photography and SEO

Sharp, colorful, and captivating -- quality photos are the key to a complete user experience. Whether it's a high-definition hero image sprawled across your homepage, or rows of thumbnails to feature your products, your website images cannot be left out of your SEO strategy. Once you select the perfect keywords for your web content and write your website copy with precision, you should take the time to fully optimize your images, too.

Here's the bottom line: images are like an SEO one-two punch. Not only do they enhance your web design, but they can also send powerful ranking signals to Google. And once new visitors find your site, those images can keep them clicking long after they arrive.

Yet most websites simply use photos as window dressing.

“Photos made pages look nicer, we thought, but they really weren’t doing anything for our SEO scores or our overall page health scores,” Jean Dion writes in Search Engine Journal. “But here’s the thing: If you spend just a little extra time on your photo posting routine, you could transform your photos from candy to cultivator. And when you’re done, you could get the traffic boost you’ve been looking for.”

With the right tools and knowledge, optimizing your photos for search engines is intuitive and effective. Follow these tips for selecting the best possible images in your web design and making them as SEO-friendly as possible.

  1. Invest In Professional Photography
    Professional web design starts with the quality of your photos. In today’s competitive digital marketplace, you will no longer get away with snapping a photo on an iPhone or using Creative Commons. Either hire a professional commercial photographer, appoint someone in-house, or invest in stock photos. By investing in eye-catching photos, your clients will stay on your website rather than clicking away.

  2. Use Quality Editing Software
    If you hire a photographer to take your web and social photos, be sure to also invest in editing software. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are industry standard, offering various options to customize images for the web. Any photographer or web designer you hire will likely have knowledge of these platforms.

  3. Save In The Right Format
    Before you export the photo, be sure to set the resolution to 72, 240, or 300 pixels per inch. These industry standards will keep the photo sharp on most computer screens. When it comes time to save the image, be sure to select the ‘Save For Web’ option whenever it’s available. Saving the photo as a JPG is usually a safe bet as well, but feel free to save a PNG version if you plan to manipulate it for design purposes.

    In the past, small file sizes were essential to maintain fast loading times; however, high-speed Internet has made high-definition photos the new normal.

  4. Label The File Strategically
    When you export the photo, you will have the option to fill out information about the photo. Give it a clear name, as search engine crawlers can detect keywords within these names. For example, for a photo of a custom table that you sell, it is better to name it wooden_table.jpg, rather than image5.jpg. Follow the same rule when labeling your alt tags. This way, a search engine will better identify the subject of the photo.

  5. Host Your Own Images
    By hosting your photos on your own company servers, you will bring any backlinks to your site, rather than an external hosting service. The drawback of this method is an increased demand for storage, but it can be worth it for SEO purposes. Keeping your photos on your own page will also increase your control. If there is a bug in the hosting service, your photos could disappear, leaving you with a web design mess to clean up.

  6. Take Advantage Of Social Media
    Place social sharing buttons on your website to allow users to easily post photos to social media. If you sell products, Pinterest is one of the best ways to bring customers from social media to your website, so be sure to include a social button to this site as well as Facebook and Twitter. Shareability is a great way to build links on external blogs as well. Without quality photos, readers are far less likely to click a link shared by a friend.

  7. Write The Best Caption
    While it’s easy to let them fall through the cracks, photo captions are an important part of your web copy. Invest time in crafting a brief, snappy description for each photo that includes keywords and clear language. This is especially important for your product and blog images.

Remember: There is no perfect method for optimizing your site’s photography. And like all SEO techniques, beware over optimization. Pay attention to your analytics and test out various methods to determine what works best for your website. While one large photo may work for your homepage, several smaller photos may work for another. Also be sure to pay attention to loading times, social analytics, and other metrics during this process.

Investing time and money into your web photos will give you the edge you need to stand out amongst your competitors. With the right approach, you can leave the best impression on a page visitor by greeting them with a bold, high-quality image. And with the right SEO techniques to go along with it, you can leave the best impression on Google's web crawlers, too.

Emma is a photographer, journalist, podcaster, and writer with a B.A. in Journalism and Spanish from Ithaca College. Her photojournalism has been featured in publications including Teen Vogue.