Wherever possible, make sure images are placed near relevant text and on pages that are relevant to the image subject matter. Only use relevant images to the topic of the page or hummingbird can lower your topical trust score”

If you mark up the image correctly with the use of titles, file name, alt tag and the URL is on topic with your page then this 100% feeds hummingbird on the relevance of the topic and helps rank brain understand your page better.

Bonus Tip: Along with the basic image on-page SEO factors then if you rank these images for your focus keyword we have found this then, in turn, helps your webpage you embed this on to rank higher in the SERPs. So as a secondary ranking factor go out and start to rank your images higher in image search results.

Utilise Ranking Images For Backlinks

A great way of generating backlinks to your website is ranking your images which then folk can find and use on their blogs.

By uploading your images on sharing platforms like Flickr and Pinterest you can put them under Creative Commons Licence which allows other people to use your images as long as they credit you by giving you a link.

If your images are of interest to journalists and bloggers, you could end up with links back from some high authority news sites and blogs.

Bonus Tip: Instead of taking the white hat SEO approach where they say ‘Create compelling content and the links will naturally come’. Then proactively outreach to websites accepting guest posts and send them the relevant images to improve their articles. By doing this the website owners should add the relevant pictures and cite the source which is a freeway of generating backlinks to your website.

Evaluate keywords with Link Intent

Search queries with these modifiers are a great method for journalists using your images:-

  • “stats” or “statistics” or “facts” + Keyword
  • “history” or “timeline” + Keyword
  • “picture” or “photo” or “image” or “visuals” or “graphics” or “pic” + Keyword
  • “infographic” or “gif” or “meme” or “quote” or “cartoon” + Keyword
  • “design” or “drawing” or “ideas” + Keyword
  • “background” or “screensaver” or “wallpaper” or “poster” + Keyword

Ranking for terms like this will drive high traffic volume and also attract natural white hat links.

Reverse Image Search for Backlinks

Reverse image search (and reverse photo search) is when you right-click on an image and do a “Search Google For Image”.

The reverse image lookup is also known as content-based image retrieval (CBIR).

If you find existing blogs have already used your photos but not credited the source then you can outreach to these and ask for link placement.

Even if people try to be clever and crop your images then a CBIR lookup will return all instances of that image and help you find the bigger picture.

Visual Search Technology

The visual search technology has made huge advances in the last few years with artificial intelligence.

But search engine bots are unable to identify the content of an image; they rely on the text associated with the images to fully understand what the image is and how it relates to your content or the topic of your page.

“Google uses computer vision algorithms and the contents of the page to understand the subject matter of the image”

The way the visual search technology works is that it can understand the image visually and be able to compare this to other images in their database by:

  • Detection of Objects
  • Entities in the Image
  • Use a deep neural network to recognise multiple layers of the picture
  • Find similar images in databases to provide knowledge on what the image actually is
  • Colour by interpreting the pixels and colour components within those pixels
  • Texture by looking at like repeated patterns of pixels, concentrations of like those patterns and their frequency
  • Shapes in an image using a boundary based technique which traces the pixels around a boundary of a shape
  • Background in an image using a region-based technique which examines concentrations of pixels in a particular area

Once the image is scanned it compares the features of the image and computes the distance between features of other visually similar images in the database.

The set of results showing the least distant from the original image search is returned and mathematically it works out using TF: IDF from the blogs all these images are placed on the subject topic of this particular picture.

Text-Based Image Search Vs Content-Based Image Retrieval

Test-based image search is when you go into Google Images and search for pictures by typing in keywords into the search bar.

Content-based image retrieval (also known as QBIC, “query by image content”) is when you go into Google Images and search for pictures by typing loading in an image to search.

Query by image content is a way of querying databases that uses visual properties of an image as “search terms” to create the database and return similar images, rather than using metadata associated with the image.

The video explains how a computer sees an image. It shows how visual search technology has progressed from just using text metadata like alt tags, titles and descriptions to understand the image but now can actually compute and understand the image visually.

There is a lot of limitations with metadata results because there were many variations of the same word which made this search imprecise regularly. A prime example of this is searching an image for ‘apple’ then does it return the ‘apple company brand logo’ or the ‘apple as a fruit’. Whereas a CBIR search would return the closest match to the content you are enquiring about.

The Future of Visual Search Technology

In future, the visual search technology will become better for Google to understand what the image is about meaning no matter how many High authority websites like Pinterest have your images in boards pinned as a knife if it ain’t a knife and your just “manipulating the algo” it’ll not rank for this term. Check this video out which shows this example with the term hot dog:

Or in this video does artificial intelligence only know it is not a hot dog because it has enough documents to support what a hot dog looks like. Then it can comfortably say other photos are not what they are labelling up as being one.

If that is the case then visual search technology will still be able to be manipulated by CTR and shares to theme what certain images are about to help your images to rank for focus keywords.

Image Filter On Google Search Console

Want to know how many visitors you get through Google Images search?

You can track organic search traffic from Google Images using the Search Console Performance report.

The screenshot below shows the image filter on Google Search Console to show this information.

Image Filter On Google Search Console
Image Filter On Google Search Console

New SOPs and systems have been set up to make sure my images are not just an afterthought.

Images are an essential part of your content and treat them with the same care and attention as you do your content is very important.


Do the images on your webpages add value and support the topical trust of the content?

Are you driving lots of traffic from the image search results?

When was the last time you looked at whether the pictures you are using are relevant in the eyes of how Google sees them or other search engines?

The questions here were alarming for myself in 2024 because I certainly was not utilising my pictures to help my SEO needs.

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