How to Optimize Your Website Images for Search and Social

A picture is worth a thousand words to visitors and search engines alike.
Optimizing images is not only good for the look and feel of your site, it can help with search volume too. (Photo: vectorfusionart/Shutterstock)

A website can be a valuable marketing tool for a small business, and great, high-quality images can draw users in and increase the time they spend on your site. They also help boost search rankings if they are properly optimized. And they drive more social shares than text does.

“Images make an article more vivid and contribute to the SEO,” said Michiel Heijmans, COO of the SEO tool Yoest.

This guide provides basic tips on how to optimize your site’s images for search and social.

Related: 7 SEO Best Practices Your E-Commerce Site Can’t Ignore

Think load speed first


Test your website’s page load speed to make sure too many images aren’t hindering user experience. (Photo: vladwel/Shutterstock)

There’s no doubt images can enhance the user experience on your site, but they can also hinder it if they take too long to load. Very few customers will wait longer than a second for a website to load on mobile devices before jumping off.

Google takes into account page load speed when ranking sites for search. A slow load speed can have a significant effect on your site’s visibility on search engines.

To test your website’s load times, check out Google’s Page Speed Test. Other tools to check page speed include Gtmetrix and Yslow. Type in your URL, and the tools will give you a list of factors to improve your speed.

Follow best practices when saving image files

Before uploading an image to your site, follow these best practices for sizing and saving the file.

Reduce white space around images and crop out any noise.

  • Use the right file type. Detailed graphics and photos should be saved as JPGs. Icons, bullets or graphics with fewer than 16 colors can be saved as GIFs or PNGs.
  • Save your images at 72 dots per inch (dpi) and to a size that’s less than 75 KB, if possible. Most photo editing programs have the option to save the file for “web,” which compresses the dimensions and strips out unnecessary data.
  • Don’t embed important text in your images. Keep headlines, calls-to-action and body copy as HTML text on your site.
  • Give the file a search-friendly, informative name, and include the dimensions of the image in the file name.
  • Use dashes to separate words, not underscores.
  • Don’t use punctuation, and don’t use “stop” words such as “a,” “the,” “it,” and to.”

Upload images with page speed and responsiveness in mind

How you upload images can affect load time and the user experience.

  • WordPress and similar content management systems offer image compression plugins and tools. Research the best option for your needs, and automate compression.
  • Avoid sliders, galleries, and large wallpaper image designs, which can significantly affect your page load times.
  • Display images as close to their natural size as possible so your server doesn’t have to constantly resize them, which slows page load times.
  • Keep your images the same width as your text. If images are sized larger than the text, mobile users may have to pinch and zoom to read the copy and the image will be cut off.

Related: Why Your Small Business Website Must Be Mobile Friendly

Optimize your image metadata, aka image attributes

In addition to file size, metadata is another important factor for search optimization. Metadata is information that helps users and search engines understand what your image is. It serves a valuable purpose in search, especially if you sell products online.


Metadata is crucial to search optimization. For alt and title tags, describe the image as briefly as possible.

Image metadata includes elements such as a caption, title tag and ALT tag. ALT tags describe the image for instances in which it can’t be displayed. They’re used for the visually impaired and for people with low-bandwidth connections who can’t load images. They also help a user search for images using keyword phrases. Title tags offer additional information and context.

Here you can find Google’s best practices for writing image metadata.

A few tips:

Title tags and ALT tags: As with naming files, write tags that describe the image. Avoid keyword stuffing — an outdated practice. And keep them brief.

Alt tag Example: Bowl-of-guacamole-with-chips

Title tag Example: Pablo’s famous spicy guacamole is a popular menu item

Captions: According to KissMetric, captions under images are read 300 percent more than the body copy, so use them whenever it makes sense. When writing them, “Think about the visitor first,” said Heijmans. “Don’t add a caption just for image SEO.” Keep the text short and descriptive. If there is an image source or date, include that in the caption.

Optimizing photos for social


Take the original image you want to share on social and optimize it depending on which social platform you plan to use.

Social sharing is also an important factor in search ranking. And images are shared more than text. Many social plugins for WordPress, like Yoest, have built-in OpenGraph and Twitter Card tags that make it easy to share images on social media. But a good practice is to size and display graphics on your site that can be shared effortlessly.


For an Instagram post, an optimized image would be 1,080 x 1,080 px.

Social image post sizes: Size the image for the social channel on which you’re posting it.

Facebook post – 1,200 x 628 px
Twitter post – 1,024 x 512 px
LinkedIn post – 700 x 400 px
Google+ post – 800 x 1,200 px
Pinterest post – 735 x 1,102 px
Instagram post – 1,080 x 1,080 px

Universal post size: Resizing images for different channels can be a serious drain on resources. If you don’t have the bandwidth, use this universal image template with these parameters:

  • Size your images 1600 x 800.
  • Add a 160 px padding on right and left sides for non-essential graphics. This doesn’t mean whitespace. That would look strange on channels where the padding isn’t hidden.
  • Keep text and calls-to-action within the 400 px padding on both sides.
  • Try to keep text to less than 20 percent of the image for social.

On WordPress, there are plugins that add sharing buttons to your images. You can change the settings to share or not share certain images. Allow sharing for maximum reach.

If in doubt, visit Google Webmaster for help

Search algorithms change often — seemingly by the minute. To keep on top of updates, refer to Google’s guidelines for the latest best practices.

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