Google announced forty changes it has made to its algorithm/search quality efforts over the past month. One of them was the increased sensitivity of Panda. Another was "more locally relevant predictions in YouTube". I'm not going to run down every single one fo them again, but there are a few that stuck out to me.
Another of these would be an increase in the number of queries that will return image results in Universal Search. Here's what Google listed for that:
Expand the size of our images index in Universal Search. [launch codename “terra”, project codename “Images Universal”] We launched a change to expand the corpus of results for which we show images in Universal Search. This is especially helpful to give more relevant images on a larger set of searches.
To me, this means images should probably a bigger part of your SEO strategy. Images were already important to SEO, but if they're going to inject more images into the first-page organic results mix for more queries, this is another opportunity to get your content in front of searchers' eyeballs.
Last year, we ran a good article by Michael Gray about optimizing images for search traffic. That would be a good place to start for some solid advice on taking advantage of this.
Let's not forget, however, that Search Plus Your World plays a major role these days in what images Google shows users in such results, so perhaps this should also be considered yet another reason to expand your Google+ presence, and engage with others on Google's social network.
This other entry to Google's list is certainly worth considering as well:
Fresher images. [launch codename “tumeric”] We’ve adjusted our signals for surfacing fresh images. Now we can more often surface fresh images when they appear on the web.