Here at Spilled Milkshake, we regularly have people call and ask us to boost the SEO of their website. And sadly, they’re usually disappointed when we tell them it doesn’t quite work that way.
The elements that truly drive SEO aren’t things that can be tacked on to an existing, non-SEO designed site: they’re things that are built in from the beginning, and form an integral part of the entire user experience.
By way of example, let’s consider photos and other images on your site. From the very start, every image that is uploaded needs to be optimized. When we talk about “optimizing” images for the web, designers are thinking about making the pictures look good, while programmers and web masters are thinking in terms of making them load quickly. Both of those things are important.
While you’re doing those things, however, you can also optimize images to make them easier for search engines to index … in essence, killing three birds with one stone. Here are some simple rules for optimizing images
- High-quality, right from the start. There is an old adage that claims one cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear … and that applies here. If you start with blurry or pixelated pictures, there’s only so much better they can get. Take multiple pictures to make sure you get clear ones, hire a professional photographer, or take advantage of any number of inexpensive stock photography sites. While we’re on that subject, remember: you have to pay to use those pictures … don’t simply download the thumbnail that has the site’s watermark. Not only is it illegal, the images won’t be large enough.
- Start big, go small. Speaking of image size, always go for the largest file you can. The bigger the file, the more information it contains. You’ll have to resize it, most likely, but that’s fine: just remember that making a large image smaller works great, but it is difficult to make successfully enlarge an image that is too small. When you go to resize, you’ll want to find that sweet spot between getting the image as small as possible while maintaining as high a resolution as possible. Keep in mind that the larger the image, the slower it will load, and the less effective it will be on mobile; all of that can hurt your SEO, so size limits are important.
- Pick a file type: JPG vs PNG. There is no one-size-fits-all for web image file formats, but the two used most frequently are JPG and PNG. Which one is “better” depends on the usage. The JPG (pronounced jay-peg) was created by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), hence the name. There is a minor but permanent loss of unnecessary image info with a JPG, but you can normally get a smaller file size than with a PNG. PNG (some people say ping, others just use PNG) files are often used if size isn’t a concern, if the image is complex, or if the file may still need to be edited at some point. PNG’s other big benefit is that it allows transparent backgrounds; JPGs don’t.
- Don’t neglect alternate text and captions. After you’ve named your images, don’t forget to add alt text and captions. Alternative text–often erroneously called “alt tags”–is the text that you may occasionally see in place of an empty image. Because Google cannot exactly crawl images in-depth, it focuses on alternative text when trying to understand what an image is about. “Main-Image-Header.png” might be all the description YOU need, but here’s the problem: search engine spiders don’t have a clue what your picture is. All they can read is the file name and the alt text, so make sure they are descriptive: “African-Tarantula.jpg,” for example. Better yet “Large-Poisonous-African-Tarantula.jpg.”
- Place images for maximum SEO: After getting the proper size, name, and alt text for your image, it’s also good to look at where the image is placed on a page. Whatever picture you choose should be related to what’s being said in the surrounding text; images that place close to relevant information will rank better, especially if that text includes relevant keywords. Plus, it makes it more likely that your images themselves will be more relevant: a photo of a congregation, for example, as opposed to generic clip-art of a dove or cross to represent a church.
If all of this seems like a lot, well, it is. There are benefits, to be sure, and they outweigh the hassle. But as a web owner, you have enough to worry about, from security breaches to keeping content current. Let the experts at Spilled Milkshake take these worries off your hands. Talk to us today about how we can make your site faster, cleaner, and more SEO friendly.