How to optimize images for Google

We often need to optimize image results for Google search in order to change search results for reputation management or for SEO reasons. For example, sometimes the wrong image is showing in Google Knowledge Graph, sometimes because the images Google shows are not relevant to the search results. In both cases we optimize the image files so they show up more often in normal as well as image search results. It involves naming the image, page context, ALT tag, image title, page title and rich snippets. This is how it's done.

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Name the image using the search phrase

The first step is to name the image with the search phrase in the file name. For example, here is an image of Kent Campbell after a lunch in Greece consisting of a large amount of octopus. 

Image of Kent Campbell

kent campbell with an octopus By: Photographed In: Santorini, Greece Description: Image of Kent Campbell

Add a relevant title that's descriptive

The name of the above image is "kent-campbell-octopus". There are other elements other than the name of the file that you cannot see because they too are hidden in the HTML of this page. If you look at the HTML you will see code that looks something like this: 

<div itemscope="" itemtype="" style="text-align: center;">
<h4>Image of Kent Campbell</h4>
<img src="" alt="kent campbell with an octopus" title="Kent Campbell with an Octopus" width="655" height="437">&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 10px;">By: <span itemprop="author">Kent Campbell</span> Photographed In: <span itemprop="contentLocation">Santorini, Greece</span>&nbsp;Description: <span itemprop="description">Image of Kent Campbell</span></span></div>

The first thing you'll see is the name of the file which is the first thing highlighted in yellow above. The name of the file consists of the search phrase plus the file type (.jpg). You'll see there are two other things in the HTML code above that include the search phrase "Kent Campbell". One is the "Title" of the image and other is the ALT tag. Note how the name, title and ALT of the image are all properly descriptive, but also include the search phrase.

Add the ALT tag to help people and Google

The next thing outlined in yellow above is the ALT tag. It says "alt="Kent Campbell with an octopus". The ALT tag is "alternative" text. It is what makes an image understandable by the blind, or by people who just like to internet surf with their eyes closed. The ALT tag isn't a place for keyword stuffing, it really is for descriptive purposes. Please treat it that way.

Textual context with semantic search phrase

You'll also note that we've placed the search phrase "Kent Campbell" in many places in the text above and below the image. This helps to tell search engines what the images is about because it provides context. In other words, the search engines can clearly tell what the page is about and how the image itself fits into that context. 

Title of the page should include the search phrase or some variation

An additional way of providing context to search engines is to add the search phrase in the tile of the page. This is different than the title of the image itself. In this case we're not going to add the phrase because this post isn't about the image, but about how to optimize images for search. 

Where to add page elements for image search

But where do you add these elements? You can hand code them, but you probably don't need to. If you are using a WordPress content management system you add the tags on this screen, which is shown whenever you add an image to a post, a page or to the media section of Wordpress.

For example, create a new post, then insert Media (add a photo to your post). It will ask you to upload an image, once you do, this screen ought to pop right up with the image you uploaded selected with the little checkbox in the upper right corner as seen below:

How to optimize images in Wordpress image

Using schema/rich snippets for image search

Want an even more effective way of optimizing images for search? Add rich snippets. Rich snippets are a special form of markup language (code) that goes into the HTML of a page specifically to let search engines know what the image is about. You can learn more about rich snippets, sometimes called Schema markup, here

We've added rich snippet (schema) markup to the image above. You ca see the results just under the image in small type. If you were to look "behind the page" at the HTML you'd see something around the image that looked like this:

<div itemscope="" itemtype="" style="text-align: center;">
<h4>Image of Kent Campbell</h4>
<img src="" itemprop="contentURL"> <span style="font-size: 10px;">By: <span itemprop="author">Kent Campbell</span> Photographed In: <span itemprop="contentLocation">Mill Valley, California</span>&nbsp;Description: <span itemprop="description">Image of Kent and Lisan Campbell</span></span></div>

It's placed within the image and tells search engine robots that the item is an image. There is more to it than that, and you should read more about it here. The important thing to remember is that this code tells search engines even more about the image because, in a way, it speaks their language. 

How to add rich snippets to Wordpress

The easiest way to add rich snippets (Schema markup) to a Wordpress installation is to use a plugin like this one. Once you install it, and your site is setup with the proper Facebook, Twitter and other information, it works wonderfully. To test whether you added everything correctly, upload the plugin, save the page, then copy the URL of the page (or post). Then head over to the Google Schema Checker tool. Under Number 1, click "Fetch URL" and then paste the URL of your post into the field provided. Then click Fetch and Validate. It'll show you everything Google can see on the page that are rich snippet related. Essentially, it will tell you if you did it right. 

Expanding the influence of images

Simply placing an image on a website may not be enough to change the way Bing and Google return results though. If your website is "all about" the image, then maybe. But placing images on sites that are recognized as leaders in images can help. These are sites like Pinterest, Flickr and others. But on these sites you cannot add schema markup, nor can you control HTML. Thankfully they do a lot of that for you.

Don't repeat images

Images of Kent Campbell from Google Image search results

Search engines like Bing and Google don't want to display the same image over and over. So different images are important. If you place the same image on a number of websites, generally speaking only one will show up in search results in an important way. But if you place different images on different sites, you may be able to sway image results in the way you need to for your own image reputation management purposes. Search engines track the manner in which people search and group content like images into like categories. In the image above you'll see various pictures of Kent Campbell from various places on the web. These are found by clicking in Google image results on Related Images. Notice the images are not all the same, but are grouped as the same person.

Fixing images in search using Wikipedia

If a person is famous, or reasonably so, they probably have a Wikipedia page (or can earn one). One method that works well to change image search results in Google is to identify a number of images, then release them to the public as Creative Commons (CC) licensed images. This essentially means the world can use the images in certain ways free of charge.

Once the images have been licensed as CC they can be uploaded to Wikipedia via WikiCommons. Next, translate the Wikipedia page into other languages and place them on other Wikipedias. Most countries have one. But for each translation, use a different image. So the French version and the US version are essentially the same text, in different languages, but the images are different. Here is a rundown of the steps:

  1. License flattering images via Creative Commons so they can be uploaded to Wikipedia.
  2. Translate an existing Wikipedia page into one or more other languages. Theres a Wiki for most.
  3. Create Wikipedia pages in other languages (Ex: using the translated original Wikipedia page content.
  4. Insert different images onto different Wikipedia pages about the person.

Why does this work?

Google likes to show Wikipedia images in search results. So using images in this way tends to change how Google shows images in search results. This is an effective method to suppress negative images in Google. It's quite effective! Want proof? Perform an image search of a famous model, do a search on the page for the word "wiki" and see how many times it comes up. You're welcome. :-)

See our Wikipedia Case Study here


If you want to know how to make images show up in search results make sure they are named correctly, have ALT (alternative) text, an image title, and have the right search phrases placed contextually around the image. Don't duplicate images, search engines can tell the difference between similar images both visually and  relevance (based on how people search). It's all about pointing as many arrows at the image as possible to be absolutely clear what the image is all about. 

Optimizing Images for Search FAQs

How do I optimize images for Google?

Do the following to optimize your image files so they show up more often in normal as well as image search results. Name the image using the search phrase. Add a relevant title that's descriptive. Add the ALT tag to help people and Google.

How should I name images for SEO?

Name the image with the search phrase in the file name. Also include the keyword in the title and ALT tag.

What are rich snippets?

Rich snippets are a special form of markup language (code) that goes into the HTML of a page specifically to let search engines know what the image is about. This code tells search engines even more about the image because, in a way, it speaks their language.

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