Rank in Image Searches and Get Valuable, Untapped Traffic

Why and How to Rank in Image Searches

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One aspect of search that doesn’t get discussed often enough is image search. It’s such a huge part of search and the daily habits of web surfers all over the world, it’s amazing how little attention is actually paid to it when it comes to marketing and optimization. Have tips for optimizing for image search? Share them here.

Some Image Search Stats to Chew On

Google Director of Product Management R.J. Pittman dropped some facts at SES. 300 million digital photos are taken every day. 100 billion images are taken per year. There were half a trillion images in circulation by 2009. That’s the past up to the present. Do you think it’s going to slow down? Pittman says there were 800 million camera phones sold last year, and there may be more images online than web pages.

Eric EngeOn Google there are hundreds of millions of image searches every day. Eric Enge, President of Stone Temple Consulting says that image search makes up about 5.7% of all Google searches. "We estimate that up to 15% of all search is image related," he says.

Why Image Search is So Important

If the above information wasn’t enough to convince you of the importance of image search, consider this. When images appear in blended search results (such as Google’s universal search), the images affect what is clicked on the results page. Enge says an eye tracking study proved this, but it makes perfect sense if you think about it. The image is obviously going to catch your eye, regardless if it’s the top result or the 5th.

Todd Schwartz Todd Schwartz, Group Product Manager for Bing says that engagement is quite high when it comes to image search. Consumers looking for images also end up visiting a lot of web pages. In many cases, images can simply speed up the decision process on the consumer’s part. You can see why this would be effective in eCommerce. "When users are expecting images in a search session it actually increases the speed of a searchers task," says Schwartz. "Images simply speed decision making." He would know. Bing <i>is</i> the "decision engine."

Tips for ranking in Image Search

In a post about ranking in "five other Google engines," I cited some tips from Search Engine Journal’s Dev Basu, who recommended the following for image SEO:

– Add images to your Google Local Business profile
– Enable Google Image Labeler in your Google Webmaster Tools account.
– Add images to local business citation sources.
– Add images to blog posts or news articles for syndication in Google news.

Here is some additional info from Google:

Schwartz says for Bing, you should name the images properly and upload product categories for eCommerce images.

Enge suggested some even more basic tried and true SEO tactics that should still be applied. Include alt attributes in <img source> tags. Name files appropriately, and consider the nearby text, overall page context, links, title tags, etc. This stuff is all good, but you should know that the way search engines are handling images is evolving.

How the Search Engines Handle Images

R.J. Pittman

Pittman says it’s no longer just about looking at tags and stuff, at least at Google. "We now use computer vision and search to find similar images, object recognition, and facial recognition," he says. "We look at everything such as exposure data to help determine the quality of an image. If your image quality is low your photos will not rank as high. If you make only a thumbnail of an image it won’t rank as well as a larger image of the same subject." (Emphasis added.)

Back in June, Google released a fascinating research paper that looked at building a web-scale landmark-recognition engine. The goal is to get computers to recognize landmarks (for example, the Eiffel Tower, the Lincoln Memorial, or the example Google shares – the Acropolis). This is no easy task when the engine has to rely on images of the landmarks, which are incredibly varied by angle, lighting, photo quality, etc.


This was just a research paper, and not a Google product, but one can only imagine where this research will lead with regards to how Google handles image searches.

The image filters that search engines use are worth paying attention to. If you’re trying to sell products especially, it could help to consider where you want your images to rank. Google lets users search images by size, type (face, photo, clip art, line drawing), and color (full color, black and white, specific color).

Google Image Filters

Bing lets users browse results by size, layout, color, style, and people. That is in addition to the query-specific options you get.

Bing Image Filters

As far as regular web searches, Bing and Google both present a number of options for users to refine their searches. Bing of course has the explore window, which for many queries, provides multiple categories. Google has its search options. Images are included in that.

Just like with any content, there is always concern that stolen material will rank higher than the original source. Pitman was asked about this at SES with regards to images. He said that image search ranking is largely dependant on how often that image is clicked on for the search query being done. He says Google is trying to combat "hotlink spam."

Social Media and Images

Social media accounts for a huge amount of the pictures on the web. Not only do you have sites like Flickr and Picasa, but there are so many people uploading so many photos to Facebook and MySpace, not to mention apps like TwitPic for Twitter.

Believe it or not, real-time search plays a vital role in image search, just as in regular search. People want up-to-the-minute information, and that often comes in the form of images. Some real-time search engines are expanding how they handle media like images and video.

Perhaps the more significant part of this equation is the reputation management factor. Real-time search helps in this regard, when you’re trying to protect your reputation, but good old-fashioned Google searches are vital too.

Liana Evans

"Think about the pictures that your employees are putting up on social sites," says Liana Evans, Director of Social Media at Serengeti Communications. "Images can hurt your business reputation."

Social media has a direct relationship with search rankings too. Read up on that here .


There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to images on the web. A couple other things that we didn’t really touch on are SafeSearch filters and Creative Commons licensing. These are things you should explore further if you think they will affect you. There is plenty of info out there about both.

One other thing I’d like to mention is that Google’s Insights for Search analytical tool now includes image search data. This could be a very useful tool for anyone looking to improve their performance in image search.

As a searcher, how often do you use image search? How often do you click through? Tell us.

Rank in Image Searches and Get Valuable, Untapped Traffic
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  • http://techgenuine.com Ricky

    I never took image search seriously. I am suing SEO friendly images for that. I want to ask you a very simple question. Do I need to add a title, caption to image full of proper keyword to get better search engine ranking too.

  • http://www.krugerrands.org.uk Krugerrands

    I’ve been amazed at how many hits I get to a couple of my sites from images. I’d never seriously considered it as a source of traffic but yes, I think its worth adding the alt tags etc to take advantage of it.

  • http://www.acomputerportal.com/advertising_methods/index.html Alt Tags are mising Also…

    Alt Tags are mising> There are still a lot of webites that fail to use the alt tag for images.

    Also no size adjustment of RAW images or image types are used on some sites, this can slow page load times.

    Speed of image loading could become more importan as more and more image exist on the web. Just imaging all the bandwidth used think of Google who serve Millions of pages a day, and even more images.

  • http://www.zookii.com Zookii

    Very helpful info.

  • http://www.pacifictechseo.com Ken Pacific Tech SEO

    I get a lot of traffic from image searches. Another thing to point out is people will go through a lot more pages of images then they will a regular search. I don

    • http://www.toysonwheelsvariety.com Toy Man

      They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If you see a picture of a product you are searching for you will know if it is what you want. If it is you will probably have an instant sale. Bringing traffic is great but making the sale is better.

  • http://www.lightenupbikes.com Scott

    Google images is the #3 “referring site” (google analytics) to my web store. It’s behind my site and my blog. When I redesigned my site I was sure to enter keywords, descriptions, & accurate titles on all of my images. I also do this for every image that I post to my blog and every image that I post to Flickr. My most popular image on Flickr is a bike that I shot with my camera phone. I added the specs in the meta data and in the tags on Flickr and it has over 1700 views in 8 mos. (What I don’t get is that my stream has only been viewed 1100 times?).

  • http://in-trick.blogspot.com Internet Marketer

    Good post!

    I always use the method in order to optimize blog rank, and my blog has now two rank!

    thank you,

  • http://northwestcarp.blogspot.com/ North West Carp

    I latched onto image search a while ago, I started naming my images as key words or combinations of keywords from my writing then tried to repeat those keywords in my captions. Not sure if its the naming of the images or the captions (or both?) that have done it but google images certainly brings me a lot of traffic!.

  • http://www.appeal.pro Chad Ruback

    You suggest enabling the “Google Image Labeler” in Google Webmaster Tools. I looked in my Webmaster Tools account and couldn’t find an option to enable the image labeler. Any ideas how to do this?

  • http://www.blogsiteprofits.com Missy

    Hi, Chris:

    In WordPress for some reason, whenever I add a caption to an image, the alignment gets thrown off whack. Why is this?

    How does one add a caption to an image for a blog post in WordPress, that won’t skew the alignment?

    P.S. Great article! I agree that image search can be a fantastic source of extra traffic, especially to a new blog. But it has to be done right.

  • http://www.Tribal-Sports-Wear.net Blank Wholesale Apparel

    My question about google image searches is, is it actually worth the effort for all website owners to tap into this. For example; we sell hanes beefy-t t-shirts at wholesale pricing to the public. So are there peolple actually out there search for images of hanes t-shirts and other blank apparel (I’m sure there is), and if so for what purpose? So I think for some sites image searching will bring in new traffic and perhaps sales, but for others maybe not so much. However, for what little effort it takes any results would be great.

  • http://ftlauderdaleluxurycondos.com Michael

    My sites all rank well in google images and it does driver quite a bit of traffic. Good images tags are very important if you expect your site to do well in google images.

  • http://www.SpyCamsSpyEquipment.com Spy Cams Spy Equipment

    As always you have some of the best info for free to help us who do not have teams to work on our sites. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate this site and the fantastic info you bring to all of us.
    Thank You
    Terry Sachetti
    Minneapolis, MN

  • http://www.blooray.com Damian Snuff

    Is there any software out there that will tag images for you?

  • http://www.thebookabyss.com.au Australian Online Bookshop

    We have always used image alts but had no idea they were so important. great information. Thanks.

  • http://www.adelaidebookkeeping.com.au JPAP Bookkeeping

    The only issue I have is that images cannot be searched by region in the same manner that a normal web search can. I generally click ‘pages from Australia’ when web searching to get a more regional based search.

    Images doesn’t offer this. So image searches like ‘money’ or ‘law’ etc are generally not the images I am searching for as they come up with more amercanised results.

    But I still agree with the post! All images should always be optimised!

    Thanks again WPN!

  • http://arindamchakraborty.com arinsblogcdyt

    Thanks for the information. Till now I was using only alt tag with each images. I was not aware of these tips. I am going to implement it for my blog and website.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npoITqFL5yM XanGo

    I had a site that wasn’t getting much traffic, then I added several pages of photos with alt tags. My traffic quadrupled.

    Google images drive tons of traffic.

    Glen Woodfin

  • http://www.squidoo.com/theclickbankprofitsystemreview Clickbank Profit System

    Could use the extra traffic. Thanks for the info

  • http://www.controldatainc.com debt collection agency

    I had no idea that images were that important. Thanks for the information on this. We will give it a try

  • http://www.Redwoodbridges.com Rod

    We did notice a big jump in our traffic after we started tagging our Garden Bridges photos on my website last year at http://www.Redwoodbridges.com We didn’t really know why the traffic had jumped until we started checking our site meter and saw that the extra traffic was coming from the direct clicks on the images after a google image search. After reading this article we understand it much better and will use much more image tags for our photos. Nice article! Thanks!

  • http://www.keralarealestate.in Joy Antony

    Useful information, thanks.

  • http://ripsychotherapy.com Mike A.

    I’ve noticed but never really paid attention to the referrals to the site from google images in my Cpanel Awstats. I’ll start tracking that now. Thanks for the tip.

  • http://katybarrilleaux.wordpress.com Katy Barrilleaux

    Image SEO tip:
    Add a watermark to your images that includes your URL. that way, if/when people “borrow” an image to use elsewhere, there will still be a reference back to your website.

  • eric

    hi this has really helped me i had an image in my gallery which i added the basic tags to but a few weeks latter i started getting 300 searches a day just for http://egob.info/2009/08/nina-minami-sexy-cute-japanese/ but i not been able to replicate it. ill definately put this post into consideration.

  • http://www.seostarter.pl matiseo

    I love this page, very nice art. thx

  • http://www.webvideos.co.uk video production london

    Yikes, the placemarks default to dragable & say they save when you move them. Fortunately re-doing the search resets them & it doesn’t seem to be affecting other users.

    The un-lettered placemark seems to be your hotel & moving it can re-plan the whole thing :-) Moving things your visiting around also appears to refresh subsequent suggestions

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