Optimizing images delivers online

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Amanda Watlington, Owner, Searching for Profit

To capitalize on growing searcher interest in vertical content such as images, news and video and to improve the search engine user experience, Google and the other search engines have begun blending vertical results into the main search result page. This phenomenon, "universal search," is advantageous for searchers, as it gives instant access to many types of files on the same search result page.

For retailers and catalog merchants whose sites are rich in images, universal search provides new opportunities for prominent display of these images in search results. The following easy-to-employ tactics will help you optimize images for Google. Use meaningful names that suggest what the image represents. For example, name the image of a pineapple "pineapple.jpg." Avoid naming images with numerical sequences that are only meaningful to you and your company.

Use the ALT attribute. For all images, in the ALT attribute include short descriptive text of the image content. Include captions. Google uses the image caption (among many other factors) to identify its content, so employ keyword-rich image captions. Be sure the caption describes the image - cute but distracting captions may hinder your chances.

Optimize the page. Google also uses text on the page adjacent to the image to determine the content of the image. To score well, optimize content around the image. Be sure that keywords are in close proximity to the image.

Make images spider accessible. Check that site images aren't in a folder that you have blocked access to through your robots.txt file. If there are images you don't want to appear in the search results, put them in a separate folder and block access.

As more webmasters and search marketers begin to employ tactics to improve their image search, expect more competition for image placement in the search results. Now is the time to optimize your images and get a head start.

Steve Baldwin, Senior comms specialist, Didit

The trick to making the most of images on a Web site is preparing a path for searchers who happen upon an image on a search engine results page (SERP) so they can easily navigate to other areas of interest on your site.While Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have begun making a limited number of thumbnail graphic images visible on their SERPs, most searchers find images using the SERP's "Images" tab.

Users clicking on the thumbnail image are shown a framed page with the thumbnail image in the upper region and a portion of the original page containing the image in the lower region.

Obviously, you want users to move fully into your site. Make sure all significant content is "above the fold." Put compelling copy up high and provide easy navigation to other areas that you want image-surfers to explore.

Analytics software that shows which sites are referring users and the paths they take can help you better understand how image-surfers are interacting with your site. I run a site where referrals from image search account for about 80% of overall traffic. A significant percentage of these users eventually travel to commerce and e-mail newsletter signup areas. Once I realized that so many users were image-hungry, I created visual navigational elements consisting of thumbnail images designed to encourage further image-surfing - because image surfers would rather click on an interesting picture than an interesting text link.

Lisa Young, Manager, organic search, Outrider

Properly optimized, images can compete with Web pages, video clips and news photos in search results.

Use quality, unique images. Separate keywords in the file name with dashes and use standard image file extensions (.jpg, .gif, .png).

When using a shot of a boy with a kite to illustrate a concept like "set your financial worries free," don't use just "boy with kite" in the alt attribute. Use keyword-rich copy that communicates the message.

Support the keywords in text near the image. If a caption doesn't fit your site style, consider wrapping the image into a related paragraph or including it in the same table cell with supporting copy. Avoid placing your image in a sidebar on a page that is off topic. Page optimization, such as titles, metas, headers and body copy, should complement image optimization.

Consider submitting images from your brand library, advertising, photo shoots, corporate events or civic sponsorship to sharing and social networking sites. For example, link from your Web site to your photo page at Flickr; build a StumbleUpon network to expose images to a wider group of friends; or add photos to a brand profile page on a social site.

Lastly, monitor regularly. You don't want image searches for your brand to display a negative view of your brand. If you find your brand images defaced, submitting your own images in volume and following the optimization steps can help turn the tide in your favor.

Google's Universal Search has made images more important than ever in driving traffic to your Web site. Four experts weigh in on best practices for optimizing images.

Duncan Parry, Co-founder, Steak Media

The first step to ensuring that your graphical images are listed in universal search is to identify what assets are available. Are there TV advertisements, product videos or still images that exist in the company, but aren't online? Does the company have the rights to distribute them online? This is a crucial issue. If there are TV advertisements, they could be uploaded into YouTube and other video sharing sites and may therefore appear in search results, but the rights of the individuals and companies involved in producing them need checking. For example, determine if they have a right to an extra payment if the advertisements are placed online.

UK directory service 118118 appears to have seeded its TV ads via YouTube and viral sites accompanying TV campaigns over time. These videos have been parodied by YouTube viewers, and 118118 has parodied other brands' ads. All of this increases imagery tagged to 118118 and the likelihood of it appearing in search results. It raises the profile of 118118 and often results in links.

Companies with databases of still images face a hard choice: publish images online and risk them being copied, or forgo the opportunity of attracting additional traffic and keep images locked away. There's no guarantee that any one image will feature in search results. But if the images can be published online and watermarked with the site URL, it's worth considering - especially if they're unique.

SEO is the key to attracting traffic for any set of images - search engines can't read and understand images, so specific steps need to be taken to optimize the way the images are presented.

Graphical search results, whether static or video, offer opportunities to distribute existing assets and use them to attract additional traffic. They provide brands ways to present information to Internet users in a far more engaging way. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, but only if it is seen.

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