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Not that long ago, image SEO was one of the easiest ways to get traffic to your site. But in 2013, Google added the "view image" button and the clicks to websites plummeted. Since then, most people left image SEO practice in the backburner hoping that their SEO plugins would do the work for them.
In the past few months, Google has been doing some changes in user experience, search algorithms, and visual search. Changes big enough to affect the way we do visual SEO. A lot of the things we were supposed to be doing, like alt tags and metadata, are still important. But now their purpose is not just for your images to get found on image search.
Let’s take a look at what has been changing in the world of image SEO.
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Earlier this year, Google removed the “view image” button from Image Search results and left the “visit” button instead. The idea behind this change was for users to go through the appropriate steps to source images legally. This all came about through an agreement between Google and Getty Images. With the “view image” button, it was easy to simply grab a photo from the search results and never see the site it came from.
Unfortunately, there are still workarounds to open an image in a new tab and take it from there. But with the “visit” button in place of the old “view image” button, users are more inclined to visit the source site where the photo is hosted.
This change is not so great for the people using photos illegally from Google. But for those who create their own custom infographics, charts, and graphs, this is great news!
Three months after the “view image” button disappeared, Anthony Muller analyzed image search data to see if anything had changed. He found that visits to the source websites had definitely gone up and clicks had improved.
From his findings, it is safe to say that this rise has affected all content creators. It’s time we stop putting image SEO in the backburner!
Another big change in image search is the rise of visual search. Image search results are not relying only on keywords and metadata anymore. Taking a cue from sites like Pinterest and Amazon, Google applied machine learning to their search algorithm. The results are getting better all the time.
But what exactly is Visual Search?
Visual search has the distinctive capability of helping users search for things by how they look, rather by how they are described. A person shopping for a pair of red sandals can now easily find hundreds of styles in seconds.
In the early days of image SEO, users would type in the search bar: “red sandals” and get the results in a collection of images. With visual search, users can see a pair of red sandals worn by a model in a Pinterest image, zoom on them and instantly see a whole bunch of red sandals. Some of the image results will have schema markup and the user can shop for the sandals with one click.
Optimizing your images for Visual Search SEO includes most of the usual image SEO practices along with some new additions.
One of the most important additions for good visual SEO is schema markup, also known as rich snippet code. This is a bit of microdata added to your website which improves the way your business appears in search engine result pages (SERPs). With a rich snippet, your images will show up along with relevant information that will most definitely improve the click-through rate (CTR) to your website.
Rich snippets are created with the addition of structured data inside the code of your site. The code you need depends on the type of business you have. The most common choices are articles, events, and local businesses. Google webmaster tools have a handy helper to see what you need to add.
If the structured data is done correctly, your images will show up as rich snippets on both desktop and mobile. On mobile, they could potentially show up with a badge on the left-hand corner that says something like, product or recipe. There is no guarantee that the badges will show up, but the chances are high depending on how well the structured data is. You can check if there are any errors with this Google tool.
The way visual search works is through the recognition of faces, colors, shapes, and text. Metadata and keywords are still important of course, but what is most important is how your images look. If the images of your products are blurry and pixelated, they will not be picked up by Google as an image search result or even a “related image.”
Using generic stock photography can also be detrimental to your ranking in SERPs. That free photo of an office which you used for an article about teamwork might also be used by a site in the travel industry or just any other blog out there. Images should be unique to your business. If you don’t have the budget to hire a photographer or illustrator, customize the stock photo with filters, crops or by adding text to them.
Another reason for good quality images is that visual search doesn’t just work for entire images. It also works for smaller zoomed sections. If your images are not high quality, these details won’t be picked up.
Google Cloud Vision is the AI Machine that powers Google visual search. If you really want to know how your images and graphics are being analyzed, you can add it into the tool and see the results. This tool is a bit advanced so if you are just starting with image SEO, leave this one for the experts.
On the other hand, if you run an e-commerce site and have regular photoshoots of your products, this tool is really helpful to get better results in visual search.
The Google Lens app is live and rolling out to most types of phones by the end of the year. What it does is scan whatever you show it and give you suggested actions upon what it’s seeing.
How does this affect your image SEO?
For example, if you have a bar in a big city and someone walking past sees it, they can point their phone at it with Google Lens to find more info. The app will give suggestions as to what it is. If your website or social media profile has a good quality photo of the front of your bar, it will show up. Other people might have taken a photo of your bar and posted it somewhere with good image SEO and that photo will also show up.
Google Lens will read the sign and find your website like that as well. If you have well structured data, your rich snippet will show up with all your contact details and Google Maps location.
Another way in which your image SEO will help is when someone directs Google Lens at a physical product they see and would like to buy. Let’s say it’s a black leather jacket. Google lens will analyze the color and the shape to show other black jackets to the user. If your photo of a black leather jacket is of high quality and taken without a busy background, it will most likely show up as a result.
Believe it or not, your image SEO also affects results in voice search. More and more people are using Siri and Google Voice to search for things online. For this instance, your standard image SEO must be on point. No extra wording, no keyword stuffing or unnecessary terms.
For example, you have a graphic on your site about how to outsource IT employees. Think about how people might want to search for something like that. They will say to Siri, “How can I outsource an IT team” or “How to outsource IT.” They will never say “A graphic about how to outsource IT workers, step-by-step tutorial.” Be wise when inserting titles, metadata, and alt tags to your images and graphics.
This August, Google underwent some serious algorithm changes. The main change was that slow loading sites would be penalized, both on desktop and mobile. What is the one thing that bogs down our sites and makes them load slower? Visuals.
Make sure to always optimize your images with apps like tiny.jpg in order to never lose quality. Analyze if maybe that infographic can be embedded instead of added as an image. If your site already has lots of images that were never optimized, you can install a plugin that will bulk optimize everything in one go.
Along with the new Google algorithm changes, there was also a change in Google Analytics. As of this month, a new analytic system is rolling out for referrals coming in from Google Image Search. Before, all Google search results (image or web) were listed with the same referrer. Now, web search and image search are separate. From now on, you will really know how image search is affecting your traffic.
Standard SEO practices are definitely still important. Here is a list of them. If you need to revise in more detail, you can do so with our visual SEO guide.
With all the changes that have been rolling into Google image search, business owners just cannot ignore image SEO anymore. The standard practices we have been using for years have gotten a major facelift. The removal of the “view image” button, image learning and Visual search, Google Lens, and the new Google algorithms are here to stay. All these features are only getting more important every day.
How will you stay ahead with visual SEO for the rest of 2018 and upcoming 2019? We didn’t even mention virtual reality and you better believe that visual SEO will be important for that too.
Check with your web developers and SEO experts. Are your systems up to date?
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