Image Optimisation: The Game Has Changed

For a long time, those ‘in the know’ on SEO didn’t really concern themselves with images. Even when Google started evolving and it became apparent that black hat, keyword-stuffing practices weren’t going to cut it anymore, there didn’t seem to be a universal consensus on what to do when it came to image optimisation.

The phrase “Google can’t read images!” gets thrown out there so often you’d think every search marketer has it embroidered on their pillows at home. In line with that thinking, the advice has always been:

  • Think about what keyword you’re trying to target on that page
  • Use that keyword to add alternative text to the image, so that when Google crawls the website and can only read plain text, it will know what that image is about

And that was it; case closed on the image optimisation conversation.

Now, we’re not about to start a revolution here and say that these practices are completely off and you should abandon them completely. Please, put down your pitchforks. But the fact is, if you’re not thinking about image optimisation beyond adding some alt tags and letting them fester, it’s about time you do.

So how exactly do you spice up those images? Yes that’s right, you know exactly where this very obvious lead-in paragraph is heading: we have 2 (significant) hints to help you on your way.


1. Stop stealing images

You’ve heard time and time again that duplicate content is a BIG no, but duplicate images? How can that be bad? According to my carefully stitched cushion Google can’t read images anyway, right?!

That statement has less and less merit by the day thanks to Google’s nifty little “search my image” tool. This tool allows you to do a sort of reverse image search, by uploading or even dragging and dropping an image into the search bar and letting Google find that image for you.

Google search engine screenshot

Google image search screen shot

After providing your image, Google comes back with a whole host of information for you, including images that are “visually similar” and – drum roll please – a list of websites where that image is found. In other words, Google has the technology to be able to identify everywhere an image is displayed, so they can tell if that image is being duplicated across websites … Just. Like. Content.

(Dramatic pause for crowd gasping)

Now, there’s nothing out there saying that Google is frowning upon websites for duplicate images in the same way that they do for content. However, it follows logic that they would want to use that technology to display websites in search results that have unique, interesting images.


But I have an ecommerce business; all of my pictures are taken from manufacturers!

It’s true – it’s a big challenge for ecommerce websites to find unique images, just like it’s proven a challenge to create hundreds of unique product descriptions when the manufacturers provide a much easier copy and paste job.

Google search results for bikes

Looks like a few websites are pedalling the same picture of a bike…

You don’t necessarily need to start making a catalogue of unique images for every product you sell – like we said, there’s no evidence that Google penalises for duplicate images at the moment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start to generate some pictures yourself; start thinking in terms of interesting blog article ideas, or scoping out different areas of your website where your own images could feature nicely.

As an added bonus, unique images with well-crafted alternate tags (don’t worry, more on that in the second point) are more likely to show up in Google Image searches as well, rather than trying to compete with a field of the same image being displayed across 100 different websites.


But I have a service business; I can’t display pictures of products if I don’t have any physical goods for sale!

That’s OK; you’re not limited by needing images of actual products. In fact, service industries are at a bit of advantage for creating unique images, because you’ve got ample opportunities to take photos of the jobs you’re completing.

Just built a killer pool fence that you’re particularly proud of? Get the camera out! Found a wasp’s nest that might help other clients identify pests on their own property? It’s Kodak time!

A gallery of unique images not only adds to your search marketing strength, it’s also super helpful for the user, which, at the end of the day, is the most important thing and will convert into more sales.


2. Quit spamming your alternative text

For a little while, search marketers were a little dense when it came to keyword density, but now there’s a general agreement that stuffing your content with keywords does not earn you any brownie points with Google. With every algorithm update, that old way of thinking has (thankfully) changed.

But for some reason, when it comes to choosing alt text for images, that line of thinking disappears quicker than a box of cookies at a weight loss meeting. Rather than just putting generic, competitive keywords that you’re trying to rank for as the alt tag, go for something a bit more creative.

You can also use Google’s image search to your advantage for this. As well as all the information already mentioned above, when you search for an image quite often it also gives you a “best guess for this image”. In other words, it tells you what it thinks people would have searched for in order for this image to be displayed, like this:

Google image result of dress

Google is basically reading this image (oh, sorry – Google can’t read images; how silly of me), and telling you what it thinks the image is about. By creating alt text based on that, you’re saying “good job Google, that is what this image is about”, and that exact logic allowed the above image to go from not appearing in Google Image results at all, to showing up in the top row within two days.

For a product like this dress, anything around designs, templates, or visually advantageous products or services, the benefits of ranking in Google Images is a no-brainer.

As Google gets smarter with images, it’s time for you to get smarter with image optimisation, too. Like all things in SEO, it does take thought, time, and effort, but if you’re willing to put in the hard yards, well – you get the picture.


If you need help with SEO and image optimisation, please feel free to contact one of our experts.


Related Articles

  1. Four Tips To Optimise Your Local SEO Business Rankings
  2. Why should I optimise places?
  3. Google Website Optimiser

Other Resources

  1. Business2Community – Optimise Image Files for SEO
  2. Shopify – Image Optimisation Tips
  3. Search Engine Watch – How to Rank on Image Search


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